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Marriage Equality; Creating a Juilliard Gay-Straight Alliance

On Same-Sex Marriage


I agree with everything Anita Mercier says in her Faculty Forum in the October issue on same-sex marriage except the partisanship and her focus on the courts. Neither partisanship nor a judicial strategy can lead to marriage equality. Those approaches concede too much of our country to the radical right. That’s not equality—that’s apartheid. For equality, we’ll have to move popular opinion in “Karl Rove” territory.

Indeed, marriage is a natural right. But American courts can only recognize constitutional rights. Under equal protection, marriage is a constitutional right, unless the constitution is amended explicitly to take away that right. Where that happens, the courts can’t help us. Let’s face it: The strategy of the Freedom to Marry movement—to bypass majority opinion and seek marriage equality through the courts on the theory that marriage is a right—has been, to quote Ms. Mercier, a “disaster for the civil rights of same-sex couples.” That premature strategy incited a national backlash of constitutional bans. (Since this writing, three more constitutional referendums to ban same-sex marriages passed in California, Florida, and Arizona.)

Am I blaming the victim? No, but I do question our gay leadership. (We can blame Karl Rove if it makes us feel better; God knows he deserves it. However, in a boxing match, there’s not much point in blaming your opponent for punching you in the nose.) I am wary of our leaders’ self-interested stake in the gay-marriage lightning rod. “Marriage or Nothing!” is a great fund-raising callout. Sometimes it looks to me like our leadership uses gay marriage the same way Rove does: as an emotional prod to fire up their base and raise money.

Like it or not, we can’t simply dismiss the cultural concerns of religious conservatives. Marriage is not just a benefits package. It’s a cultural force designed to shape positive social behavior. We need persuasive rather than dismissive answers on how same-sex marriage impacts traditional marriage in religious cultures. A legal brief to a judge on the question of discrimination is not enough.

Honestly, I was repelled by the partisanship in Mercier’s editorial. How can you argue that marriage is a basic right, then blithely forgive Obama and Biden for not supporting that right? It was partisan to not even mention Governor Palin’s veto of legislation banning equal benefits for gay couples. Coming from a devout Christian Republican governor, Palin’s veto is more significant than the triangulated political math of our Democratic friends. Palin represents progress among conservatives. Such progress is the only trajectory to marriage equality. And if it takes decades, does anyone have a faster timetable?

Gay rights can’t depend on beating Republicans, who aren’t going anywhere. Four years after voters “threw out the bums” for Nixon’s Watergate, the “bums” came back to win three straight landslides. We can live forever in fear of Republicans, or we can seek to reform that party. Every sign of progress, like Palin’s veto, should be recognized, not ignored for the partisan benefit of the Democratic Party.

Please note the judge cited in Loving vs. Virginia was a Republican. (Yes, Earl Warren of the famously liberal “Warren Court” was a Republican.) But I also note Mercier did not cite Republican Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion in the landmark gay-rights case, Lawrence v. Texas. Is marriage in three states the end-all of gay rights, so much so that this historic decision by a conservative Supreme Court packed with Reagan appointees deserves no mention at all?

Unlike the Democratic Party, gays can’t write off red states; there are gay people living in those states. Democrats can win the White House by a single Electoral College vote. Fifty-one seats in the Senate and all the committee chairs switch. But for gays, 269 electoral votes against us is apartheid. Forty-nine senators aligned against us is apartheid.

I was “out” in the workplace 30 years ago when New York was “red” on gay rights. Believe me, it’s easier now. If we can move New York, we can move the red states too. But not if we surrender our national citizenship to Karl Rove. Frankly, I’m not excited over marriage in New York or Massachusetts when in many states it is still legal to discriminate against gays. I won’t subscribe to the illusion that marriage in four states is a victory. It’s apartheid, not victory.

We’d do better to refocus on national “coming out.” We need a Red State Pride Agenda. Rather than pour millions into marriage, we should maximize support for gays born in the Bible Belt. They need legal protections and cultural support to come out safely in their home states—not run away to New York and San Francisco as soon as they turn 21. The premature marriage strategy has failed. “Coming Out” has worked. When gays can come out in “Red America,” we will win marriage equality. Never before.

Canaan Parker, New York City

How Times Have Changed


I was dumbfounded to read the Voice Box piece in the October issue about the Gay-Straight Alliance at Juilliard. I graduated in 1977, won the very first William Petschek award for pianists, and went on to win the Walter W. Naumburg Piano Competition in 1979 (in a memorial to William Kapell). I made my Tully, Carnegie Hall, and N.Y. Philharmonic debuts, and have managed the pianistic ups-and-downs of a career since then. In 1992, after years in Vermont as a student of Rudolf Serkin, I met my life-partner, the violist of the Auryn Quartet in Cologne, Germany, and moved there to make a new life. I have lived there to this day.

Those of my generation are heartened to see the openness of younger people, with no fear of retribution for standing up for who they are. I certainly did not have the guts to be that open in my 20s.The arts world, while silently accepting the reality of sexual diversity for generations, is still to this day, in certain places, quite judgmental. Indeed, it is a harsh realization to find that, even though one has refined sensibilities, many are nevertheless not exempt from the conditioning of prejudice.

As a gay man at Juilliard in the ’70s, I found these subjects were not discussed beyond a whisper—often a denigrating one at that. Even with the likes of Nureyev working out in Juilliard’s dance studios while he was in town (I once found myself alone in the elevator with him, and I was like a deer in headlights), the atmosphere was “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

I have taken issue with certain aspects of the evolution at Juilliard over the last period of time, but to read this article touched my heart deeply. There will be much less inner conflict and suffering as a result of this tremendous gesture of honesty at the School. Bravo to you all.

Peter Orth (Diploma ’76, piano), Cologne, Germany

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