Do We Still Need “Gay Weddings?”

Arguments at the United States Supreme Court for Same-Sex Marriage on April 28, 2015

Arguments at the United States Supreme Court for Same-Sex Marriage on April 28, 2015

The Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage represents the LGBTQ rights movement’s biggest leap forward. At long last, the one fundamental right denied our community for so long is a reality. And now we celebrate.

But as America’s checkered past with equality illustrates, acceptance is slow to follow the letter of the law. If we look at the American experience of African-Americans, Latino, women’s, and other minority communities, there is no doubt that while legal protections are in place, forms of discrimination are still in practice.

Similarly, the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality is in some ways just beginning. Religious objection initiatives and lawsuits are popping up across the country as those who object to our rights make one last attempt to abridge them.

One example is the current lack of federal legislation defining sexual orientation as a protected class under Title IX. Technically, this means people can still be legally fired for their sexual orientation. While 22 states have passed legislation that prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, most states do not have such a provision. So while homosexual couples can now get married in all fifty states, they can also get fired for simply being gay

LGBTQ fair housing laws are another protection lacking from the law books. While 21 states and a patchwork of municipalities ban anti-LGBTQ housing discrimination, the Federal Fair Housing Act does not address the issue. The Supreme Court may very well find that there is a constitutional right to marry, but such a ruling would do nothing to prevent landlords from denying newlyweds housing in the 29 states where this type of discrimination remains entirely legal.

Last week, the Equality Act that addresses these issues was introduced in Congress. But even if the Equality Act passes, it will not do away with what former Attorney General Eric Holder referred to as subtle discrimination. “The greatest threats,” he said, “do not announce themselves in screaming headlines. They are more subtle. They cut deeper.”

We in the LGBTQ community are all too familiar with subtle discrimination. It’s the rare but hurtful unspoken look of disapproval, the curious lack of service, or an unexplainable “no” from individuals, organizations, and businesses that quietly refuse to accommodate our community.

The good news is that in the wedding industry, the overwhelming majority of wedding vendors I work with fully embrace marriage equality. Still, we’ve all read the recent stories of those who aren’t so welcoming.

As LGBTQ couples navigate the already-stressful new frontier of wedding planning, the last thing they want is to encounter the quiet “no”. Fortunately, we’ve discovered that LGBTQ couples are aware of that possibility and approaching the task as savvy consumers.

At Weddings with Pride, we’re currently asking LGBTQ couples about their wedding planning needs. One of the most surprising findings is that a vast majority of them—84%—replied that when researching wedding professionals, they look for LGBTQ-positive language in the business’s marketing language, photos, and reviews. In addition, 72% indicate that their first preference when hiring a vendor is one that is gay-owned or operated, or one with same-sex wedding experience.

Until the new definition of marriage has time to permeate the American psyche—which may take years—LGBTQ couples will seek out equality-minded wedding professionals first. Providing them with the resources to do so is the next step in moving marriage equality forward to the point where the “gay” distinction is dropped, and our society simply celebrates weddings.

This op-ed appeared into AltDaily.com, Hampton Road’s alternative blog. I republish it here for your consideration.

Dinner is Served at the Oscars to Benefit Access AIDS Care

Andrew and I help with this party every year, primarily because it benefits Access AIDS Care, our local AIDS service organization. But it’s also great fun with our besties. This year, the theme centered around The Oscars, and I built a Step and Repeat so we could pretend we are famous movie stars. The participants became goofier as the night (and the drinks) wore on.

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Winter Vacation: Tortola, British Virgin Islands

In what was strictly a winter survival move, I took Andrew to my favorite tropical paradise this past February: Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. We rented a cozy little villa on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and met up with two fantastic straight “girlfriends” who joined us on several adventures during the week. Here are some highlights:

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Yes, Virginia, the Judge Said NO!

February 13, 2014, was an historic day in the Commonwealth.  Federal Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that Virginia’s marriage ban is unconstitutional. And while this doesn’t mean that gay and lesbian couples will be able to start getting married here in Virginia immediately, it is a huge step toward the freedom to marry. Plus, it’s a great reason to celebrate! Here are photos from the celebration party at Decorum Furniture here in Norfolk on–of all days–Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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And a joyous one it is in Virginia. Yesterday, a Federal judge here in Norfolk ruled that Virginia’s 2006 ban on gay marriage in the Commonwealth is unconstitutional. It’s the latest in a house of cards of similar rulings across the country. The national news is treating it as an every day event. And that’s OK. These rulings *are* becoming commonplace events.  That’s a good thing.

But today, all the Virginia gays is losing they minds! No one I know (myself included) could have conceived as recently as a year ago that the capital of the Old Confederacy and a Southern bastion of prejudice and racism would ever come to this point. But here we are, and although the legal battle ahead is long, I know that ultimately Andrew and I will be able to get married in our adopted home state.

After all, we have two righteous principals on our side.

Remember Justice? She’s been around since our country’s founders (most of them from right here in the Old Dominion) created the world’s first pure democracy 250 years ago. As a student of American history and politics, I have always been incredulous that a group of thirteen totally dissimilar colonies and people could somehow pull together, throw off the yoke of an oppressive totalitarian government, and create a union based on equality for all.

When those intrepid souls created this new form of government, they knew that it would be an experiment with many challenges they couldn’t foresee. Right out of the gate, they couldn’t resolve the issue of slavery even though most agreed it was moral sin. They didn’t come close to addressing women’s rights in the new world order. And they certainly couldn’t foresee that a person’s sexuality would ever be an issue the government would need to address.

That’s why they framed the Constitution in fairly general terms with room to grow but governed by one overriding theme: individual rights would never be abridged by crown or church. The checks implemented by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches were designed to perpetually guarantee those rights.

So Justice has stood by during most of the past 250 years, allowing us mortals to work out our differences. And when we couldn’t agree on the definition of “individual rights,” she stepped in. After we murdered ourselves over slavery, she stopped the madness with passage of the 14th Amendment. That addition was a game changer and has become the legal precedent for all individual rights cases since. After women decided they had had enough, Justice stepped in, waving the 14th amendment, and they won their right to vote. When the future Mr. and Mrs. Loving, an interracial couple from (you guessed it) Virginia wanted to get married despite a state law banning it, the 14th was cited, and they won. And yesterday, after enough oppression by the religious right, Justice waved her 14th Amendment again and said, “Go away, you have no power here.”

Justice is indeed blind. But you don’t want to piss her off.

Justice didn’t do it alone. She joined hands with her same-sex partner, Love, who, as we well know, conquers all. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and every spiritual leader throughout history has labored to convince us of that concept. Why don’t we listen? Why do we continue to argue with Love? How can the closed minds in this world dare to impress their judgments on whether anyone’s love is right or wrong? They can’t. Not for long. And that’s why Justice and Love together are an invincible combination. They will always win.

Yesterday, these two ladies won again, and our magnificent political experiment was made stronger.

Some observations:

      • allenMeet Judge Arenda Wright-Allen, an Obama appointee, a former JAG attorney, and former public defender. Historically, she has been involved in criminal cases, and as far as I can see, this is her first social case. She also appears to be a fierce African-American woman on our side from day one. I can’t help but think that she intentionally waited until Valentine’s Eve to issue her decision. Talk about maximum impact on our community and the country. Plus, I think she knew that we would party our asses off because the next day was Friday. Well played, Your Honor.

 

      • Best line from her decision: “Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.”

 

      • Does anyone else wonder where Pat Robertson is right now? I thought for sure he’d  be the first of the right wing zealots to hit the media circuit. Maybe he’s  alone in his bathroom, crying and praying the gay away.

 

      • Read this article on how this whole issue may play out nationwide in the coming months.

 

    • Stay tuned for photos from our big gay party in downtown Norfolk tonight! It’s going to be off the hook because a) well, the decision, duh, b) it’s Valentine’s Day, and c) there’s a full moon. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Davis Family Portraits

Robbie Davis contacted me to help him with a very special Christmas gift. He and his three siblings had not been together in years, a situation which was going to be rectified over Thanksgiving. He wanted a colorful, upbeat portrait of the four of them they for their mother. I met them on a beautiful autumn Saturday at the Norfolk waterfront to see what we could get. Their fun-loving personalities combined with the beautiful weather, eye-popping fall foliage, and interesting locations made for a memorable session!

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Sunsrise on the Crystal Coast

One of the greatest perks of my self-designed career is that I get to go to a beach nearly every day. One of my favorites is North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. I grew up an hour and a half away, and visiting these beaches became a passion for me nearly 50 years ago. Today when I visit, I usually stay on the beach–especially if it’s during the off season when crowds are thin and rates are thinner. And I always have my camera handy in case I stumble upon a magic moment. Like the one below I captured on beautiful late summer morning.

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