Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
by John Corvino
The problem is that, for most people most of the time, anti-gay attitudes have very little cost. It’s only when they get really ugly (think Isaiah Washington or Tim Hardaway) that people are willing to cry foul. Otherwise, the generally useful desire to get along with our neighbors prevails. Which is fine, until our neighbors unapologetically take away our health benefits.
On Feb. 2, the Michigan Court of Appeals killed domestic partner benefits for state employees. Three days later, a coworker sent me an e-mail asking me and my partner Mark to host her retirement party. Timing is everything.
You see, this coworker (call her “Cindy”) supported the ballot initiative that led to the amendment that killed the benefits. A devout Christian, Cindy believes that homosexuality is wrong and that, as an unrepentant homosexual and a non-Christian to boot, I’m going to hell. She told me so in a lengthy, politely worded letter she wrote me several years ago (as politely worded as “you’re going to hell” can be, I suppose).
Cindy has the right to believe whatever she wants. She even has the right, in my view, to express those beliefs to coworkers. While there are limits on appropriate workplace communication, I would argue that the government’s prohibiting people from writing that sort of letter unacceptably tramples free speech rights (I’m assuming that she wrote it on her own free time). After I received the letter, I took Cindy to lunch, told her that I disagreed, and firmly requested that, for the sake of our workplace relationship, we curtail further discussion of these matters. Cindy has respected that request.
Please don’t tell me that politics and religion are out-of-bounds topics for workplace discussion. I work at a university, in a philosophy department. Discussing controversial topics is what I do for a living.
In any event, when the anti-gay-marriage initiative was being debated in 2004, we talked about it at work. Cindy was a supporter; I was an ardent opponent. At the ballot box, Cindy’s side won.
Now, two years later, the Michigan Court of Appeals has announced that the resulting amendment, which prohibits same-sex marriage or “similar union[s] for any purpose,” forbids state employers–including my own, Wayne State University–from providing domestic partner benefits.
Cindy and I have another coworker, Bob, who has been with his partner for 25 years and with the university for even longer. Thanks to this ruling, Bob’s partner (who is retired) can no longer receive benefits through Bob. Despite their quarter-century relationship. Despite Bob’s 30 years of service. Despite the fact that any employee could fly to Vegas, marry a stranger, and instantly get spousal benefits.
I was busy stewing over the injustice of this when Cindy’s recent e-mail arrived. In a way, it didn’t surprise me. Mark and I have a comfortable home, and we often use it to host departmental events. But the timing of Cindy’s message was just too much to bear. “So, gay people aren’t good enough to extend benefits to, but we are good enough to throw you a party? Screw that.”
That’s what I thought, but it’s not what I said. What I said, in a carefully worded e-mail, was that I needed to think about it. I also added that, in light of the Court of Appeals’ decision several days before, I was more in the mood to go on strike than to throw a party. Cindy was unaware of the decision, and she apologized for her timing.
Some months ago there was a movie on Bravo in which John Stamos plays a gay wedding planner who essentially organizes a nationwide strike of gay people. Wedding planners, hairdressers, florists, mechanics, professors, bus drivers, whatever–all on strike. It was, frankly, an abysmal movie, even by gay TV-movie standards. But I can relate to its message, especially now. When we need gay people, we love them! After all, they throw such delightful parties! But when it comes to equality, forget it.
Again I say, “Screw that.”
Some friends suggested that Mark and I throw the party as an opportunity for magnanimity and diplomacy. Frankly, I think they’re being naive. Cindy is well aware that we’re capable of being gracious hosts. We’ve even had her over for Thanksgiving dinner. While I’m all in favor of “dinner diplomacy,” which is an opportunity to soften people’s negative attitudes by simple kindness toward them, my graciousness has its limits.
Maybe it should have even greater limits. The problem is that, for most people most of the time, anti-gay attitudes have very little cost. It’s only when they get really ugly (think Isaiah Washington or Tim Hardaway) that people are willing to cry foul. Otherwise, the generally useful desire to get along with our neighbors prevails. Which is fine, until our neighbors unapologetically take away our health benefits.
Am I going to go on strike? Not likely. But I’m not going to be a chump, either.