The Daily Agenda for Friday, November 20

Jim Burroway

November 20th, 2015

Events This Weekend: Side-By-Side LGBT Film Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia; Arctic Pride Tromsø, Norway.

TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:

From the Montrose Star, November 19, page 6 (source)

From the Montrose Star (Houston, TX), November 19, page 6. (Source.)

Miami Beach Police Raid Beach, Arrest 21: 1953. The Miami News, the city’s afternoon daily, published an oddly influential column titled “Whirligig.” It was a rather tiny feature — typically occupying just a couple of inches of space on the paper’s editorial page. But it’s minuscule physical presence belied its political influence, as the nameless author passed along political gossip and other goings-on about town. A good indication of the column’s influence can be illustrated by this small item that appeared on November 19:

Femmics — The new administration in the Miami Beach police department might send an observer over to the 22nd Street public beach to watch the antics of a coterie of youths who make that beach a gathering spot. The girlish attitudes of the boys cause many a gaping mouth among tourists.

Those two small sentences were enough for Miami Beach Police Chief Romeo J. Shepard to swing into action. The next day, the Chief personally led a raid on the beach, rounding up twenty-one men and hauling them to the police station for questioning. But while the News’ Whirligig column appears to have prompted the action, it was the paper’s morning rival, The Miami Herald, which capitalized on the raid by plastering its coverage on the front page:

Angered by complaints that the beach at 22nd st. was becoming a “hangout for males with a feminine bent,” Miami Beach Police Chief Romeo J. Shepard made a personal inspect Friday — and then called for the wagon. As a result, 21 perverts were taken to Beach police headquarters and questioned before being released. But Chief Shepard said the raid served notice on “this questionable type of individual” that they’re not wanted on Miami Beach.”

The chief said that he has been “getting lots of complaints” that men with girlish-looking hair-dos and flimsy, Bikini-type tights “have been prancing around the 22nd st. public beach in droves.” The area, he explained, has been acquiring a reputation as a congregating place for males who try to look and act like women.

The chief said that the 21 who were arrested were taken to headquarters and questioned about their employment, but he complained that he had to let them go. “We had no charges we could book them on,” he admitted. “It’s just a question of cleaning up a bad situation and letting undesirables know they’re not wanted here.” Meanwhile, that afternoon’s Miami News, reported that the cleanup would continue. “We’re going to continue to keep a close watch on their actions and I have instructed my men to pick them up every time they get out of line,” said Shepard. The News also made sure their readers knew why the chief acted so swiftly. “The Whirligig item was very timely and it was the basis for the action taken by my department,” the chief acknowledged.

[Sources: “Miami’s Whirligig: News Behind the News.” The Miami News (November 19, 1953): 19-A. Available online via Google News here.

“Police Corral 21 Undesirables.” The Miami News (November 21, 1954): 8-A. Available online via Google News here.

Stephen J. Flynn. “Rounded Up for Quiz: Turn-About Not Fair Play, Say Beach Police.” The Miami Herald. (November 21, 1954): 1-A. As reproduced in Edward Alwood’s Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 2.]

California Supreme Court Restores Teacher’s Credentials: 1969. In the spring of 1963, Marc S. Morrison, a teacher in Whittier, California, became friends with a fellow teacher, Fred Schneringer, who was in the process of getting a divorce and was experiencing serious financial troubles. Morrison did what he could to help his friend out by providing advice and support. One night, that support extended to what court documents described as “a limited, non-criminal physical relationship which Morrison described as being of a homosexual nature.” The relationship lasted a week, and while the two remained friends, nothing further happened. There were no arrests and no convictions, just whatever that “non-criminal” activity happened to be. (The California Supreme Court ruling would only say “It would serve no useful purpose to describe or detail them except to note that they did not fall within the statutory offenses of sodomy or oral copulation.”) But for whatever reason, Schneringer reported the incident to the Lowell Joint School District a year later, and that led to Morrison’s resignation in May of 1964.

Nineteen months later, Morrison found himself at a State Board of Education hearing fighting to retain his two lifetime teaching diplomas. He told the board that, aside from “a homosexual problem” at the age of 13, his contact with Schneringer was the only time he “experienced the slightest homosexual urge or inclination for more than a dozen years.” An investigator backed him up, and assured the board that this was “was the only time that [Morrison] ever engaged in a homosexual act with anyone.” Furthermore, Morrison’s record was clean and there was no evidence that he had engaged in any misconduct while teaching.

Nevertheless, the Board decided that the lone, solitary incident constituted immoral and unprofessional conduct involving “moral turpitude,” and stripped Morrison of his lifetime teaching diplomas. Morrison went to court, but the Los Angeles Superior Court sided with the Board and called Morrison “unfit for service as a teacher in the California public school system.” Morrison then appealed to the California State Supreme Court, which ruled 4-3 that an individual cannot be denied his teaching credentials unless evidence shows that homosexual behavior affected his fitness as an instructor. The Court criticized the Board for failing to uncover any such evidence:

The board called no medical, psychological, or psychiatric experts to testify as to whether a man who had had a single, isolated, and limited homosexual contact would be likely to repeat such conduct in the future. The board offered no evidence that a man of petitioner’s background was any more likely than the average adult male to engage in any untoward conduct with a student. The board produced no testimony from school officials or others to indicate whether a man such as petitioner might publicly advocate improper conduct. The board did not attempt to invoke the provisions of the Government Code authorizing official notice of matters within the special competence of the board. This lack of evidence is particularly significant because the board failed to show that petitioner’s conduct in any manner affected his performance as a teacher.

The ruling was a narrow one, both in the vote and in the ruling’s reach:

Our conclusion affords no guarantee that petitoner’s life diplomas cannot be revoked. If the Board of Education believes that petitioner is unfit to teach, it can reopen its inquiry into the circumstances surrounding and the implications of the 1963 incident with Mr. Schneringer. The board also has at its disposal ample means to discipline petitioner for future misconduct.

Finally, we do not, of course, hold that homosexuals must be permitted to teach in the public schools of California. As we have explained, the relevant statutes, as well as the applicable principles of constitutional law, require only that the board properly find, pursuant to the precepts set forth in this opinion, that an individual is not fit to teach. Whenever disciplinary action rests upon such grounds and has been confirmed by the judgment of a superior court following an independent review of the evidence, this court will uphold the result.

John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner

John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner Fined $200: 1998. One of the biggest steps toward gay equality, the end of America’s sodomy laws, began on November 17, 1998 when a 911 operator received a call about “a black male going crazy with a gun” at John Geddes Lawrence’s home in the Houston suburbs. Harris County sheriff’s deputies responded and entered Lawrence’s unlocked apartment. There, they purportedly found Lawrence and Tyron Garner engaging in consensual sex. What they actually found is a matter of debate. Lawrence and Garner weren’t lovers — in fact, that false report had been phoned in by Garner’s actual lover, Robert Eubanks, who suspected Garner and Lawrence were having an affair. One deputy wrote in his report that he saw Garner on the bed “on all fours” on the receiving end of anal sex with Lawrence, and that both were completely naked. Another said that he saw them on the floor, and that Garner wasn’t naked. He wasn’t sure whether he saw them having anal sex or oral sex — two completely different acts which would be very difficult to confuse. “The black guy was giving him head or they was [sic] doing each other from behind. I don’t remember.”

Lawrence and Garner were arrested, held in jail overnight, and charged with violating Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code. That law, otherwise known as the Texas Homosexual Conduct law, prohibited engaging “in deviant sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.” They both denied having sex that night, but their lawyers, sensing that the case might have the makings of a landmark case, advised them to plead no contest, neither admitting guilt nor protesting innocence. Because they didn’t actually have sex, the lawyers didn’t want to make the case about their innocence. After all, it’s hard to argue that two consenting adults of the same sex have the right to have sexual relations in the privacy of their home when the two adults in question hadn’t actually had sex. And so on November 20, 1998, Lawrence and Garner were convicted of the Class C misdemeanor by a Justice of the Peace in Houston, and were fined $200 each.

And with that, the landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas began to make its way through the court system: to the Texas Criminal Court (which rejected the defense’s request to dismiss the charges), a three-judge panel of the Texas 14th Court of Appeals (which ruled the law unconstitutional), and the full nine-judge panel of the 14th Court of Appeals (which reversed the three-judge panel). The appeal then reached the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which serves as the state’s supreme court for criminal cases. That court refused to hear the case, which left the lower court’s decision standing. Lawrence vs. Texas was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. On June 26, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law in a 6-3 ruling, along with similar laws in twelve other states. But it wasn’t until 2011, when Dale Carpenter published Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, that we learned the ironic fact that the case about two men having sex was based on a case in which it appears that neither man had ever had sex with the other, before that fateful night or since.

Chuck Colson speaking at a press conference announcing the Manhattan Declaration.

Chuck Colson speaking at a press conference announcing the Manhattan Declaration.

 Manhattan Declaration Released: 2009. That was an interesting year for marriage equality. The year before, voters in California, Arizona and Florida had approved constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage (see Nov 4). The slap was particularly strong in California, where same-sex couples had been able to marry during a four-month window after California’s Supreme Court found that Prop 22, an initiative (and not a constitutional amendment) which banned same-sex marriage, violated the state’s constitution (see Jun 16). Then on November 3, 2009, Maine voters repealed that state’s newly-minted law allowing same-sex couples to marry. (That law hadn’t gone into effect yet.) But also that year, voters in Washington state elected to affirm the legislature’s decision to provide domestic partner benefits equal to marriage to same-sex couples. Also, legislators in New Hampshire and Vermont approved bills allowing same-sex couples to marry, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that that state must begin offering same-sex marriages, and Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin also began offering domestic partner benefits.

It may have been difficult to see at the time, especially given the stinging defeats at the ballot box, but 2009 may well have marked the start of a turning point in the fight for marriage equality. According to opinion polls, a majority of Americans still opposed allowing same-sex couples to marry, but the gap was closing very rapidly. That was thanks largely to a growing crop of younger voters who, as an age group, overwhelmingly supported same-sex marriage. As trends continued, it would only be a few more years before majorities overall would support same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, and despite the setbacks in California and Maine, the number of Americans living in marriage equality states doubled from 2007 to 2009, and nearly a quarter of Americans were now living in states that either provided full marriage equality or a lower form of civil union/domestic partnership recognition. While marriage equality opponents could still point to ongoing victories, they worried that the long-term trend didn’t look good.

On October 20, 2009, when polls still showed that efforts in main to block that state’s marriage equality law might go down in defeat, three anti-gay extremists got together to begin drafting what they hoped would be a stirring manifesto to rally their side. Princeton University Law Professor Robert George, Beeson Divinity School dean Timothy George, and evangelical leader and convicted Watergate felon Chuck Colson spent a month drafting what they called “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience,” which called for a rededication to the fight for “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.”

When the document was released a month later, it carried the signatures of more than 150 American religious and political activists (and one African one: Anglican archbishop Peter J. Akinola of Nigeria, who had led the effort to induce American Anglican congregations to split with over ordination of gay clergy). Notable signatories included Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, anti-gay political activist Gary Bauer, Family “Research” Council’s Tony Perkins, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, marriage equality opponents Maggie Gallagher, Brian Brown and Frank Schubert, and anti-gay pastors Ken Hutcherson and Harry Jackson, and other assorted activists and extremists, including William Donahue, Jim Daly, Richard Land and Allan Sears. Nine Catholic Archbishops also signed the declaration.

The Manhattan declaration sought to address a rather large host of issues — abortion, single parenting, divorce, promiscuity — but it a good deal of its energy for the arguments against marriage equality:

The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture. It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil and religious law and in the philosophical tradition that contributed to shaping the law. Yet it is critical that the impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture. It would lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about procreation and the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life.

…We understand that many of our fellow citizens, including some Christians, believe that the historic definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a denial of equality or civil rights. They wonder what to say in reply to the argument that asserts that no harm would be done to them or to anyone if the law of the community were to confer upon two men or two women who are living together in a sexual partnership the status of being “married.” It would not, after all, affect their own marriages, would it? On inspection, however, the argument that laws governing one kind of marriage will not affect another cannot stand. Were it to prove anything, it would prove far too much: the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships. Should these, as a matter of equality or civil rights, be recognized as lawful marriages, and would they have no effects on other relationships? … No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage.

The document also called for what it termed “civil disobedience”:

Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required.

The call for civil disobedience got a lot of attention. In fact, The Washington Times’ story led with that call in its headline. ALos Angeles Times editorial called the declaration’s “apocalyptic argument for lawbreaking” both disingenuous and dangerous. “We certainly hope it doesn’t come to that,” Robert George said during the news conference announcing the declaration. “When the limits of conscience are reached and you cannot comply, it’s better to suffer a wrong than to do it.” When pressed, the three writers remained mum over what sort of civil disobedience they were contemplating.

The document purported to represent the Christian position on marriage and family as “heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s word, seeking justice in our societies, resisting tyranny, and reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed and suffering.” But missing from the original signatories were representatives from large swaths of mainstream Christianity, including Seventh-Day Adventists and Episcopalians. Presbyterians, United Methodists and Pentecostals were also notably under-represented among the signers. Several signers spoke of the document as a moral one rather than a political manifesto. During the news conference, Colson incredibly claimed, “this document is a clarion call to reach out to the poor and the suffering.” BTB’s Timothy Kincaid wasn’t buying it:

While this alliance is one that does not reflect the face of Christianity, it also is not a declaration of a new-found position of agreement based on shared Christian teaching and ideology. There is no mention of shared faith in creeds or teachings, no virgin birth, no resurrection, no divine redemption.

Rather, this is a statement of political purpose by an alliance of socially conservative activist who oppose abortion and marriage equality. Indeed, although the document speaks in lofty terms of Christian tradition and religious freedom, the only commitments it makes are to oppose legal abortion (some day down the road) and the immediate attack on the ability of gay people to avail themselves of civil equality.

This is, in short a political alliance. It is a pact and a threat.

If you know of something that belongs on the Agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.

Paul Douglas

November 20th, 2015

Colson is 6 feet under isn’t he?

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