Advocacy News - Message from U.S. frontline: "Mad as hell!"
August 6, 2006
Message from U.S. frontline: "Mad as hell!"
By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell
On July 26, 2006, Washington State’s Supreme Court ruled against couples seeking access to same-sex marriage. Gay marriage advocate Bill Dubay has worked for equality in his home state for decades, sometimes taking time out to give support to his Canadian neighbours. Bill joined us in Vancouver in 2002 when we toured the country in support of Canada’s winning strategy to achieve equal marriage for same-sex couples.
Bill has kept readers of this web site updated on progress in his state (see Apr. 10, 2005). Following the 5-4 decision against equal marriage by Washington State’s Supreme Court, we received some comments from this greatly disappointed advocate, in the front lines of the struggle for equality and justice in America.
“We waited more than 16 months for a decision after oral arguments were made in March 2005”, Bill wrote to us after the court’s judgment. “Of course both sides had their hopes, but almost everyone, even our opponents, expected that the worse that would happen would be what we refer to as a Vermont decision, - a punt to the legislature. Well, it wasn't to be; we fought, we lost.”
Speaking of marriage
In the months leading up to the decision, Bill worked with other human rights advocates to ensure a communications strategy was in place to respond to court’s judgment.
“Of course the GLBT community was abuzz with speculation and deciding what to do while we waited,” Bill said. “A group was formed called Washington Working Group for Marriage Equality (WAGME). From April 2005 through September of the same year we met once a month, making plans and staying connected. As time went by we assumed that the decision was more imminent, so we started meeting from noon to 1PM every other Tuesday. A conference room in downtown Seattle, along with a set of speakerphones and wide area conference call service, so that activists could join the meetings by phone from around the state, was provided, free of charge, by Preston, Gates and Ellis, the state's largest law firm.”
With the state’s gay and lesbian activists in the loop, Bill also worked to ensure the LGBT community at large had an opportunity to express their support at a rally.
“Right after the oral arguments in March I made the proposal that we have community rallies on the day of the decision in different parts of the state,” explained Bill. “I was willing to be the main organizer for Seattle's rally, and to recruit activists I had worked with in other parts of the state through DontAmend.com - Washington, an organization I head up. My gut told me that no matter the decision, our community would want to come together to share our joy or sorrow. Instead of having people wondering what to do and where to go, we could all come together as a family. We didn't know when the decision would come, but we could at least start organizing a response.”
But Bill encountered some resistance to this approach.
“A lot of people liked the idea, but not everyone. I won't mention names, but some of the high-powered, high-visibility, control freak types were against it. They thought that the press conference put on by the plaintiffs and their lawyers on the day of decision would be enough. I got into a few squabbles about that. They then said, ‘Do your rally the day after the decision, we want to the focus to be exclusively on the couples involved in the case.’
“I agreed that there should be lots of focus and coverage of the couples, but this decision will affect everyone in the community, not just the couples who sacrificed so much. We went round and round until I finally told them, ‘If you don't approve of the event, don't attend. It is easy. I don't need your permission and I'm moving forward.’
“Once they saw they had no choice they suddenly became very supportive and of course tried to take over the event. But my now best friend, Sarah Luthens, and I, kept control. We had no desire for a community split, so we worked with them and certainly included the couples, their lawyers, and leaders of the various organizations (most of which were on my side from the start).
An early judgment
Of course the best laid plans can soon be cast asunder, as in this case, when the court announced the release date of its decision.
“Our courts, for years, since before anyone can remember, have announced on Wednesdays which decisions would be handed down on the following day, Thursday. Because of this,” Bill explained, “everyone, our side, their side, the press, everyone, was expecting the same in this case. This Tuesday was a meeting day for WAGME. I couldn't attend in person so I was on the phone. About 12:30 we got notice that the decision would be the next day.
"Looking back I have to laugh. Everyone, including me, started talking at once. It was total chaos for about 5 minutes. But we finally calmed down a bit and started to pull things together. We (Sarah and I) had to call our venue for the event and move it back a day (Seattle First Baptist Church has a huge sanctuary that seats close to a thousand, and had reserved it for us every Thursday evening, for over a year, free of charge!), get the word out, make sure the scheduled speakers could make it, all of that stuff. But we pulled it off.
"The rest of that day into the evening was crazy. There were times I was talking on two phones at once and watching my email light up like a Christmas tree. Actually it was pretty exciting.Of course we were expecting a win, or at worse, a punt to the legislature.”
Then came the terrible blow against justice.
"I'm mad as hell!"
“I'm sure that when the decision was announced online at 8AM on Wednesday that many of us had the same reaction. At first, shock, then the other emotions started to grow. But it was still a big day with a lot to do: the phones, the emails, the media calling, all of that stuff. Of course the mood was quite different, but it was about as frantic as we had expected. You've been through something similar, even bigger, so you know what it is like,” Bill said, recalling our own encounters with members of the media.
“At the rally, now called a community gathering, participants agreed to keep the tone as positive as possible. The event went very well. The church filled up, the speakers spoke, all giving eloquent and upbeat speeches. I kept to my script, as agreed, when my turn came. No one was edited or told what to say or not say, we all just agreed this was not the time to go negative. I was so exhausted and wound up that I couldn't do much more than stick to my self-created script.
“In retrospect I wish I had said what I really wanted to say. I wanted to step to the microphone and say, ‘I don't know about you, but I'm mad as hell!’ But I didn't and we'll never know if that was the right decision.”
Bill went home to his partner John, after the rally, and found his anger growing even more.
“It wasn't until later that evening when John and I were having dinner alone at home that some of the other emotions started perking up to the surface. We discussed them, cried a little bit, and I realized that the most predominant emotion I was having was anger. Yes, disappointed, humiliated, frustrated, distraught, all of that. But I knew I had to deal with my anger first. I still haven't really dealt with it, but I will when it is time. Not to worry, I'm not a violent person, I don't know how it will manifest itself but I know it is there and I know what I won't do: I won't get physically violent.”
At times like this, the gay community, and its supporters, can be a source of comfort.
“Early the next morning my friend and fellow activist called,” Bill continued. “He and his partner Chris were married in Portland when all of that was going on in 2004. The Oregon Supreme Court has since nullified those marriages. Anyway, Ken and I were going through many of the same emotions. He wasn't sure how to handle his emotions, so Chris suggested he call me. That was the right thing to do because we supported each other. I told Ken about how I wanted to say, ‘I'm mad as hell.’ He said, ‘I really wish you had, I'm sure that the audience would have stood and cheered you. A lot of people felt that way and there was kind of a feeling of false positiveness in the room.’”
The unwillingness of Washington’s court to do the right thing has caused Bill, and others like him, to reassess their place in his state’s society.
From de facto to officially second-class
“I'll tell you right here and now, I really feel like a second-class citizen,” Bill says. “My government has told me and my people that we are not worthy. That discriminating against us is OK because the legislature says it's OK. That our state constitution's privileges and immunities clause and its equal rights amendment only applies to heterosexuals. I feel like an unwelcome outcast in a city and state that I have lived, worked and participated in since the day I moved here in 1968. I no longer feel at home. This might sound like I'm feeling sorry for myself and perhaps I am, but those are my true feelings.”
As tears filled our eyes, we learned how our friend had been impacted by the court’s abdication of its responsibility to uphold human rights.
“John and I have been as generous as possible in supporting not only GLBT organizations, but also civic groups, other civil rights groups - including pro-choice (abortion), the arts, children's funds, political groups, etc. Usually our dollar contributions at any one time have not exceeded $100 to any single group, with some exceptions, of course. We have often dug into our inheritance that is planned to support us in retirement, to give to causes that we really felt are worthy. This isn't to brag, it is just a fact. Now, with the exception of GLBT organizations, I don't want to do that anymore. It may just be bitterness, but I don't feel a part of that anymore. In one fell swoop, I feel like an outsider, someone who doesn't belong, who is not wanted. And yes, I'm angry. I'm very angry. Our government, and the courts in particular, the place where justice is supposed to be found, has kicked us in the teeth. We aren't worthy. We don't belong. Everything has changed.”
Millions of Americans are facing the anguish that Bill feels, as they realize the American dream is, for them, a lie.
“From a strictly selfish, non-community, point of view, it hurts to know we will never be married, never even be given the chance to marry. The 'let's pretend' public figures try to tell us that we'll get it through the legislature in 5 - 7 years. That's a good spin to keep chins up in the immediate aftermath of the decision, but we know the truth. It took us 30 years to get a gay civil rights bill passed in this state. If we really put our collective noses to the grindstone and give it our all, maybe, just maybe, in 20 years we will have the right to marry. I'm 58 years old. I doubt that I'll live that long. And John is 68 … The court has rejected us, our humanity. The legislature has treated us like dirt for so long that we got used to it, although we continued to fight. Now the court suggests that we go there to win equality in marriage. Fat chance.”
How does one react when a government, or it’s compliant judicial lap dogs, withhold rights and treat people unfairly? Revolt or walk away? It’s a question that many in the US are unable to answer right now, but when they do, America may not like the answer.
“I'd do everything all over again, as I'm sure you would if you lost your battle too,” says Bill. “It is going to take me a while to work through this, but I'll be fine. After all, we had nothing to lose, only something to gain that we didn't gain. What really bothers me is that before Wednesday we were de facto second-class citizens, now we are official - the court had put a definite seal of approval of our status on us. I guess maybe that's something we should be proud of."