On Saturday, October 15, the seven members of the Board of the Society for Creative Anachronism met in Seattle for the open session day of their quarterly meeting. While many items of business were on the agenda, the topic of highest interest for many was the issue of same-gender couple leadership in the SCA.
Approximately forty members of the populace were in attendance, and the atmosphere was both charged and hopeful. The Board conducted the meeting with openness and humor, transparently addressing this important issue and welcoming questions and comments from the floor. With careful deliberation, the Board attended to three distinct items all related to same-gender leadership.
Board Considers Three Same-Gender Policy Items:
1. Ruling on Baronial Selection
First, concerning the issue of same-gender baronial leadership, the Board asked the Society Seneschal Countess Kenna Harve for a ruling. Having duly deliberated in preparation for the meeting, Countess Kenna entered into the record her policy interpretation ruling that the Governing Documents of the Society designate that baronial leaders shall be selected “according to the rules and customs of the kingdom.” Because the Governing Documents make no reference to gender in the case of baronial selection, she ruled that, as general Society policy going forward, Corpora provides no obstacle to the installation of same gender baronial leaders.
As a point of clarification, Director Tim Jennings, ombudsman of Caid, verified that the installation of Barons-Elect Giles and Giuseppe of Gyldenholt, Caid may move forward unobstructed by the board. He received official confirmation from the Seneschal. Lest the significance of the moment go by too fast in the minutiae of bureaucratic process, Director John Fulton halted the proceedings to note the profound significance of the action: “This is landscape changing,” he commented, “this will change the game.”
Indeed, the implications of this decision are significant. As there are far more baronial seats than crowns available in the SCA, and as the skill set required for baronial leadership is more widespread, this decision may affect a greater number of SCA members in practical terms than crown list entry (though numbers are still likely to be very low overall).
In terms of cultural acceptance of gay couples in the SCA, same-gender baronial leadership is also likely to have an influence on attitudes toward same-gender SCA leadership in general. Research has shown that simply knowing someone gay or lesbian is one of the most significant influences on views on gay rights. For example, according to 2009 Gallup data, the difference in support for gay marriage between those who know someone gay or lesbian and those who do not is more than twenty-two percentage points (49% support from those who do, 27% support from those who do not). Installing even a few gay couples in positions of SCA leadership is likely to contribute to a similar trend in long-term attitudinal shifts in the society. Finally, the ruling has the additional positive benefit of opening up baronial leadership opportunities to same gender pairs who are not romantic couples.
2. Ruling on Variance for Same-Gender Entry in An Tir Crown
The second issue considered by the Board was a request for a variance to allow same gender entry in Crown Lists submitted by King Thorin and Queen Dagmaer of An Tir in August of 2011. The request was received after the summer quarter Board meeting and was therefore put on the agenda for the October meeting, although the date of the requested variance (An Tir September Crown) had already passed.
Regarding the variance request, Society Seneschal Kenna Harve ruled that, as the wording of the Governing Documents is clear that prospective entrants must be fighting for a “potential consort of the opposite gender,” there is no room for policy interpretation. Therefore, she ruled, in order for this policy to be changed, the wording of the Governing Documents must be altered. The ruling was approved by the Board with one opposing vote from Director Tim Jennings, who explained later that he believes a variance "could have been made based on kingdom culture...or a recommendation could have been suggested to instigate a change in Corpora at this time."
Given that the date of the An Tir tourney in question has passed, this ruling may appear on the surface to be largely procedural; however, the clarification of the stance of SCA governance on the meaning of current Corpora language is essential to determining future action. This ruling states for the record that the issue of same gender consorts in royal lists can only be addressed through amendment of Corpora. (No ruling was given on the interpretation of modern law as it applies to SCA Royal Lists at this time.)
It is important to note, regarding each of the two policy interpretation rulings above, that all candidates for royal lists or baronial seats must be acceptable to the Crown, and that that aspect of leadership qualification is not currently up for debate.
3. Ruling on Amendment to Corpora to Remove Same-Gender ban on Royal Lists
The third item before the Board was the request to amend Corpora submitted by Master Giles of Caid, and subsequently by several other parties. Board chair Leslie Vaughn noted that while several of the Corpora amendment proposals asked simply to strike the last four words of Corpora IV.B.1 “Each competitor in a Royal Lists must be fighting for a prospective consort of the opposite gender,” other proposals had been received which suggested alternate approaches such as adding an introductory passage or rewriting the entire passage on Royal Qualifications.
Board concern centers around creating a durable set of qualifications that reflects the moral commitment of the SCA toward inclusion while preventing abuses of the system. Several Directors noted that the potential for abuse of a rule change allowing same-gender couples has come to their attention. Director Lisa May noted that SCA history demonstrates instances of leadership alternating between two members of the same household or faction, resulting in a concentration of power in a small oligarchy. It was suggested that currently, in a number of kingdoms as part of public conversations around the issue, a small but vocal minority of so-called “superdukes” have stated that they would use such a rule change to attempt to increase their access to power by teaming up with another high-level fighter. It is unclear whether such a tactic, even if attempted, could increase actual number of reigns because rulers (whether sovereign-by-right-of-arms or consort) would still be bound by the no self-succession rule. However, the issue remains significant as it concerns a stance perceived as a concrete threat to the game so valued by all involved.
As a partial remedy for potential abuse, one suggestion involves adding an introductory passage to the Corpora section on Royal Qualifications describing aspirational values around the role and meaning of inspiration. Such a passage is being supported by some Directors as a vehicle to influence SCA culture and a mechanism by which to increase the authority and mandate of monarch intervention when such abuses occur. King Thorin explained to the board that advocates of Inspirational Equality in An Tir come from a kingdom that places a very high value on the honor of fighting for true inspiration, which makes the idea of abuse foreign and difficult to understand.
In terms of addressing the civil and legal questions around representation, the issue is a complex one. Because the SCA currently guarantees that 50% of leadership in the highest echelon shall be female, and because all data strongly supports that opening crown lists to same gender inspirations is highly unlikely to increase the number of women on the throne, the issue of same-gender inspirations is not simply an issue of greater inclusion for a marginalized group, but of balancing competing rights for equal gender representation with inclusion for same-gender couples.
While adding rights for a marginalized group (same-gender couples) may be relatively easy to support, doing so in a way that reduces representation--however minimally--for an already protected group (women) is ethically and legally fraught. At the same time, the Board is very cognizant of their moral obligation to respond to the appeals of same-gender couples for equal treatment, given that their current representation in royal lists is zero. The balance is a delicate one. Given this complex dynamic, the Board nevertheless expressed commitment to moving forward in crafting policy that supports fair treatment of all constituencies. “It has to be addressed,” said Director Tim Jennings.
Board Proposes Three-Step Process for Consideration of Corpora Revision
With the goal of forging a policy that is both fair and inclusive, the Board has proposed a three-step process. In a perfect world, each step would be initiated at a successive quarterly Board meeting; however, given the quantity of business before the board and the likelihood of high-volume public comment on this issue, Director Tim Jennings indicates that the Board would be remiss in attempting to guarantee a specific timeline.
1. Public Comment on Census Data Concerning Same-Gender Inspirations
The first stage in the three-step process (approved and initiated at the October meeting on Saturday) shall be to begin a public conversation on same-gender inspirations through the release of 2010 SCA Census data on this question. A broad summary of the data was shared by the Census committee indicating a fairly even pro-con split with a sizable minority expressing either no opinion or no response at all. The data also shows strong geographic trends with highest levels of support on the West Coast and Canada.
The census data will be uploaded to the SCA Inc. website as soon as Board approval is received and processed by the Census committee. The Board plans to release the data prefaced by a statement encouraging public comment with a view toward Corpora reconsideration. During this initial period of public comment, the Board will actively workshop policy suggestions which will then be consolidated into concrete proposals.
2. Public Comment on Options for Proposed Corpora Amendment
In the second stage of the process, the Board proposes to submit a small number of specific proposals concerning Corpora revision for public comment. Proposals could include (but are not limited to) a no-change option, a simple removal of reference to gender in Royal Qualifications, additions to Corpora addressing abuse prevention along with removal of gender restrictions, and possible re-drafting of the entire section on Royal Qualifications. A sixty-day comment period is typical for proposed changes to Corpora; however, the board has no standard policy on the length of comment periods.
Second phase comment shall be collected through the website of the SCA Inc. on the page labeled “Announcements and Requests for Comment from the Board of Directors,” and deadline for comment will be clearly indicated when the proposals are posted. Public involvement is enthusiastically solicited by the Board for both public comment phases.
3. Corpora Revision Decision
The final stage of the proposed process shall take place at a quarterly Board meeting. At that time, having reviewed membership responses to the various action proposals, the Board shall make a decision on Corpora revision that is guided by its fiduciary obligation to the long-term good of The Game as well as its ethical obligations to the moral, civil, and chivalric values of inclusion, equal treatment, and protection of the disenfranchised. Through this careful step-wise process, the Board hopes to balance the need for timely action on a pressing social issue with need for public involvement in a significant change to the game.
Spirit of Collaboration Hailed by Board and Inspirational Equality Movement Alike
The Inspirational Equality movement has been a driving force behind advocating for removal of the same-gender ban on royal lists. Although originating in An Tir, the group now has over 1150 members knowne-world-wide, with representatives in seventeen of nineteen kingdoms (Facebook information below). Several members, including the author of this report, were in attendance at the October board meeting on Saturday and hailed the actions of the Board as welcome progress. The leadership of IE joins with the Board in advocating for active populace participation in the proposed comment periods.
Given the specific nature of some of the concerns, the leaders of IE hope that greater representation of opinions from the fighting community regarding attitudes toward inspiration in Royal Lists may help more broadly illuminate the actual potential for abuse should same-gender inspirations be allowed. Comments may be emailed to email@example.com or may be specifically submitted through the link on the Census data page, once posted. The members of the Board confirm that they read all comments submitted and are committed to soliciting and understanding the needs of the membership of the SCA.
In addition to promoting the issue of equality for same-gender couples, Inspirational Equality leadership used the opportunity for comment to express a need for clearer and more easily accessible guidelines for Board communication and Corpora change proposal submissions. The Board was highly responsive to this request, and newly installed director Lisa May indicates that the project of improving documentation and transparency of Board policies and procedures is one of the primary goals of her Board term.
Overall, the process around this controversial issue has been hailed from all involved as a model of honorable and productive engagement. Several members of the Board went out of their way to thank the Inspirational Equality group on record for their respectful and tempered approach. Both constituencies left the meeting with a strong spirit of forward movement and cooperative dialog—in fact, two Directors volunteered to review the current report for accuracy of both tone and factual detail. (Thank you to Tim Jennings and Lisa May for their help drafting this article.)