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A skeptic makes peace with marriage



Marriage is either an anachronism or it isn’t.

But maybe that’s too simplistic. Maybe it’s anachronistic for many — at least, the kind of lifelong monogamy of the “happily ever after” romantic ideal.

But maybe for others, it can still work, imperfectly at times, demanding compromises always, but still, the righteous goal of one lifelong commitment, till death do us part. For me, however, the not entirely healed survivor of a bitter divorce, I remain resolutely unsure about remarriage — ever mindful that the 18th century literary giant Samuel Johnson once famously defined it as a triumph of hope over experience.

So mark me down about marriage, gay or straight, as a definite maybe.

After all, what are the odds of hope ever trumping (sometimes) bitter experience? The answer I guess is quite simply contingent — it depends.

But now comes Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the 2006 mega-blockbusting best-seller “EAT, PRAY, LOVE,” a feminist’s bon-bon with 7 million copies sold, still high on the sales charts after more than three years and her two appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s show. And in August Julia Roberts will star as Gilbert in Hollywood’s retelling of her saga of a nasty divorce at age 30, followed by a journey of depression, disastrous rebound affairs and then eventual recovery while visiting in Italy luxuriating in language and cuisine and then chanting and sweating and meditating at an ashram in India and finally traveling to Bali where she met the love of her life, the man she calls Felipe in her new book, just published, titled “COMMITTED: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage.”

But Felipe — she attempts to keep him veiled by a pseudonym but she also acknowledges he is, really, Jose Nunes — is from a different culture and generation. He is Brazilian-born but an Australian citizen and he is 17 years her senior. But like her, like so many of us in fact, Felipe is a survivor of a bitter divorce. And “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” ends with them in love but each vowing never, ever to remarry — each other or anyone else. The pain, quite simply, of that marital experience is too awful still for hope to flower in its ashes.

Fate intervenes, however, in the form of a U.S. Homeland Security agent when the two try to return to the U.S. where they have sought to live without benefit of a marriage license as a couple swearing never to write down personal vows on a legal document. For marriage is an instrument of the state, replete with fine print concerning property and offspring, but in the modern era a vessel also for soul mates finding one another and mating with a sacred vow — let no man or woman tear asunder — for all eternity.

Felipe is barred re-entry at the Dallas International Airport and the only chance he has of returning to their home in New Jersey is as her husband. Therefore they are, in her jokey aside, “sentenced to marry.” But until the necessary papers for such a visa can be obtained — something that will take months — they decide to travel mainly in Southeast Asia and live cheaply while getting to know one another as they each contemplate taking the step neither had wanted, namely wedding vows and a marriage license. The result of her quest for an answer is this new book.

But what does the book have to say about same-sex marriage. It turns out, a lot.

Recently Gilbert addressed the issue head-on in a D.C. book tour appearance, as well as on the Diane Rehm public radio show, but it also leaps right off the pages of her book. “Legalized same-sex marriage is coming to America” she declares and then adds, “in large part, this is because NON-legalized same-sex marriage is already here,” noting also that the 2010 U.S. Census, in forms arriving in our mailboxes next month, will for the first time document same-sex couples alongside heterosexual married couples.

This is true, she says, even though right-wing homophobes will obtain, as in the California vote on Proposition 8, temporary victories, and though traditionalist Christians claim to want to strengthen marriage by denying it to gay people.

National Marriage Week, in fact, was Feb. 7-14 for these marriage-revivalists but no gays need apply. Except sometime next month, thanks to action by the D.C. City Council and Mayor Fenty, it is coming to the District anyway.

And nationwide, says Gilbert, “the federal courts will eventually get fed up,” just as happened in 1967 with Loving v. Virginia when the Supreme Court unanimously struck down laws against interracial marriage. She sees marriage as “a secular concern, not a religious one,” noting that “the objection to gay marriage is almost invariably biblical — but nobody’s legal vows in this country are defined by interpretation of biblical verse.”

“Ultimately, then, it is the business of America’s courts, not America’s churches, to decide the rules of matrimonial law, and it is in those courts that the same-sex marriage debate will finally be settled.”

Legal marriage, she concedes, may be hard for individuals to endure successfully but it “restrains sexual promiscuity and yokes people to their social obligations” and as such “is an essential building block of any orderly community — and is also good for children who ideally at least will be reared in intact families.

But speaking in D.C. last month on her book tour she also said that “we’re entering the era of ‘wifeless’ marriages, where every woman I know wants to be married but nobody wants to be a ‘wife.” In addition, she is unalterably opposed to the idea of “soul mate” — what she calls the “Jerry Maguire fantasy” of “you complete me.” Instead she proudly declares, “I own my incompleteness.”

But is there a difference between completeness and wholeness? Listen to the song “In a Very Unusual Way,” from the 1982 Broadway show “Nine,” as sung by Nicole Kidman on screen: “Since the first day that I met you, how could I ever forget you / Once you had touched my soul? / In a very unusual way, you make me whole.”

Suppose it’s true that unlike completion, wholeness differs in that it is neither confined nor static but open, growing, organic, emerging. Suppose, indeed, that marriage proponents can learn something from gay men — for it is gay men and not lesbians that are relevant here. Suppose gay men are in fact leading the way — as Gilbert opines — in saving marriage for at least some straight people by reframing it as an open relationship?

True, the fetishism of monogamy may persist forever for many, and its hold seems deeply embedded in some cultures — though not in others and certainly not in what is sometimes quaintly called “the animal kingdom.”

On the verge of attaining legal same-sex marriage in D.C., let us conclude with findings from recent social science. Two studies reveal that many gay men appear to thrive in open relationships. One of the studies, just published by San Francisco State University, looked over the course of three years at 556 male couples, of whom half had mutually agreed to outside sexual experiences. The other study (2009) looked only at gay male couples in long-term relationships (together for eight years or longer) who maintained consensual open relationships. Three quarters of those couples felt that outside sex had no negative impact on their primary connections.

In other words, the monogamous model itself may eventually crumble for some (but not all), and marriage may become redefined by gay men for all people as an open door to a different option (for some at least): that is, enduring love made “whole,” yet not complete, with emotional primacy but also sexual variety. Call it still marriage, then, but also “open” — in other words, just “in a very unusual way.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, by the way, would agree.

David J. Hoffman is a local writer and regular contributor to DC Agenda. Reach him at [email protected]



Latest Uganda anti-homosexuality bill incites new wave of anti-LGBTQ hate

Mbarara Rise Foundation appeals to international community for help



(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

To the international community, 

I write to you today on behalf of the organization I lead, Mbarara Rise Foundation.

Since the year began, our rural grassroots LGBTQI+ communities have faced life threatening problems including an increased number of mob attacks, individual threats, police arrests and non-stop fears and insecurities arising from the homophobic campaigns happening in Uganda. Sadly, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 was introduced on March 9, inciting a new wave of anti-LGBTQI+ hatred.

This anti-homosexuality bill is worse than previous bills because, under this new law, simply identifying as LGBTQI+ means you have committed a crime. Even before the bill has passed, this homophobic action in Parliament has encouraged more of the general population, bloggers, celebrities and politicians to increase their hate campaigns all over the country. More than ever, Uganda is not a safe environment for us now. 

Currently, attacks are happening all over Uganda. Our communities have faced mob “justice” scenarios, threats and arrests and we have no legal recourse. Many of our constituents have received death threats, and in fact some have gone into hiding. This all increased dramatically when the bill was read in the Parliament and homophobic people are using it as a new excuse to inflict harm upon us. In just one of many examples, a transgender woman associated with our organization was beaten, publicly, by a group of cis men and she now sustains serious wounds. The police do not care.

Your voices are needed to speak out against these human rights abuses in Uganda. Your kind support is crucial and timely for us because we need protection, visibility and defense of our basic human rights. Mbarara Rise Foundation is working tirelessly to help LGBTIQ persons through building the capacity of the LGBTQI+ community, by documenting and advocating against violence, and through providing safety and security where we are able. We are fighting to increase access to legal counsel and justice and working to repeal homophobic laws and transform the attitudes of duty bearers towards LGBTQI+ persons. We cannot do this work alone.

These matters are urgent because Uganda needs interventions to protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons amidst escalating violence and homophobia given the limited capacity of LGBTQI-led organizations, a shrinking civic space. In short, we need your outrage, your voices, and your support and we need it now.

Yours sincerely,

Real Raymond

Executive Director

Mbarara Rise Foundation

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Brazil insurrection proves Trump remains global threat

Jair Bolsonsaro took page out of former U.S. president’s playbook



Former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. (Washington Blade Trump photo by Michael Key; Bolsonaro photo by Celso Pupo/Bigstock)

I was at home in Dupont Circle on Sunday afternoon when I learned that thousands of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro supporters had stormed their country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace. I grabbed my iPhone, used Google Translate to translate my initial thoughts into Brazilian Portuguese and sent them to many of the sources with whom I have worked while on assignment for the Washington Blade in the country.

“Muito perturbador a que está aconterendo em Brasília,” I said. “What is happening in Brasília is very disturbing.”

One source described the insurrection as “terrible.” Another told me that “everything is chaos.”

Toni Reis, president of Aliança Nacional LGBTI+, a Brazilian LGBTQ and intersex advocacy group, said what happened in Brasília was “horrible.” Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) in a statement said the insurrectionists “attacked democracy.” Congresswoman Erika Hilton, who is transgender, described them as “terrorists.”

The insurrection, which has been described as a “coup” and a “terrorist” act, took place two days after the U.S. marked the second anniversary of Jan. 6. I felt a real sense of déjà vu because what happened in Brasília was nearly identical to what I witnessed here in D.C. two years and two days earlier with Blade Photo Editor Michael Key and then-Blade intern Kaela Roeder.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump refused to accept the 2020 presidential election results, and thousands of his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, laid siege to the Capitol after he spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse. The insurrection began after lawmakers began to certify the Electoral College results.

supporters of former u.s. president donald trump storm the u.s. capitol on jan. 6, 2021. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

Bolsonaro, who has yet to publicly acknowledge he lost to current Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, flew to Florida on Dec. 30.

Da Silva’s inauguration took place in Brasília on Jan. 1. Bolsonaristas laid siege to their country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace a week later. 

“The Brazilian presidential election has fueled a misinformation emergency that has tipped the LGBT+ community into a boiling pot of fake news,” wrote Egerton Neto, a Brazilian LGBTQ and intersex activist who is also an Aspen New Voices Fellow and manager of Oxford University’s XX, in an op-ed the Blade published last Oct. 28, two days before Da Silva defeated Bolsonaro in the second round of Brazil’s presidential election. “This is part of a broader global problem and we need a global plan to stop it.”

supporters of then-brazilian president jair bolsonaro rally near the brazilian congress in brasÍlia, Brazil, on oct. 1, 2022. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

I was on assignment in Mexico City on July 16, 2018, when Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin after their summit in Helsinki. I wrote in a Blade oped the “ridiculous spectacle … proved one and for all the U.S. under (the Trump) administration cannot claim with any credibility that it stands for human rights around the world.”

“American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is a beacon of hope to those around the world who suffer persecution. American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is the land of opportunity where people can build a better life for themselves and for their families,” I wrote. “Trump has turned his back on these ideals. He has also proven himself to be a danger not only to his country, but to the world as a whole.”

Bolsonaro during a press conference with Trump at the White House on March 19, 2019, said he has “always admired the United States of America.”

“This admiration has only increased since you took office,” said Bolsonaro.

The so-called “Trump of the Tropics” clearly took a page out of his American ideological counterpart’s anti-democratic playbook, and Sunday’s insurrection in Brasília is the implementation of it. The bolsonaristas who stormed the Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace perpetrated an assault on democracy in the name of their country’s former president who cannot bring himself to publicly acknowledge that he lost re-election. Sunday’s insurrection also proves that Trump, his enablers and those who continue to blindly defend and worship him remain as dangerous as ever.

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New York Times’ decision to hire anti-LGBTQ attorney as columnist is appalling

David French has worked for Alliance Defending Freedom



David French (Screen capture via Wheaton College/YouTube)

GLAAD, the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, is responding to the New York Times’ recent announcement of their hiring of anti-LGBTQ attorney and writer David French as a columnist.

“It is appalling that the New York Times hired and is now boasting about bringing on David French, a writer and attorney with a deep history of anti-LGBTQ activism. After more than a year of inaccurate, misleading LGBTQ coverage in the Times opinion and news pages, the Times started 2023 by announcing a second anti-transgender opinion columnist, without a single known trans voice represented on staff,” responded GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis. “A cursory search for French turns up numerous anti-LGBTQ articles and his record as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group that actively spreads misinformation about LGBTQ people and pushes baseless legislation and lawsuits to legalize discrimination, including just last month at the Supreme Court. The Times left out these facts in its glowing announcement of French’s hiring, and also forgot to mention his work as a co-signer on the 2017 Nashville Statement, which erased LGBTQ voices of faith and falsely stated ‘that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism.’ The Times had the gall to claim French as a ‘faith’ expert despite this known history.

The Times’ opinion section continues to platform non-LGBTQ voices speaking up inaccurately and harmfully about LGBTQ people and issues. This is damaging to the paper’s credibility. The Times opinion section editors’ love letter to French yesterday shows a willful disregard of LGBTQ community voices and the concerns so many have shared about their inaccurate, exclusionary, often ridiculous pieces. Last year, the Times ended popular trans writer Jenny Boylan’s column, leaving the opinion section with no trans columnists and a known lack of transgender representation on its overall staff. Who was brought on after Boylan? Pamela Paul, who has devoted columns to anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ disinformation, and David French. This reflects a growing trend on the news and opinion pages of misguided, inaccurate, and disingenuous ‘both sides’ fearmongering and bad faith ‘just asking questions’ coverage. The Times started 2023 by bragging about hiring another anti-trans writer, so LGBTQ leaders, organizations, and allies should make a 2023 resolution not to stay silent as the Times platforms lies, bias, fringe theories and dangerous inaccuracies.”

Examples of French’s anti-LGBTQ activism:

Examples of NYT columnist Pamela Paul’s anti-LGBTQ work:

Recent examples of inaccurate news coverage of LGBTQ people and youth, and their consequences:

  • In court documents, the state of Texas quoted Emily Bazelon’s June 15 report in the New York Times Magazine to further target families of trans youth over their private, evidence-based healthcare decisions. Every major medical association supports gender affirming care as best practices care that is safe and lifesaving and has widespread consensus of the medical and scientific communities.
  • The World Professional Association of Transgender Healthcare (WPATH), the world’s leading medical and research authority on transgender healthcare, criticized the Times’ November 2022 article “They Paused Puberty, But Is There a Cost?” as “furthering the atmosphere of misinformation” about healthcare for trans youth, noting its inaccurate narratives, interpretations and non-expert voices. WPATH noted the Times elevated false and inflammatory notions about medications that have been used safely in non-LGBTQ populations for decades without an explicit statement about how the benefits of the treatment far outweigh potential risks.
  • Writer Michael Powell elevated anti-transgender voices to falsely assert, in a piece about one successful transgender athlete, that transgender athletes are a threat to women’s sports. Powell’s other pieces have been used to support Pamela Paul’s inaccurate opinion essays falsely claiming “women” are being erased by the inclusion of trans people in discussions about abortion access. 
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