Several weeks ago the Supreme Court heard challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The argument is that DOMA, by singling out certain types of legal marriages for unequal treatment, violates the constitution’s “equal protection” promise. Hothouse Arts Editor, Dan Szymczak, proposed that I interview writers and artists about the effect a ruling could have on their lives and on the arts. Gathered here are the responses of six women and men, gay and straight, and all active in arts and education.
In considering how a ruling by the Supreme Court, declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, could affect the lives of so many couples, in terms of strengthening families and communities, what are your thoughts, specifically on the decision’s possible outcome in the area of the arts – creative writing, dance, film – and arts education?
Shannon Cain: I’ll speak only for myself, as a queer artist who draws upon movements for social justice as her inspiration and her creative fuel. I expect the passage or failure of DOMA to have exactly zero impact on my work. The shamefully overdue institutionalization of equal rights for an oppressed minority does nothing much to inspire me, and the legal oppression of same is a story I’m not much interested in telling. Other artists and writers are covering that ground, and I’m grateful to them. Still others are inspired by official recognition of what we already know is true, and I’m glad for that, too. But the current American version of democracy is too polluted by money and fear to hold much meaning for me. I vote, of course. But I have a hard time celebrating victories or worrying about defeats within a system that doesn’t represent me and what I care about, and probably never will. I admire those who work for change within the system, but I’ll always be the writer in her garrett, seeking not to shift institutions but to tell stories that open hearts and minds… which, in the end, is the only way to achieve true and lasting justice.
Shannon Cain’s short story collection, The Necessity of Certain Behaviors, won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for 2011. She teaches MFA students at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Visit her at www.shannoncain.com.
Tim Watson & Brad Richard
Brad Richard: At my K-12 public charter, an assistant principal successfully lobbied for domestic partner benefits so she and her partner could afford to have a baby. One of my best students, terrified of coming out to her mom (one of our administrators), has been suffering a slow-moving nervous breakdown. At work, I don’t broadly share news of my recent collection of gay-themed poems from a well-regarded LGBTQ press. My partner and I would love to be legal husbands. This is New Orleans, the most liberal spot in Louisiana. However SCOTUS rules on DOMA, the joy of meaningful change here will come only from further struggle and pain.
Brad Richard is the author of Motion Studies (The Word Works, 2011) and Butcher’s Sugar (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012). He chairs the creative writing program at Lusher Charter School in New Orleans.
Tim Watson: I’ve often questioned whether the government should provide marriage benefits to anyone, as it seems to violate the equal protection clause of the constitution, putting every unmarried citizen at extreme financial and other disadvantages. (Not having mandated benefits would force the marketplace to adjust, distributing costs of living more equally among the married and the unmarried). But for now the government does subsidize people who are married, and a world that includes married gay couples with reduced per-person living costs would have more artists; more people could pursue generally lower-paying (unfortunately!) arts-related careers, instead of having to find non-arts jobs strictly for the higher pay.
Tim Watson is a documentary film editor, writer, and producer in New Orleans.
Photo – permission of Amy Davis
Judith Mayne: DOMA is a ridiculous law, and its repeal might indicate that the LGBT community won’t continue to be easy scapegoats for the haters. As for gay marriage, I hope it’s soon available to anyone who wants to be married. For many people I know, both in education and/or the arts, gay marriage is a conservative idea, not a radical one. But beyond the realm of ideas, gay marriage means a level of financial and legal security that we have as much right to claim as anyone. As for me, I’ve been with my partner for 28 years. If gay marriage is legalized in Ohio by the time we reach 30 years, I think we might go for it.
Judith Mayne is a retired college professor.
Photo – permission of Marlene Robbins
Marlene Robbins: As the dance specialist in an informal K-8 school, I’ve experienced heartbreaking situations, working with children whose parents’ relationship is not defined as a legal marriage. What happens when a child is sick and one of the parents can’t go to the hospital and be the legal guardian for that child? How are children expected to identify their parents when the legal system won’t recognize two mothers or two fathers? These parents want to act in a responsible way for their children, and our legal system doesn’t allow this. How in any universe is that defined as okay? A universe in which unfair laws are struck down, and these families are treated as true families.
Marlene Robbins is the dance specialist at Indianola Informal K-8 in Columbus, Ohio. She has a BA in Dance and MA in Arts Education from Ohio State, worked as a staff member of the Ohio Arts Council, and received the 2013 Ohio Dance Award for excellence in contribution to the field of dance education.
David Covey: As a gay artist and professor, I am perplexed why DOMA is an issue being decided by the Supreme Court. In my world, love prevails and freedom to be yourself is the only truth. If the Supreme Court can’t understand that, then what purpose do they have to rule about anything?
David Covey, a professor in The Ohio State University’s Department of Dance, serves as Production Coordinator and teaches dance lighting, production and composition. His research interests include lighting, choreographing and various aspects of visual arts. He received a BESSIE award for lighting BAM Events choreographed by Merce Cunningham in 1998.
Photo – permission of Amy Davis
Many thanks to all of the contributors, including Amy and Beth Davis for their recent wedding photos.
In conclusion, I’ll add my own words: Recently in The Nation, Melissa Harris-Perry asked, “What difference will marriage equality make?” To me, a straight girl who grew up in New Orleans, raised by gay and straight grown-ups, I think it does matter. All couples should have the right to marry and to the laws surrounding marriage. Because the LGBTQ community has been disenfranchised for so long, they have built into their lives relationships beyond those of the typical family, and this shouldn’t change. Instead, the change should lie in the acknowledgment of what is fair and equal. When all couples are allowed the same economic protection and cultural privileges, families and communities are strengthened. And literature, film, and art respond to cultural change. Think of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a 1967 film which focused on interracial marriage. That same year the Supreme Court ruled against anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia. Marriage equality has once again come to the attention of the highest court in the land, and whether or not DOMA is struck down, there is a sweeping movement in support of same-sex marriage.
The Poppy: An Interview Series
Four to six questions begin as pods, then burst open with answers, bright lapis,
black-stamened, conspicuous—ornament, remembrance, opiate.
This interview first posted at Hothouse Magazine.
Karin Cecile Davidson
Apr 22, 2013
Thank you, Lisa, for adding your voice to the conversation!
Apr 21, 2013
What a great group of interviews. The opinions are so diverse. The issue is so much more complicated than many people want it to be. Honest and courageous opinion from Shannon Cain, from everyone really. Often, like Tim Watson, I have thought about how all unmarried people are disadvantaged, while at the same time wanting to support the LGBT community in their efforts, and also listening to the cautions of those who don't want the courts to be deciding. When I was still teaching, there was a law professor, Martha Fineman, who had an idea that marriage should be a private act or one people make in conjunction with religious and social beliefs. She wrote several articles and books on the matter, suggesting that the tax laws and government intervention should occur at the level of caregiver and dependent, with a caregiver being someone who cares for a child, an elderly parent, a disabled person, etc., and a dependent being someone who cannot care for him or herself, such as a child, elderly parent, etc. Via tax law and other programs, states and federal government would be set up to support the need for one able-bodied adult to care for these people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Obviously, if a dependent needs full time or even substantial care, that limits the caregivers ability to also work outside the home. How rational and refreshing, I thought, knowing I was in the minority. When Professor Fineman lectured on this, she used to say that she didn't expect her ideas to be realized or enacted into law in her lifetime, at which point, everyone would laugh. But it's something to think about. As an artist and writer who has experienced the darker side of politics, particularly during the early years of the war, when many professors were given sideways glances, I have gotten to the point where I simply don't want to deal with politics in my writing. It's not that what I write is without depth or social and political content. It's just that I want it to be judged on an artistic level. As I said, it's a complex issue. Thanks for doing these interviews, Karin Davidson, and to all the participants for responding.