With a one-vote majority, California's Supreme Court overturned a law banning same-sex marriage yesterday (PDF of decision). The case is a consolidation of appeals to the same court's ruling in 2004 that San Francisco had illegally granted marriage licenses to same sex couples. In that decision they had expressly stated that they were not ruling on the constitutionality of the law, but only one whether or not the law had been broken. In this case they examine the constitutionality of the law and find that the law violates basic constitutional rights: the right to form a legally recognized family with a partner one loves, and the right to equal protection under the law.
The CA decision refers back to a much earlier decision - Perez v. Sharp in 1948 - in which the court found that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional. This was 19 years before Loving v. Virginia, the U. S. Supreme Court case that did the same thing nationwide. (Mildred Loving, whose marriage to Richard Loving was at the center of that case, died on May 2.)
Kenji Yoshino, a Yale Law professor writing for Slate today, points out that one strength of yesterday's decision is that it is based not only on liberty (the right to form marriages based on love and choice) but also on equality (the right to be treated equally by the law regardless of sexual orientation), and points out that because of that, this decision goes beyond the right to marry and makes it clear that any California law that discriminates against people based on sexual orientation is equally in trouble. That's the good news.
Yesterday I'd intended to write a Labor Day post. It was going to be about the importance of workers organizing across all types of work, recognizing that we are all workers, and it was going to be the beginning of a conversation I want to have about why established unions need to support the organizing efforts of sex workers.
And then I read about Deborah Jeane Palfrey's death and all that went out the window for a while.
This morning I went back and looked for last year's May 1 post. I couldn't remember what I'd written about. My breath caught in my throat when I found that I'd written this, also about Deborah Jeane and about my speculation that perhaps the exposing of high profile clients would help in the effort to reduce the stigma attached to sex work.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey is dead, apparently by her own hand. She had been convicted on April 20, after a years-long investigation, of counts including racketeering related to her D. C. area escort service.
I am stunned, and too saddened to say very much right now, but I echo Amanda Brooks when she asks whether the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers counts those who kill themselves after prolonged harassment and persecution.
- Radical Vixen's interview with Deborah Jeane Palfrey, conducted last August.
- Bound, Not Gagged's coverage of Deborah Jeane Palfrey's prosecution.
- Huffington Post's coverage of Palfrey's suicide.
Melissa Farley and her fringe research mill Prostitution Research and Education have teamed up with a Scottish anti-prostitution group to produce a new 'research' report with the problematic title "Challenging Men's Demand for Prostitution in Scotland: A research report based on interviews with 110 men who bought women in prostitution" (PDF here).
Readers of this site will understandably be rolling their eyes and groaning, "not again!" But it is important to remember, awful though it is, that other folks take Farley's research seriously and that it deserves serious attention to help mitigate the damage it can do to real efforts to advocate for women's safety and sex worker safety. Such 'studies' play to particular political positions, in this case pressure to export the Swedish 'solution' through Europe, but political expedience is not the same as sound policy. Check today's Daily Record (Scotland) for the most recent orchestrated flood of bad news coverage of a poor study to support wrongheaded policy.
It is important to stress, again and again, that Farley's research cannot be considered reliable and certainly doesn't approach even basic scientific standards. The problems with the current study are many but can be summed up in terms of ethical concerns, bias and inadequate attention to detail in the write up. The write up is problematic enough that it is hard to judge the quality of the research, but the very clear bias is enough to call the findings into question. The bias also leads to the making of recommendations that are not proportional to the findings. Below I address just a few of the major problems. (Watch this space for links to critiques by other feminist sex worker advocates and researchers.)
We have been following an interpersonal conflict at the University of New Mexico that centers on issues of due process, graduate student-faculty interaction, sexual freedom and the right of both students and faculty to private lives. (If you're new around here or you need to get caught up you can see all of our previous posts on the matter here.)
One of the things that made it difficult to appreciate all of the layers of the conflict was a lack of access to primary source documents. We have now received a copy of the March 10 letter from the Deputy Provost to those who had petitioned for a review, by the Faculty Senate Ethics and Advisory Committee, of the extramural activities of one of the professors. After carefully considering the content and implications of this we have determined that it is in the public interest to publish that letter here in its entirety. In doing so, we were aware that extracts had appeared in the media. (You can click here for a PDF of the scanned letter or click on the images below.)
When people have only partial information there is a tendency to fill in the blanks with rumor, speculation and misinformation. We are publishing this letter to ensure that people are aware of the facts relating to the two reviews undertaken by the university administration. We appreciate that a number of members of faculty remain deeply concerned about the acts they sought a review of, and we respect both their right to hold those views and to raise them under University policies on the reporting of suspected misconduct. Nevertheless this is the second review the University has conducted of this complaint, and absent new evidence, little can be gained and much lost by pursuing this line of action. As the letter states, the matter is now "concluded" from the Adminstration's point of view. The observations and conclusions reached by the Provost's Office are congruent with our own observations based on interviews of the people involved and the documents examined.
The debate on extra-curricular activities by University of New Mexico staff and postgraduate students continues in the Blogosphere. Of particular interest are those from within UNM, and those associated with Professor Chavez’ writing and teaching (English and Women’s Studies ), such as Samantha Anne Scott.
Yet there is little evidence of any public statements on managing the conflict within the English Department, a conflict that reports suggest threatens the careers of faculty, the integrity of teaching, and is inappropriately dragging students into the debate.
Constructive debate on issues in the academy is productive, unmanaged conflict is not. What then are the issues at stake, that must be of concern to all academics, authorities and students? These can be dissected on a number of levels from the micro-environment, the conduct of individuals to the macro level, the responsibility of the organisation.
Carol Queen asked me to let our readers know about this. I'm more than happy to do so. Not only does it sound like an interesting party in an interesting place, but I simply can't imagine saying no to Carol!
We have a silent auction item from a recent Center for Sex & Culture event that we are throwing open for e-list bidding: an admission to the couple's party to La Domaine Esemar in upstate New York, which just seemed too remote for Bay Areans to bid on. If you'd like to bid, just send us an email at email@example.com with "auction bid" in the subject line; minimum bid is $20. Bids will close on April 20. You'll be able to send us a check, or pay with Visa, MasterCard, or discover if you're the high bidder. We'll put the winner in touch with Master R so you can schedule your attendance with him.
Lisa Chavez is a tenured Associate professor in English at University of New Mexico, where she teaches creative writing--mostly poetry and nonfiction. She has two books of poetry published: Destruction Bay and In An Angry Season. She writes about issues of race, gender, class and sexuality.
On March 24 I wrote about the conflict that had erupted at UNM after some BDSM photos got Chavez into trouble with some of her colleagues. Yesterday I learned from the dankprofessor, who himself learned it from The Daily Lobo, UNM's student newspaper, that the head of the creative writing program is resigning over the matter. Sharon Warner submitted her resignation letter and is expected to step down at the end of next week. Her reason for resigning, according to the student newspaper report is that "her colleague has not been punished for posing in sexually explicit photos with students.” Those photos were advertisements for People Exchanging Power (PEP), a BDSM phone fantasy service and did not represent a sexual relationship. The students were graduate students already working for PEP. The Deputy Provost found no reason to sanction her.
Lisa Chavez has graciously agreed to talk to us about her work for PEP, the situation at UNM, about relationships between faculty and students, about misconceptions of BDSM and the difficulty some people have distinguishing between fantasy and reality, and about and the impact this is having on her life and the lives of some of the other gay, lesbian and bisexual faculty in the department. I am grateful that she agreed to talk with me about her story: