Same-Gender Consorts: Proposed Corpora Change

Ariel de Courtenay, from the Inspirational Equality consortium, offers her analysis of the Board's recent proposal for a change in Corpora related to same-gender couple in Royal Lists.

Ariel de Courtenay writes:

Initiatives challenging barriers to same-sex couple leadership in the SCA have gained increasing momentum over the past two years. The recent Society census data on same-gender consorts revealed wide variations in opinion, yet indicated no clear mandate for Society policy. Seeking membership input, the SCA Board has proposed a corpora change.

The corpora change proposed by the board retains the current corpora language on consorts: “Each competitor in a Royal List must be fighting for a consort of the opposite gender” and adds the phrase “Crowns may permit entry into the Royal Lists by same-gender couples.”

The board requests comments on the proposed change. Address feedback to with "Same-Gender Consort Proposal" in the subject line. Comments on this proposal are due by April 1, 2012 in time to be considered at the April quarterly business meeting.

Same-Gender Consorts: Summary of Recent Board Actions

The board’s proposed corpora revision represents a considered response to a groundswell of change initiatives across the SCA, from letters to the board, to grassroots organizing on social networks, to peaceful demonstrations in the courts of various kingdoms (see links below for archived articles on some of these events).

Using the most official avenue of political action available within SCA structure, three entities have petitioned the board over the last year, asking to overturn various obstacles to same-gender couple leadership that are codified in SCA governing documents and policies.

The first petitioner to the board was the Kingdom of Caid, asking for approval to install a same-gender baronial couple in the barony of Gyldenholt. On this matter, the board asked Countess Kenna Harve, Society Seneschal, for a ruling. She ruled that that baronial decisions are designated by SCA governing documents to be under the jurisdiction of kingdoms, therefore, same-gender baronial leadership is a matter of Kingdom policy. Accordingly, Caid has since installed Masters Giles and Giuseppe as Reeves (Baronial heirs) of Gyldenholt in a landmark ceremony on January 21, 2012.

The second entity petitioning the Society board was the Kingdom of An Tir, which asked the board to grant a waiver to An Tir allowing same-gender couples to enter the An Tir September 2011 Crown Lists. The board responded that such a waiver could not be granted without due process alteration of corpora, and the request was turned down.

The third petition was submitted by the advocacy group “Inspirational Equality” (IE), a group that currently lists over 1200 members in 14 kingdoms (link below). IE petitioned the board for a change in the governing documents of the SCA which would remove language banning same-gender consorts in Royal Lists. The change requested by IE would affect governing documents at the corporate level only. (Even in the event that the board were to remove corpora restrictions on same-gender consorts, Kingdoms would still be free to make their own laws and policies.) The board responded to the IE petition at the October 2011 business meeting by proposing a timeline for due process consideration of corpora change.

Board Response to IE Petition for Corpora Change

The first action item on the board’s timeline—release of the census data on same-gender consorts—was fulfilled directly after the October business meeting. (links to census data below).

As promised by the board, the timeline’s second action item—announcement of change language and request for comment—-was fulfilled directly following the January business meeting. The proposed change language (see paragraph two above) was sent via an email that went out Tuesday, January 30, 2011, to those on the board's announcements email list.

Reactions to the Proposed Corpora Change

In the two days following the email announcement, news of the proposed change spread quickly among the membership of Inspirational Equality. Reaction to the proposed language has been mixed. Hailing the announcement as an important sign of progress, several members have greeted the board’s move as very significant. Reeve Guiseppe of Gyldenholt is of this opinion, saying, “The call for commentary from the board is, in my opinion, huge. The society is willing to consider change! This is good. Is it the particular wording that I personally would like? Well, no. So I have written my commentary and sent it in.”

While many are encouraged by the board’s demonstrated commitment to considering change, other members of the IE group are markedly disappointed in the proposed language, finding it self-contradictory and exclusionary. Her Ladyship Sionaid ine Cullaich states, “It is my considered opinion that the offered change is equal to saying no. It sounds to me as though it is not a change at all, and that in fact, it is a stepping stone to changes less palatable to this group.” Several members of the IE group feel the proposed change does not go far enough and are advocating for reemphasizing to the board the original IE request to simply drop the final four words of the current language. Without the last four words, the rule would read, “Each competitor in a Royal List must be fighting for a consort.”

Duke Thorin and Duchess Dagmaer of An Tir, long time supporters of same-gender consorts, have proposed a middle ground solution. They suggest an alternative to the board’s proposal which drops the four words but adds the phrase, “Crowns may place further restrictions on entry.” This formulation emphasizes the authority of Crowns to reserve Royal Lists entry for opposite-gender couples (or indeed to limit Their Lists in any other way They see fit). Dagmaer and Thorin’s proposal has found support among many IE members because it parallels the board’s proposed amendment, but uses active, positive language to emphasize Royal power, as opposed to the board’s proposed language, which has raised concerns for being too negative in tone, suggesting, instead, an exclusionary norm with exceptions permitted.

Although the proposed change language may not fully satisfy everyone, many advocates for same-gender couples feel that change is best accomplished in a step-by-step manner. They cite examples such as the political process in Washington State where support for gay marriage was achieved through the intermediate step of establishing Domestic Partnership laws.

People who support incremental change feel that it is important to embrace the board’s suggested revision as offered, continuing to work for further change in the future. Mistress Achaxe of An Tir supports this approach: “I think it is important to accept this change as it is, and continue to lobby for better wording and more acceptance. I think this change was made in a spirit of support from the BoD. The end result is that, given a progressive Crown in a progressive Kingdom (like, say last September Crown in An Tir) same sex consorts can fight in the lists. Is it perfect? No. But it is progress, and I think that needs to be acknowledged.” Reeve Giles of Gyldenholt, expresses the same sentiment: “The proposed text is not perfect. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good....Absolute victories in politics are rare (and make no mistake, this is politics in its purest form), but defeats are frequent. Let's not collude in our own defeat.”

Among SCA membership outside of the IE movement, there is concern that allowing same-gender consorts could disrupt cherished Society traditions and long-established cultural norms regarding the gender of rulers. Members who support the status quo have also voiced the concern that any approach other than keeping the current requirement for opposite gender consorts on the books (whether or not exceptions are allowed) has the de facto effect of placing Royalty who oppose same-gender consorts in the wrong.

Sir Donnan of the Midrealm, board member emeritus, holds this view; however, he sees the proposed change language as a workable compromise: "I like the change proposal as it stands because it still allows people to feel that mixed gender is okay, but at the same time it allows the Crowns to set a different standard and change the anthropology for their Kingdom if they want to. Any other wording would put a Crown in the wrong if they wanted to stick with mixed gender for the time being."

Ironically, IE members have voiced similar concerns (though for different reasons) regarding implications for Rulers, should the board’s proposed language be adopted. They point out that if the same-gender consort decision is remanded to Crowns on a reign-by-reign basis, it will place every Crown in the position of being a focal point for discontent from one side or the other, no matter what They decide.

No one knows for certain how various Royalty will choose to act, given leeway to make Their own call, however, support for Royal authority seems to be an area where advocates from both sides of the issue find common ground.

Next Steps

While much remains to be worked out, what is clear is that the governing body of the SCA will no longer remain silent on this significant issue. In opening the floor for public comment, the board has committed to publicly engaging with the question of same-gender consorts in Royal Lists. They are ready and willing to receive a great quantity of passionate feedback from all sides of the political spectrum.

Clearly, opinions on same-gender consorts in Royal Lists are as diverse as the SCA itself. The only thing that can be said for certain is that, with the board’s landmark announcement on Tuesday, it is a conversation whose time has come.

Once again, responses on the proposed change to are due by April 1, 2012. The board actively encourages input from all Society participants—speak up and be a part of your game.

Current language: 
Each competitor in a Royal Lists must be fighting for a consort of the opposite gender.

Proposed Language:
 Each competitor in a Royal Lists must be fighting for a consort of the opposite gender. Crowns may permit entry into the Royal Lists by same-gender couples.