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Posts Tagged ‘Chai Feldblum’

The Catholic Church in D.C. Outdoes Itself

November 12th, 2009 No comments

Just this morning, I was at thinking that it might be time to write a few words in praise of the Catholic Church. Of course, it’s hard for me to do that given (1) my own history as a conscriptee (until old enough to opt out); (2) the Church’s stand on same-sex unions; and (3) Pope Benedict XVI, whose public-health-defying pronouncements on the use of condoms are only the most visible evidence of his complete detachment from reality.

Yet the Church favors expanding health care to the poor, and has long offered a range of social services to underserved populations. I recall hearing Chai Feldblum, a rather insistent LGT rights advocate (who’s lately been tapped for a position on the EEOC), giving the Church props for its work with D.C.’s poor. (This is the thanks she gets for working with the Church on these issues.)

Yet it’s precisely those poor who the Church has just announced it’s willing to put at risk, and for the most offensive reason I can imagine. According to this story, if D.C. enacts¬† marriage equality legislation, the Church will pull its social services out of the District, thereby leaving 68,000 of the city’s poorest residents high and dry. (At least until another agency steps in; as Emma Ruby-Sachs reminds us, most of the money doesn’t come from the Church itself.)

Why would they do this, especially if the finished legislation retains the substantial “religious liberty” exemption that’s expected to be included in the next draft? Under that exemption, the Church could cheerfully discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to do anything to facilitate or recognize their unions — such as renting space that they otherwise rent to any and all comers.

So what’s the problem? The Church is “afraid” it would have to extend health benefits to the legal, same-sex spouses of gays and lesbians under the law.

Where to start? It seems that the Church should welcome the chance to provide health benefits to anyone. Does it really want to take the position that someone should go without coverage rather than provide it? Is the Church’s commitment to ideological purity so strong that it swamps all other concerns?

It needn’t come to this. Why doesn’t the Church simply change its policy to allow any employee to designate one additional person to receive health benefits? (This would be fairer to all employees, btw.) The person could be anyone in need of health benefits: an elderly sibling, a poor friend, or…a same-sex partner. By recasting the eligibility criteria, the Church could both expand the pool of those covered and avoid doing something that its steely principles don’t otherwise allow.

I hope that someone reads this and considers such a move, but I suspect they won’t consider such a change. The Church has found a cudgel to use against marriage equality, and it won’t be inclined to think of something that could avoid the issue. Lawmakers should not be intimidated by the Church, though. Pass the bill, and then let the Church explain to the tens of thousands of homeless and other needy residents why it couldn’t find some way around its dogma, and why caring for them is less important than refusing to provide health benefits to same-sex partners.

You think the Church has a P.R. problem now?

On and On and On….

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a story you likely know, at least in broad outline:

During his campaign, Obama promises progress on gay rights. Once in office, his rhetoric cools and — to be charitable — he doesn’t seem to be moving very fast. Then he makes things much worse with a dreadful brief his Justice Department files in defending the Defense of Marriage Act. Critics (including this one) erupt.

Chastened, Obama signs a memorandum extending a few lousy benefits to partners of federal employees. Then the lifting of the ban on HIV-positive travelers moves closer to reality. Hate crimes law should be a reality any day now, but other promises, like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” and (especially) the Defense of Marriage Act remain just…promises.

Then, this past Saturday night, Obama headlines the gay dinner-to-end-all-dinners — the HRC soiree in DC — where he “opens” for the ubiquitous Lady Gaga.1 His speech makes more concrete (but with no timeline) his goal of repealing DADT and of passing ENDA (the federal non-discrimination law).

Some bloggers continue continue to howl. “When”? “Give us concrete times and dates!” In this vein, Andrew Sullivan titles his post on the speech “Much Worse Than I Expected.”2 ¬† Others read it differently. Nan Hunter, for example, thinks that the focus on DADT has occluded Obama’s subtle but important move towards the language of moral equality. (Her post is really worth your time; so is her blog, in general.) Sullivan would say (and has, in almost these words): “We know the man can give a great speech. Now he needs to shut up and do something.”

There’s the story. Now the question: Where to stand?

I’m trying to find some way of accommodating these two truths: First, Obama is an advocate (except on marriage). Second, so far and perhaps for good, he isn’t willing to expend much political capital on LGBT rights; so he moves slowly or (perhaps in the case of DOMA), not at all. This is advocacy in name (and soaring rhetoric) only.

Here are a few suggestions to help maintain your sanity. So far, they are working for me:

  1. Focus on the states, where marriage equality will continue to play out. Right now, Maine is hugely important. If Question 1, asking the voters to repeal the recently enacted marriage equality law, is voted down, then the right can’t argue about courts — or, weirdly, even legislatures — subverting the will of the people. Of course, some leadership from Obama wouldn’t hurt in this regard, either. (So far, silence).
  2. Be practical — not ridiculous, as in waiting for 2017 to render judgment, but realistic. If we get hate crimes and ENDA this year, as well as the regulatory repeal of the HIV travel ban, and the end of DADT next year, I’d swallow my disappointment over DOMA (not for long) and congratulate Obama on some actual accomplishments. (As I wrote here in summarizing the remarks of Chai Feldblum and others, getting legislation through Congress is tough because of the difficulty of getting their time and attention.)
  3. Continue agitating, and criticizing the Administration. Consider supporting organizations other than the HRC, at least until they can show something, anything, for their decades of black-tie fund-raising efforts.

Maybe this is too timid, maybe I’m too critical, maybe…I should go to bed.

  1. Who sang a freshly kitted-out version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that stands with the Elton John/Bernie Taupin retread of “Candle in the Wind” (to fit Princess Diana’s memorial) in the “lazy songcraft” pantheon. I’m sure the guests would rather have heard “Pokerface.”
  2. Some context is useful here. Earlier, Sullivan had leveled HRC Pres Joe Solomonese for a letter he’d sent out supporting Obama, and suggesting that we wait until 2017(!) to evaluate his Presidency. Although some of the post is needlessly incendiary (esp. the title), Sullivan was right in the essentials, and it’s hard not to read Obama’s speech in light of the HRC’s bland acceptance of almost anything he says or promises to do.