The public face

Oh, Clare and F: they’re a lovely couple…

Why is it we are saddened, hearing of a split? For at least one of a couple, when they split it is new freedom. It may be recognising a reality. It may be a betrayal- “I gave him the best years of my life”- but if there are no children, she may still be better off without him.

Their divorcing partner is never the best one to describe a person to you. Walking through Nupton with E, I watched another greet her and chit-chat a bit. She did not introduce me, but said after, “That was F. You know, M’s ex-wife?” And I thought, that’s surprising. She wasn’t gibbering like someone possessed, nor turned out like someone about to be made homeless.

Or, “I met him, you know. He seemed quite personable.” Of course he would! He did that in the privacy of their home.

She covered it up, too.

Another split- she has instructed her solicitor, they are having an amicable separation, he is using her lawyer. In that case, your brother deserves to be cleaned out. The lawyer is not allowed deliberately and clearly to lie to him, but otherwise he is fair game. So up go the fees, and amicable becomes contested- yet he is still the bigger fool, not to have a lawyer.

I have been thinking about this for months, not quite understanding what it was: knowing it was vile, worthless, harmful, from Hell; knowing it was impossible, knowing I wanted it. I have worked it out. I want the public appearance of being a happy couple. This, for me, involves certain rules of presentation which she must follow.

That is, I want her to be less than she is. I want her watchful and hypocritical.

Why? Because I want to hide from the world, and myself to present a public mask which in the worst case she would become a mere compliant accessory. I don’t know if I could find such a woman, or like her if I did. She might have a different conception of what that face should be. It is strange to me. It seems ridiculous and disgusting, and yet the desire remains.

Hammershoi, Artemis

Transgender Equality III

Should a spouse be able to insist that a trans person dissolve their marriage?

The spousal veto allows a spouse to withhold consent to gender recognition, until the marriage or civil partnership is dissolved. The spouse might want the marriage dissolved; but if the trans person takes steps to dissolve it, the trans person may feel responsible for the break. Both parties are responsible, when a marriage ends- though neither may be guilty, as people grow apart- but people commit to a marriage, and the symbol of who breaks it matters. And while financial and other matters are sorted, until the marriage is dissolved, the trans person’s gender is not recognised.

I might not want to take the action to break the marriage- it would be admitting it was my fault, because of my transition that it ended- though the refusal to recognise my gender might be the Wrong which motivated me to end it, and so ending it would be empowering.

In the Parliamentary Committee, the Gender Equality Office evidence was that straight and gay marriage are different. Some people marry a person, some a man or a woman. Some couples marrying do not know the other, or themselves- it is easy for a middle aged woman to say that, with my hard-won self-knowledge. GIRES put it clearly: Trans people are the only group that can have their civil rights delayed by another. Dissolve the marriage after gender recognition, if you want. Why would that be so hard?

A domestic violence charity said, The spousal veto is extremely concerning and potentially dangerous for trans people who are experiencing domestic abuse. It is known that abusers will commonly try and prevent a trans partner from transitioning, and trans people may experience honour-based violence in response to their wish to transition. Abusive partners will typically be highly controlling and have a
sense of entitlement. The spousal veto gives abusive partners a tool to foster the sense that they have ownership and authority over their partner’s body and identity.

The committee decided that marriage is a legal contract which cannot be changed without the consent of both parties, and recommended that the government should find other ways of addressing the problem where an abusive  spouse used the power to withhold consent abusively.

Currently, the age limit for gender recognition is 18. Sweden is going to move to a 15-and-over self-declaration, and for 12-to-15 it is going to be with parental consent; and in Norway a similar procedure, but from the age of seven, will exist. There are over a thousand children and young people transitioning, developing important networks of peer-support and enjoying formative experiences in their preferred gender, so overcoming one radical feminist objection, that we are socialised differently.

The committee recommend that those 16 and over should have the gender they choose recognised. They fear possible risks if younger children, even with parental support, could change gender, and believe the Government should further consider the possible risks and benefits.

Degas, after the bath

Obergefell v Hodges: dissenting judgment

The compelling personal accounts of petitioners and others like them are likely a primary reason why many Americans have changed their minds about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Chief Justice Roberts, while opposing the court’s judgment that laws preventing equal marriage are unconstitutional, indicates that they are undesirable. So why does he not strike them down?

Because of conservatism: it has always been this way. Opposite sex only marriage is an unvarying social institution enduring over all of recorded history. Whereas there have been many changes in it, such as the right to divorce, married women’s property reforms- married women are now permitted to own and manage property- and going back to the Bible, the end of polygamy and concubinage.

Oh, and homophobia. The marriage laws at issue here do not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex couples is rationally related to the States’ “legitimate state interest” in “preserving the traditional institution of marriage.” Some arguments are plainly silly: he says marriage is for procreation, as if the marriages of the infertile or old were worth less. For the good of children and society, sexual relations that can lead to procreation should occur only between a man and a woman committed to a lasting bond. Society has recognized that bond as marriage. Perhaps he would make extra-marital fornication illegal. Perhaps he has not heard of assisted fertility.

He is not afraid of tired old slippery slope arguments: One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people.

He states that the constitution protects the exercise of religion, and worries about homophobes who imagine that homophobia is part of their religion. He and they should read the Bible.

His strongest argument is that the Court should be reluctant to strike down laws created through the democratic process. He argues that the due process clause- nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws– does not apply.

This is disingenuous. James Obergefell and Ijpe deKoe were married. Then they crossed state lines and by homophobic law were not married- with no due process. The case is not just about the right to marry, but about the right to have a marriage recognised.

Roberts is right to argue against judicial activism. Wittily, he cites discredited cases of judicial activism, such as Dred Scott v Sandford, where the court struck down a law restricting slavery, on the grounds that it violated the rights of slave-holders. Few would stand up for that case now. He did not mention the Citizens United case, where he said “there is a difference between judicial restraint and judicial abdication”.

It is good to see that the arguments against equal marriage are so poor.

Robert Macqueen, Lord Justice-Clerk

Obergefell v Hodges

If you read nothing else of Obergefell v Hodges, which ruled unconstitutional State law refusing to marry same sex couples, or refusing to recognise same sex marriages celebrated elsewhere, you should read these words:

Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order. But that is neither their purpose nor their submission. To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.

Recounting the circumstances of three of these cases illustrates the urgency of the petitioners’ cause from their perspective. Petitioner James Obergefell, a plaintiff in the Ohio case, met John Arthur over two decades ago. They fell in love and started a life together, establishing a lasting, committed relation. In 2011, however, Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.This debilitating disease is progressive, with no known cure. Two years ago, Obergefell and Arthur decided to commit to one another, resolving to marry before Arthur died. To fulfill their mutual promise, they traveled from Ohio to Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal. It was difficult for Arthur to move, and so the couple were wed inside a medical transport plane as it remained on the tarmac in Baltimore. Three months later, Arthur died. Ohio law does not permit Obergefell to be listed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. By statute, they must remain strangers even in death, a state-imposed separation Obergefell deems “hurtful for the rest of time.” App. in No. 14–556 etc., p. 38. He brought suit to be shown as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are co-plaintiffs in thecase from Michigan. They celebrated a commitment ceremony to honor their permanent relation in 2007. They both work as nurses, DeBoer in a neonatal unit and Rowse in an emergency unit. In 2009, DeBoer and Rowse fostered and then adopted a baby boy. Later that same year,they welcomed another son into their family. The new baby, born prematurely and abandoned by his biological mother, required around-the-clock care. The next year, a baby girl with special needs joined their family. Michigan, however, permits only opposite-sex married couples or single individuals to adopt, so each child can have only one woman as his or her legal parent. If an emergency were to arise, schools and hospitals may treat the three children as if they had only one parent. And, were tragedy to befall either DeBoer or Rowse, the other would have no legal rights over the children she had not been permitted to adopt. This couple seeks relief from the continuing uncertainty their unmarried status creates in their lives.

Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his partner Thomas Kostura, co-plaintiffs in the Tennessee case, fell in love. In 2011, DeKoe received orders to deploy to Afghanistan. Before leaving, he and Kostura married in New York. A week later, DeKoe began his deployment, which lasted for almost a year. When he returned, the two settled in Tennessee, where DeKoe works full-time for the Army Reserve. Their lawful marriage is stripped from them whenever they reside in Tennessee, returning and disappearing as they travel across state lines. DeKoe, who served this Nation to preserve the freedom the Constitution protects, must endure a substantial burden.

The cases now before the Court involve other petitioners as well, each with their own experiences. Their stories reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond.

-From the opinion of the court, delivered by Justice Kennedy. Thanks to zgreport for the link to the judgment.



Biblical leadership

My latest follower is “Apostolic Mommy and Wife”. I am delighted that she should take an interest in this Christian blog, for much of my posting is about Biblical interpretation and Christian relationships with God and creation. Unfortunately I find her account of Christian marriage wanting.

It was a shock to find the writer on such a pink site, so clearly aimed at women, refer to “our wives”. Is this a man writing? It is unlikely to be a lesbian. I googled it, and found the article was plagiarized from here, or possibly this pdf:  lifted whole, rather than “adapted from” as she claims. This is objectionable, given that she wishes to make money from her site, asking readers to “Donate”, “Advertise with us” or go to “Our Youtube channel”. I am unclear whether the companies she reviews, including Kosher CasualI wore this dress to church today. I was able to sing, dance and shout to praise God’s name – All while feeling assured I was modestly covered- paid for the review.

On modesty, I saw a woman in a niqab yesterday walk across the square. Her loose summer burqa did not disguise the glorious sexiness of her relaxed, confident walk. Modesty rules can never prevent free people expressing ourselves; and as the Muslims recognise, arms and ankles, and singing and dancing, are sexy. The only way to be “modest” in this sense is to erase yourself.

The real author, Dennis Raney, recognises that some women wear the trousers, and even that some men are not strong or natural leaders, but still says that men should lead. God has placed the husband in the position of responsibility. It does not matter what kind of personality a man may have. Nor the woman: in fact Raney does not acknowledge different personalities among women, claiming that all wives want and need leadership.

Raney says husbands should give to their wives, but bizarrely claims it should be giving up: something you genuinely valued, like your golf game, a fishing trip, or your hobby. Rather, he needs to find ways of being with her to enrich them both. There must be room for two in a marriage. I get the impression that the husband Raney writes for finds his wife a mystery, but gives up his golf game because them’s the rules- rather than choosing to do something with her, because he prefers to. No wonder she “resists, fights and spurns” him. I am horrified that Raney imagines that couple could have been living together so long that their children are grown and gone.

The article is not wholly worthless. He correctly says women at different stages of life have different needs; but gives no Bible quote for that. The tiny amount of sanity in the article comes from contemporary morality and understanding. The Biblical bits lead him to make ridiculous assertions, missing the complexity of real life.

Cranach, Judith and Holofernes IV

Catholic “Earthquake”

Vermeer, allegory of the Catholic FaithCatholic church: not quite as blindly wicked about sexuality as before? Here is the relatio. It is a summary and suggestions after discussion, to be submitted to the Pope, not new doctrine; but there is some hope here.

It suggests “accepting and valuing gay sexual orientation”. So no-one would be ostracised simply for setting off someone’s gaydar. Would they still be excluded from training for the priesthood? The Vatican currently “cannot admit to the seminary… those who present deep-seated homosexual tendencies”. It thinks being gay hinders people from relating correctly to men and women, and is a state of emotional immaturity.

That reference to “affective maturity” helped me understand the relatio’s following sentence: The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. This could be read as agreeing that queers are immature, and need to be educated to maturity- straightness. Not quite as Earthquakey as Reuters suggests. Or perhaps Catholics will recognise that many gays cannot be made mature through education, and look on them with pity, like other disabled people. Still, that is better than blaming us.

It goes on, Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions– gay people have sex, and that is bad of them- it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Wow. Having a partner is good for you. Tell that to the priests!

No earthquake on contraception. Being open to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love. The drop in the birthrate weakens the social fabric, it says. Human maturity means rejecting contraception, and the church must educate people to see this. Rather than simply stating that gays and those who use contraception are Wrong and Bad, the Church must say why, and educate people into maturity as far as possible. This recognises that the Catholic position is not self-evident, which is a good Vermeer, a maid asleepthing, but does not indicate any change otherwise.

What of divorce? We are all sinners. The Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings. We are on a spiritual journey, and are not yet perfect. The Church holds up the ideal of life-long marriage to cohabiting couples, hoping they will mature into that ideal.

The church approaches the divorced person in love. The relatio quotes the Pope: The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment”, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Es 3,5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our  compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life. That is, the priest is more gentle with the lost sheep, not merely condemning, but still has the aim of bringing the other to living in accordance with traditional doctrine. The divorced who are not remarried would be admitted to communion. Some of the remarried might be admitted, after a period of penance. Not an Earthquake, then, but a slight movement towards health. But hear the conservatives whine and scream about it!


womenSo quickly it becomes normal, and will just be nice, but right now there is something magical about this display of wedding cake decorations I passed in Chester.

In Leicester station the wee boy climbed up on the seat beside me and announced “We’re going to Derby!” Hello. What will you do in Derby? “Important Things”, he said, and turned his back on me.

Derby to Crewe on a single carriage. The man sitting beside me seemed gauche and shabby, and I wondered how to start a conversation. “Do you know how far it is to Crewe?” He did not. I guessed fifty miles, Google says 50.7. He is happy enough to chat, and complains it takes over eighty minutes, with ten stops, then complains about how crowded it is at commuting time. You pay the same but do not get a seat, especially on a Friday night when the students are going home.

What do you do? He works for the NHS, as a clinical psychologist, in Stoke on Trent, which I find the most depressing place in Great Britain.

So many of his patients have psychosomatic pain, all over. I have heard doctors refer to “bodyache”. It is all in the mind. He tries to get them to do something, but about one in ten are completely negative. What do you want? They don’t know. If they would take exercise the brain would release stimulants. He tells them not just to sit at home and ruminate. men
(Oops. It is a good job he did not ask me what I do.) Some of them are very badly hurt, after losing their job, or a partner, or relatives- these things are very stressful- but it breaks them, and there is little he can do. They might have six sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy, and know nothing more at the end. One man had a deep personal hatred for Donald Trump. Why? he asked. Trump does not care what you think. Two years later, the man had got over it.

He hears all this negativity, and it rubs off on him. Being positive helps with anything: it is easier to stop smoking if you imagine what you want, rather than what you want to resist. I asked him if he thought Lumosity, which I have started, is any good, but he was equivocal.

I am apparently better than 55% of my age group on Lumosity, a good stolid result, and I console myself that only people above average would be doing it. However as you go down the ages I get better than fewer people, until in the 20s I am only better than 23% of people.

In Crewe, I met a woman I had known through a TS email support group since about 2001. We spotted each other almost immediately- few people wear dresses at noon in a railway station. I started on how depressing Stoke is, and found she was born there.

Then on to Chester, where I played the tourist.

I am away in Bath, at the Yearly Meeting Gathering of Quakers- without my computer!! I have posts scheduled, and will return here on 9 August.


The Political is personal.

I have just come back from a wedding reception. We had about eighty people in the Quaker meeting house, for our first wedding in Northamptonshire AM in twelve years. People from all the meetings in the area joined us, and friends of the couple from as far off as Germany, and we sat in the profound silence of the Holy Spirit and in deep joy as we celebrated our friends’ love. Then this evening we danced together, part of the time to a ceilidh band, part of the time to a disco.

Some think that this is a betrayal of Scripture, or God, or true religion; I wish they could see the joy we shared this afternoon as we worshipped together, and this evening as we danced together. That two women can join in this way before God and according to secular law is in part thanks to Quakers. This ceremony liberates me.

Love never fails.

On a completely different note:

Righteousness and hypocrisy

Jesus seems quite clear that we cannot be righteous. “No-one is good but God alone“. “If you say ‘you fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire“. Non-christians might agree that while we can imagine an ideal of right behaviour in all situations, we might not live up to it.

Yet most of us are sort-of OK. We fall below the standard of perfection, we acknowledge it, we try to be and do better. We encourage each other or we point to each other’s sins in a futile game of one-upmanship, seeking an illusory moral high ground. To “I’m OK: You’re OK” Anthony diMello responded, “I’m an ass, you’re an ass”.

Some conservative Evangelical churches welcome divorced and remarried couples. I think Jesus would too. However, Jesus, who tells it like it is, says that “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,” though when I searched I found that even Google preferred Matthew, with the exception for victims of adultery.

Ideally, people would marry, become one flesh, and live together in mutual supportive love until death parted them. And- some marry unwisely, and some couples grow apart, and sometimes divorce. Finding a partner is a good thing: “It is better to marry than burn” says Paul. Churches now welcome such couples, though they might not have done in the past. Roman Catholics deny them communion, but even some bishops want to change this policy.

Where does this leave gay marriage? Brent White wants to permit remarried divorcees in church, while still telling gay couples to begone. He cites Robert Gagnon, though in that passage Gagnon does not go so far: Gagnon permits divorcees, but not specifically remarried people in church. Two commenters delight in his arguments. They too would permit remarried couples, while excluding gay couples. He is a hypocrite.

If remarried sex is adultery, as Jesus says, nothing can stop it being adultery. Ideally, if the couple repent of their adultery the only course is for them to separate, as their lovemaking will always be adulterous against the wronged first spouse. That is the traditional view of Catholics and Evangelicals alike. However, as I am as much of an “ass” as the remarried couple, I welcome them in church. Remarriage is not Perfect, but is sort-of  OK. Gay marriage is perhaps not perfect, but again sort-of OK.

We can imagine an ideal target- the mother who is never flustered, always loving, always tidy, never a hair out of place- which we fail to reach. One response to my imperfection is to see how often I fall short, and keep trying. Another is to pick on a group of sinners- married gay people, perhaps- and exclude them from church as the Worst Sinners Possible.

Before I sin, that sin is monstrous. After, it is what happened: deal with it and move on. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect”- perhaps we are perfect, just as we are.


File:Илья Репин - Портрет графини Наталия П. Головиной.jpgGay marriage is a regressive policy, which will increase the power of conservatism, and so should be opposed. This is not my view, but an argument I want to play with. Bear with me.

I found the word “homonormativity” here, and understood immediately: the coiner might quibble about my interpretation, but these are the basics. Heteronormativity is the pretence that heterosexuality is normal, and therefore other ways of being are less. Homonormativity occurs when gay people ape heterosexual behaviour, forming long term cohabiting relationships: so James Cantor‘s coinage “euphilia”, meaning love which unites a couple, as distinguished from paraphilia, sexual activity not directed at another human being. He shifts gays out of the class of weirdos into the class of Normals.

Gay marriage is profoundly conservative: for those who take it up, their relationships may be more stable, and they may be more confident and better able to contribute to society. They marry, they are accepted among the Normal people, leaving the oppressed behind. The oppressed- gay teens cast out by homophobic parents, those with internalised homophobia, suffering with drug addiction depression and self-harm- if there were a gay community it would be working for them, not for gay marriage, as their need is so much more immediate.

In economics, I no longer believe in “trickle down”, as I have observed “gush upwards” for too long; Rawls’ Relative Least Advantaged Person is not benefiting. Yet I still put a Rawlsian argument for gay marriage: those of us who will not marry will still benefit from it. Our sexuality will be seen as weird or wrong in itself by fewer people. One hopes this generation of gay married couples will remember homophobia, and retain fellow feeling for gay people; but even if they did not there would be fewer excluded and oppressed people in society. That is a good thing.