Last year, I made my first short film, PALAU, and I’m so happy to finally share it with all of you. PALAU is about two friends who reconnect after ten years apart. When they meet Leo surprises John with a one-way ticket to Micronesia and an enticing — or maybe ridiculous — offer.
If you like what you see, head over to my YouTube channel, give the film a “like” and subscribe — I’ll be adding new short films and sketch comedy regularly. You can also find other shorts I’ve appeared in or written on my channel.
Thanks so much to everyone who helped make this litt movie, including director Warren Wagner, my costars Scott Garland and Kat Letwin, Sound Recorder S Michael Ejbick, Makeup Artist Mishka Prefontaine, and AD Christiana Herbert.
A couple years ago I appeared in a short film directed by Matt Guerin called “Tri-Curious,” which played at a number of festivals around the world, including the Palm Springs Cinema Diverse Festival in 2016. The short went on to a spectacular run on YouTube, where it was viewed more than 1.5 million times!
Tri-Curious is now available exclusively on Dekkoo, a new gay streaming video service. You can watch the full video here, after subscribing.
Just a little post so I can update some information on Wikipedia.
The Falkland Islands Legislative Council passed a same-sex marriage and civil partnership bill back in March, but there’s no obvious information on the government’s web site about when bills receive royal assent, nor is there an archive of current laws on the web site. This has led to some confusion about whether the bill is actually law there.
So, I contacted the Islands’ registrar general, and this is the response I received.
Since I noticed she’s also the registrar general for (the uninhabited) South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands territory, I followed up to check if same-sex marriage is legal there. She says it is not.
Rex Wockner had a link to a press release from the government on his blog that basically said the same thing, but didn’t specifically say that the bill received royal assent or when it became effective. We now have a confirmation.
Anyway, this blog post exists solely so that I can cite a public reference on Wikipedia when I update same-sex marriage pages.
You can follow my daily updates on same-sex marriage news from around the world on my Twitter feed @LGBTMarriage.
For the last four months, I was working on one of the most challenging and fulfilling artistic endeavors of my career, The CBS Diversity Showcase. The sheer talent of everyone involved was humbling, awe-inspiring, and at times, honestly infuriating. I often felt like Salieri in that movie I’ll let you think I’ve watched. It’s about writing fart jokes, right?
I am so grateful to all of the actors, writers, and staff, for the opportunity to learn from all of them, and to be part of this amazing show. I’m especially grateful to my fellow Morons, Anna Rubanova and Jason Michael Snow, who let me write on a silly little sketch that ended up being the big closing number, “The Book of Moron” — a parody of Trump supporters sung to the tune of “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon — and to the whole cast that dove right into the Moron roles we asked them to play. The video above is cued to start just before the sketch, or you can watch it on YouTube here.
When I moved to LA last year, I had no real game plan other than “hang out and write by the beach.” I had no idea that such an awesome opportunity would be around the corner. And even though I’ve barely been to the beach at all since moving here (seriously, why is it so hard to convince Angelinos to go the beach?), this whole experience has really confirmed for me that moving here was the right thing to do. I can’t wait for whatever’s coming next.
Photos mostly by Anna Rubanova. More great shots from the show at her website.
The whole Showcase cast from the cheap seats.
“Trump’s finally gonna rid Washington of all those goddamn Lizard People!”
“I believe… 9/11 was an inside job…”
“…and I believe… that it was planned by actress Meryl Streep!”
The Book of Moron writers: Jason Michael Snow, Anna Rubanova, and some jerk in a lizard mask.
The internet consensus seems to be that 2016 was a pretty terrible year, between Trump, Brexit, and all the other great people we lost. 2016 also turned out to be a pretty uneven year for global LGBTQ rights, with some big victories coming in the first half of the year, and the beginning of an unprecedented global backlash shaping up on the back half of the year.
For the last few years, I’ve posted about the global progress on equal marriage rights, but 2016 didn’t deliver many big gains on that file. So this year, I’m taking a bit of an expansive view on LGBT issues. The global same-sex marriage population chart is at the bottom of this post. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @LGBTMarriage for updates throughout the year.
(All maps below come from Wikipedia commons, and have been crudely edited by me in Paint.)
UNITED STATES: The big story of the year was of course the US election. Had everything gone as foreseen, we might all be talking about how the coming Clinton presidency would inspire an enormous expansion of LGBT rights both in the US and abroad through US diplomacy. As things are now, we’re looking at holding back the damage of a Trump presidency with a Republican Congress, a likely conservative Court, and Republican dominance of most states. Already, Republicans are renewing pushes for license-to-discriminate bills and we’re seeing rollbacks on adoption rights at the state levels. Trump says same-sex marriage is a settled issue, however, there is already a push to restrict marriage rights in red states.
On the marriage equality file, several US Indian Nations expanded access to same-sex marriage – notably the Cherokee Nation in December. Equal marriage remains the law in all 50 states and 4 of the 5 territories. American Samoa still does not allow same-sex marriage, and a Supreme Court judgement confirmed that the equal protection clause of the constitution and the Obergfell decision do not apply there.
CANADA: By contrast, the Trudeau government has made big progress on LGBT issues in its first year in office. From a federal trans rights law, to finally erasing the remaining sodomy statue, to proposals to eliminate the gay blood donor ban, expand reproductive rights, and decriminalize HIV transmission, Canada’s federal government is showing real leadership. And it’s rubbing off at the provincial level, with trans rights bill passed in BC and Quebec, and proposed in Nunavut and Yukon. New Brunswick will soon be the lone holdout province without an explicit trans rights law, and whichrequires surgery to change legal gender.
MEXICO: Progress toward full marriage equality was going well in Mexico, with state legislatures passing equal marriage laws in Campeche, Colima, Morelos, and Michoacán, which brought the total to 9/31 states or 29% of the country living in equal marriage jurisdictions. Every other state also had a proposal on the books to legislate for marriage equality. Then on May 17, the deeply unpopular president Enrique Nieto proposed a constitutional amendment to secure marriage equality and a suite of other LGBT rights in the states that were moving slower. This sparked a backlash and mobilized the country’s religious Evangelicals and Catholics against the government. Nieto’s party suffered unprecedented losses in state-level elections, and legislative progress on same-sex marriage stopped everywhere. The courts are still regularly granting injunctions for same-sex marriages in all states, and the Supreme Court has reiterated its support for same-sex marriage repeatedly this year. It recently struck down the same-sex marriage ban in Sinaloa, and equal marriage will become the law there soon.
Additionally, Chiapas, Puebla, and Tlaxcala states passed amendments to their marriage laws that triggered unconstitutionality appeals to the Supreme Court. In these states, the court may force marriage equality in 2017. Rex Wockner has a good explanation of the situation there on his blog.
COLOMBIA: The biggest victory for the equal marriage movement this year came in Colombia, where the Supreme Court finally handed down a long-awaited judgement legalizing same-sex marriage in April. The decision was not popular, although it was supported by the president. One aspect of the global backlash against LGBT people came in October, when the country narrowly rejected a referendum on a proposed peace deal to end the country’s 50-year civil war, in part over language in the deal that confirmed equal marriage. A revised peace deal was later ratified by the Congress.
Incidentally, there were stories this year that for the first time 1 billion people lived in equal marriage jurisdictions, following the legalization in Colombia. Regular readers will remember I called this milestone out on last year’s blog – that’s because I’ve always counted all of Mexico as an equal marriage jurisdiction, because all Mexican states and the federal government recognize each other’s marriages.
PERU: After a civil union bill died in Congress last year, this year’s presidential election featured much discussion of LGBT rights. The eventual winner, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, supported civil unions, and his party has introduced a civil union bill to Congress. The bill does not provide all the rights of marriage; notably, adoption rights are not included.
CHILE: Chilean President Michele Bachelet announced plans to legalize same-sex marriage and couple adoption in 2017, following the settlement of a case that was brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This follows the legalization of civil unions last year.
VENEZUELA: The opposition introduced a civil union bill. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court heard several cases for same-sex marriage. In one case, the court found that the definition of marriage as heterosexual in the Civil Code was unconstitutional, but change relies on the National Assembly. In another, the court ruled that same-sex parents who married out-of-country must have their families recognized by the state. Additional cases demanding marriage equality are before the court.
COSTA RICA, PANAMA, EL SAVADOR: The Supreme Courts of Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador are all hearing same-sex marriage cases in 2017. In Costa Rica, where the government offers limited recognition of same-sex couples, the opposition Citizens’ Action Party is planning to include same-sex marriage in its 2018 election platform. The social security system also expanded pension benefits for widows of same-sex partners this year.
GUATEMALA: An opposition legislator, who happens to be country’s first LGBT member of Congress, introduced a same-sex marriage bill at the end of December. The President is notoriously anti-LGBT, so long odds on this passing.
THE BAHAMAS, GRENADA: Both Grenada and The Bahamas held referendums that would codify gender equality in their constitutions. Both were rejected by voters, in part over fears they would lead to same-sex marriage.
BELIZE: The Supreme Court of Belize finally, after three years of deliberation, issued a sweeping judgement striking down the country’s sodomy ban as unconstitutional, and reading “sexual orientation” into its constitution’s ban on discrimination based on “sex.” The government is appealing the latter part of the decision. Some observers believe that the judgement will set a non-binding precedent on the other 10 former UK colonies in the Caribbean that criminalize sodomy.
On a related note, the Caribbean Court of Justice dismissed a case challenging Belize and TRINIDAD & TOBAGO’s ban on homosexuals from entering their countries. The CCJ found that the statutes, while discriminatory, were never applied, and thus did not need to be struck down. Technically, the judgement only requires the two countries not to ban homosexual CARICOM nationals; the ban still stands for homosexuals from other countries.
There was some talk that some of the Caribbean states would revisit their sodomy bans, but as per usual no actions materialized. ANTIGUA & BARBUDA had discussed decriminalization, but the government changed its mind. A Jamaican lawyer is challenging JAMAICA’s sodomy ban before the court.
British, Dutch and Danish territories in the Americas are discussed below.
UK: The UK’s narrow vote to leave the European Union may be the most significant event of the year for LGBT rights in Europe. The decision hobbles one of the world’s preeminent advocates for LGBT rights, and was part of a global trend toward right-wing, populist, anti-minority politics, and is also part of a trend of destabilizing the EU. We shall see its affects over the next few years.
But more immediately, we saw Northern Ireland reelect a legislature led by the anti-LGBT DUP and a Premier who has vowed to block marriage equality through the end of her term in 2019. The DUP is using a peace-process power that essentially gives them a veto over decisions made by the legislature. Equal marriage enjoys the support of a majority of MLAs, and around 3/4 of the population by some polls. Two equal marriage cases that were before the courts last year still have not been resolved.
Progress was made in many other UK territories as well. Same-sex marriage was legalized in the Crown Dependencies of The Isle of Man and Guernsey, although Guernsey’s law does not apply to its own dependencies, Alderney and Sark (although Alderney recognizes foreign same-sex marriages for inheritance purposes). The other Crown Dependency, Jersey, is expected to pass an equal marriage law in January 2017.
Gibraltar passed an equal marriage law that came into force in December 2016.
Bermuda was the site of big drama around same-sex marriage in 2016. Although the Court had already granted same-sex couples adoption rights in 2015, couples had no option to have their relationships recognized. The government hastily called a referendum asking if the people approved of same-sex marriage and if they approved of same-sex civil unions. Both questions returned 2/3 majorities opposed. The Supreme Court, which was sharply critical of the referendum plan but allowed it to proceed, is now hearing a challenge from a Bermudian-Canadian couple asking for equal marriage.
The Cayman Islands Immigration Appeals Tribunal found that same-sex couples must be recognized for immigration purposes. Marriage and civil unions remain opposed by the government, and are hot-button issues.
The Falkland Islands still intends to legalize same-sex marriage, but its government’s legal department is having delays preparing legislation. It may appear in late 2017.
It belatedly became apparent this year that the UK Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus had a same-sex marriage ordinance passed by the UK in 2014, when the first same-sex marriage on the island got press attention. The ordinance applies only to UK military personnel and staff, who also have access to civil partnerships since 2005.
The UK government also passed an ordinance for marriage equality in the British Antarctic Territory. As civil law is mostly suspended in Antarctica, and the UK Antarctic claim is entirely overlapped by competing Chilean and Argentinian claims, it’s unclear how this law applies. The seven nations making claims on Antarctica – UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and Norway – do not have their claims recognized by most countries. Although all of them recognize marriage equality or are planning to soon (we’ll get to Australia in a bit), Antarctica will never be a continent that entirely recognizes marriage equality because a big chunk of it is not claimed by any country.
Acension Island, part of the St Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha territory, passed an equal marriage law this year, but it will not come into force until St. Helena’s proposed law passes [CORRECTION: And it came into force Jan 1, 2017]. In December, the St. Helena government withdrew its same-sex marriage bill after some legislators opposed it.
It is believed by someone on Wikipedia that the UK government is also planning to draft equal marriage ordinances for its other uninhabited territories, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and British Indian Ocean Territory. The UK Government web site for SGSSI claims that a general review of its legislation is underway.
Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Turks & Caicos Islands, Montserrat, Anguilla, and the British Virgin Islands, but was legalized in Pitcairn Islands in 2015.
DENMARK: Although Denmark proper passed an equal marriage law in 2012, the two other countries that make up the Kingdom of Denmark had their laws come in more recently. Greenland’s equal marriage law passed last year, but it only received royal assent and came into force this year. The Faroe Islands passed an equal marriage law in May, but the Danish Parliament delayed ratifying the bill because the Faroese legislators had written the number “7” where they were meant to write “VII.” Yes, actually. The Faroese Parliament voted on a revised draft in late December, and it has been sent back to the Danish Parliament for ratification and royal assent. When granted, all Scandinavian countries will have equal marriage laws on the books.
ITALY: After years of attempts, Parliament passed a watered-down civil union bill that does not include adoption rights at all. The Prime Minister had vowed to take up adoption rights in a separate bill, but he resigned in December after his proposed constitutional amendments were voted down in a referendum, again as part of the populist backlash rising across Europe. However, the Supreme Court of Cassation confirmed that step-child adoption is allowed even without specific legislation. Italy will have elections sometime in the Spring for a new government.
NETHERLANDS: Although it was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, the law does not apply to its Caribbean countries. This year the Aruba Parliament finally passed a civil union law. It is the first Caribbean country to recognize same-sex marriages on its own, without requirement from a European or American parent country (although all are required to do so under the European Charter of Human Rights). There has been no activity on the file in Sint Maarten or Curaçao.
PORTUGAL: Portugal’s equal marriage law passed in 2010, but it did not include adoption rights. The Parliament corrected that this year.
SWITZERLAND: Swiss voters narrowly rejected a referendum that would have defined marriage as heterosexual in February, and then again when the issue was put to citizens of Zurich in November. It is expected that same-sex marriage will be brought to referendum in 2017, along with a question on whether registered partnerships should be given the same access to facilitated naturalization as couples in marriages. The Parliament also legalized step-child adoption, and made registered partnerships open to straight couples this year.
AUSTRIA: Courts rejected appeals for same-sex marriage, although a final case is before the Constitutional Court. Same-sex marriage remains an active political issue, and although the governing coalition is refusing to act, the junior partner Socialists are in favor. A citizen’s initiative on the issue remains active. Meanwhile, the Parliament amended laws around civil partnerships to make them more similar to marriages, and a court ruling for joint adoption rights took effect on Jan 1, 2016. The country elected an independent former Green Party leader who supports same-sex marriage to the presidency this year.
SLOVENIA: After its same-sex marriage law was voted down in referendum last year, the Parliament voted to expand its civil partnership law to make it equal to marriage except in regards to adoption and in vitro fertilization. The law passed and will come into effect in February. By an earlier court ruling, step-child adoption is permitted in Slovenia.
SAN MARINO: The tiny enclave inside Italy debated a civil union law when Italy passed its own law, but the government didn’t pass it before the elections in November. The winning United Left party pledged to pass a civil union law and also supports adoption rights.
MONACO: The Monegasque National Council unanimously passed a motion for civil unions modelled on France’s PACS, but the tiny country’s government is still mostly controlled by the Catholic Prince and his unelected Executive. The Executive has six months to decide whether it will proceed with a civil union law, and then another year to draft and pass it. We’ll see whether anything comes of it.
Monaco and San Marino are the only territories in Western Europe without any recognition for same-sex relationships (aside from territories like the Faroe Islands, whose law is pending).
ESTONIA: A civil union law came into force on Jan 1, although a new right-wing government has so far refused to pass the implementing laws and regulations to make it effective. Estonia is the first post-Soviet country to recognize same-sex unions.
FINLAND: Conservative forces in the country tried unsuccessfully to beat back the country’s same-sex marriage law, passed in 2014, which comes into effect in March 2017. In the meantime, the new conservative government managed to pass two laws that will implement the same-sex marriage decision.
CZECHIA: The government of the country formerly officially known as the Czech Republic introduced a bill to allow step-child adoption in October. It is still before the Parliament.
GERMANY: The Social Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition government, have become more outspoken about LGBT issues and same-sex marriage in the run-up to next year’s elections. At the same time, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats have become afraid that veering too left on social issues will lead voters to abandon them for the far-right Alternative for Germany party. The September 2017 elections will be interesting to watch.
FRANCE: The deeply unpopular Socialist President who introduced same-sex marriage in 2013 will not be running for reelection and polls indicate he has tanked his party. Polls and primaries suggest next year’s presidential election will be between the racist Euro-skeptic National Front leader Marine LePen and Republican (conservative) candidate Francois Fillon, who is running on an austerity platform and wants to scrap same-sex couple adoption rights. Anything can happen before next year’s election, held in two rounds in April and May, and some progressives are already mobilizing behind a third independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.
(NORTH) CYPRUS: Talks aimed at finally reunifying the country after more than 40 years are starting to bear fruit and many suspect the island could reunify next year. If that happens, it is presumed that Cyprus’ civil partnership law would apply to the Turkish North for the first time. North Cyprus would also fall under the auspices of EU Law and the European Convention on Human Rights, which have been supportive of LGBT families.
ROMANIA: A case seeking approval for same-sex marriage has dragged on, although at the last hearing it was announced that the Supreme Court will be consulting with the European Court of Human Rights in drafting its opinion next year. The ECHR does not generally require equal marriage under the convention, but does require states to provide some kind of civil union. Meanwhile, despite calls for tolerance from the president, legislators are planning a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which is currently gender neutral in the constitution but heterosexual in law.
MACEDONIA and GEORGIA: Both countries recently reelected governments committed to constitutionally banning same-sex marriage.
MALTA: Leaders of Malta’s government and opposition parties both came out in favor of equal marriage but no action has yet been taken on it yet. The country also banned gay conversion therapy in 2016.
ASIA, PACIFIC, and AUSTRALASIA
TAIWAN: Voters elected a pro-marriage equality President and legislature in January, and lawmakers are working on Asia’s first same-sex marriage law. It is expected to pass in mid-2017.
Meanwhile, in CHINA and Hong Kong, equal marriage cases were lost before the courts, although appeals are expected in 2017.
NEPAL: After years of attempts and court orders, the government began work on a draft bill for same-sex marriage in October. Nepal could very likely be the second country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, although this is still likely years off. 2017 will mark a decade since the Nepal Supreme Court first ordered the government to introduce same-sex marriage.
AUSTRALIA: Voters very narrowly returned the Liberal-National coalition to government, after they proposed a non-binding plebiscite on same-sex marriage. The plebiscite was killed by the Senate after organized opposition by LGBT activists and the Labor Party. Activists are pushing for a free vote in Parliament, and it’s unclear how this will shake down over the next year in a particularly fractious political climate. I’d put even money on the government relenting on a free vote in 2017.
Meanwhile, progress continued at the state level. South Australia passed a civil partnership law and began recognizing overseas marriages, bringing the total to 5/7 states and territories comprising 80% of the population that do so. South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland all passed LGBT couple adoption laws, and one has been proposed in the Northern Territory – if passed, all LGBT Australians will have access to joint adoption. South Australia also passed an omnibus bill that removed gender bias and relationship discrimination from all statutes, and it is in the midst of a debate on reproductive rights for LGBT couples.
NAURU: Nauru decriminalized homosexuality in a general update of its colonial-era penal code. The update also removed the death penalty. The issue was likely brought to the fore by bad international press which spotlighted the plight of LGBTQ refugees who were sent to the island by Australia, and continue to be stranded there.
ISRAEL: The government announced it is equalizing the immigration process for same-sex couples and married straight couples.
PHILIPPINES: After electing its first transgender lawmaker, the Philippines is set to have a debate on LGBT civil unions and an anti-discrimination law next year. Current President Duterte may be a thug, but he’s generally been positive about LGBT rights, so this may actually come to pass.
JAPAN: The movement for relationship recognition gained steam in 2016 as three cities created relationship registries for same-sex couples: Mie, Takarazuka, and Naha, joining Tokyo’s Shebuya and Setagaya wards that did so in 2015. Sapporo, Chiba, and Yokohama are also considering creating registries. While the registries have no legal force, they are reportedly helpful with establishing relationships for hospital visits and other needs. There have been rallies and campaigns for full marriage equality in Japan, and the government has said it is considering measures to improve LGBT rights ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
KYRGYZSTAN: Voters ratified a new constitution that bans same-sex marriage.
SOUTH KOREA: A court refused a same-sex marriage appeal.
INDIA: The Supreme Court is still considering the sodomy ban.
SEYCHELLES: The tiny island nation decriminalized homosexuality after a few years of pressure from the UN.
CHAD: The much larger Saharan country criminalized homosexuality for the first time, although it is only classified as a misdemeanor and the only penalty is a fine.
MALAWI: The country continues to debate decriminalizing homosexuality.
MAURITIUS: Mauritius is one of those weird countries that maintains a criminal charge against sodomy (gender-neutral), but bans discrimination against LGBT people. It has considered UN requests to remove the sodomy law but has not done so. An LGBT youth group has filed suit against the government to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015; it is still unresolved.
THE GAMBIA: Voters ousted President Jammeh, a brutal anti-LGBT thug, in a democratic election that Jammeh at first conceded but is now challenging. The recognized winner of the election has pledged to rejoin international bodies like the International Criminal Court and the Commonwealth, and to respect human rights, although his stance on LGBT issues is unknown.
NIGERIA: In a bizarre turn, several reports have emerged that the government is considering amending the constitution to allow same-sex marriage, despite the fact that homosexuality is still illegal in the country, with the death penalty imposed in several states.
POPULATIONS OF STATES WITH EQUAL MARRIAGE
United States (including Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands)
United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland; including Isle of Man, Guernsey, Gibraltar, Pitcairn Islands, Akrotiri & Dhekelia, Ascension Island)
France (including all territories)
Netherlands (including Caribbean Netherlands)
Denmark (including Greenland and Faroe Islands)
New Zealand (excluding territories)
POPULATIONS OF COUNTRIES WITH CIVIL UNIONS
Australia (excluing Northern Territory and Western Australia, which have de facto partnerships)*
Northern Ireland* (UK)
Cyprus (excluding Northern Cyprus)
TOTAL CIVIL UNION
*indicates that equal marriage is under consideration
** Aruba also gives limited recognition to marriages performed in the Netherlands.
STATES WITH LIMITED RECOGNITION OF FOREIGN SAME-SEX MARRIAGES
Cayman Islands (UK)
American Samoa (USA)
Sint Maarten (Netherlands)**
TOTAL LIMITED RECOGNITION
*Marriage equality under consideration
**Civil unions under consideration
STATES CONSIDERING SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
Northern Ireland** (UK)
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha* (UK) (Excluding Tristan da Cunha)
Falkland Islands* (UK)
TOTAL CONSIDERING EQUAL MARRIAGE
*Considered by Legislature
^ Proposed by the opposition
**Considered by Supreme Court
Italics = Civil unions allowed
STATES CONSIDERING CIVIL UNIONS
TOTAL CONSIDERING CIVIL UNIONS
Total population of countries that currently recognize same-sex marriages/civil unions: 1,371,767,286
Total population of countries that are considering same-sex marriages/civil unions: 540,066,426
Total population of countries that either have same-sex marriage/civil unions, or are considering legalizing them (not double-counting states that have civil union and are considering equal marriage): 1,769,374,983
Number of countries with full same-sex marriage: 21, plus most of the UK, ~6 UK territories, 4 US territories, and 2 Danish countries.
Number of countries with civil unions: 17, plus Northern Ireland, Jersey, and Aruba.
Over in Vancouver, an unlikely controversy has sprung up over a small co-op production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ 2011 play The Motherfucker with the Hat, by a group of artists operating under the name The Haberdashery Company (Get it? Haberdashers, hats…).
The controversy doesn’t spring from the curse word in the title or the play’s themes of sex and drug addiction; instead a group of Vancouver artists have taken issue with the fact that the group of artists who originally came together to create this play are all white Canadians (or at least they all read as sort of white Canadians; at least one is part Middle Eastern and another appears to be mixed-race) despite the fact that three of the characters in the play are Puerto Rican (Haberdashery recast one of the parts with a Chilean-Canadian actor after the controversy first broke).
The artists who wrote and circulated an open letter have (in a charmingly Canadian way) not made any demands or called for a boycott of the show, but instead were trying to spark a discussion about casting practices in BC – although it’s quite clear that the implied demand is that no non-Latino ever play a Latino character.
The letter was covered in the Georgia Straight and then in The Globe and Mail, and eventually led to an open forum held to discuss the issue last week, which was livestreamed.
My gut reaction when I saw all this was that it was all very silly, and was a very reductive view about how theatre is made and consumed, and what the work of the actor is, and I said as much in places where it came up on Facebook (and perhaps sometimes not very diplomatically). I was invited to watch the livestream of last Monday’s discussion and participate via Twitter and I did, although the questions and comments I raised online weren’t addressed in the room (very few online comments were taken; the event was not very well moderated and there was consequently not enough time for even the people in the room to all have a chance to speak). I found the forum to be generally constructive and informative, but it did leave some difficult questions unanswered.
So instead, I’m going to try to tease out some of the thoughts I had on this discussion in this space, by posing some open questions for consideration by all the artists involved.
But Why Do I Care?
Ok, ok, fair question. I’m a white guy in Toronto. Why should I care about this? And what right do I have at all to chime in on an issue of concern in the Latino community?
Well, for starters, this isn’t an issue that occurs in a Latino bubble. It’s intrinsically about constraining the artistic choices that non-Latinos can make. Everyone should have a stake in this discussion, even if priority should be given to the aggrieved parties. I bristle at the suggestion that anyone’s artistic expression should be limited.
But beyond that, this is a line of discussion about representation that is increasingly becoming relevant in other minority communities, including in the LGBT community. Hollywood movies about LGBT people are increasingly subject to criticism that LGBT parts are going to non-LGBT people. The same issues of “pinkface” or lost work opportunities for LGBT performers are routinely brought up. We haven’t yet seen this on the stage, but it could come. And this line of thinking is equally wrong.
Some Points that We Can Agree on
Yes, blackface minstrelsy is bad. All minstrelsy is bad because it by definition is performance that exists to demean another group of people. Minstrelsy can be done against any race or group of people.
Yes, I agree that visible minority artists are under-represented on the stage and they face challenges in getting onto stages that white artists do not face. The fact that not all white artists are handed opportunities and they have to struggle too is irrelevant to this fact.
Question 1: Who is allowed to represent “A Latino?” And follow-up: Where are the boundaries around what a performer can present?
This is a core question in this discussion, but it can be a pretty confusing one. We’ve generally taken it as given that if you’re presenting a Black character, you should cast a Black actor, and if you’re presenting an Asian character, you should cast an Asian actor – not that it’s always so clear cut.
Some people think Zoe Saldana (left and centre) is more authentic as a green-skinned Zen-Whoberian than as another famous Black woman, Nina Simone (right).
But it’s not so clear what to do with a Latino character. After all, “Latino” is a status ascribed to about 600 million people who come from 21 countries across 2 continents spanning millions of square miles and with 2 major language groups. Latin Americans come in all races – even more diverse than Canada/USA, really – and have a very wide variety of cultures and experiences. Do you assume that a Latin American character is brown-skinned, absent any specific cues from the text? If the text indicates that the character is a specific nationality, say, Puerto Rican, is it appropriate for someone who is, say, Chilean to represent them?
Chilean-Canadian Playwright and Actress Carmen Aguirre has become the sort of figurehead of this discussion (although she co-wrote the letter, she says it was other artists who first raised the question to her; she said at the forum that she was uncomfortable being labelled as the person behind the group, although she’s the one whose name appears in the Georgia Straight headline, and she certainly seemed to be the leader at last week’s forum). She’s kind of an awkward figurehead, as someone who’s played the lead in this play before (at Alberta Theatre Projects, for which she won a Jessie award), and as someone who, after bringing this problem to the attention of Haberdashery, auditioned for a part in the show and then didn’t get it. One could probably be forgiven for thinking her big public stance is more than just a little self-serving or vindictive.
Aguirre seems to take the hard-line stance that it is not appropriate for a Latino role to be played by a non-Latino, and that a Latino of any national or racial background would be appropriate for any Latino role. Aguirre agreed that Latinos are not a race (using the unfortunate term “Aryan nation” to explain that some Latinos are blonde and blue-eyed), but stressed that Latino is still an ethnic identity, and a powerful, unifying one at that. Anyone who self-identifies as Latino, is therefore, more appropriate to playing a Latino than someone who does not, no matter what their race.
[Here we see a bit of inconsistency in Aguirre’s argument, because she apparently never argued that *all* the Latino parts in Motherfucker needed to be played by Latinos. Indeed, she auditioned knowing that only two of the three Latino parts were under consideration for re-casting, and in the ATC production for which she won her Jessie, she was the only Latino performer. The uncharitable view would be that to her it’s ok to cross-cast Latino parts as long as she gets a part in the show.]
At this point, someone in the forum (my apologies, I do not know Vancouver performers by sight), explained that despite the vast differences in cultures across Latin America, any Latin American performer would be able to access more authenticity than a non-Latin American because the performer would have access to “blood memory” that unites all the cultures south of the Rio Grande.
For those who don’t know, “blood memory” is a performance theory popularized by acting coach Larry Moss in The Intent to Live. It is a very popular theory in West Coast acting circles, although to be honest I’ve never heard anyone talk about it in Toronto. The idea is that a performer can and should draw on the experiences and stories of their ancestors and cultural roots to inform their performances. It is a tool in the actor’s kit, but it’s not Mjolnir. Indeed, in some senses, it’s a particularly regressive and reductive approach (it’s been a while since I read The Intent to Live and I don’t have it handy, but I vaguely recall a passage where Moss urges a Black actress to call on her blood memory to make her performance more sexual, for example). But what I do recall of the idea was that it was absolutely not meant to limit actors to playing within their national groups (another example was that Jewish performers could draw on their cultural memory of oppression and resilience when performing a character who has to be tough and overcome obstacles). It’s meant to be a tool that expands a performer’s range, not reduce it.
Is it wrong to interpret a Latino character as white, and then cast a non-Latino white person? Is it wrong to interpret a Latino character as Arab or Asian, and then cast a non-Latino Arab or Asian person? Is it wrong to interpret a Latino character as mixed-race, and then cast a non-Latino mixed-race person who frequently gets “read” as Latino? We all know someone who when we met them, we were unsure if they were Latino, or Filipino, or West Asian, or South Asian, or Italian (as Princess Isabella put it “ethnically hard to pin down”); should this person limit herself to only playing the nationalit(ies) that she is actually descended from?
When you get down to it, it’s kind of bizarre to say that a performer can’t play anything except what they actually are. The craft of acting is embodying that which you are not – whether that’s a Latino, or a woman, or a child, or a homosexual, or disabled, or supernatural, or a lawyer, or a drug addict, or a robot, or a Norse God, or a cat, or an inanimate object.
Acting is the art of telling the truth while lying. As long as the performance is done well and respectfully — as long as you are telling the truth with your performance — what is the issue?
I am a gay, Italian-Jewish Canadian. What roles am I allowed to stretch myself to perform, if Latino is off the table? I assume Italians and Jews are ok, and probably Poles since that where the Jewish half comes from. I’m gonna just assume WASPy Canadians and Americans are ok, too. Is it ok for me to play Portuguese or Greek? Russian? Turkish? Israeli? Sephardic Jew? Armenian? Lebanese? Unidentified Nationality In A Desert Somewhere That’s Probably In The Middle East (i.e., Scorched)? White Alabamian Klansman? White South African? White Trinidadian? What really are the boundaries around what a performer can get away with?
This isn’t just me being cute; some of the participants in the Because It’s 2016 forum were very rigid and restrictive about what was appropriate. A woman who identified herself as a representative of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (who was offscreen in the webcast, so I couldn’t see her face) went so far as to say that she didn’t think it would be appropriate for her as a Jewish woman to play an Italian. That sounds ludicrous to this mutt, and would probably be shocking to anyone who laughed at Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld.
[As a side note, there seemed to be a lot of upset in the room about the frequent casting of dark-featured Italians as Latino or Middle Eastern characters on stage and screen, because even though these people may have dark skin and coarse hair, they are European. There is very little outrage when casting goes the other way. As Haberdashery’s John Cassini noted, his Chilean-Canadian castmate Francisco Trujillo was prominently featured in a recent Firehall production of Mambo Italiano. Side-side note: The film Mambo Italiano features a cast of almost no real Italians, and while the inauthenticity sticks out quite a bit when Mary Walsh is playing a Sicilian, you can’t deny they do the script justice.]
Left, Trujillo in Firehall’s 2011 Production of Mambo Italiano, which seems to have been marketed as a drama about alcoholism and depression, instead of as a slapstick farce about parents trying to control their children’s sex lives. To be fair, there’s only like 5 Italians in Greater Vancouver. The producers of the 2003 film do not have that excuse.
While this discussion has not been absent from Toronto theatre (arigato, Arigato, Tokyo), it seems that there really isn’t much concern when it comes to Latino roles. Motherfucker was produced here with only one Latino (an Argentinian-Canadian) in the cast in 2014, for which Italian-Canadian Sergio DiZio won a Dora Award for his portrayal of a Puerto Rican. And Chilean-Canadian playwright/actress Rosa Laborde is evidently much less concerned about about cross-casting than her fellow countrywoman; her breakthrough play, Leo, toured Canada and won much acclaim while featuring an all non-Latino cast (DiZio was also nominated for this one).
Question 2: Are there other legitimate ways “into” a role, besides race?
Part of the discussion hinges on a belief that authenticity can only come from the ethnic heritage of the performer. Another part of the discussion comes from the sense that cross-casting silences and denies opportunity to marginalized people. Both of these arguments have legitimate aspects, but they don’t tell the whole story.
There are an infinite number of reasons why we can be attracted to stories and characters beyond “they kind of look like us.” Indeed, most people would find it grotesque if a white person said, “I’m only interested in stories about people who are white.” Such a line of thinking is reductive and dehumanizing.
Taking the example of Motherfucker, beyond being a story about a trio of Latinos, it’s also a story about addiction, recovery, criminal stigma, fidelity, sexuality, and immigration (similarly, I’d say Mambo Italiano is a play about coming-of-age late, coming out, sexuality, and stepping out of your family’s reach before I said it was about being Italian. Sidenote: If we do start limiting actors to playing within their nationalities, we need more/better parts for Italians).
An actor who has dealt with substance abuse either personally or within his family/social circle, and wants to share a story about it, could do worse that land on the role of Jackie. An actress who deals with body image issues and aging (so, in other words, an actress) might find strength or comfort in Veronica’s monologue about just that subject.
Cousin Julio really steals the show with a long monologue about his experience as a young boy being lost in a new city and being unable to speak the language. Would this really be inauthentic coming from an actor who immigrated to Canada from Romania or Vietnam? Another “in” to Julio is his barely repressed homosexuality, which made him a target within his macho culture, which leads him to overcompensate with bodybuilding and tall tales about his sexual conquests. Do you think a gay Persian or Greek actor wouldn’t understand that?
If race is to be the prime consideration because non-white people are marginalized, does that limit the opportunity for expression of other marginalized voices: sexual minorities, immigrants, people dealing with addiction and mental health issues?
Of course, actors don’t generally wear their mental health issues or sexual orientations on their sleeves (because marginalization!), so it’s hard to judge the authenticity of their representation by anything other than their performances, which complicates the discussion. Or makes it much simpler.
Question 3: What does this mean for Latino/minority playwrights and stories?
The Because It’s 2016 forum really glossed over the issues of authorial intent and ownership, in part, I suspect, because they’re inconvenient (indeed, they spent several minutes arguing over whether it would be appropriate to even share Guirgis’ written note about the controversy, ultimately deciding not to share it until the very end, after which Aguirre dismissed his comments because he didn’t reach out to her group first before writing them).
Motherfucker is a strange example to draw on for this argument because its writer is not actually Latino. Guirgis is Egyptian-Irish-American. So an extremist might question why he feels he has the right to pen a story about Latinos, or to rule on issues about their representation. But in any event, the published script has a note about casting:
“The characters … are meant to be Puerto Rican. But if you get cast in the play, and you’re not Puerto Rican, don’t worry about trying to ‘be’ Puerto Rican. Just focus on living truthfully and fully through the circumstances of the play and of your character” (quoted from the Globe story).
Guirgis protested when white non-Latino actors were cast in Latino roles in a production in Hartford, but his criticism was somewhat nuanced. “I know there are parts of the country where it’s harder to find a lot of Latino actors. But this play was cast in New York City and in Hartford, and you can’t tell me that there weren’t qualified Latino actors to play characters who are Puerto Rican,” he told the New York Times.
By contrast, Guirgis has given his explicit blessing to the Vancouver production and its cast (which includes several actors he knows from their time in New York), noting that Vancouver has a Latin population of under 1.5%.
Also relevant to this discussion is that this particular production is a co-op of actors who are putting a show on as a lark for very little money. It does not seem like they held auditions when forming their co-op – doing so actually runs contrary to the spirit of an Equity co-op. This is not a large, heavily resourced organization shutting people out of a lucrative gig. Naturally, online and at the forum, Aguirre has repeatedly denied that this is true or relevant, insisting that it is a Firehall Theatre production, when all evidence points to that being true in name only. (Why on earth would this group of actors form a company and name it after this specific production if it weren’t really a co-op?)
If this specific group of actors hadn’t come together and decided to do this show, it probably wouldn’t have been made at all in Vancouver. Would that be better – to not have a story written by a minority playwright, featuring Latino characters (at least) on stage? Would it be better if these actors just did another George F. Walker script about white people suffering from addiction and struggling with the law?
This seems to limit the rights and opportunities for playwrights of colour to tell (and sell) their stories. After all, you’re going to have a hard time finding actors of certain colours in certain parts of North America (Canadian cities may have a lot of non-white people, but each city tends to have a specific type of diversity; and there’s a whole range of places that are much smaller than cities where the range of diversity is very small indeed).
Do you really want to limit any script to being performed only in certain cities, or by companies with large enough budgets to cast out-of-province? Should playwrights be limited to selling their scripts only to interested members of their own defined ethno-racial communities?
By now I’ve written much more on this topic than I had intended to when I set out, and I’ve left some open-ended questions, so I’ll just wrap up with a few thoughts.
I don’t believe in many strict rules for making art, although generally, I would agree with the simple rule that art shouldn’t set out to demean the marginalized.
I don’t believe cross-cultural, colour- or gender-blind casting is always a good thing, or always a bad thing. It ultimately depends on the context and artistic statement being made. In fact, watching a performer straddle those borders between cultures, genders, and experiences, is often the site of the frisson of performance (think of Alec Baldwin’s Emmy-winning turn as Jack Donaghy role-playing as Tracy Jordan’s entire family; Robert Downey Jr’s Oscar-nominated role as a white Australian method actor performing a role in Blackface; Cate Blanchette’s Oscar-nominated performance as Bob Dylan; Idris Elba playing a (sort of) Norse God; Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall’s heartbreaking Oscar-nominated performances as gay cowboys; John Travolta in Hairspray or the Wayans brothers in White Chicks; Felicity Huffman and Jeffrey Tambor as old transgender people; to say nothing of stage, if only to keep this list to examples everyone’s familiar with).
I generally worry that pushing an emphasis on realism/naturalism on racial/ethnic casting – besides being a difficult shell game of constantly moving targets – will restrict dissemination of stories that need to be told. Turning performance into pseudo-documentary atrophies the craft of performance and restricts the ability for performer and audience alike to recognize difference and commonality. I worry that the long-term consequence of this trend will be playwrights limiting their dramatis personae to bland, racially and sexually neutral (read: white, non-trans, heterosexual) characters (or, ahem, continuing to do so), if only to make sure that their plays are infinitely castable in the flyover parts of North America.
But I recognize I’m not the final word on this. I’d really like to hear your thoughts – especially if you are a self-identified minority, ethnic, or person of colour performer – in the comments below.
2015 was a landmark year in the global equal marriage movement, with high-profile final victories in the United States and (to a lesser extent) Ireland, but progress was made in all corners of the globe. Equal marriage countries are now home to more than 1 billion people, and several countries are expected to join the equal marriage family in 2016-17.
Let’s take a look at the progress in 2015. Skip to the end for the new chart of populations of countries recognizing same-sex marriage. And of course follow me on Twitter to keep up-to-date with #equalmarriage progress throughout the year.
Progress on LGBT rights in the United States has been incredibly dramatic. Bear in mind that in 2003, sodomy was still illegal in 13 states. The equal marriage movement scored its first victory in 2004, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Expansion of marriage rights was sporadic, halting, and subject to severe setbacks until 2013, when the US Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act. By the time the US Supreme Court delivered its final judgement on same-sex marriage in June 2015, marriage rights had already been extended to 38 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam.
The Supreme Court ruling brought equal marriage to the whole country, as well as to four of the five US territories – Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. At current time, there is legal controversy over whether the US Constitution Applies in full to American Samoa – if that question is resolved in the affirmative by the Supreme Court next year, then this territory will be subject to the Supreme Court judgement as well.
Another small but significant exception also applies to the US Native Reservations, which are not entirely subject to US and state law on marriage. While a few dozen have explicitly passed laws allowing same-sex marriage, many continue to ban it. Some of the largest Native nations are now facing challenges to their bans, but with more than 600 Native governments in the US, expect this battle to go on for quite a while.
The US Supreme Court ruling is particularly significant in the global movement because several other nations – particularly those in Latin America – use judgements from the Court in establishing precedent and forming their own legal opinions.
Of course, as the country heads into an election cycle, Republican leaders are pledging to undermine the US Supreme Court judgement somehow. Throughout the country, state legislatures have reacted to the judgement by passing “religious freedom” bills that appear intended to legalize discrimination against LGBT people, and by passing laws that restrict local governments’ abilities to pass non-discrimination ordinances. Democrats have responded pledging to extend civil liberties to LGBT people at the state and federal levels, but this movement hasn’t yet gathered the momentum the marriage movement had toward the end.
While Mexicans have had effective access to equal marriage since 2010 due to nationwide recognition of marriages performed in the few states that allow it, 2015 saw some major steps in the expansion of the right to perform a same-sex marriage in the country.
Equal marriage rights were officially established in Chihuahua, Guerrero, and Nayarit, bringing the number of states that perform same-sex marriages to 5 (out of 31), plus the federal district. In total, they’re home to about 21% of the Mexican population.
In June, the Mexican Supreme Court published a jurisprudential thesis that established that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional, and that civil unions were not equal to marriage. While this didn’t directly invalidate state bans, it created a mandatory process by which individuals could get an injunction to be allowed to be married. Under the Mexican legal system, individual cases do not form binding precedent, however, five cases in each state with the same outcome can lead to a law being struck down.
States across the country have issued injunctions for same-sex marriage, and a number have even issued enough to have the law struck down, but the status of same-sex marriage remains unclear in these states for now. Several states are also midway through the process of updating their civil codes to allow for same-sex marriage. Some more clarity ought to come in 2016.
The path to equal marriage has been rocky in Colombia, where the Constitutional Court had already established the right of same-sex couples to form some kind of unspecified union in 2011, and then this year established the right to adopt children. Over the objections of the Congress, both the president and the attorney-general came out in favour of equal marriage in 2015.
Costa Rica’s gone back-and-forth on this issue since 2013, when legislators accidentally created a legal loophole allowing same-sex marriage. The first civil marriage was authorized by a Costa Rican judge in June, but it came with several catches: only young people can enter in these marriages and they need a judge’s order after three years’ cohabitation. Later in the year, a lesbian couple and their lawyer faced criminal charges when they used a clerical error to enter into a same-sex marriage.
In February, Chile officially renounced its opposition to same-sex marriage in a case that is now on hold at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, but has not actually moved to resolve the issue. President Michele Bachelet had pledged to introduce equal marriage when she ran in 2013, but two years later, little progress on this file has been evident. She’s running out of time in her mandate.
Chile did introduce same-sex civil unions in October, however — one of only three countries to settle on the half-measure in 2015.
Bolivia began discussions on civil partnerships with the support of both the government and the opposition in September, although the constitution bans same-sex marriage.
An openly gay legislator in Peru tried to get a civil partnership law introduced, but it was shelved in April after receiving very little support.
Venezuela elected a new centre-left coalition to its Congress in December to replace the ruling socialists. Among the winners was the country’s first trans legislator, who has pledged to make legalizing same-sex marriage a priority.
There was also progress in a number of the dependent territories; see UK, Denmark, and Netherlands below.
One of the most dramatic and symbolic recent victories for the movement came in Ireland, where an equal marriage referendum passed with 62% in favour in May. Ireland is thus far the only country to pass equal marriage by referendum (though some US States did as well), which has been both a positive and a negative for the movement. On the plus side, it demonstrated that even in a country thought to be as conservative and Catholic as Ireland, there’s empirical evidence of popular support for our rights. On the other hand, conservatives who want to hold up the expansion of marriage rights have used it as an example of why we ought to welcome further referenda on our basic family rights (see also, Slovenia, Australia, US, etc.).
In the wake of the victory in Ireland, several other European jurisdictions began having public discussions about equal marriage, particularly in the UK, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Italy. It may have even helped move the needle in Cyprus and Greece (see below).
Parliament passed a law for equal marriage in 2013, but this only applied to England and Wales. Scotland passed its own law in 2014. That leaves Northern Island, the crown dependencies, and the overseas territories, all of which took steps to advancing equal marriage in 2015.
Northern Ireland (pop. 1.8 million) has seen huge debate over the past few years on this issue, but the NI Assembly does not seem able to resolve it. The political structure in NI allows representatives of either the Protestant or Catholic communities to veto legislation unless a majority of the representatives of both communities vote in favour. While the Catholic bloc (perhaps ironically) has been very supportive of equal marriage, it is the Protestant bloc, controlled by Evangelicals that is opposed. The Assembly voted on equal marriage for a fourth and fifth time in 2015, finally achieving majority support in November. Unfortunately, the Protestant (DUP) bloc vetoed. This has proved to be something of an embarrassment to the NI public, who have moved overwhelmingly in support of same-sex marriage in the wake of the referendum in the Republic. The matter has now been taken to the courts, which are expected to rule sometime after Christmas on a) whether NI must legalize same-sex marriage, and b) whether it must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other parts of the UK.
The three crown dependencies all took steps toward equal marriage in 2015. The Chief Minister of the Isle of Man (pop. 85,000) came out and said it was a priority to equalize marriage by June 2016; a bill will begin debate in January. Jersey (pop. 100,000) and Guernsey (pop. 66,000) both led public consultations on the issue, and their local assemblies (the States) both passed resolutions supporting equal marriage. They are expected to pass actual legislation by early 2017.
All of the British Overseas Territories are subject to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled against Italy this year for its refusal to grant any kind of family rights to same-sex couples. While the ruling doesn’t directly affect other states (and notably doesn’t require “marriage”), citizens of those states could bring cases to the ECHR using the same precedents. The ruling has inspired much discussion in the BOTs. Ultimately, as the signatory, the UK is responsible for upholding an ECHR ruling, and theoretically, the UK government could pass an order-in-council requiring its overseas territories to recognize some kind of civil partnership or marriage legislation (as it did in 2000 to strike down local sodomy bans), but the current Cameron government has not indicated it will do so.
Denmark’s 2012 equal marriage law did not apply to its territories, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Greenland (pop. 55,000) passed its own equal marriage law in May, which awaits approval from the Danish Parliament. The Faroe Islands (pop. 50,000) had an election in September, in which equal marriage was a live issue; pro-equality forces won out (including the country’s first out legislator) and in November introduced, though not yet passed, an equal marriage law.
And here’s our first big setback of 2015. In a somewhat surprising move, the Slovenian parliament passed an equal marriage law in March, making it the first post-communist and first Slavic country to do so. The law was immediately challenged under provisions of the country’s constitution that allow citizens to initiate petitions for referenda, as long as the issue doesn’t deal with fundamental rights. A protracted political and legal battle ensued, with Parliament blocking the petition as invalid on rights grounds and the Constitutional Court ultimately ruling in November that the referendum must proceed, with the question of its legality to be decided at another time. The referendum was held December 20, and the results were decisive: 63% voted against the marriage law, meeting the 20% turnout quorum. Slovene activists and legislators have vowed to bring the issue up again, but it will likely be some time before we see it.
Other Developments in Europe
The German-speaking public seemed to solidify its support for equal marriage. Germany’s parliament has a theoretical majority in favour, but the governing coalition (led by Merkel’s Christian Democrats) is refusing to pass an equal marriage law. Nevertheless, the German Federal Council passed an equal marriage law in September. However, the governing coalition blocked consideration of a different equal marriage bill in the Diet in December. Expect the issue to continue simmering through the 2017 federal elections.
A similar dynamic is at play in Austria, where a citizen’s initiative is now gathering support for an equal marriage law. At the end of December, a Vienna court rejected an appeal for same-sex marriage, which used the interesting tactic of having the children of gay couples sue because the state forces them to be considered illegitimate. The court found illegitimate children are not discriminated against in modern society. The children may appeal in the new year.
Switzerland will have a referendum on Feb. 28, 2016, to effectively ban same-sex marriage; the government is campaigning against it, and has indicated that if it fails, it will likely move forward with another referendum affirming equal marriage (as required under the Swiss constitution).
The Netherlands has been pushing its Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten) to pass equal marriage, but as yet there is little evidence of the agenda advancing. All three pledged to equalize treatment of same-sex couples in April, but thus far, only a bill to introduce civil partnerships in Aruba has come forward.
Slovakia successfully defeated a referendum in February that would have further banned same-sex marriage, but it remains illegal there (notably, voters were 90% in favour of banning same-sex marriage, but campaigners convinced supporters to stay at home, denying the referendum quorum). Meanwhile, for the first time, polls showed majority support for same-sex marriage in the Czech Republic.
A small setback happened in Estonia, where a new governing coalition has refused to pass enabling legislation to enact the civil union law passed last year by the previous government. The law will still come into force in January while the government tries to sort this out, which may cause some legal troubles for couples.
Same-sex marriage was also a major topic in national elections in Israel; the pro-equality parties were defeated at the polls. An NGO filed a case for same-sex marriage with the High Court in November.
Cypruspassed a civil union law in December, and Greece followed with its own civil union law a couple weeks later — this resolves an ECHR case against Greece for non-recognition of same-sex couples. Italy’s government has been pushing for a civil union law to be passed by the end of this year (partly in response to the above-mentioned ECHR ruling), but an opposition filibuster is holding it up. But in late December an Italian court upheld the right of same-sex partners to adopt their stepchildren, which may take the wind out of some opponents’ sails. The government of Monaco has also pledged to introduce some form of civil union (along the lines of France’s PACS) for debate in 2016-17, in order to meet the requirements of the ECHR ruling.
Minor parties also submitted no-hope bills for marriage and civil unions in Hungary and Romania, respectively.
All these changes are having an effect on the European Union, whose Parliament has made repeated calls for greater LGBTI rights in and out of the Union. At present, members that do not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions are not obligated to recognize marriages/unions from other members, but this will no doubt come under increasing pressure given a) the ECHR ruling and b) the union’s fundamental freedom of movement for members. Currently, 11/28 member states representing 47% of the population have passed same-sex marriage laws (though Finland’s does not kick in until 2017); 21/28 will have either marriage or civil unions on January 1, representing 72% of the population. (Italy will bring the number to 22/28 or 84% of the population). Eventual union-wide directives on marriage/unions will have an effect not only on current members, but may also impact prospective members (Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine) and associated countries.
Same-sex marriage continues to be a political football in Australia, where despite massive public support, the current right-wing federal government remains officially opposed. New PM Malcolm Turnbull, previously a staunch supporter, now insists that equal marriage will be put to a plebiscite after the next federal election in early 2017, in order to placate the Nationalist members of his coalition government. The opposition Labour party is now strongly in favour and pledges to pass it within 100 days if it wins the next election. It’s theoretically possible that Turnbull sells out the Nationals in 2016 to remove the issue from the upcoming election. Look for this battle to dominate English-language news coverage of the equal marriage movement for the next couple of years.
No state in Asia legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, but significant movement happened in this region. Four municipalities in Japan created same-sex couple registries, in a move to pressure the national government to act on equal marriage. Public opinion is now leaning in favour, and the government has said it wants to clean up its record on LGBT rights in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (after the Sochi backlash). An equal marriage law would require a constitutional amendment. If introduced, Japan would be the third-largest country by population to equalize marriage.
A formal public consultation on the issue in Taiwan also found majority support for equal marriage laws. Three cities there opened up same-sex couples registries this year, and the issue has been live in the presidential election, scheduled for January 2016. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party is expected to win, and it has supported same-sex marriage in the past. Meanwhile, in mainland China, a man has filed suit against the government hoping to have his same-sex marriage recognized.
Discussion of equal marriage also continued in South Korea, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, The Philippines, and Cambodia. Look for this region to become the next major frontier in the global equal marriage movement.
Populations of Countries with Same-Sex Marriage
Finland (March 2017)
Carribean Countries that Recognize Netherlands Marriages Only (Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten)
United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Pitcairn Islands only)
United States + territories (excluding American Samoa)
Countries Most Likely to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in 2016-17
Countries Most Likely to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in 2016-17
Isle of Mann
Longshots for Same-Sex Marriage 2016-2020
Countries without Same-Sex Marriage, but with Some Other Form of Recognized Same-Sex Union
Rest of UK + territories
Countries Most Likely to Legalize Same-Sex Civil Unions in 2016-17
Turks and Caicos
Stay tuned to @robsalerno on Twitter for #equalmarriage updates throughout the year.
[What follows is a response to a post by playwright Daniel Karasik which lays out the conservative position against public funding of the arts in Canada. Karasik’s post was a response to a widely circulated open letter written on behalf of Canadian artists calling for politicians to put a greater emphasis on the arts in their plans for Canada’s future.
Karasik’s response is a lovely rhetorical device in which he adopts the position of (what I assume are) his ideological opponents on the issue, so as to aid artists in refining their pitch for greater public support. He mainly points out how the discussion around arts funding seems to mischaracterize the views of those who are opposed to greater public arts funding, which in turn makes artists’ arguments less convincing in the sense that they are being aimed at the wrong target.
In the spirit of Karasik’s post, I too am adopting the voice of a position I don’t (entirely) hold, as I tend to skew a bit more conservative than the usual arts advocates – or at least, more conservative than the sort of cartoonish, entrenched arts elites and undereducated young aspiring artists who tend to be the loudest advocates for the arts. My goal: to respond to the (fictional) conservative argument against public support using the language (actual) conservatives would understand.]
Dear Canadians and, in particular, Canadians who lean conservative and Conservative Party voters,
There’s been some recent discussion on the Internet about the value of public funding of the arts and why conservatives tend to oppose public support. It’s true that this is an issue that is poorly understood by a lot of Canadians and we’d like to take some time to clear the air and state our case for greater public support for the arts.
No, no, don’t get up. We promise this isn’t going to be a fire-breathing screed about the Conservative Party or a hail of snarky ad hominem attacks on conservative voters. Our goal is to build a consensus among all parties of the public value of the arts, so that would be counter-productive.
Let us begin by addressing your point that Canadians have not articulated a clear desire for strong support for the arts. While we may partially concede that Canadians are not (yet) taking to the streets demanding increased support for the arts, the record of Canadians interacting with domestic arts is pretty clear. Canadians are voracious consumers of arts products, including locally produced news, movies, television, books, documentaries, theatre, music, arts festivals, museums, and more.
Even within the political sphere, Canadians are electing local governments that are making record investments in local arts. Cuts to arts funding have started to spark movements to save the CBC, or protect the Nova Scotia film industry. We are getting the message out there and are starting to be heard.
We recognize that this alone may not be enough to completely justify public funding for the arts, but it clearly points to a great public desire for Canadian art and media.
Let’s take a moment here to clarify what we mean by the arts, because it’s a term that’s often confused and abused in order to satisfy whatever point the speaker wants to make. The arts as a whole is a huge sector, in which thousands of Canadians are employed in jobs that many people might not actually equate with “artists.” Given how the term is used, it seems to include everything from the lead tenor in the Canadian Opera Company to the person who built its website; it includes the CBC’s Republic of Doyle and The National, and the person who sells ads on both; it includes the Edmonton Fringe Festival and Toronto Pride (but we’ll be fair and *not* include the hotel staff who house the thousands of visitors who attend both); it includes Trailer Park Boys and Polka-Dot Door; it includes Macleans and Chatelaine and Oryx and Crake; it includes Degrassi and Drake and Celine Dion and Metric. It includes Porky’s and Air Bud and Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch and The Barbarian Invasions and the Les Boys franchise and everyone who worked in, promoted, and distributed those movies. It includes the AGO and the sculptor who leads a crafts workshop in your kids’ school. It includes high culture, pop culture, youth culture, minority culture, aspects of education, and some entirely private enterprises.
Public support for the arts comes in myriad forms, from direct grants to artists (which, by the way, are a much smaller amount of spending than you probably believe), to construction and maintenance of public arts infrastructure (e.g., theatres, opera houses, museums, libraries, a broadcast network, etc), to market-correcting regulations (e.g., Can-Con quotas, mandatory carriage, signal substitution), to publishing and distribution support for magazines, to operations grants to institutions, to tax credits to subsidize production/labour costs in the film/media industries.
We’d like to take a moment to stop and thank the public for all of this support so far. We probably don’t say that enough, but we really do appreciate all of these forms of support. It’s no excuse, but to explain, we work very hard and most of us have precarious incomes, and sometimes it slips our minds to just acknowledge how lucky and grateful we are for the help.
Despite this, contrary to the typical image presented of us, we certainly don’t feel entitled to your money, nor do we feel we are owedany special treatment compared to you. We certainly don’t expect to receive a public income and the adoration of millions of Canadians simply because we’ve picked up a paintbrush or walked on a stage and called ourselves artists.
We understand you work hard, and you value your tax dollars. So do we, by the way! Most of us work multiple jobs and pay taxes, despite the “starving artist” stereotype. We, like you, want to make sure our tax dollars are well spent.
We believe, as most people do, in individual liberty, in freedom of choice, and freedom of enterprise (we’re all entrepreneurs, at least at some point in our careers). We believe that government resources are best used towards two main general purposes:
Creating public goods that are enjoyed by the general public, but which would not be efficiently or equitably produced by the private market. Roads, hospitals, parks, schools, police, defence, and water works are the classic examples here.
Mitigating the tyranny of market forces that may limit consumer options or create unwanted outcomes. Anti-trust laws, tariffs, environmental regulations, etc.
When we talk about public funding for the arts, we are generally talking about programs that satisfy one or both of the above criteria.
While it’s true that art can be a private good (in that it is most enjoyed by the individual person who is being entertained by it, whether they’re a concert ticket holder or the person reading a novel), it has aspects of public importance. Art – the telling of Canadian stories – helps shape the public notion of what Canada is in very real ways. It tells us who we are as a nation by reflecting our commonalities and differences. In very real ways, it helps us experience aspects of our shared Canadian life that we individually are unlikely to see or experience directly. Millions of people who’ll never set foot on Newfoundland learned about it by watching Republic of Doyle; millions more got a window into Canada’s minority communities by watching Da Kink in My Hair, Kim’s Convenience, and Steven & Chris. Millions of Canadians formed a common bond through their earliest years by reading the books of Robert Munch, or by watching educational shows like Mr. Dressup or Téléfrançais. Canadians in my age group have a common musical frame of reference thanks to Our Lady Peace, Chris Sheppard, Maestro, and I Mother Earth videos on MuchMusic.
There is a value to forming these common bonds with each other, to knowing what our identity is. There is also a value in showing our fellow Canadians that creativity and talent is valued here – it encourages all of us to be creative, entrepreneurial, and take risks. These are the building blocks for a successful society.
Beyond our shores, Canadian art also has the benefit of telling the rest of the world who we are. The success of our authors, actors, comedians, painters, musicians, etc., tells the world a lot about Canada. The artworks themselves often paint a picture or tell a story about Canadian life, certainly. But perhaps even more important is that they let the world know that Canada is a place where work like this gets made. Where people are free to be expressive, to take risks, to perform, to be creative – and where people are educated or nurtured or predisposed to be talented and entertaining. That Canada enjoys this reputation is a great source of pride for Canadians.
If we can take a moment to speak in more mercenary terms, this is also a great tool for Canada. Our public identity as an exciting, inspiring place is part of what attracts thousands of tourists and immigrants to come here. It attracts business investment from people who see value in a creative nation, and who want to be part of the action. On a more instrumental level, this strong and positive sense of our identity in the world is a kind of soft power that can be used to help achieve our diplomatic goals.
But like we said, it’s not enough to simply say that art is desirable. We see value in public support for the arts because we truly believe that we would not have the art scene we do without that public support.
Now, we’re not speaking in apocalyptic terms here. Artists aren’t going to stop writing or painting just because the grants dry up – after all, the vast, vast majority of artists don’t receive direct public support but keep on working away. What public support does is help create the critical mass of art that creates the shared Canadian experience that we value.
Essentially, we’re arguing that market forces do not and cannot produce a large quantity of Canadian art. This is true for a number of key reasons:
Canada is enormous geographically yet a rather small market, population-wise. This makes distribution and touring of art prohibitively expensive for most ventures. It also makes it difficult to spread the cost of creating expensive pieces of art, like a television show or film, across a large number of patrons.
Canada sits next to the enormous US market that dumps its cultural products here for much less than the cost to produce them (private Americans can afford to invest more in arts enterprises because their large, highly concentrated market affords greater rewards for big risks).
While the US market also poses as an opportunity for Canadian artists to see additional income and exposure, it is effectively closed to most artists because of its highly concentrated market structure in many fields (i.e., media concentration), and because of poor labour mobility across the border.
Sharply rising real estate costs in our largest cities are making it very difficult to open and maintain cultural venues in our largest markets, while charging rates that are consistent with what patrons can afford and are willing to pay.
You’ll notice that nowhere do we disdain market forces for tending to lower the quality of art through their bias toward popular or “low” tastes. We’re suspicious of elitist arguments like that. We value the work of all our fellow artists and the tastes of all audiences. Moreover, history has shown over and over that pop culture is one of the most important binding forces of a society, and that it often stands the test of time better than “high” culture that has a more limited appeal. In fact, believe it or not, most of us are very concerned with what market forces are telling us that audiences want, and market metrics help us gauge how well we’re reaching our audiences.
Public support helps mitigate these market forces that would tend to keep us from getting our work out at all. Some are relatively low-cost, like Can-con regulations on radio and television – these regulations help ensure that there will be a demand in the distribution network for Canadian art, and consequently that Canadians will have the ability to find Canadian art. We can see how these regulations have worked, because Canadian radio and television are full of original Canadian content; on the other hand, Canada has never instituted cinema quotas like European countries did, and now the English Canadian film industry is virtually invisible in cinemas.
Other policies – such as building and maintaining venues, grants to artists and companies, and tax credits for cultural production – are admittedly more expensive, but they have proven just as necessary to get Canadian art produced and distributed to Canadians. Virtually every artist who has earned mainstream success in Canada – even Canadians who have achieved such success abroad – has done so with the direct or indirect support of public funding along the way.
We want to emphasize again that we don’t feel entitled to this support, or for support to continue in the same way forever over time. As our patron, we expect you, the public, to evaluate your options and needs from time to time and adjust your types of support with changing times and necessities.
Heck, most artists could give you an earful about how they’d like to see the granting and support systems changed and evolved. Maybe conservatives are right that the CBC distorts the television market by competing with the private sector for advertisers – perhaps a solution would involve eliminating ads entirely so it can focus solely on a public service mandate? Or maybe it’s time for the CBC to get out of broadcasting altogether and focus on content creation and delivery along a lines of a (free) Netflix-like service? We’d certainly like to see the CBC take more risks with its dramatic programming.
Some would really like to see the granting system refocused on emerging and early-career artists and minority artists, rather than on the established artists and organizations who seem to dominate the results lists, as these organizations are better placed to find other patrons and revenue streams. Some artists are very strongly critical of the support that seems to go to well connected (and well paid) people at large arts organizations like Luminato, when smaller arts organizations go wanting. And you know, sometimes the public spends huge sums of money building big cultural venues of dubious value that are wholly inappropriate to the community needs (the Sony Centre in Toronto is a good example) – that sort of thing should really be addressed.
At least one politician has proposed creating a complicated tax scheme that would make life a little easier for some artists at great public cost and at the risk of creating exactly the type of entitlement that we have been telling you we don’t really believe in.
The important thing is that we want you, the public, to understand that the actions your government takes with regard to arts funding have actual consequences on the things you enjoy. We would like to see parties come forward not only with plans to spend less or spend more, but with a positive agenda for the arts – because there is something of value there that Canadians want to see nurtured and shared with their fellow citizens and with the rest of the world, and there is an important role for government to fill.
How would your government help improve all Canadians’ access to Canadian stories and art? What can be done to increase the presence of minority, youth, and Aboriginal arts in the Canadian cultural landscape? How would your government improve access for Canadian artists into foreign markets? How would you help artists develop more secure incomes? How would you help develop more Canadian talent?
Thanks for your time and support. We look forward to hearing your plans.