SCOTUS, judgment, and grammar

When the Supreme Court Windsor and Hollingsworth rulings came down yesterday, the internet blew up, predictably.  I tried not to get dragged into any of the various Facebook fights, but after going on to Scotusblog and reading the decisions, I thought I had formed a reasonably informed perspective.  So I wrote this:

I’ve read both decisions and the dissents.  Unsurprisingly narrow rulings, with Hollingsworth v Perry primarily focused on issues of standing, while Justice Kennedy’s decision in Windsor (the DOMA decision) declined to overturn the entire statute, but dealt specifically with federal implications.  DOMA was written with the intent to discriminate–to deny an historically marginalized group of people full legal status.  5th and 14th Amendments–Congress doesn’t get to do that. Good decision.

When I got on Facebook this morning, someone I don’t know had messaged me:

Your an apostate unfaithful Mormon

His note really bothered me, because of the punctuation errors.  ‘Your’ is possessive–his note implied that I owned ‘an apostate unfaithful Mormon.’  As it happens, I don’t own anyone, apostate or not.  He should have used the contraction: ‘you’re.’  Plus, there really should have been a comma between ‘apostate’ and ‘unfaithful.’  So I posted that response on Facebook; responding to the grammar, and not the content, of my unknown detractor.  And was pleasantly surprised at the positive FB response.

The content–you’re an apostate–isn’t really worth responding to, frankly.  I’m secure enough in my faith to not care what a stranger thinks of me.  I thought the Supreme Court decided both cases properly, because I read them, read the dissents, and found the decisions persuasive.  I have no legal training; I’m not any kind of authority in constitutional law.  But I like reading Supreme Court decisions.  I rather like the prose.  I even like Justice Scalia’s prose, though I rarely agree with the substance of his comments.  I thought this analysis was pretty interesting; I did find the federalist arguments in Windsor rather off-putting.  But reading a Supreme Court case, and agreeing with its logic, does not, to my mind, label me faithless.  I’m not naive enough to not know that many of my LDS friends might disagree with my assessment of SCOTUS.  But other LDS friends agree with me.  Surely legal analysis is an arena in which we can agree to disagree.

For a lot of people who I think of as friends, yesterday was a day of great rejoicing.  It was a triumphant day, a day for celebrating.  For other people who I also think of as friends, yesterday was a day of mourning.  There are people I know and love who are strong advocates for marriage equality, and there are other people who I know and love who are equally strong advocates for traditional marriage.  And as even Scalia’s dissent suggested yesterday, both sides are exceptionally quick to judge.  Pointing fingers, calling names, shouting each other down does not, to my mind, contribute to civilized discourse.

This Cracked article offers one perspective on yesterday’s rulings. If you are married, straight, religious, and believe that homosexual conduct is morally wrong, yesterday’s decision will . . .  not affect you in any way whatsoever.  I generally like Cracked, but with all due respect, I know people who will not find that argument persuasive.  For some people (intelligent, thoughtful, moral people), the DOMA decision marks another attack on the institution of marriage, an institution which they believe to be the bedrock of civil society.  I understand their concerns.  I sympathize.  I think marriage is really important too.

But I also think of this in personal terms.  I have spent my life in the theatre–teaching theatre, acting, directing, writing.  I don’t know how many theatrical productions I’ve been personally involved with, either as director, actor, dramaturg or playwright.  It has to be in excess of three hundred.  Add staged readings, and the number doubles.  Add shows seen and reviewed, and it doubles again. I have worked with hundreds of actors, designers, directors.  Which means, I have met a few gay people in my life.

My father was an opera singer.  He’s retired now, but still loves opera.  If the right role came around (the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, perhaps), he could certainly handle it vocally, though he might struggle a bit physically.  When I was a kid, one of my Dad’s closest friends was a man named Carl, a short, explosive German pianist, who was my Dad’s favorite vocal coach and accompanist.  Carl was a welcome guest in our family home every Thanksgiving and every Christmas, and frequently in between.  My brother and I were given the responsibility to mow Carl’s lawn, a terrible job, actually, because Carl wouldn’t think of it until the grass was a couple of feet tall, and mowing took forever.  Well, Carl, a close and treasured friend was gay.  And that fact was certainly no secret to anyone.  Nor did it, in any sense, matter.

So yesterday, when the DOMA decision came down, my tendency was to think of it in personal terms, to think of Carl and his never-ending romantic woes, to think of close friends, straight and gay, who have met someone they love, who have married, who have welcomed children into their homes and families.  I’m a playwright.  I respond to situations personally.  I don’t think in terms of an abstraction–an ‘institution’– damaged; I think instead of friends, and their families, blessed.

So let’s deal with each other civilly.  Let’s try to keep the volume down.  If we disagree, let’s decide to remain friends afterwards.  And above all, let’s use good grammar.  There’s no excuse for incorrect punctuation.



6 thoughts on “SCOTUS, judgment, and grammar

  1. David

    I have to agree with you in every way. I’m sympathetic of the major blow this has dealt to those that think that the family will be destroyed because of the decision made yesterday. However, and perhaps its because of my exposure to LGBTs in my lifetime, I am cheering.

    I think that once you get to know a few people really well that happen to be LGBT then you naturally want to support them and help them to be happy.

      1. Anonymous

        Amen. All it takes is knowing and caring about someone who is gay, to change your mind… as it did mine.

  2. N. Wilson

    I’ve been lurking a long time on the marriage-equality thing, and wondering when, if, and where I should weigh in. You’ve created such a positive, respectful forum here that I’d like to give it a shot: I hope you don’t mind, and I’m not in any way offended if you don’t want me to use this forum for my own expression of opinion. Just delete and prosper, if that is the case.
    With that preamble, here goes:
    I have, on my bookshelves, the text of a speech given by Susan B Anthony, opposing the equal rights amendment. Now, I don’t think anyone could accuse her of being insufficiently in favour of equal rights for women: but she felt the amendment was a big mistake. Her argument was, succinctly: the law was already applied to women, both criminal statute and tax law, though written using only male pronouns; that was correct according to historical English usage; an amendment protecting the equal rights of women nullified the legal protections they were already entitled to and made a thorough mess of things. The thing is, she was right: a supreme court decision that the 2nd and 14th amendments already clearly applied to women would have been more effective and far-reaching (and needed fewer patch-ups to laws, both extant and subsequent) than the 19th did.
    When you re-define an historical term, such as “men” or “marriage” you have unintended legal consequences. Will re-defining “marriage” affect my marriage? I really doubt it. Will it throw an entire body of historical family law into an endless legal morass, causing real problems for families already embroiled in the red tape of our court system for any number of reasons? All too likely. Could civil unions be the best answer? I don’t know enough to know, but it seems possible. (Folds soapbox and walks off. For now.) Thank-you.

    1. Anonymous

      Indeed, you may want to research DOMA and the 1,100 Federal rights previously witheld from gay couples already legally married. Also, perhaps consider your own marriage. What does it mean to you to be married? Why did it matter to you to get married when you already had a loving relationship with your partner? Because marriage means something. It was initiated by a bunch of men for reasons of securing property, etc. But it’s also become a status that means something to couples. Perhaps we should allow the term ‘marriage’ to apply to all consenting adults who want to bind and promise their lives to one another. And perhaps we should call ‘religious marriage’ something else.
      Also, thanks for sharing where you are on your personal journey. I applaud you for thinking critically about the issue! I hope there will be many more just like you in this nation.

  3. N. Wilson

    Really, I was just trying to point out that being opposed to the redefinition of a historical term doesn’t automatically mean someone’s opposed to people being treated fairly.


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