"not getting married today"

On Sunday, Jeff and I took our tuxedos out of the closet and out of their dry cleaning bags, to let them air out.

You see, we had planned to marry each other tonight. But our marriage won't take place today.

We had planned to marry each other last Thursday. But our marriage didn't take place last week.

In fact, we had planned to marry each other last year. But our marriage never took place in 2009.

Why didn't we marry today, or last Thursday, or last year? It wasn't a case of nerves, second thoughts, or "cold feet," nor was it bad weather. It wasn't that we couldn't get the place we wanted, or that the officiant failed to show up. It wasn't that we didn't really want to. We wanted to... we want to... intensely.

Why didn't we marry? Because, despite our hopes being raised in 2008, and last week, and again this week, that we were going to be allowed to marry, time after time those hopes have been dashed by a government that says we can't, that our relationship, our long-term commitment to each other, is of less value than those of our friends, that our family is sub-standard compared to other families, that we are not fully entitled to the rights our constitution promises and that our fellow citizens take for granted. Our government takes arguments from some (not all) religious traditions that our relationship is immoral, inherently sinful, and destructive -- destructive! -- to other families, to American society, and to civilization as a whole, and it codifies these beliefs -- contrary to a system of government that is not supposed to privilege any one religious doctrine over another, especially in matters of civil law -- into laws and constitutional amendments that deem us of less worth than prisoners on death row, than convicted pedophiles and rapists, than people who have abandoned their spouses and children; all of these groups of people have had their right to marry affirmed by the government as inviolable. My government imposes upon me all the responsibilities of citizenship -- I registered for the draft, I pay the same taxes -- but denies me some of the rights that others never even question as being theirs. My government confers to me only a second-class citizenship.

Our marriage never took place in 2009. A few months earlier, 52% of our fellow Californians voted -- a vote that may not even be legal under the US Constitution, which exists in part to ensure that the rights of disadvantaged, even hated, minorities are not subject to the whim of the majority -- to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution and to strip us of equality, in a chilling case of a constitution being used to take away rights rather than enhance them.

Our marriage didn't take place last week. A judge who believed that our constitutional guarantees to equality were being denied nonetheless withheld our right to marry for a few days.

Our marriage won't take place today. On Monday, three judges withheld our right to marry until they can decide if we merit equality.

So, what was I doing on Monday, the day the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied my right -- you may argue that it merely delayed it, again, but the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accurately noted that "a right delayed is a right denied" -- to marry the man I love, the man with whom I've spent the past seven years, and the man I intend to be with until the day one of us stops breathing? What sinful, un-American civilization-destroying immorality was I indulging the day our hopes were dashed again?

I was making soup, for Jeff. I was taking care of the man I love more than my own life while he was suffering from a cold. I was doing what I hope any legally married spouse would do when the person he or she loved was feeling down and miserable.

As we sat eating it that afternoon, only then did I recognize the irony. "Do you realize what we're eating?", I asked, and then answered. "It's Italian wedding soup." We both laughed at the black humor, often the only kind of humor we can find in the situation; we laugh to beat back the tears, the frustration, the despair, the anger that otherwise sometime threaten to overwhelm us.

I don't know if I can accurately convey what it feels like to go through this roller coaster -- we have the right to marry, we don't have the right to marry, we have the right back?, no it's on hold for a week, we have it back now?, no it's on hold indefinitely -- to someone who isn't in the same boat. It might seem like a relatively little thing -- not everyone wants to marry, or chooses to, and, after all, we have domestic partnership, right? -- but no matter what you think of the relative importance of marriage generally, or of the "separate but almost equal" institutions of domestic partnership and civil unions, you probably can't really imagine -- especially if you're white, or male, or a member of my post-Jim Crow generation or younger -- what it's like to have a right, a right you and more and more of your fellow citizens believe is a constitutional right, a right that others take for granted, passively withheld from you or, worse, actively taken away from you. To have this right recognized and then withdrawn, again and again, and sometimes even at the moment you're hoping to be able to exercise it... is painful in a way I can't fully describe, painful to the very core of my intellect, to my heart, to my spirit. Perhaps only the death of my father has generated pain as deep and despair as bruising as having my equality stripped from me. Conversely, little in my life has risen to the joy I felt on those occasions that my government agreed that I am not a second-class citizen, when even if just for a few moments my equality seemed fully realized.

Over the past couple of weeks, Jeff and I have become more visible in the fight for marriage equality. We've given interviews to NPR and local radio stations; we've had television news teams in our home; we've seen photos of the two of us, standing together, supporting each other, in papers from San Francisco and Oakland to Toronto, New Zealand, and Denmark. Yes, the ham in me enjoys talking to reporters. But we've stepped forward, when we can -- despite the pressures and stresses it sometimes can impose -- not for some kind of narcissistic kick of seeing ourselves on television, but because we believe so strongly in this issue, and we especially believe it's critically important to put a human, personal face on it. We're not invisible inhuman immoral terrorist monsters who want to destroy the institution of marriage. We're just two guys who live down the street with their two cats, who love each other, who take care of each other when one is sick or hurting, who laugh with each other, who just want the same thing that many of you do, to marry the person you love. We don't want to destroy marriage; in fact, we may give more thought to the ideals and importance of marriage than many who take it for granted. We don't want to destroy marriage; we want the same things that most people do, to love, to be loved, to build a family, to take care of each other. And we want just one more thing: to be equal in the eyes of the law.

So, for now, our tuxedos have gone back into the closet. But we won't.

an engaging story

I’ve been remiss in updating the blog this year; rather than full-form old-style blog posts, most of my writing these days takes the form of microblogging via Twitter and/or Facebook. However, Jeff and I both have been publishing occasional posts on a new shared site, “happy together,” accessible at both thomandjeff.com and jeffandthom.com, so you’re covered whichever one of us comes first when you think of us as a couple.

On our shared site, currently we’re chronicling our plans for our wedding this coming September 26. Yes, for those of you who haven’t already heard elsewhere, we’re engaged. To the semantics: yes, thanks to the odious Proposition 8 and DOMA, our union won’t actually be legally considered a civil marriage in California, with any of the state or federal rights and obligations afforded to opposite-sex couples. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s still a wedding. And, in fact, we already are registered in California as domestic partners, which gives us the same rights and obligations as does marriage here — though only at the state level, since the federal government won’t honor the legal agreement into which our state allows us to enter, which causes all sorts of real and potential issues and headaches when traveling out of state or when filing income taxes. But anyway, back to the positive…

On Friday, February 13, Jeff and I went into San Francisco to the same state office not where you apply for a marriage license, but where you apply for a business license, in order to register as domestic partners. The next day we drove down to San Simeon, Monterey and Carmel for the weekend, and over a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner in Carmel, we each proposed to the other. Happily, we both said “yes.”

So, our wedding and luncheon reception will be held Saturday, September 26, 2009, on the terrace and in the adjoining Terrace Room at the historic Cliff House in San Francisco, with its dramatic location overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Seal Rock.

For more information and for future updates about the wedding, please visit happy together or subscribe to its RSS feed (http://www.thomandjeff.com/feed/).

two panoramas from today

This afternoon we had brunch at the Park Chalet on the Great Highway, and then walked across the road to Ocean Beach to take some photos, from some of which I created the following 360-degree panorama:

Afterwards, we drove to the Legion of Honor Museum where we caught the 4:00 organ concert and then strolled around until the museum closed. Afterwards, we took some additional photos on the grounds, from which I created the following panorama:

yet another opinion from Andrew Sullivan I could do without

Andrew Sullivan today wrote that California's Prop. 8 "should stand, and the court should decline to reverse it. We lost. They won in a fair fight. No whining."

First of all, "we" lost? Sullivan doesn't live or vote in California. He didn't contribute a penny to defeat Prop. 8 (at least as of the most recent information in the donor database, from November 6). He already has taken advantage of his right to legally marry his own same-sex partner in Massachusetts and his rights weren't taken away by popular vote. How exactly is he part of "we", and just why should we care what he thinks about this?

Second, by what stretch of the imagination was this a "fair fight"? Frankly, yes, I'd have preferred if Prop. 8 had been defeated at the ballot box, for once and for all. The elected representatives of the people, after all, approved same-sex marriage twice, but the governor vetoed it, saying that the Supreme Court should be the ones to decide.

And when it did go to the people, it won --and still, barely-- by saturating the air waves with hateful lies and misrepresentations that would never be acceptable if used of any other minority, through appeals to irrational fears and bigotry, and with millions of dollars and person-hours of volunteer time essentially mandated by the Mormon church of its membership, much of that money and time coming from people who don't even live in the state. And it won through the absurdity of a constitution that can be so easily amended, but not so easily revised. That's hardly "fair."

Moreover, Prop. 8 never should have been placed on the ballot for majority vote in the first place, and the California Supreme Court seemed to agree in its May ruling (hat tip Pam's House Blend) when it wrote:

"..under this state's Constitution, the constitutionally based right to marry properly must be understood to encompass the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage that are so integral to an individual's liberty and personal autonomy that they may not be eliminated or abrogated by the Legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process [emphasis mine]."

As I wrote a few days ago, our constitutional republic is supposed to guarantee that the rights of an unpopular minority are not subject to the vote of a majority; we have constitutions and courts specifically to protect those rights from popular vote.

It seems to me, then, that the court has a responsibility not only to hear the cases before it in the matter of Prop. 8, but that it should act to overturn it. Otherwise, we and they have effectively agreed with the popular, albeit incorrect, opinion that "the majority is always right," that the courts are "activist" as opposed simply to fulfilling their constitutionally mandated role, and thereby we essentially weaken the very foundation of our government. That is to say, if we agree that it's okay to let the majority rule in the case of equal civil rights for gays and lesbians today, and that the courts are prohibited from doing their job to protect those rights, how can we ever justify in any past or future scenario that the majority shouldn't be able to rule in taking away rights from other minorities, including racial or ethnic minorities, or religious minorities, and that the courts must remain silent and accept the will of the people then, too? Why shouldn't the majority be able to make interracial marriages illegal again, then, or to make civil marriage illegal for atheists or any other unpopular minority?

Finally, Sullivan also writes, "It is one thing to decide that gay couples are barred from civil equality from now on, but to reach back and strip couples who married in good faith under the law is excessive." I'm certainly in agreement that it would be wrong for the state to forcibly divorce couples who already legally married in California because of majority rule, though I'm unsure why Sullivan should be able to find this any different than allowing the majority only to prevent any such marriages in the future. I'm particularly chilled by the cavalier manner in which Sullivan apparently finds it acceptable to ban gay couples from civil equality, under any circumstances, just as long as we agree that it's unacceptable to take away his marriage. I'm sure your wedding cake tasted delicious, Andrew; thanks so much for your "let them have cake" attitude to those of us here in California who deserve the same equality.

"it was a great feeling, while it lasted"

While Keith Olbermann can sometimes be over the top, I was really moved by his "Special Comment" in regards to same-sex marriage and California's Prop. 8 earlier this week, and several straight friends wrote to tell me about it as well. Here it is, if you haven't seen it already.

I was similarly touched by Judith Warner's most recent New York Times column, "What It Felt Like to Be Equal." The quotes Warner shares from gay people who were directly affected by the passage of Prop. 8, about feeling that gays are now perhaps the only group it is okay to publicly disdain and legally discriminate against, and how the otherwise historic election of Barack Obama can feel painfully hollow, capture exactly how I have been feeling since last Tuesday.

It wasn't that she begrudged Obama his victory. It was just that his historic triumph made the insult to her community all the more painful. An awful thought came to her that night: Now we're the designated cultural outcasts. "It's almost like we're the last group you can be openly bigoted about," she told me.

"You look around and you think more than half of the people in this state voted to take this away from us? At a time when we're celebrating the election of an African American to the White House? I don't know how you heal from it," she said. "It's hard to get it out of your bones."

And Warner's perspective as a straight person, admitting that it's not always easy to understand why this is important, is perhaps the most eloquent writing on the issue I've yet seen:

It's easy, if you're straight, to file away the gay marriage issue in a little folder in your mind, to render it, essentially, inessential. It can fall into the category of "bones you throw the religious right because things could be so much worse." Or "things that would be great in a perfect world." Or "what's the big deal?" because you don't actually get what a big deal it is to be able to get married when you've never had to consider the alternative.

Many of the gay men and lesbians I spoke or e-mailed with this week didn't fully realize what a big deal it was to be married either. Until they were.

"I don't think I had realized until then what it felt like to be equal," Swanson told me....

"I don't feel equal anymore. It was a great feeling, while it lasted."

But we shall overcome.

Tomorrow Jeff and I will be joining tens of thousands of other Americans -- gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight, young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian -- in rallies across the country to continue to protest the injustice of Prop. 8 and laws like it. We'll be at San Francisco's City Hall at 10:30 tomorrow morning; there will be simultaneous rallies in hundreds of cities in all 50 states. You can find your closest event at the Join the Impact site.

Artist Shepard Fairey, who created the iconic Obama "Hope" and "Progress" posters, has created a special graphic for the occasion, "Defend Equality. Love Unites."

Defend Equality. Love Unites.

the republic, for which it misunderstands

I’d been planning to write this post since the passage of California’s Proposition 8 last Tuesday eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry, but because I procrastinated, as usual, others, including Jeff, have beat me to the punch. Nevertheless, here’s my own take on the matter.

Two issues that have often distressed me, and that especially concern me in the aftermath are the claims like those by Proposition 8 supporters that 1) we live in a “democracy,” where “majority rules,” and that 2) judges are “activists” who overstep their bounds when they overrule a majority vote directing at limiting rights to a minority group.

First, it’s shameful that so many Americans, perhaps even a majority, have such a fundamental misunderstanding of their country’s government. Yes, America is a democracy, but the word “democracy” does not necessarily mean that “majority rules.” There are many types of democracies. The US is of course, a constitutional republic, a particular form of democracy that constrains the ability of the majority, or of any one person, entity or governmental branch, to have unchecked power, especially over minorities, and especially concerning individual rights:

A constitutional republic is a state where the head of state and other officials are elected as representatives of the people, and must govern according to existing constitutional law that limits the government’s power over citizens. In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers are separated into distinct branches and the will of the majority of the population is tempered by protections for individual rights so that no individual or group has absolute power. The fact that a constitution exists that limits the government’s power makes the state constitutional. That the head(s) of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and that their decisions are subject to judicial review makes a state republican… (Wikipedia)

Moreover, America was founded as such a constitutional republic in large part specifically to safeguard the rights of minorities against the “tyranny of the majority.” Claiming that a majority vote is sufficient to remove a right from a minority group, then, is about as un-American an idea as possible and by definition un-republican (lower case).

And this means that the judges who make unpopular decisions upholding minority rights, whether it be the right of interracial marriage or in California of same-sex marriage, are not creating law, they are not usurping the right of the majority, for in fact the majority has no such right to tyrannize a minority. Rather, these courts are doing what they were created and are constitutionally obligated to do. And in doing so, they remain significantly more true to the founders’ ideals than do those who would establish a mobocracy in America. For that is what the philosophy of “majority rules” is, in its purest form, nothing more than an angry, ugly mob.

You’d think that with their veneration (almost to the point of fetishization) of the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes “and to the Republic, for which it stands,” the right especially would have a little better understanding of U.S. government, and would at least learn what a republic really is, if they’re pledging allegiance to it. Apparently, not so. On the other hand, it’s a wonder that the right loves the Pledge of Allegiance so much in the first place, given that it clearly states, “with Liberty and Justice for all.” Not “all except blacks,” or “all except women,” or “all except gays and Lesbians,” even though there were times in our history when “all” or “we the people” was believed to mean only “all white men”; it was just as wrong then as it is now, and the courts were just as correct in their duty to rule against excluding gay folk from “all” in California earlier this year as they were in ruling against noninclusive forms of “all” for people of color and for women in the past.

anger. bitterness. despair

These are largely the only emotions I've been able to feel since Tuesday night, with the exception of two fleeting moment of elation 1) when the election first was called for Obama, and 2) when Obama gave his speech. Even in the midst of those moments, though, I kept being reminded that the promises inherent in an Obama presidency were not truly mine, as a gay person in America, to fully share. And while at the time I wrote that I was happy again to be an American, the truth is that by the next morning, recognizing the passage of California's Proposition 8, I no longer felt as though I truly were even considered an American by even half my adopted home state of California, much less by anywhere near half the country as a whole.

Fifty-two percent of California voters Tuesday night did something remarkable and frightening. They amended the state's constitution to strip a civil right from one group of people only. It's that easy to do, which is shocking enough, yet the same process that makes it possible to take away rights by a simple majority vote requires a much more difficult process to restore those rights. Perverse. That same night, 70% of California voters voted to give additional rights to farm animals raised for food.

How am I supposed to feel now that a sizable percentage of the people I see on a daily basis in my neighborhood, at work, in stores and restaurants, not only believe that my life and my relationship are worth less than theirs, but vote to back up their personal religious beliefs with the force of the state?

And what recourse do I have when a mere 50% plus 1 of my fellow citizens have the power to do so? That frightens me. The tyranny of the majority unchecked.

And most of these people voted to take away my rights, Jeff's rights and the rights of tens if not hundreds of thousands of other Californians and their children for one reason only. Religion. Religious leaders, subsidized by my own taxes, regularly stand up in their tax-exempt churches and tell these people to vote against me, that my life is evil and sinful, that (according to Catholic doctrine) I am "intrinsically disordered", and that I am less than human. Millions of dollars poured in from out-of-state Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus, and tens of millions of dollars -- between 40% and 70% of the total funds for this initiative -- were given by Mormons, many again from outside California, commanded from their pulpits to do so.

Why should churches be allowed to benefit from tax advantages when they can act so clearly and directly to take away my rights, even though I have to pay taxes but receive fewer rights than other Americans? Through my life I've been moving from a position of having been indoctrinated in religion myself, to a period of spiritual exploration, to personal atheism combined with religious tolerance. After this egregious use of religion and its taxpayer-subsidized bully pulpits to attack me and my family and to deny me my rights, however, I have moved solidly to a position that religion must be actively fought in its every attempt to intrude publicly into law, science and education, and that religious institutions should not be subsidized by the state but should pay taxes.

But hey, if preventing me from marrying the man I love and intend to spend the rest of my life with now means that your marriage is safe again, and that you'll stop those divorce proceedings so you can marry for the third time, stop beating your children, stop sleeping with your husband's best friend, and stop slapping your wife around, well, then maybe it's worth it. I'm really sorry that expressing my desire to actually enter an institution that you've already pretty much destroyed and more than half of you can't even sustain has placed such a burden on you that you have become unable to treat it with any sanctity or dignity. I never knew I had that kind of power.

Know what, though? And this is what ultimately helps me channel my anger into something more productive, and diminishes my despair. Yes, you and your superstitions and your old-fashioned bigotry may have won this skirmish. Oh, but so narrowly, and that gap continues to narrow, and quickly. In the years to come, and maybe even soon, you will lose your war on fairness and equality. Younger Americans overwhelmingly don't buy what you're selling about us -- they know us, are friends with us, love us, and see us and our relationships as no better or worse -- and they will vote for equality instead of for hate and fear.

To the 52% of my fellow Californians who voted to make me a second-class citizen on Tuesday, though, I really do have to thank you for a couple of things.

First, my love for Jeff has not been diminished by your hate, fear and/or ignorance; our relationship is no less valid than yours, nor our commitment to one another any less real or meaningful, despite your wishing it so. If anything, this attack has made us even stronger. Thank you.

Second, over the last couple of months I've been struggling with figuring out what I wanted to do next in my professional life, feeling that I needed to make a major change. While I was already leaning this way, you've absolutely helped me hone in on what that change should entail. To wit, I intend now to focus my job search with institutions like the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way, and similar organizations that work unceasingly and tirelessly to defeat your attempts to legislate hate and inequality. Thank you.

Help defeat Prop. 8. It's personal.

There is an unfair ballot proposition in California that, if passed, will take away my fundamental rights. This is really important to me. Will you help me defeat Proposition 8?

Jeff and I have been together for five years. We love and support each other in the same way as families all over the country; we share the same joys and the same sorrows, we have the same dreams and the same fears. We intend to spend our lives together, and we hope to be married next year. The California Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that it is unconstitutional in California to deny us the right to marry, just as it was the first court to rule, in 1948, that laws prohibiting interracial marriages also were unconstitutional. It is the constitutional duty of the court, in fact, to safeguard the rights of minorities, and that is what the California Supreme Court did.

California’s Proposition 8, however, now would take away our constitutional right to marry. It would take this right away only for same-sex couples and it would write discrimination directly into the state constitution. Constitutions are intended to delineate and give rights, not to take them away. Whatever your personal views or your church’s views are on gays and lesbians (and you should know that many, many churches, religious organizations, and faith- and community-based organizations actually have come out in opposition to this hateful proposition), I trust you agree that eliminating fundamental rights — from anyone — is just wrong.

And this isn’t just a hypothetical. If this proposition passes, Jeff and I will be prohibited from marrying next year, and the marriages of many of our friends may be invalidated. They and their children will be directly affected. Jeff and I will be directly affected. Imagine if other voters were able to decide to take away your right to marry, or to say that your own marriage had never really existed. That would be unfair. It would be wrong.

If you live in California, I hope you are already planning to vote NO. If you don’t live in California, you can help by making a donation to the No on 8 campaign.

Virtually every major paper in California is against Prop 8. The L.A. Times says it is “a drastic step to strip people of rights.” La Opinión called Prop 8 “an unnecessary initiative”. Even papers in the most conservative parts of the state have editorialized against Prop. 8. The San Diego Union Tribune, for example, wrote that “Prop 8…[singles] out a particular group for discrimination, a move that offends many Californians’ sense of fairness.” The Orange County Register said, “Revoking same-sex couples’ right to marry doesn’t belong in the state constitution. We recommend a “no” vote on Prop 8.” And the Sacramento Bee wrote, “Californians should reject the call to amend the state constitution to exclude some people from marriage. That would be a black mark on the constitution, just as past exclusionary acts remain a stain on California’s history.” They know that the truly conservative position is to encourage marriage for all, not to discriminate against some.

The other side has raised over $10 million more than us, and as much as 40% of their donations have come from the Mormon Church. No one church should be able to decide what civil rights we enjoy as private citizens of this country. The Prop. 8 supporters are using their vast war chest to spread lies and misinformation. Your donation will help reach undecided voters who need to hear that Prop. 8 is wrong and unfair.

If all of this doesn’t convince you, I hope you’ll email me so we can talk about this. You can also find out more at the No on Prop 8 site.

Thank you for doing all you can to defeat Prop. 8.

scylla and charybdis on I-66

So assume you're driving in a state with the following two separate traffic laws:

  1. When police, fire and rescue vehicles or ambulances approach you using a siren, flashing light or both, you must immediately yield the right-of-way; and
  2. Upon approaching a stationary emergency vehicle that is displaying a flashing, blinking, or alternating emergency light you must proceed with caution and, if reasonable, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that occupied by the stationary emergency vehicle or, if changing lanes would be unreasonable or unsafe, proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions (called the "move-over" law).

Now, you find yourself in the following situation:

Driving in the right lane of an interstate highway, you see ahead of you the flashing lights of several stopped state police cars on the right shoulder. According to the second law above, you must move over to the left lane, so you do.

Once you move into the left lane, however, you pass a state police car parked on the left shoulder (it does not have its lights flashing). After you and several other cars pass it, it pulls out and turns on its lights.

According to the first law above, you must yield right-of-way to the approaching police vehicle, so you should move back into the right lane to let it pass. When you do, it doesn't pass you, but neither does it pull in behind you and signal that you should pull over and stop. It continues to stay just behind and to the left.

What do you do? If you stay in the right lane now and pass the police cars parked on the right shoulder, you'll be guilty of violating the second law above. If you move back into the left lane in front of the patrol car there, though, you'll be guilty of violating the first law.

When this happened to me (yeah, it's not a hypothetical) when we were returning to Dulles airport after flying out Virginia earlier this month to attend my nephew's college graduation in Roanoke, I slowed down and stayed in the right lane, and immediately after passing the line of police cars parked on the right shoulder, the police car in the left lane finally passed me, and pulled off the road, while the last car in the line already on the right shoulder pulled out, turned on its siren, pulled me over, and ticketed me for violating the second law above.

When I explained the extenuating circumstances, the officer would hear none of it and issued a summons to appear in court next month. Noting, though, that I live in California, he said I could just plead guilty and pre-pay the fine by mail or online, and not have to physically appear.

Were I still living in Virginia, I absolutely would have gone to court to fight it, based on the fact that the second law says that the lane change must be made "if reasonable," and that given the circumstances I did not feel it was reasonable and that I was, in fact, put in a no-win situation by the officer's refusal to consider the impact of the second police car on my decision. But because I couldn't afford to take time off from work and buy an airplane ticket to fly back across the country for the court appearance, I reluctantly decided I would just pay the fine.

So I went online to try to find out how much the fine was, and how to pay it. I thought it would be around $30, which is the amount of most such fines for failing to yield right-of-way. The URL for the court system listed on the summons and on the automated voicemail for the county court, however, was incorrect. The automated message included the fines for only some traffic violations, but not for the one for which I was cited, and the message cut off in the middle every time I called it. I finally found my court case information online today (the summons was issued May 4, but they only finally entered it into their system this morning), but the option to pre-pay my fine wasn't active. So I found another phone number and finally reached a live person who told me that there was no pre-payment available for that violation, that I had to appear in court, and that the penalties can be quite severe (apparently a fine of up to $2500 and, under certain circumstances, license suspension and up to one month in jail!). When I explained that I live in California, and appearing in court would be difficult, she said that I could send a letter in my stead which would be attached to my case information and read by the judge at the time of my hearing.

So that's what I've done. Now I keep my fingers crossed and hope that either the trooper doesn't show up the day of my case, or that the judge agrees that what I did was "reasonable," especially given that I was in a no-win situation.

I'm not heartened, however, by the person on the phone's assertion that an absence on my court date, even with a letter, usually ends in an automatic guilty finding. Nor by the fact that this was clearly a sting operation: there was no real emergency, just four state police cars taking turns pulling people over in a taxpayer-funded version of automobile leapfrog (once one person was pulled over by one officer in the line, then the next person who drove by was guilty, so they were pulled over by the last officer in the line, which then meant that the person who next passed them got pulled over by another one of the waiting officers, ad infinitum). And the action of the other trooper actually makes me feel entrapped, given that he wouldn't pull ahead or behind me, but kept his car in a position where I would have to violate one law or the other.

I didn't bring up those issues in the letter, of course, as I want to fight the charge strictly on the merits of my decision and the unique situation itself, not muddy the waters by making it look like I was attacking the state police or questioning either their motives or the validity of the law. I understand the intent behind the law, as several state policemen in Virginia have been killed when they've been struck by cars while in the process of issuing a ticket and standing next to someone's driver's side window, but I don't like being set up for failure especially when throughout the incident I had been trying to obey the law, by moving over to the left lane in the first place, and then back to the right lane later.

It certainly doesn't make me want to return to Virginia anytime soon, and when I do visit again, I have no intention of getting behind the wheel of a car there. My family will have to come pick us up at the airport.

shake it up, baby

Earlier today I was laughing about the mention on the news of a 2.9-magnitude earthquake near Concord; 2.9 hardly seems worth mentioning, and hardly would be felt. Then, about twenty minutes ago, our own house started shaking, dishes were rattling, and the cats went ballistic, their claws scrabbling frantically on the floor as they ran wildly about trying to figure out what to do, as we experienced what is currently being classified a 5.6-magnitude earthquake whose epicenter is down near San Jose. We’re fine; the shaking lasted about ten seconds, and there was a fair amount of noise from dishes and glasses rattling around, and one picture tilted slightly on the wall, but furniture stayed put and there was no damage. All in all, pretty mild—given our distance from the epicenter—but relatively long. The 1957 quake, which had its epicenter here in Daly City, was a 5.3, so it’s a little sobering to think how this one might have been different if it had been closer.

The cats are still a little spooked, but Tiki’s just come into the kitchen to eat, so they’re starting to calm down.

As the earthquake was happening, I updated my Facebook profile with the info, and posted a twit immediately after I filled out the USGS questionnaire; I was frustrated, in fact, that it was taking so long for the USGS site to update with the current quake so I could submit our experiences. I’m such a geek.