Stories by Nicole Glass

Do Gays Need a Court Win For Equality?

June 29th, 2011 at 8:26 am 40 Comments

New York is now the sixth and most populous state to legalize same-sex marriage. Last Friday night was the first time that a Republican-controlled legislative chamber voted a marriage bill into law, with the GOP providing the margin of victory. Since the New York vote demonstrated that a GOP legislature can be made to support same-sex marriage, is getting the Supreme Court decision to rule in favor of gay marriage – as proposed by Theodore Olson and David Boies – still necessary? Gay conservatives are divided on the issue.

Some same-sex marriage advocates say that gay marriage will take the path of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case which allowed interracial marriage, calling it a constitutional right. The American Foundation for Equal Rights is funding the Olson and Boies lawsuit and it’s founder, Evan Wolfson, told FrumForum that no one should have to wait to marry, which is why he advocates a Supreme Court ruling to allow it nationwide:

“Every day couples are excluded from marriage is a real injury and injustice to them and their loved ones, and constitutional freedoms such as the freedom to marry should not depend on, or await, majority permission,” he said.

Clark Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said working through the legislative process could take many more years – so the legal strategy pursued by Olson and Boies is “a valid and important part of the fight for the equality enshrined in our Constitution.”

The Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court ruling of 1967 ended race-based legal restrictions on marriage. Cooper says same-sex marriage will follow the same path, emerging in all three branches of government.

“While it is always possible to achieve legislative change in any state, the realistic timeline for doing so in every state without judicial intervention is likely beyond most of our lifetimes,” he told FrumForum. “Sodomy laws were still on the books in several states as recently as 2003 – until they were ruled unconstitutional in the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court ruling.”

However, executive director of GOProud Jimmy LaSalvia said that while he supports the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is not a federal issue and should remain in the hands of state legislators. Not only would this more directly express the will of the people, but it would be more effective at becoming widely accepted.

“The federal government should stay out of the issue,” he told FrumForum. “What’s happening is appropriate – that the states are deciding this issue. Certainly, a federal marriage amendment for the constitution would be the largest federal power grab of the states in history.

Advocates for a legal remedy to the same sex marriage issue will ultimately need to wrestle the the consequences of another landmark decision that came from the Supreme Court: Roe v. Wade, the controversial decision which legalized abortion. Some feminists and pro-choice advocates have argued that winning that right through a sweeping court decision has not been helpful in the long term.

However, since the struggle for marriage equality is now arguably a civil rights struggle, some argue that the only proper redress is through the courts. David Boise’s spokesperson told FrumForum:

The point of constitutionally protected rights is that they are not subject to popular vote.  Gay and lesbian individuals should not have to plead with their elected officials or their fellow citizens to recognize the fundamental rights that are guaranteed to them by the Constitution.  But in most states in this country, gay and lesbian couples, unlike heterosexual couples, are still denied the fundamental right to marry.

Baby, I Won’t Drive My Car

June 17th, 2011 at 5:16 pm 11 Comments

It’s not only the imams who want Saudi Arabia to keep the brakes on women drivers.

Even some Western-educated, modernist Saudi women are not rushing to join the ongoing campaign protesting the kingdom’s ban on female drivers. These women claim it has less to do with human rights then it does to do with the already congested, dangerous conditions of the roads, and a lack of public transportation.

Lolwa al-Saud, 22, is an American University student who frequently travels to Saudi Arabia to visit her family. She provided FrumForum with a perspective on the contentious issue of women  driving shaped more by on-the-ground — and on-the-road — realities in Saudi Arabia than Western feminist theory.

Al-Saud told FrumForum she had ambivalent feelings about today’s protest in Riyadh during which some 50 women got behind the wheels of cars in violation of Saudi Arabia’s prohibition against female drivers — the only one in force in a Moslem-majority country.

“I want to drive — I like driving — but we are not ready,” she insisted.

Saudi Arabia is not prepared for women behind the wheel, al-Saud believes. Her perspective is not based on religious edicts so much as practical and safety considerations.

While there is no law forbidding women from driving in Saudi Arabia, the monarchy supports the national custom that females not put their feet to the pedals.

Neither the Saudi royal family nor their senior ministers object to women drivers. But they are loathe to antagonize either religious hardliners or conservative elements who believe any tampering with the guardianship system — under which women need permission from their father, husband, or brother to marry, travel abroad or work — would usher in unrestrained Western-style women’s liberation incompatible with Islamic traditions.

But al-Saud, who drives while attending university in Washington, said she opposes a blanket lifting of the ban at this point because it would add more traffic to the kingdom’s already congested — and notoriously dangerous — roads.

“Having women driving is not a good idea right now with that traffic,” she said. “It’s horrible. Rush hour can last all day. There’s even heavy traffic on the streets at 10 p.m., 11 p.m., midnight”.

To travel even relatively short distances, al-Saud added, drivers can routinely expect to spend an hour stuck in standing traffic.

“Having women driving in that traffic is going to cause more chaos than actually help people,” she said.

Saudi Arabia currently has the highest rate of road fatalities in the world. On average there are more than 153,000 traffic accidents in Saudi Arabia per year and 3,500 deaths.

To travel even relatively short distances, al-Saud said drivers can routinely expect to spend an hour stuck in standing traffic, she added.

Instead of lifting the ban preventing women to drive, the government needs to focus on creating public transportation options first, she believes.

Al-Saud, who spent the past month in Riyadh and Jedda, noted the cities both lack buses and metro systems — services which are desperately needed to meliorate traffic conditions.

Currently al-Saud said well-heeled Saudi women depend on either private drivers or taxis to get around. Poorer women are typically driven by their sons or neighbors’ sons.

“We actually like getting dropped off instead of looking for parking or anything. None of the people that I know have a problem with having drivers,” she said. “But there are people who can’t actually afford it, and I understand, but having women drive is going to cause a bigger problem.”’

In emergencies the government typically makes exceptions to the ban, turning a blind eye to women taking relatives to the hospital, for instance, or granting them retroactive permission.

During her recent trip, al-Saud noticed many of the protest campaign organisers were women with foreign roots (like Egyptian and Lebanese) — and that most Saudi women she talked to shared her opinion about a go-slow approach to allowing females behind the steering wheels.

Aside from the chronic traffic problems and reckless driving on Saudi roads, having women behind the wheel could jeopardize their safety in other ways, she said. Women are increasingly being sexually harrassed in Saudi Arabia — even when they are travelling in taxis.

“When I’m in the back seat of the car, I get followed. You get followed by cars and stalked — so just imagine a girl driving,” said al-Saud.

After a proper public transportation system is in place, al-Saud proposes the government gradually change the law to allow women drivers.

“Obviously things are going to change, but you can’t want change right away,” she said. “Everyone [supports] women driving, but it’s about enforcing it at the right time and actually having awareness.”

She believes the idea of women drivers needs to be culturally accepted before any laws are enacted, through programs, television and other public awareness campaigns.

And this is an approach the government has already been considering.

“The government has been looking into [changing driving laws],” she said. “I think the government knows best. They don’t want to cause chaos. They’ve been talking about this [for a decade].”

Furthermore, she said, the government is looking into the feasibility of building urban metro lines in major cities.

Even if the driving ban was to be lifted immediately, al-Saud would refuse to get behind the wheel in her home country.

“If they start having women drive, I’m not going to,” she said. “I want to start driving when I know it’s safe.”

FF’s CPAC Straw Poll: GOProud Wins

February 13th, 2011 at 2:10 am 37 Comments

While much of the focus at CPAC focused on the official straw poll results, FrumForum decided to do its own straw poll of the attendees and their view on the inclusion of gay conservative group GOProud at CPAC.

We found that despite the recent controversy of the inclusion of GOProud, most conference attendees supported the group’s presence.

Out of a survey of 50 CPAC attendees, thirty-one (62%) supported the inclusion of GOProud at the conference, and only three (6%) opposed the group’s presence. Five respondents had never heard of the group (10%), and eleven had no opinion (22%).

CPAC attracted a large young population that seemed to have more liberal social values and conservative economic values. As the official CPAC straw poll showed, 49% of CPAC attendees were between the ages of 18-25.

Concerning GOProud, conservatives from all over the country were tolerant of sexuality, as long as the group inhabited conservative values.

“I think CPAC has traditionally selected on groups based on ideology, not on sexual preference, and so I think we need to get back to bringing in groups based on their ideas, not on what they do in their private lives,” said Patrick Coyle of Virginia.

“I’m all in favor of it – I think the Republican Party should be an umbrella party. Just because some people are gay doesn’t mean you should kick them out of the party. If the Republican Party wants to come back into power, we should be an umbrella party,” said Josh from Pennsylvania.

“Our rights don’t come to us because we belong to one group or another, but they come to us as individuals. So they have the same rights as anyone else. So their opinions should be represented here. And the idea that people are boycotting because of it [makes no sense]. They should be here to counter their arguments. Embrace them, don’t belittle them or antagonize them. Let them have their peace and present your own piece at the same time,” said Drew, of Georgia.

“I’m for inclusion of as many different constituencies as possible, and I don’t think it’s our position to judge people – I believe that’s God’s place. So we should embrace the people. Love the sinner, hate the sin, so to speak,” said Brenda who came to CPAC from Florida.

“If you’re really going to be conservative and have those Christian-based right wing values, we’re gonna welcome people of all makes, models, and races,” noted Kelly of Michigan.

Attendees opposed to the inclusion of GOProud at CPAC held their opinions not based on the sexuality of the group’s members, but the boycotting actions of the group.

“On the one hand, I really don’t care in terms of their position on gay marriage, but GOProud has done a huge disservice to the conservative movement by personally attacking politicians with whom it disagrees. I’m also disappointed that their headline singer was someone who was a major Hilary supporter in 2008. That’s completely hypocritical,” said Steven Irtwell from Colorado.

“I personally don’t support their inclusion per say, but I also don’t support groups like the Heritage Foundation and others that are boycotting or not participating this year. I think we need to be cohesive and focus on defeating Obama in 2012 and expressing different parts of conservatism that may or may not be consistent with GOProud’s message. But regardless of their inclusion, I think other groups that consider themselves conservatives should be here and participate,” said Bradis from Massachusetts.

While there are conservatives who oppose GOProud based on their sexuality preferences, many CPAC attendees were not bothered by this. Indeed, it seems as if social standpoint of the conservative movement has shifted dramatically – a fact reinforced by the CPAC official straw poll results showing only 9% of attendees identifying social conservative issues as their core principles.

“I think a lot of people still call themselves conservatives that aren’t really socially conservative,” said CPAC-goer Buffy from Illinois.