MA Lessons for Hawai’i Civil Unions Struggle

by Pat Gozemba
Testimony that I submitted to the Hawai’i House Judiciary Committee for its Feb. 8, 2011 hearing:

Civil Unions in Hawai’i
Understanding the Massachusetts Experience

To: Members of the House and Senate, Hawai’i State Legislature, considering civil unions legislation (SB 232, SB 231, HB 1244, and HB 1453)

From: Patricia A. Gozemba, co-author of Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages (Beacon Press, 2007)

Re: FIVE TRUTHS BASED ON THE MASSACHUSETTS EXPERIENCE
Getting Beyond the Mistruths in “The Effects of Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts” (2008) by Brian Camenker of MassResistance

Date: February 7, 2011
I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the manner in which Senator Clayton Hee conducted the Senate Judiciary Hearing on SB 232 on January 25, 2011. Throughout the hearing, however, one senator on the Judiciary Committee and several members of the public quoted, without citing, “The Effects of Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts” (2008).

I am a part-time resident of Hawai’i and permanent resident of Massachusetts, as well as a researcher and writer on issues of concern to our LGBT community. I know first-hand the distortion of reality by Brian Camenker in relation to the book, Courting Equality that my spouse, Karen Kahn and I co-authored.

His Massachusetts-based group Mass Resistance has been cited for the past four years as an Anti-Gay Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog of hate groups in the US.

In Massachusetts, Brian Camenker’s work is generally regarded as not worth addressing seriously because it is so fraught with purposeful distortions. But given its emergence again in Hawai’i at this critical moment of the consideration of several bills addressing civil unions, I want to give you a sense of the egregiousness of some of Camenker’s misinformation. To that end, I highlight just five truths that are lost in the many deliberate “mistruths” of Camenker’s “The Effects of Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts.”

Karen and I were married in MA in 2005. Like the nearly 19,000 married same-sex couples in our state, we are grateful to have been able to marry and to enjoy the same rights, benefits, and family protections as all other citizens of the Commonwealth. We wish the same for other LGBT couples in Hawai’i.

As you consider Civil Unions Legislation in Hawai’i, you may find this helpful.

Five Truths based on the Massachusetts Experience

1. It will NOT force any school or any teacher to teach about marriage or homosexuality

2. Books about the struggle for same sex marriage were NOT distributed at taxpayer expense to schools
3. Rates of HIV/AIDS have dropped since same-sex marriage became legal.
4. Domestic violence occurs among people in same-sex relationships at similar rates to people in heterosexual relationships.
5. The legalization of same-sex marriage has had NO EFFECT on the level of funding for programs to combat homophobia and provide respite and support for youth who may or may not be gay, but who may be subject to bullying

TRUTH #1

The First Circuit’s ruling in the Parker v. Hurley case DID NOT mandate the teaching of any subject or course material, nor did it say that the school had any duty to teach about marriage or any other subject. Rather, in response to the claims by Robert and Robin Wirthlin and David and Tonia Parker of Lexington, MA that their free exercise rights had been violated, the Court found that “the mere fact that a child is exposed on occasion in public school to a concept offensive to a parent’s religious belief does not inhibit the parent from instructing the child differently.” Overall, the decision found that including a few books with depictions of same-sex couples in the curriculum did not violate the constitutional rights of students or parents – NOT that those books must be included or taught. (Source: Nima Eshgsi, Esq. of Gay, Lesbian, Advocates and Defenders).

Brian Camenker’s assertions to the contrary do not make them true.

TRUTH # 2

Courting Equality tells the story of how LGBT people and their allies across the state used the democratic political process to expand civil rights for LGBT people. The donors thought this book would inspire teenagers to become active participants in democracy. They “offered” the book as a gift, and no high school GSA or library was forced to accept it.

Locally, Dawn Morais Webster wrote about Courting Equality in “Seeing Is Believing for LGBT Family and Friends,” Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Jan. 31, 2011.

Camenker’s statement that “homosexual groups have been using taxpayer money to distribute a large, slick hardcover book celebrating homosexual marriage titled “Courting Equality” to every school library in the state” is a lie. He demonstrated as much when he reported on Sept. 27, 2007, to his own listserv that Chip McLaughlin and Keith Maynard donated private funds to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for distribution of Courting Equality (Beacon Press, 2007), to Gay/Straight Alliances (GSA) in MA public high schools and to the libraries of high schools that do not have GSAs.

TRUTH # 3
Rates of HIV/AIDS have NOT gone up since same-sex marriage became legal.
In fact, the number of new HIV cases has dropped by more than 25 percent over the past six years, the decrease accelerating since the implementation of same-sex marriage. Additional funding was available at the beginning of FY09 to address the disparate impact of HIV/AIDS in communities of color. However, since then, given current budget crises, funding for HIV/AIDS has declined by $1.75M. (Source: Kevin Cranston, Director, Bureau of Infectious Disease, Massachusetts Department of Public Health).

Again, Camenker lies when he says that “Since homosexual marriage became ‘legal’ the rates of HIV / AIDS have gone up considerably in Massachusetts. This year public funding to deal with HIV/AIDS has risen by $500,000.”

TRUTH # 4
Domestic violence occurs among people in same-sex relationships at similar rates to people in heterosexual relationships. However, many domestic violence programs are unable to work effectively with same-sex victims of domestic violence because they lack adequate training—thus, the state’s interest in providing funding. The legalizing of same-sex marriage has had no detectable effect on rates of same-sex domestic violence. (Source: Carlene Pavlos, Director, Division of Violence and Injury Prevention, Massachusetts Department of Public Health.)

Camenker offers this lie on the subject: “Given the extreme dysfunctional nature of homosexual relationships, the Massachusetts Legislature has felt the need to spend more money every year to deal with skyrocketing homosexual domestic violence. This year $350,000 was budgeted, up $100,000 from last year.”

TRUTH # 5
The legalization of same-sex marriage has had NO EFFECT on the level of funding for efforts to combat homophobia by supporting programs such as Gay-Straight Alliances and Safe Spaces for LGBT Youth. These programs, which began in the early 1990s long before same-sex marriage became legal, provide respite and support for youth who may or may not be gay, but who may be subject to slurs and hate speech from their peers or sometimes hateful adults.

Camenker, however, asserts: “Since homosexual relationships are now officially ‘normal,’ the Legislature now gives enormous tax money to homosexual activist groups. “ Not true.
Additional General Information about Anti-Gay Hate Groups and Their Message
The hateful portrayal of LGBT people promoted by Brian Camenker through his organization Mass Resistance.org has been rebutted by LGBT organizations and mainstream, predominantly heterosexual, organizations ranging from the NAACP to the ACLU.

In their Intelligence Report (Winter 2010), the Southern Poverty Law Center published an article by Evelyn Schlatter and Robert Steinback, “10 Anti-Gay Myths Debunked,” which lays bare the specious arguments promoted by anti-gay hate groups including Mass Resistance. Hateful messages hurt us all. Let’s speak truth to hate.

Sources
Southern Poverty Law Center

Brian Camenker

GLAD


Dawn Morais Webster

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

“10 Anti-Gay Myths Debunked”

Patricia A. Gozemba
http://www.courtingequality.com

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