Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Harry Hirsch and Wendy Brown to the APSA Council, 3/19/2008

Dear Council colleagues:

Below please find our analysis of the conference siting issue and its impact on the Association's LGBT members. We appreciate that the draft circulated by Michael represents substantial thought and work related to meeting the competing concerns about APSA convention siting, triggered by the New Orleans issue. We have no wish to subvert this process, but rather to contribute to it. While we are respectful of the effort of the new draft policy to find a compromise on this question, in our view that proposal is overly complex and contains loopholes that permit the violation of basic tenets of equality, safety, and respect for all APSA members. We believe a simple, principled decision rule is available to us.

Many of our concerns echo those of the LGBT Status Committee.

Wendy Brown
Harry Hirsch

An LGBT political scientist has a partner, with whom she has executed a civil union in Vermont. Another couple, gay men, have married in Canada. A third has married in Massachusetts. None of the couples has executed a private contract, since they believe all relevant matters to be settled by their civil union or marriage, and since they see no reason why they should go to the trouble and expense of executing a private contract to enforce rights now granted them, by law, in their state or province.

The political scientist goes to New Orleans and is taken ill. His or her partner shows up at the hospital, and is told only immediate family members are allowed to see the patient or speak to the doctor.

Unlikely? Yes. Possible? Yes. Louisiana and several other states have not "merely" outlawed gay marriage; they have passed laws or made a part of their state constitutions the provision that the state will not recognize a same-sex relationship bearing any "incident" of marriage. As political scientists, we should recognize the seriousness and scope of these provisions, and recognize that they go significantly farther than most of the state constitutional amendments and statutes adopted in the wake of the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts.

We want to be clear on this point. The problem on the table is not in states that have said, "we will not perform same sex marriages." The problem is in those states which have said "we will not perform same sex marriages, AND we will not recognize any relationship looking like a same sex marriage from another jurisdiction." Whether or not the hospital scenario (or its equivalent at a police station) has yet materialized, its possibility has made some LGBT members of the profession feel they cannot safely travel to New Orleans in 2012. Based on the plain wording of these legal provisions, this is a reasonable fear. Moreover, whether or not one approves of recent efforts to publicize the issue, those doing so have posed a fair question: If the year were 1959, would we hesitate to act if the issue were recently passed miscegenation laws, and our attention were drawn to the issue by even one or two political scientists married to someone of a different race?

The LGBT Status Committee first raised the issue of convention sites in the early and mid nineties; one of us (HH) was chair of the Committee during some of that time. During that discussion, Executive Director Cathy Rudder articulated a principle to which all parties agreed: Every member of the profession should feel safe attending the annual meeting. Cathy also assured us that future siting decisions could and would be made with this principle in mind.

We respectfully suggest that we stick to this principle. We do not yet know how the amendment to the Louisiana constitution--or any of these other laws and amendments--will be interpreted on the ground; it will take many years for legal test cases to arise and be litigated. We should not be willing to take a chance with the legal rights of our colleagues in the meantime, and we should not want the inevitable legal test case to involve a political scientist caught in an traumatic incident.

While we recognize the complexity of siting decisions and the importance of helping the victims of Katrina, there are many other ways of accomplishing that goal. It is a false dichotomy to suggest that we face here a zero-sum choice of which minority group to support. And it is vital that we keep in mind that we are not being asked here to support a cause in any abstract sense; we are being asked to guarantee the safety of our colleagues.

We therefore propose as our decision rule the following:

The APSA will not hold conferences in any state which, by law, refuses to recognize a marriage or civil union legally recognized in another jurisdiction.

Two alternatives have been suggested.

The first is to have the Association find and publicize gay-friendly medical venues in New Orleans (or in other cities similarly situated), a process, we are told, already begun by the APSA staff.

The idea that we could somehow assure that anyone needing medical care would be taken to those facilities, and only those facilities (or perhaps to gay-friendly police stations?) strains credulity to the breaking point. Moreover, the very exercise of identifying such venues is deeply offensive, and proof that we should not be meeting in these cities; it is an admission that there is a problem, and a serious one. Will we pass out medical-ID bracelets saying "take only to Tulane hospital"? Pink triangles on our convention badges, perhaps?

The second suggested alternative is for the Association to urge LGBT members of the profession to execute private contracts and powers of attorney, designating their partners as next of kin. Apart from the extra expense involved for those already legally married or registered--an expense heterosexuals need not encounter--are we really willing to say to some of our colleagues, "well, if you are worried about your status in New Orleans, just be sure to carry identity papers with you at all times"? That, in effect, is what we will be saying. We will also be assuming, on the basis of very little (other than visitors' bureaus PR), that local authorities will
honor such documents, which the plain words of these state laws now strongly suggest they cannot.

Both of these alternatives signify second-class citizenship.

As our colleague Michael Goodhart cogently argues, our existing contract for New Orleans allows us to cancel the 2012 meeting (http://www.du.edu/gsis/hrhw/roundtable/2008/01-2008/specialforum/goodhart-2008sf.html). We urge the Council to adopt the obvious logic of his argument.

There are two additional factors to consider.

If we adopt the draft policy, we will not emerge from this morass; we will be forced to make finely-grained exceptions about different cities, on the basis of our fuzzy impressions of each city's reputation as "welcoming." And if we go to New Orleans in 2012, there will be a boycott, with all of the attendant publicity (as our email in the Fall from Association members clearly indicated). Such a boycott would neither be good for the Association as an entity nor for individual members. Worse, it has the potential to cast LGBT faculty in vulnerable and awkward positions within their departments and professional networks.

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