Reviews of Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage
from Portland’s Willamette Week:
At first glance it looks like the curse of tardiness. Davina Kotulski’s helpful primer on gay marriage hit the press prior to the revolution breaking out in San Francisco (her native city) and Portland (ours). But though recent events will be missing from her primary arguments, the absence will in no way invalidate her message: Gays and lesbians deserve full equality now.
Kotulski wrote Why You Should Give a Damn about Gay Marriage for three groups of people: the committed (who are, as I write this, marching bravely to the altar), the straight but not narrow (best wishes, Ms. Linn and Co.) and those queers, such as myself, who have long looked disdainfully upon gay marriage as a plot to domesticate our uniqueness. Although I have lingering fears that this part of our struggle for rights might propel Bush and the Paleolithic evangelicals back into power, Kotulski (along with a few wedding receptions last week) has convinced me that this is a cause worth fighting for.
Kotulski rigorously marshals her facts both to promote a wider definition of marriage and to respond to many of society’s fears (all of which are either baseless or born of ignorance). Her case begins with rights: “There are more than 1,049 federal rights that accompany civil marriage, and some additional 300 per state.” These are rights that cover medical emergencies, taxes, insurance, inheritance, burial decisions and such trivialities as frequent-flier programs. Even the right not to testify against one’s spouse is denied queers, as Rosie O’Donnell and her now-wife Kelli bitterly discovered in recent legal battles.
Kotulski emphasizes each of the legal problems that queers face with traumatic stories from real people who were left without recourse when partners were severely injured or killed, such as that of a homophobic father actually carrying his son’s body off for a funeral that would exclude his son’s long-term partner. This litany of abuse should put the lie to the idea that what we are demanding is “special rights”. Still, never underestimate the viciousness of the severely religious.
“What do a serial rapist, a murderer, a child pornographer, a lifer, and an armed bank robber share in common?” asks Kotulski. “As long as they are heterosexual, they can all get married in prison.” Kotulski has much to say about the “sacredness” of heterosexual marriage; after all, “gay people did not invent the term wife-swapping.”
It’s depressing that in the 21st century, and in what is purportedly a secular country, that we are forced to entertain the views of an opiated mass of Baptists, brandishing the storybook of their sky god as if such ravings had relevance in rational discourse. Yet we must. Marriage is for procreation? “What about a man who wants to marry a post-menopausal woman?” asks Kotulski, “or a woman who marries a man with a vasectomy? Should these marriages be annulled?” There are also the fatuous Christian claims that gay marriage will pry open the lock on incest and polygamy, though the former is excoriated in the Bible unless it’s between fathers and daughters, and the latter was practiced quite freely by David and Abraham, two of Jehovah’s favorites. The “saved” should try and save themselves.
Kotulski ends by supplying helpful outlines of letters to send our elected officials on the subject of marriage as well as an international guide to where in the world civilized minds have triumphed. “Gay marriage is gay liberation”, Kotulski stresses. Her book proves that it’s also a victory for human rights. I see that now.
Originally published on Wednesday, 3/10/2004
Q: What do a serial rapist, a murderer, a child pornographer, a lifer, and an armed robber share in common?
A: As long as they’re heterosexual, they can all get married in prison and never even have to live with their spouses. But you can’t!
This is just one of the many questions openly lesbian Davina Kotulski, Ph.D., asks in her first book, Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage (Alyson Books, March 2004). With the many current judgments, opinions and feelings swirling around the topic of gay marriage, the facts get lost. Her witty, engaging, informative book is easy to read and up to date.
When discussing this issue, it’s important to have these factual numbers on hand. Kotulski’s book helps us stay focused on such as there are “more than 1,049 federal rights that accompany civil marriage, and some additional 300 per state.” Perhaps her most profound point regarding these numbers pertains to the upcoming presidential election. Candidates claim, “I support the individual state’s right to choose” regarding rights and marriage for same-sex couples. Of course they do, Kotulski says, since “state rights consist of 25% of the rights of heterosexual married couples”. “That way”, Kotulski argues, they don’t have to do anything to get you the other 75% your rights” as a gay and lesbian couple. In other words, this takes candidates off the hook about having to advocate any rights legislation for gays on a Federal level which make up most of the rights to civil marriages!
When you start talking about wanting gay marriage, how do you answer questions people raise? Why You Should Give a Damn is a user-friendly guide, offering answers to nine common arguments against marriage equality, including: marriage being for “procreation only”; marriage having “always been between a man and a woman”; that clergymen will be “forced into performing same-sex ceremonies”; and that “gay marriage will threaten the institution of marriage.” I wish Kotulski had a better response for the argument that gay marriage will “open the gates to legalizing incest, polygamy and bestiality.” In my experience, this is the most common—if illogical—response that opponents of Gay marriage cough up. Her response to this, while funny, is vague and not really helpful to me.
Her book also raises many concerns not addressed in the media and ones that even lesbian and gay couples may not have considered. If, for example, you are traveling away from home and your partner falls ill or suffers an accident and needs medical attention, you are not viewed as family. Legally, therefore, you have no input in your partner’s medical care. Even if you live in a state or city that acknowledges you both as domestic partners, the minute you leave that city or state, you become complete strangers in the eyes of the law. Even if—after having expensive wills and legal documents drawn up—you have durable power of attorney, still the hospital and medical team can deny you any right to being at your partner’s side.
One thing Kotulski reflects on that resonated for me was her comment about us calling our partner “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” A girlfriend, she writes, “is not someone you have been with for 30 years.” She adds that because we are left out of the “adult fraternity” called marriage, we’re unfairly denied the adult responsibilities that marriage would give us. She begs the question: “Is it fair for an entire group of people to infantilized?”
For far too long, we Lesbians and Gays have reflected on our lives according to the way we feel subjectively, not on what the data, statistics, and accurate research can tell us about our culture. Davina Kotulski’s book is another tool to help bring the truth into the light and break down decades of false judgments based on fear.
~Joe Kort MA, MSW, ACSW
(Product Details: Paperback, 202 pages, Alyson Publications, April 2004)
The intricate system of laws that protects heterosexual privilege while denying GLBT people the responsibilities, privileges, and benefits of civil marriage is another form of segregation, but it is made all the more insidious by its apparent invisibility. In her new book, Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage, Dr. Davina Kotulski, Ph.D., attempts to persuade us that civil marriage equality is an issue we should all “give a damn about.” This task would challenge any writer, given the immense scope of the subject and the skepticism with which this issue is still met by many well-meaning GLBT activists. It is one thing to say 1,349 rights, benefits, and protections are being denied this community, but another entirely more daunting task to list and describe them while also developing a cohesive argument in less than 200 pages.
Fortunately, Dr. Kotulski begins with the most important point of all. Second-class citizenship demeans our integrity; it assaults the liberty guaranteed us by the U.S. Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court, it would seem, now agrees with us (just read the fine print of the Lawrence v. Texas ruling). In Dr. Kotulski’s words, “The language of love has power, and we have been given a very slim piece of the pie and asked to stay in our corner of the room and eat it quietly... we live a half-existence compared to our heterosexual friends.”
Dr. Kotulski is at her best when arguing that “Marriage Lite” (domestic partnerships, civil unions, reciprocal beneficiaries, etc.) is GLBT “Fool’s Gold”. These legal arrangements are only valid in their native states. Most of the responsibilities, privileges, and benefits to which we have been denied access are enshrined in federal marriage, tax, social security and inheritance laws anyway. For this reason, incidentally, the argument presented by many of our so-called political allies that this is a “states’ rights” issue is a deceptive way of avoiding taking a position at all. And didn’t the U.S. Supreme Court already determine in 1954 that “separate was not equal”? Dr. Kotulski offers her most compelling evidence when describing the process same-sex couples must endure to register a domestic partnership in California. The process, much more difficult to traverse than obtaining a simple marriage license, is itself demeaning because it reminds the same-sex couple of their second-class status.
The reader should be careful to avoid missing the forest while wandering amongst the 1,349 trees. This book is best read in small portions; the dry subject matter is monotonous and tedious. But Dr. Kotulski has made a cohesive argument and has given us all many compelling reasons to “give a damn” about civil marriage equality.
Christopher Hubble is the author of Lord Given Lovers: The Holy Union of David & Jonathan
By DON O’BRIANT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/25/04
As the battle over same-sex unions heats up in Congress and state legislatures, including Georgia’s, four new books are hitting the stores with surprisingly timely information and articulate arguments for the rights of gays to marry.
Three of the books are from major, mainstream publishing houses: Times Books, Harcourt, and Simon & Schuster. The fourth is being published by Alyson Publications, which specializes in gay and lesbian titles.
No books presenting the opposing view are on the horizon yet, but given the passion and the politics surrounding the issue, it may be only a matter of time.
“It usually takes six to 12 months for publishers to catch up with breaking news,” says Jana Riess, a religion correspondent for the industry trade magazine Publishers Weekly. “It was just fortuitous timing that the gay marriage books are being published now.”
Such books wouldn’t have made a ripple in sales a year ago, says Philip Rafshoon, owner of Outwrite Bookstore, which focuses on gay, lesbian and bisexual communities.
“This is an idea that is quickly gaining momentum,” he says. “Now that gay marriage may be in their grasp, people want to understand more about what they’re fighting for.”
Three of the best-selling books at Outwrite are David Moats’ Civil Wars (Harcourt, $25), Jonathan Rauch’s Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (Times Books, $22) and Davina Kotulski’s Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage (Alyson Publications, $12.95 paperback).
Kotulski, who describes her book as “an idiot’s guide to gay marriage,” focuses on the 1,138 federal and state rights same-sex couples are denied.
“There are things you don’t think about,” Kotulski says. “Seventy-five percent of all marriage rights are federal. If I died... my wife of eight years would not receive the $1,800 a month in Social Security that someone in a heterosexual marriage would receive. Neither would someone in a civil union.”
Allowing states to decide the issue creates problems, too, Kotulski says. “In California, I have rights in a domestic partnership, but when I go back to Oregon, where I was born, I have zero rights. This won’t work until you have them in all states.”
Hawaii was one of the first states to bring up the issue of gay marriage when the state’s Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that it was unconstitutional to limit marriage to heterosexuals. And although the Hawaii Legislature later amended the state constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual contract, the court decision sparked a wave of lawsuits and activism.
Evan Wolfson, an activist lawyer who played a major role in the Hawaii suit, presents his argument for same-sex marriage in Why Marriage Matters (Simon & Schuster, $23), a much-anticipated book being launched in July with a 50,000-copy printing and a six-city publicity tour.
Six years after the Hawaii case, the concept of civil unions was implemented in 1999, when the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that denying homosexuals the right to marry was unconstitutional. Subsequently, the state legislature enacted laws granting same-sex couples all the legal rights as heterosexual couples. The rights, however, were valid only within the state.
How a state considered a bedrock of conservatism became a pioneer in gay rights is the subject of Moats’ book, Civil Wars. The Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor of the Rutland [Vt.] Herald focuses on the personal aspects of the battle by telling the stories of the couples who filed the suit, the lawyers who spent years pursuing the case and the one openly gay legislator in Vermont whose impassioned speech won victory for the legislation.
Moats, who is heterosexual, believes the Vermont story ranks not just with the Stonewall riots as a landmark in gay history but “with Birmingham and Selma as landmarks of our growth toward a more complete democracy.”
Moats was not surprised by Vermont’s action in the area of gay rights.
“Vermont has a tradition of equalitarianism,” he says. “It was the first state in the union to abolish slavery. It’s a rural place settled by independent farmers who had to look out for one another and respect each other’s rights. Even though it’s a Republican state, the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and equality.”
Syndicated columnist Rauch also looks at the issue from a conservative viewpoint in his book, Gay Marriage. The Atlantic Monthly correspondent argues that gay marriage, far from destroying traditional marriage, would strenghten the key values of community and commitment.
“Society wants people to have caretakers, someone who is waiting for you at home and who will look after you,” Rauch says. “If we’ve learned anything from the AIDS crisis, it’s that there’s no substitute for a caring partner. The community has a stake in that and that’s why it gives marriage a special standing.”
While some critics portray same-sex marriages as a slippery slope, Rauch contends it’s a step toward strengthening marriage in general.
“This is not an attack from gays. It’s a fact that heterosexuals are not getting married or not staying married and that’s becoming a serious social problem.”
As examples, he points to a third of births being out of wedlock, a divorce rate of 50 percent and an increase in cohabitation by 70 percent from 1990 to 2000.
“Those are the trends the conservatives and religious right bemoan all the time”, Rauch says. “Now we have a group of Americans who take marriage seriously and who want the rings and the commitment and the service. Marriage is more than a legal arrangement. Marriage is standing in your community. Civil unions are a seat in the back of the bus.”
BY JONATHAN YOUNG, Buzz Editor
When Britney Spears walked out of the Vegas wedding chapel after her short-living marriage, she immediately had access to more than 1,300 rights and privileges that are not available to gay or lesbian couples. Author and activist Davina Katulski thinks this doesn’t quite make sense.
In her new book, Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage, she spells it out in plain English, and tells you what you can do about it. A pioneer in the Freedom to Marry movement, Davina identifies no less than 1,049 reasons why continuing to prevent gay men and lesbians from marrying creates a second-class citizenry in direct violation to equal protection under the law clauses of the Constitution.
Think you are safe living in California? The book points out that our state, although extremely progressive on the issue of protections for same-sex couples, only offers registered domestic partners 15 of the 300 state rights afforded to married couples—and include none of the thousand-plus federal rights. Additionally, you lose all these rights when you leave the state.
The book cuts through all the moralizing, to present a staggeringly succinct argument. For those in the Freedom to Marry fight, it’s a book full of invaluable and insightful resources. If you are not an activist, you will be by the end of reading just the first chapter. It may even open the eyes of even the staunchest foe of gay marriage (we can only hope); if it does not, it will make it drastically difficult to for them to present their arguments.
The 200-page book breaks down the unattainable rights into different chapters, covering topics of taxes, death, employment, parenting, retirement and divorce. Davina even dedicates a chapter to immigrants and transsexual issues. It’s all in here.
Chapter 12 is a great conversation topic. It covers the nine most common arguments against marriage equality. Read this part before you start debating with any gay marriage foe.
The book is an easy read. Davina writes so you can read smooth and quick, and she definitely gets your queer blood boiling in each page. It’s a must-read for anyone in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, questioning and even straight community. The book talks about equality—something everyone should enjoy in this country.
In Jan 04, my partner of 3 years and I began the process of splitting up. Simultaneously, Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco granted same gender marriage. While my heart was breaking my passion for Queer civil rights was growing.
Davina’s book; Why You Should Give A Damn About Gay Marriage; helped me focus. After reading the book, hearing stories of friends getting married and seeing non-supportive reactions; I committed to talking to one person a day until Marriage for all is legal.
I began to talk to anyone and everyone. The women in the grocery line, the Dr.’s office, the clerk at the pharmacy and then I knew I needed to talk to my family. Gulp, not them, we don’t talk. I grew up in the republican mid-west where we talked about nothing. The T.V. consumed our living room and the news was only about everyone else.
Years earlier I ‘came out’ when my father asked me; “So are you... well Gay?” In a not so kind and somewhat defensive way I responded, “Yes. ” In my process of understanding what it means to be lesbian and to live fully, it was now time to tell my parents more.
I made that call. My mother answered, I blurted out all the reasons she should understand same gender marriage. She was shocked. One I cried, (I am not sure she had heard me do in well over 20 years), second she and I had never really talked about me being gay and third she said she had no idea. That every day I walk out of the house knowing that people hate us, we could be fired, that some people prefer me dead than to raise a family and enjoy life. This was so shocking to her; she was speechless. My father was more thoughtful and able to talk. They could not fathom same gender marriage at point. It was too threatening and beyond their worldview.
I sent them Davina’s book. At my prodding over the next months, my father and I had many in depth conversations. He gradually became more and more comfortable with the idea of civil unions but NOT marriage. My mom died several months later of emphysema but she died knowing something of me I had never shared before.
I continue to talk about same gender marriage and the importance for everyone’s civil rights, what it is like for me to be a lesbian, why being polite and quite about it is no longer an option. My dad always accepted me and was not openly discriminatory toward me in any way. Now a year and a half he has shifted to say that he sees “no harm” in same gender marriage and he thinks he could support it.
I sent my dad an autographed copy of Davina’s book with the hope that he will read it again. Maybe he will talk with his friends about why he should give a damn about gay marriage. Why, because his daughter at 45 can live her life more fully because I had the courage tell my parents that being a lesbian is important and my rights are as important as everyone else’s, no matter the consequences.
This book is a tool to break the ground toward talking again. It is easy to read and explains things in ways that make the issues tangible and reasonable. Why Marriage and why now? Davina’s book helped me have specific information to use when talking with others. Being gay, queer, lesbian, what ever; we need to stand up and be heard and live fully. To do that I needed to talk with my family, even though we had virtually no relationship to speak of. There was something very powerful and important in the process of making that stand at home. Empowering myself to live fully includes telling my family who I am and why I deserve the world to know me as I am, a lesbian, a citizen, a women and one who will no longer be quite about my rights in this country.
Thanks Davina for helping me have the tools to speak my truth.
~ Jody J. Johnston