Montana Student Journalist Breaks Rules, Raises Questions About Marriage, Drugs, Poverty & 3D Printing

At the moment, University of Montana senior Hunter Pauli is one of the most fascinating, in-your-face student journalists reporting and writing nationwide.

In a series of columns this semester for the Montana Kaimin campus newspaper, Pauli has fearlessly challenged — and even attempted to break — state laws, school rules and existing norms he finds ridiculous.

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For example, in early September, he fought against a campus tobacco ban by smoking a Newport outside the UM School of Journalism, announcing the cigarette break two days in advance and live-tweeting while he was on it.

Soon after, he successfully 3D-printed a portion of a gun in the campus library — raising questions about our “mad rush toward technological progress.” A few weeks later, he took up the SNAP Challenge, living on less than $5 a day. As he wrote at the time, “De-classing yourself into hunger will teach you more about poverty and humility than any class.”

In October, he explored how to purchase marijuana and other drugs via the Internet, in part to prove that “[b]uying drugs online is illegal but safer than buying them on the street or making your own.”

A separate recent adventure focused on love, not drugs, and traded the Internet for the clerk’s office inside the Missoula County Courthouse.

Pauli, a straight male from Seattle, Wash., visited the office so he could attempt to marry his similarly straight male roommate, Jacob.

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As Pauli no doubt predicted, the pair’s planned nuptials hit a snag almost immediately and ultimately failed — due to their gender. A 10-year-old amendment to Montana’s constitution states, “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in this state.” While a judge’s ruling last month suddenly lifted the ban — with political challenges and legal appeals expected — the amendment was still on the books when Pauli visited the courthouse.

In part, Pauli wanted to observe a same-sex marriage ban in action — via an actual rejection on site. At the start of a Kaimin column headlined “I Tried to Illegally Get Gay Married,” he writes, “As a state-described ‘straight person,’ I am incapable of feeling firsthand the emotional sting of being treated unequally by government for the people I prefer to have sex with. I cannot feel that enormity, because the state will not let me. It says I am better than gays with the same rootless logic that says cats are better than dogs.”

In the Q&A below, Pauli, the Kaimin arts and culture editor, reflects on his illegal marriage attempt and minces no words when criticizing gay marriage bans nationwide as the latest roadblocks in a wide-ranging civil rights fight.

Hunter Pauli, a senior journalism major at the University of Montana from Seattle, Wash., is the arts & culture editor for the Montana Kaimin.

Hunter Pauli, a senior journalism major at the University of Montana from Seattle, Wash., is the arts & culture editor for the Montana Kaimin.

What compelled you to try to get illegally married?

Inequality manifests in many ways seen and unseen. When we make inequality law, it falls to bureaucrats to reinforce prejudice through paperwork. The language of bureaucracy is where the rubber hits the pavement. A sentence in the state constitution and an autofilled PDF are the only barriers to gay marriage in Montana. This state is only going to get redder following the election, and I hoped exposing the banality of institutionalized marriage inequality might change some people’s minds on whether or not we need it. People should see what discrimination looks like practically.

Building on your column, describe the moment in the clerk’s office when your attempt officially stalled. 

Our marriage attempt stalled as soon as we had to hand over our IDs. The demographics on your ID are the legally binding terms with which the state negotiates your rights. My ID said male, as did Jacob’s, so we could not get married. If your ID card said female in 1919 you could not vote. If it said black in 1963 you could not attend white schools. Public employees examine your ID to determine the extent of your civil liberty.

As you think back on your time in the clerk’s office now, what memory lingers in your head?

You could see word spread about the clerk’s office that two men were trying to get married. Employees kept peaking out from behind cubicles to get a look, lots of sideways glances and excited whispers. I don’t think they’d ever seen two people of the same sex try to get married in their office before. Too bad we were straight.

What part of the experience proved especially surprising or most dispiriting?

It was sad to see public employees who clearly disagree with the ban on gay marriage enforce it. I think it was the first time they had to do it face-to-face and they looked uncomfortable. The ban was written by hateful people but it’s served to the public with a grimace, not a smile. It made me pity the bureaucratic corps.

“When we make inequality law, it falls to bureaucrats to reinforce prejudice through paperwork. … I hoped exposing the banality of institutionalized marriage inequality might change some people’s minds on whether or not we need it. People should see what discrimination looks like practically.”

From what you observed, how does the paperwork involved in the marriage application process promote discrimination?

Paperwork is where laws interact with the public. It’s the physical manifestation of your rights based on your identity. You have the freedom to self-select your identity, just as long as it fits within government parameters. Identity documentation provides a false sense of choice. It’s like Henry Ford and the Model T, “You can have it in any color as long as it’s black.” When a marriage certificate application has one section for groom and one for bride, that’s discrimination. When the pdf autofills the sexes in those fields to male and female, that’s discrimination. Controlling the vocabulary of bureaucracy removes even the ability to protest. It makes an alternative to the normative physically impossible.

In a larger sense, what do you think is preventing a large majority of states — and many U.S. citizens — from supporting gay marriage?

States yet to enact marriage laws are held back by a few problems. Mostly it’s bigots in elected office who want to have more rights than people different from them. If they’ve got the gumption to make that kind of hate law, you’re not going to change their minds. You can persuade their constituents though, either to elect someone less bigoted or to sign a popular referendum. But most advocates for gay marriage don’t know how to talk to people who disagree with their moral opinions. Liberals try and convince conservatives to think differently by calling their way of thinking ignorant and hateful. When was the last time you convinced someone of anything by telling them how stupid and evil they were? That’s not how you win, not in a democracy. Laws follow public opinion and you need to know the tactics to shift it.

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