Friday, July 03, 2009

Doubles Devil's Advocate

Switching Sides: Toni Layton, yet another of the nine-time Wimbledon champ's ex-lovers who had left a husband to be with her, claims the settlement she was offered by Martina was an "insult"

My pal Louis Bayard wrote an impassioned piece on Salon yesterday about the controversy surrounding Martina Navratilova's breakup with her longtime partner, Toni Layton. He and other proponents of gay rights are crying foul on the tennis legend for trying to avoid paying out a big settlement by what he calls "taking advantage of a legal double standard that is both sexist and homophobic" and he believes the gay community "should be first in line to oppose it."

Although my heart tells me he's right, my head tells me something entirely different. And it speaks to the fundamental problem with "separate but equal" laws: they're never equal. While the argument is compelling that Navratilova should treat her ex the way any husband would treat a wife he was leaving, here's the problem: Just because it appeared to be the same as a marriage to us, it wasn't. And Martina DIDN'T agree to one. And because she didn't, how do we know that in the back of her mind she wasn't specifically thinking to herself that this is someone she wants to live with, but not someone she would marry? (Straight people are allowed to make this distinction and many of them do.) Just because we cannot get married in most places doesn't mean all people in gay relationships consider themselves married. Using Navratilova's detractors' logic, we're not only barred from marrying in most states, now we're barred from choosing to "just live together." (Any other rights you want to take away from me?!) Holding Martina to the same standard of a married person is the equivalent of having your cake, not eating it, and then still having the love handles because of the calories. Or agreeing to take university classes on a pass/fail basis and then having a grade point average suddenly thrown in your face and used against you when you apply to grad school.

While Martina may very well have agreed to "evenly share all funds and assets earned and obtained by either while together” (Layton's words), isn't it just as likely -- or perhaps more so given what happened with Judy Nelson years ago -- that Martina DIDN'T agree to this at all? Naturally, it's easy to side with the less famous, less wealthy "dumpee" in a situation like this. But as awful as Martina's lawyers sound, we must also bear in mind that there are two sides to every story and Martina's team is, in fact, responding to some serious ammo, including Layton's threats to air Martina's "dirty laundry" if she doesn't get a settlement to her liking. "There are a lot of skeletons in Martina's closet," Layton told PageSix." It is more like a storage facility full of them, and I know them all." (Blackmail, anyone?)

Advocates are calling on Martina to be a role model, saying her legal tactics set a "bad precedent" that comes at "the worst possible time." I'd argue that it's just the opposite, as it bolsters the legal -- not just social -- argument that all people deserve the right to a legal framework for relationships that is equitable for both sides. To me, it's unreasonable to expect the people are who being discriminated against to rise up to a standard that's not being offered to them in the hopes that the government will respect you for doing so and eventually grant you your rights. (You can't patronize us with an out-of-state "civil partnership" and then expect us to treat it like it marriage when our bank accounts are on the line!) Let Martina get married. And then if it doesn't work out, make her handle her divorce from her wife (no archly condescending quotation marks required) the same way every other legally married person does. Until there is equality for all of us, I think it's fair to protect yourself by any means possible. Marriage is a contract that not everyone wants to sign. I've been blissfully unwedded to Michael for seven years, and I certainly wouldn't want a court telling me what it did or didn't mean if it were to suddenly end tomorrow.


Al In The County said...

You are absolutely right. Until marriage is an option, we don't know if its one Martina would have taken.

And I find Toni's threat of telling all to be disugsting. It tells me that Martina was right not to get more involved with her.

Matthew said...

I have not investigated this thoroughly, but my instinct when I first read about this was to think she was getting a raw deal (of course I read it on Queerty, which fancies itself the only authority on who's gay-proud enough and who is just a bigot). The law is the law, and anyone would take advantage of it in a similar case.

Jimmy said...

Ms. Layton doesn't paint herself in a sympathetic light by making threats. I think Martina should call her bluff.

Harrison said...

Agreed on all counts!!

Anonymous said...

well said.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that if she had a commitment ceremony, she would have been willing to marry. I can see why we aren't getting anywhere with members of our own commnity f*cking us over at every opportunity.