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The gay miseducation of Carolyn Goodman

Deconstructing the confusing puzzle of why the mayor is against same-sex marriage

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Carolyn Goodman’s religion permits same-sex marriage, so why hasn’t the mayor changed her position?
Photo: Leila Navidi

I am very disappointed in the A Gays. I’ve been away from Nevada for six months, and Carolyn Goodman has been Las Vegas mayor for nine, and somehow nobody has managed to move her off her easily defused talking point in opposition to same-sex marriage. At this point, I’m more bummed by the failure of Vegas’ queer intelligensia than I am by the woman herself.

That Mrs. Goodman did not come around to support marriage equality during her campaign was understandable. She was shockingly clueless when first quizzed by yours truly, then compounded her woes with stunning gaffes before a gay audience. If there’s anything we have learned in this dynastic era, it’s that nobody ever convinced a Goodman to change a tune when he or she is under attack.

So I figured she’d settle into her new gig, campaign wounds would heal and some esteemed emissaries of gay Vegas would quietly visit the 10th floor for a casual, less-confrontational conversation. The raucous activists of the Stonewall Democrats had done their part raising hell; now it was time for good cops to step in. Vegas is filthy with wealthy gays and their many powerful friends in gaming and politics, to whom Carolyn would grant audiences.

And yet last month, when American mayors from more than 100 cities pledged support to marriage equality, including those from most of Vegas’ tourism-destination rivals, Mrs. Goodman was not among them. She gave Jon Ralston a statement about how it’s none of her concern, because she’s just the powerless mayor.

What did I expect? I guess I’m a dreamer. I had seen Carolyn’s evolution up close and found it promising. When I first asked her whether she supported repeal of Nevada’s domestic partnership law, she offered a befuddling response most troubling for her lack of fluency in our era’s most-discussed civil rights topic: “I don’t understand why a [private] legal contract wouldn’t suffice to bind two people together.”

That day, I enumerated the problems with her solution, that contracts are expensive, are often challenged by various institutions and other relatives and mean nothing to the feds for many benefits. It was clear she’d simply never considered it before, but by Election Day she had stated she was firmly for domestic partnerships but couldn’t support full marriage equality because her religion doesn’t allow it.

Except she’s wrong. She doesn’t know what her own religion says about this, and I assumed someone would point that out to her in the intervening months. Evidently not.

Carolyn Goodman is a Conservative Jew. As such, she is blessed to be part of a dynamic faith not nearly as dogmatic or monolithic in its interpretation of its Scripture as most Christian or Islamic sects. Judaism has always evolved, has always acknowledged the practical reality that the human condition changes. Jewish fundamentalists, in fact, have been marginalized over the past century specifically because their rigid teachings became increasingly irrelevant to modern life. When Mrs. Goodman was young, girls didn’t have bat mitzvahs; her own daughter’s bat mitzvah was monitored by the FBI because of the Mob figures who attended. So, ya know, times change.

To that point, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards—the governing body of the Conservative movement—voted in 2006 to permit rabbis to sanction same-sex marriage. The group even devised a gender-appropriate liturgy for such ceremonies. Rabbis may choose whether to officiate, but there’s no longer an official view that it’s a crime against God to do so.

Carolyn Goodman is not only educable, she’s a really interesting and important public test case. She, like many Americans, is in the mushy middle. She’s a reasonable woman not driven by polls or quests for political power, who means no harm or offense. Convincing her would be a proxy for convincing a lot of well-meaning people like her.

She wasn’t swayed by hardcore activists. She wasn’t convinced by arguments that her position is harmful to attracting gay tourists and, thus, to our fragile economy. And she hasn’t had, for want of a better term, a Come to Jesus meeting with people who can approach her with finesse.

But it’s time, and here’s the silver bullet: Her faith allows it. Her faith, essentially, says it’s up to her. And she’s not a homophobe. So what’s stopping her?

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