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Uteri

April 1st, 2011 1 comment

I’ve read it, and I still don’t believe it:

During last week’s discussion about a bill that would prohibit governments from deducting union dues from a worker’s paycheck, state Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, used his time during floor debate to argue that Republicans are against regulations — except when it comes to the little guys, or serves their specific interests.

At one point Randolph suggested that his wife “incorporate her uterus” to stop Republicans from pushing measures that would restrict abortions. Republicans, after all, wouldn’t want to further regulate a Florida business.

Apparently the GOP leadership of the House didn’t like the one-liner.

They told Democrats that Randolph is not to discuss body parts on the House floor.

[H]ouse GOP spokeswoman Katie Betta: “The Speaker has been clear about his expectations for conduct on the House for during debate. At one point during the debate, he mentioned to the entire House that members of both parties needed to be mindful of decorum during debate.

“Additionally, the Speaker believes it is important for all Members to be mindful of and respectful to visitors and guests, particularly the young pages and messengers who are seated in the chamber during debates. In the past, if the debate is going to contain language that would be considered inappropriate for children and other guests, the Speaker will make an announcement in advance, asking children and others who may be uncomfortable with the subject matter to leave the floor and gallery.”

Here’s one body part the Florida Republican leadership would do well not to mention, lest people be reminded that the GOP has lost theirs: the brain.

This reminded me of the story, a few years ago, where a local theater company had been pressured to change the marquee of its feature to “The Hoohaa Monologues.” This really happened, and it pains me to report that the Sunshine State was once again the anti-sunshine culprit. Here’s an excerpt from back in 2007:

The Hoohah Monologues is a replacement title for The Vagina Monologues — a well-known play about that part of the female body.

“We decided we would just use child slang for it. That’s how we decided on Hoohah Monologues,” Pfanenstiel said.

They did this after a driver who saw it complained to the theater, saying she was upset that her niece saw it.

“I’m on the phone and asked ‘What did you tell her?’ She’s like, ‘I’m offended I had to answer the question,'” Pfanenstiel said.

Well, if legislators’ constituents really are “offended” that they have to tell kids that their body parts have names, perhaps politicians are just responding to that.

But it’s crazy. The idea that kids shouldn’t be taught the names of body parts — even the scary ones — has been discredited by every responsible expert in childhood development. Not only will this knowledge help with having natural conversations about their bodies and their emerging sexuality, but it has the added benefit of being a tool in the campaign against child abuse.

I guess putting their collective heads in the sand is easier, if only in the short run.

The Gloves Are Off!

December 20th, 2010 No comments

As right-wing, anti-gay crazies continue to get buried alive in the culture war, their positions increasingly discredited (and sometimes laughable-if-they-weren’t-scary), expect the rhetoric to turn increasingly nasty. They’re caught in a downward spiral, where each advance for LGBT rights and (in the bargain) dignity occasions more desperately out-of-touch fulminations, which, in turn, will continue to marginalize them and lead to further advances. Here are a couple of representative reactions:

Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council:

Or this, from Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, bearing the hysterical title: “Benedict Arnold Republicans Destroy Military and Our National Security” (not “compromise,” or “weaken” — destroy! Our military, as of now, is no more).

The Saturday morning cloture vote on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the critical vote. It needed 60 votes and got 63, because of Republican renegades Scott Brown, Mark Kirk, George Voinovich, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. If these traitors to national defense had voted in line with the Republican Party platform, the cloture motion would have received just 57 votes and would have failed.

The final vote on the bill itself, requiring just 51 votes, was a mere formality after the cloture vote.

“Esprit and cohesion are necessary for military effectiveness and success on the battlefield.  To protect our servicemen and women and ensure that America’s Armed Forces remain the best in the world, we affirm the timelessness of those values, the benefits of traditional military culture, For those who say the Republican Party does not need a litmus test for its candidates, you just lost the argument and frittered away the strength of the U.S. military at the same time.

The armies of other nations have allowed gays to serve openly in the military. The reason they could afford to do this is simple: they could allow homosexuals to serve in their military because we didn’t allow them to serve in ours.

They knew they could count on the strength, might, power, and cohesion of the U.S. military to intervene whenever and wherever necessary to pull their fannies out of the fire and squash the forces of tyranny wherever they raised their ugly heads around the world.

Those days are now gone. We will no longer be able to bail out these other emasculated armies because ours will now be feminized and neutered beyond repair, and there is no one left to bail us out. We have been permanently weakened as a military and as a nation by these misguided and treasonous Republican senators, and the world is now a more dangerous place for us all.

It’s past time for a litmus test for Republican candidates. This debacle shows what happens when party leaders are careless about the allegiance of candidates to the fundamental conservative principles expressed in the party’s own platform.

Character-driven officers and chaplains will eventually be forced out of the military en masse, potential recruits will stay away in droves, and re-enlistments will eventually drop like a rock. The draft will return with a vengeance and out of necessity. What young man wants to voluntarily join an outfit that will force him to shower naked with males who have a sexual interest in him and just might molest him while he sleeps in his bunk?

I don’t even need to analyze this one.

Many more, along the same lines, are collected here for your reading…pleasure? horror? disbelief?

It’s going to keep getting uglier, but that’s because it keeps getting better.

Wax-y Build-up

November 14th, 2010 3 comments

I spent most of Friday at St. John’s Law School in scenic Jamaica — the one in Queens, New York — participating in yet another symposium on marriage equality. The students and administrative staff did a great job in putting the event together, and the dean and faculty were welcoming and thoughtful speakers and moderators.

Unlike many similar events, though, this one featured quite a number of speakers from the right — far right — side of the spectrum. That the event was called Legal, Secular, and Religious Perspectives on Marriage Equality/Marriage Protection/Same-Sex Marriage was in itself telling. Let’s make sure every perspective is represented even if doing so requires a tongue-tying title. (Even that wasn’t enough for the angry Jane Adolphe of Ave Maria Law School though, who opined that same-sex marriage should be placed in ironic quotes since it “can’t exist.”)

Balance is good. But I always find odd and more than a little off-putting that most of the anger in these debates comes from the right — you know, the side without the immediate personal stake. As fellow panelist Courtney Joslin told me during a break, it had “been a long time” since she’d been around so many people who thought that she was worth less than they were. And they’re not shy about that sentiment.

In the first of what will likely be a series of posts on the conference, I’d like to focus on the very offensive scattershot of arguments spewed forth by Penn law professor Amy Wax. She’s better known for her insidiously racist book Race, Wrongs and Remedies,1  in which she cheerily relieves government of the obligation to do much of anything about the effects of the centuries-long political and social subordination of African-Americans. She also suggests that efforts to improve their lot  might have limited effect even with the sort of good ol’ self-help she prescribes, because (citing IQ tests) “blacks have lower cognitive ability than whites or Asians.” Continuing in this essentializing mode, she then writes that “[a]t this point it is not known whether different groups are equally endowed with all the abilities that make for success in modern technological societies.”

Biology is (mostly) all that matters and there’s no use trying to do much about it. This is the underpinning of Wax’s simplistic world view, and it suffused her presentation on Friday in which she savaged the marriage equality movement. In a bizarre and undertheorized version of the natural law argument, she seemed to ground her opposition in an idiosyncratic version of the procreation argument: Gay or lesbian couples can’t procreate without outside assistance (I wonder what her response would be to a change in that fact), and since biology matters, well, QED.

That view was centrally on display in Wax’s neo-eugenic view of families, which exist in a “hierarchy,” with opposite-sex couples with their own bio children ensconced permanently at the top of the pyramid. Yes, she said, she’d be “somewhat disappointed” if one of her three kids turned out to be gay because that would mean they wouldn’t be able to produce their own biological children.

When I suggested, during Q&A, that it might turn out that having a gay offspring who adopted a child might turn out to be a gift rather than a “disappointment,” Wax began her response by acknowledging the heroism of adoptive parents, but then added the non-responsive and obvious point that an adoption also involved a loss at the other end of the adoptive pipeline — the birth parents. Well, duh. That doesn’t explain why her kid’s hypothetical act of heroism wouldn’t take him or her out of the disappointment category. Based on her worldview, I’d suggest that the intractable problem is that the adoptive kid — who might, after all, not have the same cognitive ability as a mini-Wax — wasn’t as good as a bio offspring would have been. (Adoption, she said, was “second best.”) “I stand by what I said,” she offered, without further elaboration.

Wax also decried the constitutionalization of the marriage issue, stated that sexual orientation classifications were no different from discriminations based on looks or intelligence, and accused the other side of being interested only in rights and not in the normative meaning of marriage. Oh, and she also said that “gays hate the polygamy analogy,” a comparison she finds persuasive.

I have neither time nor stomach for addressing these latter points here, but may do so in a subsequent post.

For now, let me end with this: Like Maggie Gallagher, Wax ends up doing marriage equality a favor. Sitting next to me during the jaw-dropping presentation was an attorney who told me that, because of her Catholicism, she was “struggling” with the idea that same-sex couples might be allowed to marry. (She was unequivocally in favor of civil unions.) She was there to listen and to learn. But as she listened to Wax’s uncharitable presentation, she became increasingly agitated. The part about adopted kids really offended her.

Yesterday, this thoughtful and undecided woman — and, I’d guess, many others in the audience — moved a step closer toward the pro-equality camp. The bigotry she was hearing had made her realize the need to protect and strengthen GLBT families — families that exhibit the very humanity that Wax denigrates.

  1. This is the correct title. I had originally misnamed the book “Rights, Wrongs, and Remedies”. Professor Wax called the error to my attention and was very gracious in doing so.

NOM’s “Summer for Marriage Tour”‘s First Stop: Write Your Own Caption

July 16th, 2010 4 comments

Mine follows the photo:

Unexpectedly high attendance at kick-off rally forces NOM to order second pizza

Sunday Out at the Piazza — Equality Forum Concludes

May 4th, 2010 No comments

At about 1 pm this past Sunday, I set out with my pre-school twins for the newly chic Northern Liberties section of the city, where Equality Forum‘s Sunday Out event had moved. I was especially looking forward to the interfaith blessing of a slew of same-sex commitment ceremonies. Our neighborhood is very progressive and we have many friends but everyone else is either (1) straight or (2) if gay, childless. (Just a couple of weeks ago, a gay couple on the next block adopted a kid. Hooray!) So I thought that watching all of those commitments would provide a cultural corrective to the onslaught of straight messaging and iconography that is so, er, wedded to marriage that I sometimes worry that my kids have trouble understanding anything else — in spite of the evidence right in front of them.

Before I get to that event, though, I want to talk about the misnamed “Family Fun Zone.” It was for LGBT families, all right, but it wasn’t much fun and was hardly a “zone,” unless that term can be accurately applied to a rectangle of scorching blacktop at some distance from the epicenter of the Piazza. When we got there, only a handful of other kids were on hand, and the events were few. Hoping for something jumpy or watery, we settled for face painting — which was actually quite good. Alexa, heavily into a dinosaur phase, opted for T-Rex, whose teeth were cleverly painted around her mouth for a terrifying effect when she spoke. Courtnee opted for a full arm’s worth of rainbow butterflies.

After that, Alexa looked around and said, “There isn’t much to do.” There was no arguing with that (a much better effort needs to be made for next year), so we stopped for some ice cream and then headed back to the Piazza for the interfaith blessing.

We entered from the side furthest from the stage, and at first I wasn’t optimistic about the event. The Piazza was barely half full, and it was hard to see where the undifferentiated crowd gave way to the couples. So we wandered closer. And then I was delighted to be in attendance. The celebrants complemented each other perfectly: Tim Safford, who’d appeared at the History panel earlier in the week, was bright and affirming; Joseph Tolton, of the Rehoboth Temple, was emotional: happy, yet visibly angry at the continued injustice (here‘s a nice thumbnail of his ministry and activism); and Rabbi Linda Holtzman closed the proceedings with a heart-felt Hebrew chant and the ceremonial breaking of the glass. When has that act, meant to reflect the challenges facing the newly married couple, held such rich symbolism? Holtzman offered a communal narration of the ritual, reminding the couples that their joy would be found even in the face of the challenges that not only their relationship but the broader society would throw in front of them.

The kids were quiet and attentive. The only comment I recall during the ceremony was Alexa’s statement that she wanted to stay. Remarkable, given that it was easily 90 degrees on the paved piazza, and that we’d by that point been walking around for about an hour and a half. More than once, they asked me whether “all of these people” were two men and two women. Yes, look around. Two men in matching tuxes. A lesbian couple, with one in a dress and one in a beautiful pants and flowing blouse. An African-American couple, with one man in a wheelchair pushed by his spouse. Some very unconventional couples; others conventional in all but their sexual orientation.

How liberating! Not just for us, but for everyone who just wants to be able to define their marriage in their own wonderfully idiosyncratic way. By now, the crowd had doubled and a huge cheer went up at the end of the ceremony.

Why, oh why, is this so hard for people to understand or, failing that, to at least allow? In an image that flashed briefly in a video following the ceremony, I read this familiar but forgotten sign:

Some people are gay. Get over it.

Is it really more complicated than that? Does anyone still believe that our most virulent opponents are free of their own pyscho-social issues; problems that animate their vitriol? Just today, another story emerged of a sad man, George Alan Rekers — co-founder of the dangerously homophobic Family Research Council — who was spotted with a male escort disembarking from an airplane after a long vacation together. No one’s even surprised by these stories any more. (This guy was really nasty to the community. Read the whole stories for the infuriating details.)

Sorry…where was I?

After that, we wondered around a bit more, found a horse stable (fillies in Philly?) to spend some time, ran into a few folks, and left. While the Family Fun Zone needs some improvement to live up to its aspirational name, the kids learned plenty about family on Sunday.

———-

My piece on the Saturday conversation with Dan Choi will appear sometime during the next few days on 365gay.com. When it does, I’ll link from here. Then I’ll offer a wrap-up piece on the week-long event.

That Didn’t Take Long!

April 16th, 2010 No comments

Earlier today, I wrote that the right-wing fringe hadn’t expressed opposition to Obama’s humane Memorandum directing HHS to create rules requiring hospitals to respect the decisional autonomy of their patients, by letting them choose their own visitors — even though one major effect of any such rule would be to respect same-sex couples.

Now, blundering in from the periphery comes Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, who denounces the rule for a confusing mash of reasons, apparently including general opposition to Obama doing anything relating to health care (a good chance to oppose HCR, in another context), and some idea that the move contributes to a redefinition of marriage. But then there’s this exchange, towards the end of an on-line exchange where Sprigg was buffeted about by a score of e-mail conversants. Watch him just give up the ghost:

Mr. Sprigg — I can hardly see how someone could deny a hospitalized person the compassionate and therapeutic benefits of a visitation by their partner.

In opposing this measure, aren’t you putting your dogma before your humanity? Are you seeking to publicize your agenda? You really need to examine the question: what would Jesus do?

Peter Sprigg: Let me re-emphasize that I do NOT oppose allowing people to visit their homosexual partners in the hospital. I just think that provisions to allow that should be based on the general principal of patient self-determination, and not based on a redefintion of “family” or “marriage.”

The President’s memorandum actually does appeal to that principle, and is not focused only on same-sex couples.

So why not just leave it alone? Because the Family Research Council — which, to reanimate the Coffee Talk Lady, is “neither pro-family, nor based on sound research, nor a council” — can’t resist piping up whenever the common humanity of gay and lesbian people is respected, however meagerly. Let’s not forget that these fringies do us a favor with their tone-deaf absolutism.


Who’s Left to Love?

February 15th, 2010 No comments

This depressing article in today Philadelphia Inquirer relates a familiar tale: The poor are being vilified for taking government money, blamed for having made bad choices, called “breeders” for having kids they can’t support (with an icky overlay of moral disapproval for having many of these children out of wedlock). As the story points out, much of the anger is diffused and untroubled by facts: welfare rolls have been slashed mercilessly since the so-called Welfare Reform Act of 1996; the payments are so meager that no one would seek this as a viable means of support (and it lasts five years, max, anyway); most of those receiving assistance are children.

The anger is sometimes startling, as when South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer recently compared the poor to “stray animals who breed,” or when pandering, no-nothing politicians make symbolic shows of making life even more humiliating for people who can’t get by:

Pennsylvania State Rep. Garth Everett (R., Lycoming) has tried for a year to pass a law that would have [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] recipients drug-tested and fingerprinted, a practice in some states. “People’s wallets are tighter these days, and they don’t want funds going to folks with drug problems,” he said.

Asked to back up his claims, Everett said, “I don’t have evidence that people are using it [TANF money] to buy drugs. I do get feedback from a significant part of my constituency that they have the feeling that folks on welfare are using drugs.” He added that his proposed bill “is not going anywhere” because Democrats oppose it.

His constituents “have the feeling” that folks are using money — some of the very generous $403, per month, for a mother and two kids — to buy drugs. That’s enough for Everett, who can make a political show of his solidarity with the angriest elements of his constituency without having to deal with the consequences. Among them is the likelihood that the money spent on drug testing and fingerprinting would far outweigh any cost savings from denying benefits to those using drugs, and thereby end up costing the state more money. As a bonus, it would feed into the discredited view that  drug addiction is a matter of choice and not a medical, public health issue that requires complex intervention.

Given that the poor take such a tiny percentage of the state’s money, the anger isn’t really about the money. It’s more the product of a deep and justifiable frustration by the broad swath of the increasingly left-behind middle class that they’ve done everything right, but can’t get ahead. Like a tire skidding endlessly on ice during our tundra-like winter here in the Mid-Atlantic, they work harder and harder and fall further and further behind. So to them, anyone who gets anything for “nothing” is bound to be the target of some vitriol. But would they change places with those they condemn?

No, they’d rather change places with the Wall Street bankers and financiers whose complex machinations were a significant contributing factor in the national and global meltdown that continues apace. But they know that’s not possible, and they’re too beaten down — and realistic — to think that people as well-connected as these modern-day robber barons (there! I said it! let the angry responses begin) will be brought to heel, or even asked to cut back by one yacht. Government is detested, but there, too, the problem seems too big and complex for them to have any effect.

This culture of fury and jealousy, whatever its understandable origin, isn’t healthy. I might want to blame right-wing talk show hosts like the morbidly obese Rush Limbaugh who, without apparent irony, recently wailed about how food stamp recipients are spending their money on unhealthy choices (including the outright lie that some of it is going to booze; it can’t), but the most accurate thing to say is that they’re only amplifying resentment and confusion that’s already out there. (If you want to make a symbolic stand against the worst (and most effective) offender, join this Facebook group).

As Sarah Palin understands (and she doesn’t understand much), there’s a fortune to be made in tapping into this anger. Obama, meanwhile, has the more difficult responsibility of connecting with our deeper but often less accessible sense of community and collective responsibility. He’s not always done this effectively, unfortunately, but this is the area in which we really need that “hope-y, change-y” thing. Otherwise, I fear that “the centre cannot  hold.” While I’m on Yeats, here’s a tired but apt close:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Attacking the Hungry

November 30th, 2009 1 comment

Recent news that almost 50 million Americans — including about 17 million children — experienced “food insecurity” during 2008 spawned some coverage about how the recession was affecting the poor, and about how food banks were being overwhelmed.

Many have turned to governmental assistance. According to this in-depth report in yesterday’s NY Times, enrollment in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) has also surged during this recession. The story does carry an unpleasant scent of trying to present a more sympathetic (read: whiter) picture of the “average” recipient of benefits, but its central points are unexceptionable. Taken with the earlier stories on food insecurity, the overall situation is clear: We have a deep and growing poverty problem, one that’s now compromising the nutritional  health of tens of millions of our fellow citizens.

These two in-depth stories told on Radio Times (a Philly-based NPR show) present vivid illustrations of the challenges many parents face under these circumstances, even when they qualify for SNAP.1 The word Supplemental is key here: Average benefits per person, per month, come to  about $130 — far short of what’s needed to buy enough food. So parents forego meals in order for their kids to eat. And occasionally the kids themselves go to bed hungry.

None of this appears to have made any impression on Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. His comments must have been made while he was twirling his mustache and cackling. Here’s an excerpt from the Times article:

“Some people like to camouflage this by calling it a nutrition program, but it’s really not different from cash welfare,” said…  Rector…, whose views have a following among conservatives on Capitol Hill. “Food stamps is quasi money.”

Arguing that aid discourages work and marriage, Mr. Rector said food stamps should contain work requirements as strict as those placed on cash assistance. “The food stamp program is a fossil that repeats all the errors of the war on poverty,” he said.

It’s sometimes too easy to cup our hands over our mouths in horror; often comments like this contain some truth that should be confronted. But these remarks, at this time, really are appalling. First, this program is very different from cash welfare. The benefits are electronically transferred, and can only be used for purchases of certain qualified food items, at listed retailers. This isn’t a blank “welfare” check that can be used as the beneficiary sees fit, with no accountability.

Second, work requirements? With about one in six — 1 in 6! — workers either officially unemployed,underemployed, or too chronically out of work to “count,” where does Rector think these jobs are coming from? Maybe the Heritage Foundation can help by taking on a few more people. They shouldn’t have to pay much for work of this caliber.

And on marriage: Once again, marriage promotion is being touted as an answer for a complex problem. Why tie the benefits to marriage in the first place?  This program should be based on need, and marital status (vel non) is a poor proxy for need.

According to the government’s FAQ site on SNAP, about half of all recipients were children during the most recent fiscal year for which data were available. Does Rector really have no one else to go after?

  1. From link, search for archive date: 11/23/09.
Categories: right wing, Social Justice Tags:

Boiled in Oil

November 29th, 2009 No comments

A few years ago, Martina Navratilova was asked about how her openness about being a lesbian had affected her tennis career. In characteristically honest and amusing fashion, she had this assessment (and here I paraphrase): Well, it wasn’t great. It cost me some fans, I took some heat for it, and I lost almost all of my endorsements. But it could have been worse. In the Middle Ages, I would have been boiled in oil.

A great line from a terrific and warm champion. (I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago at yet another event where she was being honored, and she was both humble and funny in accepting.) But, with all respect: Worse things are happening to gays today.

Jamaica’s horrendous treatment of gays — by both officials and the public — has been well-documented, and is (again) sometimes justified by religion. In addition to the legion of under-noticed stories on the brutal murders and beatings of gay men goings on there, there is this “gem” from Wayne Besen at Huff Post, which chillingly attests to the extent of the homophobia:

[T]he Jamaica Cancer Society has raised concerns that the fear of being labeled gay is causing some Jamaican men to avoid prostate examinations, causing one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.

This also means that doctors are complicit in some way, which is worse – but not surprising. Both straight and gay men who undergo a prostate exam in the U.S. often hear snarky comments about the exam from their docs, an artifact of the fear of gay sex.

In Iraq, an unintended consequence of our “liberation” the people has been the coordinated — and militia-supported — murder of many gay men. Things were better for gays under Saddam Hussein. Again, the fear of gay sex is the driver: The linked story relates stories of gay men having their anuses glued shut, and then force-fed laxatives; a painful death ensues.

These heartbreaking stories find expression in the U.S. as well, where a collision of religious belief and homophobia lead to actions that are equally repugnant, yet little noticed.

The creepy, secretive  cabal known as “The Family” is supporting the Ugandan government’s push to make homosexuality punishable by death. This story is a good primer on this corrupt, politically powerful, organization, which uses religious belief chiefly to gain tax advantages and to support the opulent lifestyles of its members. Jeff Sharlot’s exhaustive account of the group, The Family, would be expected to drive these nuts out of business — but this is a nation where torture is redefined and no one who authorized blatantly illegal practices gets prosecuted for it, so I’m not optimistic.

You’ll notice that the stories, and the actions of these anti-gay groups, focus on gay men, not lesbians. While there’s plenty of anti-lesbian sentiment to go around (and well-documented economic costs to being lesbian), sex between males remains particularly transgressive. A few years ago, a colleague introduced me to a list serve for Constitutional Law professors (after about two days of endless, theoretical postings, I got out of there), and I was astonished to see a comment from one anti-gay law professor joking that he, himself, didn’t understand male sex (the comment was much worse than that; I’m sanitizing for your protection).  And this is a supposedly respectable law professor.

Of course, Obama would never make such a comment. But he would — and has — ignored the 720 murders of gays in Iraq, despite clear and persuasive reporting on the topic. As far as I can tell, he’s said nothing about Jamaica, either (and has not responded to this suggestion, either).

I’m not naive enough to think that the Administration can get involved in every controversy, or that it should put issues of concern to the gay community ahead of other diplomatic goals. But we’re not talking about small stuff here. People are being killed, with something at least close to official approval, and…silence. With no other group would this be considered business as usual.

There’s something else. It’s hard to say much about what’s going on in other countries when your own domestic record is less than exemplary. Here’s where all of this ties back to marriage equality, if only in theoretical political terms. By not committing himself to that goal, Obama is stating, in effect, that he doesn’t favor full citizenship for gay and lesbians. So even though Obama is leagues away from dangerous right-wing nuts like the members of “The Family,” his credibility on gay issues is compromised. Perhaps that explains his otherwise puzzling silence.

Marriage Equality — Socialist?

September 24th, 2009 No comments

Really, you can’t make some of this stuff up. Here‘s a story about Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King’s view that  marriage equality is a…step towards socialism. Here’s the money quote (you can link to the full interview on this site, too):

If there’s a push for a socialist society where the foundations of individual rights and liberties are undermined and everybody is thrown together living collectively off one pot of resources earned by everyone, this is one of the goals they have to go to, same sex marriage, because it has to plow through marriage in order to get to their goal. They want public affirmation, they want access to public funds and resources….It is a purely socialist concept in the final analysis.

Whose “individual rights and liberties” are being “undermined,” and how? King’s arguing that granting same-sex couples the right to marry, by granting them the benefits accorded to marriage in the bargain, would lead to socialism? Then why isn’t the current institution of marriage also socialist, given that it’s heavily subsidized by the  government? Married couples receive, at overall taxpayer expense, benefits that other couples, in less formal relationships, do not. To the extent the subsidy is socialist, in other words, that’s true for existing marriages no less than for same-sex marriages.

While we’re on the subject, why do we bestow government largesse on married couples, given the cost of doing so? One can question particular rights and benefits (is the right to file a joint tax return really necessary to support marriage, for example? might that money be better spent on other programs?), but marriage is supported and subsidized because of our belief — supported by sound, if contested, social science evidence — that being married has benefits not only to the couple but to the larger society. In a good marriage, the couple (and perhaps their kids) form a sort of mini-socialist state, where all members sacrifice for the collective good, thereby increasing overall health and wealth, and relieving the larger society of the burden of doing so.  Subsidizing this kind of “efficient empathy” is thought to be justified from a cost-benefit perspective. I addressed the issue in detail in this law review article.

Maybe we’ve not added the costs properly. Perhaps we should reduce the subsidy given marriage. Maybe it should be increased. But addressing those issues is independent of the question of same-sex marriages.

Yet, as Andrew Sullivan notes here, the word “socialist”  “has now become synonymous in Foxland with ‘anything that scares me.'” That’s how health care reform (scary) becomes socialist, while Medicare (comforting) isn’t. Again, Sullivan:

The mindset that lumps [marriage equality] in with some amorphous threat to everything good and American is not rational. It is gripped by paranoia, illogic and prejudice.

The jury’s still out on how well it’s working.