Sunday, January 28, 2007

Do Gay Men Really Want Marriage?

By Steve Charing

While the Maryland Court of Appeals deliberates on the constitutionality of the state’s 1973 law, which restricts marriage to between a man and a woman, it is a good time to examine if marriage between a man and a man is what gay men want.

Based on an accumulation of conversations over the past year or two with all age groups —both personal and via the Internet—as well as blogs and other data, I feel comfortable about offering my thoughts pertaining to gay men and same-sex marriage. But I will make this qualification: my comments are not intended to be generalizations or absolute facts nor are they the results of any broad-sample scientific survey. Instead, these points reflect trends and tendencies that I believe portray an accurate picture of many gay men vis-à-vis their attitudes towards same-sex marriage.

Although I count many lesbians as friends, I’m not going to pretend that I can offer any insight regarding the mindset of lesbians other than the fact I strongly believe that they are far more willing to enter the realm of same-sex marriage than gay men are.

Statistics support that theory. In Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, even though it is believed there are more gay men than lesbians in the state, lesbian marriages outnumbered gay male marriages from May 17, 2004 through November 9, 2006 by a count of 5,642 to 3,122. That’s nearly a 2 to 1 ratio. The following analysis, however, is focused on the male issues surrounding marriage, which may explain, in part, why the Massachusetts experience is what it is.

Gay men are very similar to straight men. Why not? They’re men! Males, being the hunters they are (and that’s the case in virtually all species), seem to relish the conquest. Straight men marry for a variety of reasons, and most have families to keep them together. But we all know—and I’ve been told by a good number of married men—that many still have attraction issues with other women. Nonetheless, those who stick to their marriage (nearly half don’t for a variety of reasons) still wander, if only with their eyes.

But for these married men, a split-up could be both painful and financially draining. The laws are structured that way. They can lose their children and have to pay unseemly sums in alimony and child support. Therefore, divorce isn’t a good option unless it’s better for the family than unhappily remaining together. So while half of marriages disintegrate, imagine how many more would as well if it weren’t for children, divorce laws and their attendant penalties.

Gay men, except the married ones in Massachusetts, generally have the independence that so many straight men can only fantasize about. And the sexual freedom it brings is a major impediment to same-sex marriage. For one thing, there are large numbers of gay men—mostly younger—who eschew long-term relationships, much less marriage, to preserve to some degree their sexual sovereignty. The trend seems to be that the younger one is, the less inclination there is in forming a long-term relationship.

While many claim they want boyfriends, there is significant trepidation, especially among the younger guys, about settling down. And sexual freedom is not the only factor that thwarts a desire for a long-term relationship.

"Being single (or just dating) is very liberating," said one guy in his early thirties. "You don't have to plan your life around someone else's wants or needs. You can do what you want to do, go where you want to go, see who you want to see. Nobody to answer to."

He added that the independence that single life brings reduces dependency on others. "When you're single, there is nobody there to let you down. Less disappointment that way."

Others just don’t trust gay men sufficiently to settle down. Numerous gays are constantly fearful that their partner will cheat on them (a legitimate concern) and impact the relationship and its accompanying emotional investment. "I’ve given everything of myself to my boyfriend, and one day I find out he’s out with another dude," said one twenty-three year-old. "I can’t trust men. They’re ass-----."

And many other men are involved in "open relationships" or engage in "threesomes" to try to have it both ways—a boyfriend and a variety of sexual contacts.

For these men, marriage, if allowed, would clearly not seem to be a desirable or recommended option at this point in their lives.

But there is a different side of the equation. "It's nice to know there is someone out there who is looking forward to seeing you, who misses you, who is thinking about you, who loves you," said one single man in his thirties. "Life feels a little less scary when you know you don't have to shoulder the burden of doing everything by yourself. When you are in a long-term relationship, both partners have each other to fall back on, be it emotionally, physically or economically."

Relationships can also help eliminate some of the games experienced in dating different guys. One tries to put on his best side to impress his would-be partner for fear that anything less desirable would cause an early exit. As one man put it, "When you're in a long-term relationship, most likely you've both seen each other at your worst, and you're still together, so you don't have to pretend anymore. You can just be good or as nasty as that is."

Once you truly fall in love with a person and can deal with any foibles, that is the signal to think in terms of a serious relationship. It does take commitment, communication and work. The security and dependability, as well as the elimination of the "games" involved in dating, are strong inducements for long-term-relationships.

Another is family, and that’s where marriage would be paramount. "Marriage is important to us because we're a family just like everyone else, and we deserve the same rights as everyone else," said a member of a gay couple in their late twenties who have adopted a baby boy. "The rights marriage gives us allow our son to be protected if something should happen to us."

When you see gay men in long-term relationships, most appear to be older and have probably experienced enough emotional trauma and drama that are frequently associated with the single life. They are ready to settle down. I know of couples who have been together 20, 30, 40 years. Mine has lasted 27 wonderful years, and I am as happy today as when I first met my partner.

There are also many younger established couples, and marriage would be beneficial and secure for them as well. The over 1,100 rights and benefits that marriage would accrue would only strengthen their partnership and family.

Nonetheless, being in a long-term relationship doesn’t necessarily translate into a desire for marriage. The same issues that beset heterosexual married men could also surface, and men (and women) are mindful of that. And there are financial and other considerations that could preclude marriage.

So, to the question, do gay men really want marriage, it depends on each individual’s circumstance and priorities, as well as his desire to get serious about sharing his life with someone he loves through thick and thin.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

If Only He Said Those Two Key Words

Letter published in Washington Blade--1/26/07: "O'Malley's inaugural speech disappoints Maryland gays"

When I saw the clip on the evening news that reported Governor O’Malley’s inaugural speech earlier that afternoon, my heart raced. I heard the new governor of Maryland say, "I take responsibility as one leader for never trying to divide our people by race, class, religion or region." I waited to hear the two words that would have made that statement complete. But, alas, Governor O'Malley shifted abruptly to a different theme of taking responsibility for setting a tone of mutual respect.

Drats! Those two words were never spoken; the speech was not whole. An opportunity lost. I felt unfulfilled.

For when he uttered the phrase "never trying to divide the people," my first impulse was recalling how President Bush, in dutifully complying with the win-at-all cost tactics of Karl Rove, did just that. They divided the people during the 2004 presidential campaign by driving a wedge among America's voters and a stake through the gay community's collective hearts on the matter of "gay marriage."

"Gay marriage is morally wrong." "We need to protect the sanctity of marriage." "Marriage should be defined only as a union between a man and a woman." It divided the nation.
So when Martin O'Malley laid out how he had no intention to divide the people, my fervent hope was that he was going to include those two key words among the others. And those would be "sexual orientation."

What a wonderful message that would have made! If nothing else, it would have sent a clear signal to such homophobic Maryland legislators as Del. Don Dwyer, Del. Emmet Burns, Sen. Janet Greenip, Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Sen. Nancy Jacobs and others: any attempt to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage would certainly not receive any moral backing from this governor, unlike his predecessor, former Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., who lent his support to such an egregious notion.

What would have been wrong by including "sexual orientation" in the text of that otherwise commendable promise? The state now has laws on the books prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. This isn't new; those battles seem to be behind us. They survived theconservative Mr. Ehrlich who, some believed, would have sought to overturn the protections, given his shoddy record on LGBT issues.

But Governor O'Malley did not utter those words. It was either an oversight or political calculation; we may never know. It would have been momentous if he had, but given the recent political environment when it comes to gays regardless of Party, it is not surprising. Just disappointing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

We have big voices…let’s hear them

Elected officials and LGBT folks need to speak out for equality

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

Now that our state legislators have started the 90-day annual ritual of writing laws (see front-page article), this is the time for the lgbt community to step forward and have our big voices heard and our views made known. To help accomplish this, Equality Maryland, the state’s largest lgbt civil rights organization, is sponsoring Lobby Day in Annapolis on February 12.

Among the activities, a rally will be held in downtown Annapolis beginning at 5:00 p.m. (At press time, the speakers and the specific venue have not been announced.) However, in the past two years such notables as Maya Keyes, Judy Shepard and Kweise Mfume took the stage and denounced hate and bigotry and spoke eloquently on the need for equality for the lgbt community. They, as well as others, addressed several hundred cheering people from all over the state—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgenedered, parents and straight allies—under the curious eye of the media.

This is the time to raise our collective voices and demonstrate we’re not second-class citizens. We turn out for Pride celebrations in vast numbers. We should do the same at Lobby Day. If nothing else, it will help us to gain necessary protections and rights—the same that are afforded heterosexuals.

Besides the rally, there will be opportunities for you to meet with your district legislators to tell your own individual story. You will be able to impress them as to why a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is not only discriminatory, but also how such unequal treatment affects you and your family. And even if you don’t contemplate marriage you should still fight for the right so that you have that option at some point.

"Personal stories are the most effective means to persuade a legislator," said Delegate Anne Kaiser (District 14-Montgomery County), who is openly gay. She along with three other Howard County delegates recently addressed the Howard County chapter of PFLAG to offer lobbying advice and tips. The other three delegates concurred.

We are finding out more and more that when legislators who are relatively unfamiliar with lgbt individuals and can actually put a human face on the prevailing issues as a result of meetings, there is a shift by varying degrees to their openness on these issues. Hearing our stories and concerns helps removes some barriers.

A message on Equality Maryland’s website states: "As a ‘citizen lobbyist,’ you're not expected to know the ins and outs of a particular bill; you're just expected to speak from your heart."

But we need others to find their voices, too. With the major initiative being the prevention of a constitutional amendment, the posturing and positioning by some politicians is already underway. We hear plenty from homophobic Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, Jr. (District 31-Anne Arundel) who not only was the primary sponsor of the gay marriage ban but also led the movement to impeach Judge M. Brooke Murdock when she ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit.

Anytime the "gay marriage" issue surfaces, you can always count on Del. Dwyer to stand before a camera and microphone denouncing marriage for same-sex couples and insisting that it should be put up for a popular vote.

But where are our leaders? Besides the aforementioned Anne Kaiser, there are three other openly gay state legislators. In the House of Delegates we also have Maggie McIntosh (District 43-Baltimore) and freshman Heather Mizeur (District 20-Montgomery County).

And now we have the highest ranking openly gay elected official in Maryland—newly elected Senator Rich Madaleno (District 18-Montgomery County). He enters his first term as Senator, but he has served previously in the House of Delegates.

Sen. Madaleno and other Democrats are taking a wait-and-see stance, preferring to allow the Court of Appeals to render a judgement. Most observers believe that the decision will be handed down following the General Assembly session, thus delaying serious debate until next year.

Nonetheless, I would like to see a more proactive stance by our supporters, particularly from the four gay and lesbian lawmakers. Sen. Madaleno, for example, is in a very safe district politically, and Montgomery County did not send one Republican to Annapolis in the last election. Although a freshman senator, he should speak out loud and clear. It’s frustrating to hear only Dwyer’s comments on the evening news or reading them in the paper without an effective and appropriate response from an elected official.

I realize this is a politically dicey issue, but it is an important one to thousands of Maryland’s citizens. The public must be educated on the merits of recognizing same-sex couples, and allowing it to hear only one side damages our cause, especially if the question ultimately finds its way on a ballot.

Not only does the public need to be educated, the same can be said for our legislators. This is where you come in. Come to the rally on Lobby Day and become a "citizen lobbyist." Join hundreds of other like-minded individuals. It’s easy and fun.

Check with Equality Maryland to find out all the information you need to attend and participate in Lobby Day and sign up.
Speak out. Tell your own story. Let’s use our big voices to push for equality.

Monday, January 15, 2007

2007 General Assembly Underway

LGBT community affected by many bills to be considered

By Steve Charing

Senior Political Analyst

The gavel has dropped signaling the beginning of the 2007 Maryland legislative session known as the General Assembly where some thousand bills will be considered. A new positive mood has enveloped Annapolis as the widening margin of Democratic senators and delegates and the inauguration of a Democratic governor offer hope of a less contentious 90-day session than had been witnessed during the past four years.

When Republican Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. began his tenure in Annapolis following his historic victory in the 2002 election, the main topic of discussion during the General Assembly was slots. It dominated the first three years of his term and triggered a polemical battle between him and the legislature.

As a result of the bad blood created by this seemingly endless hostile debate as well as the failure of the then governor to reach out and compromise on other key issues, the Ehrlich administration was hamstrung by the Democrat-dominated assembly. Moreover, many initiatives originating from the legislature were vetoed by the governor, and some were overridden, creating more discontent.

This session should lack that type of drama for two reasons. First, Governor Martin O’Malley is a Democrat who has already made nice with many legislators on both sides of the aisle prior to his inauguration, thus securing a more positive personal relationship. Second, no major, sweeping initiatives are expected to be introduced by the Governor in his first session, as both branches of government will feel each other out the first year. What comes out of this session, though, will be a good barometer on the success of this administration.

While the question of slots may surface again, it will probably be an adjunct to a broad overhaul of the tax structure that is needed to stem a river of red ink to the tune of $1 billion that is forecast for fiscal year 2008 and beyond. But serious action on slots and weighty budget remedies are not expected until next year’s General Assembly.

Nonetheless, important and controversial measures—many affecting the lgbt community—will be considered in this session. Budget and taxes will still be hot topics even if dramatic changes do not occur this year. The environment will get a close look, especially the toughening of emission standards.

We expect to see reform in the archaic ground rent system. And housing, health care, the death penalty and transportation matters will also be brought to the fore as well as myriad other concerns.

The building momentum surrounding a statewide smoking ban is sure to be a significant issue. This affects the lgbt community (among others) and is one that has divided it. On one hand you have bar owners who fear the loss of business by imposing a ban and smokers who believe it is their right to smoke. On the other hand you have potential customers who avoid bars and clubs because of the health risks associated with second-hand smoke. Based on the positive experiences of other cities and states, such a ban is likely to be enacted, if not this year, then next.

As far as issues that also directly impact the lgbt community are concerned, the volatile matter of same-sex marriage is clearly the most consequential and politically charged. The lawsuit that challenges Maryland’s 1973 marriage law as a violation of the Constitution by nine lgbt couples and a gay widower is the central focus. It had been ruled favorably for the plaintiffs by a Circuit Court Judge. The case is now awaiting a decision by the Court of Appeals.

The timing and nature of the judgment will determine the course of action undertaken by Equality Maryland, the principal lgbt civil right organization in the state. It can come down during the General Assembly session or following it—most likely the latter.

"The ruling could be with us, against us, or a New Jersey-style decision," said Equality Maryland’s Executive Director Dan Furmansky to a gathering of over 60 at a Howard County chapter of PFLAG meeting. Furmansky was referring to the recent decision by the New Jersey courts to provide equal marriage rights to same-sex couples but stopped short of calling it "marriage."

However, should the Court rule while the Assembly is in session and either upholds the lower court decision and grants marriage rights to same-sex couples or directs a New Jersey-type solution, the stuff will definitely hit the fan.

Delegate Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel), who eked out a 25-vote victory in November, is on a mission to ensure that same-sex marriage never occurs in Maryland. He already pre-filed a bill that would seek to amend the state’s Constitution that would limit marriage to one man and one woman. Moreover, he believes, at the very least, the voters should decide on the definition of marriage and is pushing for a referendum on the issue.

Thwarting such an amendment or a ballot initiative is the first priority of Equality Maryland. Even with the increased number of Democrats in both chambers and a Governor who has disavowed a constitutional amendment during the campaign, nothing will be left to chance.
In other initiatives, Equality Maryland will push for legislation adding gender identity and expression to the state’s anti-discrimination law. Many observers believe this stands a good chance of passage. As mayor of Baltimore, Martin O’Malley lent his cooperation as the City Council passed similar legislation.

The organization will also seek to expand health coverage requiring health insurance companies to write policies inclusive of unmarried adults in the same household and their children.

Finally, Equality Maryland will attempt to pass legislation allowing individuals who pay the health care costs of another non-dependent adult in their household to deduct those expenses.
Prior to the elections in November, Equality Maryland's Dan Furmansky told OUTloud, "Whoever lives in the Governor's mansion will greatly influence what we are able to accomplish over the next four years."

With Governor O’Malley in place, there is a greater feel for optimism than there was at the beginning of last year’s General Assembly.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Piano Man

Singing and smiling at the piano, Matthew sparkles at Jay’s
By Steve Charing

‘Twas the Saturday before Christmas,
When we showed up at Jay’s;
The crowd was so merry,
While the piano men played.

The pub was aglow,
With its holly and lights;
The music resounding,
All through the night.

First Bill played the tunes,
With precision and style;
Then Matthew sat down,
And we all sang and smiled.

Amidst the cozy, holiday atmosphere at Jay’s on Read—the posh Mt. Vernon piano bar that opened this past summer—the regular crowd shuffles in and takes in the fabulous décor of holly and lights and frosty window decorations that had been created by Wayne from the Drinkery. The festive patrons listened and sang to the spirited music performed by Jay’s superb piano players. Oh, and let’s not forget the cheerful staff who makes everyone feel welcome.

It’s a great combination. "Thank God they opened this bar," said Ed, a veteran of the Mt. Vernon scene.

On the Saturday of the Christmas weekend, Bill Forrest entertained during the cocktail hours preceding the 8:30 change of shift, mixing Christmas tunes with other popular favorites. An accomplished pianist with a long pedigree of performing from the West Coast to Holland America Cruise Lines, the Texan has been a pleasant addition to Jay’s. "Bill is a great pianist," said Jay Lamont, the owner of the pub, which to many possesses a "New York" ambiance.

But on this night, according to the rotating schedule, the next pianist, Matthew Kenworthy, took the small stage at 8:30—a railed-in platform that is dominated by the recently tuned piano and a handy music library. He immediately led off his set with a rousing rendition of "Carols of the Bells," which elicited a loud ovation. After a brief, pleasant greeting, Matthew broke into Cole Porter’s "I’ve Got You Under My Skin" followed immediately by Elton John’s "Your Song," and the growing crowd was captivated.

Jay is enthusiastic about his two popular pianists. "They have similar qualities who are unlike each other. That’s the magic," he explains.

Matthew Kenworthy, 30, also has a solid background in piano bar experience. He has played in a variety of venues in the mid-Atlantic area before coming to Baltimore to work at Jay’s just a few short weeks ago. Since then, he, along with Bill Forrest, is amassing a strong fan base, which is increasing steadily.

And it’s not only gay customers who appreciate Matthew’s performances. "Matty is very talented, very entertaining, and is a sweet guy," said Cindi, who with her husband, enjoyed their night at Jay’s. She has seen him perform in Philadelphia and at Partners in Rehoboth.

The patrons love his easy smile and his uncanny ability to connect with the audience. Jonathan, one of the younger customers that night, also saw Matthew play at Partners. "He accommodates the audience really well," he said. "He tailors his varying musical selections according to the age group in the audience on a given night."

Owner Jay Lamont counts himself as a fan, too. "Matthew’s like a firebug—he glows. He loves playing the piano and the set-up of the room," Jay said. "He has the ability to draw you in and make you laugh." Jay is referring to Matthew’s mischievous injection of comical lyrics in a song when no one is expecting it.

Matthew Kenworthy, born and raised in Southern New Jersey, always tinkered on the piano, but didn’t get his first one in the house until he was 15. He is a self-taught pianist with only 10 lessons. During his spare time at high school and college, he enjoyed playing the instrument he loves, although he was also involved with the clarinet and keyboard percussion instruments like the xylophone.

He went on to college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh where he was a Design and Fine Arts major. There he learned about musical theater from working with musical theater majors, helping with accompaniment and just having fun in his spare time. Matthew took a small job after college playing piano at a small restaurant and moved on to play at the Raven in New Hope for a year before playing at a variety of venues in Philadelphia for six years.

It was there where Matthew really got it going at piano bar entertainment. "I credit my dear friend John Flynn for showing me how to entertain and have fun with people," he said. John still plays in Philadelphia and Rehoboth Beach.

Matthew spent the next two years at Partners in Rehoboth. He heard about Jay’s when he arrived in Baltimore less than two months ago and was thrilled. "I love the people in Baltimore and the warmth of the atmosphere at work," he beams. "I walked in and felt like the place was really built for me. Everything was just perfect."

He noted that the Baltimore crowd enjoys the old classics. "Gay men are more demanding, er, specific (smiles) in their requests and have a special attachment to Broadway show tunes," Matthew said sipping a cup of coffee prior to his shift. "As they drink more, they tend to sing along." Asked what the most popular requests have been, without hesitation he rattled off, "Cabaret," "Piano Man," and "All That Jazz."

Matthew’s versatility—both in his piano playing and his singing—has been a big plus. "I have learned much about music through actually working it," he says. "Most everything I know has been as a result of learning music from my job—listening to recordings, learning stories and backgrounds about famous musicians and composers." He does not have a great deal of classical training, but he loves listening to classical piano and orchestras.

He is devoted to faith and family. Matthew has a twin brother who is also gay and a musician. He also has a younger married brother. His parents live in Cleveland where he traveled following his stint at Jay’s that Saturday.

"I strongly believe in God, and that each day there are angels present in life which have guided me in a whirlwind of directions so that the excitement and happiness have been and will always be a part of my life."

Matthew feels that doing what he is doing for a living is a truly God-given blessing. "Fame never interested me," he says. "In fact, I never thought ten years ago that this would be my career."

For his growing number of fans it has been fortunate that Matthew is on this path. "I wish to continue to make people smile. I hope people are having fun around me."

That they are.