PA Marriage Amendment: the Exclusive Country Club of 2011

— by Adrian Shanker

It is difficult to comprehend the motivation of a person who would make a priority out of a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as an exclusive heterosexual privilege. If Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry Township) has his way, Pennsylvania will become the latest state to remind their LGBT citizens that they are still second-class to their straight neighbors. Metcalfe has recently announced his intent to introduce an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. For purposes of clarity, same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Pennsylvania, nor is there a chance that it will become legal in the near future, but for Daryl Metcalfe, he needs the satisfaction of telling people like me that not only can we not have equality, but that the denial of equality must be written in Constitutional stone. Metcalfe needs to remind me that I am still a second-class citizen in Pennsylvania.

Even a cursory review of Jewish American history will demonstrate the exclusivity that kept Jews second-class citizens. The routine exclusion of Jews to many private country clubs beginning in the 1920’s/30’s is perhaps the most widely understood of the many American antisemetic practices in which people with power held Jews back from full equality and participation in society. Diane Elizabeth Kendall, from her book, Members Only: Elite Clubs and the Process of Exclusion, states,

“In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Baltimore Country Club had signs posted that said ‘No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews.'”

(page 59) The pervasive exclusion of our group of people served only to benefit those with the power to exclude, in a word, to give them status as more elite than Jews.

More after the jump.
There are many similarities between the institution of marriage and the exclusivity of the country club. They both serve to enhance the economic interests of the participants, entrance into either comes with tangible benefits, and most importantly, both the institution of marriage and the country club have a history of exclusivity. A review of changes in marriage policy will remind us that the legal rights within the institution have been ever-changing, especially insofar as gender roles and property ownership are concerned. Anti-miscegenation laws were not declared unconstitutional until the 1967 Loving v Virginia case. The trial judge, Leon Bazile, defending the so-called Racial Integrity Act states,

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

But fortunately, the Supreme Court unanimously disagreed with the Commonwealth of Virginia and removed unnecessary and offensive racial restrictions from the institution of marriage. And let us not be so naïve to suggest that there is a difference between the Daryl Metcalfes of today from the Leon Baziles of the past. There is no difference. The interest in the so-called protection of the institution of marriage will always find new classes to exclude from the proverbial country club of the day.

As Jews, we know all too well the exclusionary tactics of the country club. We know what it means to be told we are second-class citizens. And we know what it felt like when our friends entered the country clubs we couldn’t attend, or when they benefited from the exclusivity that was their cultural privilege. We cannot simply learn about our cultural history in a textbook without taking action to ensure the end of the exclusive country-club mentality of today’s marriage institution. We need to ensure that the Jewish voice is collectively loud and clear regarding our opposition to a hateful, unnecessary constitutional amendment further denying rights to same-sex couples. But that still is not enough. We need to actively work for the legalization of civil same-sex marriage, and even better, perhaps some heterosexual Jews will offer to deny their own privilege of entering the country club of legal marriage while the rest of us wait at the sidelines.

Adrian Shanker, a Lehigh Valley-based LGBT community leader, serves on the Board of Directors of Equality Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Diversity Network, and the JRF Congregation Am Haskalah.

Josephs: Republicans obstructing reform because of homophobia

— Amy Giancoli Hartman

See video courtesy of WGAL.

State Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia) said she thinks she knows why House Republican leaders abruptly ended session this week and set plans into motion to penalize House Democrats: bigotry.

On Wednesday, House members were on the floor, ready to vote on several government reform bills, including several amendments that would address domestic partners of public officials and public employees under the state ethics and lobbyist disclosure laws, when House Majority Leader Mike Turzai abruptly ended session. He then called an impromptu meeting of the Rules Committee to reduce the number of Democrats in House standing committees by 10 percent and allow the majority leader to table any amendment to legislation arbitrarily for the rest of the 2011-12 session.

More after the jump.
Josephs said that she believes the Republicans are trying to keep from having to bring up any issues that run counter to their agenda and that is what caused these strong-arm tactics.

“Upon reflection, I believe of all the amendments we put up for consideration only one or two really got stuck in the Republicans’ craw,” Josephs said. “Those had to do with extending prohibitions and disclosure requirements to domestic partners of lobbyists and state elected and appointed officials. Some extreme right-wing Republicans were in a quandary. If they voted against the amendments, they would be saying that a state representative, for example, could use his or her office to direct a contract toward a domestic partner and get away with it. That is hardly reform. If they voted for the domestic partnership amendments they would be legitimizing intimate sexual relationships other than marriage, and might, in words of one extremist, “advance the homosexual agenda.

“In order to protect their right-wing members from having to cast a hard vote, Republican leaders attempted to shut down the entire democratic process.”

“It’s incredible to think that business in the House chamber may have been brought to a halt by a few amendments that related to domestic partners. I never knew that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens had that much power.”

Josephs said the amendment process has been set up in the House so that the rank-and-file members had more input on legislation. In fact, her Republican counterpart in the House State Government Committee, Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, refused to consider amendments to these reform bills when they were reviewed in the committee, and told Josephs that Democrats would have the opportunity to offer them on the floor.

“We were denied that opportunity to amend bills on the floor Wednesday,” she said. “And now, if the Rules change is adopted Monday, representation of our constituents in the legislative process will be limited and our ideas and proposals will be withheld from consideration. And we’re the ones being called obstructionists?”

“Is this how the Republicans see good government? Every legislator elected by the people has a right to participate in the legislative process, even those in the minority party; all of whom represent Republican citizens as well as independents, Libertarians, Greens and Democrats. We have taken steps to improve government accountability and access over the last four years. Our amendments to this package of bills were a sincere effort to continue that progress. And, we have our own package of good government legislation offered to improve trust and accountability. Let’s welcome debate and a vote on these proposals so we can continue moving forward rather than back.”