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Posts Tagged ‘credibility’

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.

The Limits of Religious Liberty

August 26th, 2009 No comments

It’s vital for a trial judge, and for a jury, to be able to assess the credibility of witnesses. As we all know, credibility is a complex determination that relies on all kinds of conscious and unconscious verbal, physical, and facial cues. But what happens when religion interferes with one of those cues?

In this story, a Muslim claimant was effectively driven out of small claims court when she refused, for religious reasons, to comply with the judge’s order that she remove her face-covering niqab. The woman had proposed putting on the case before a female judge (where she’d be able to remove the headdress, consistent with her religious tenets), but had been told that none was available.

The woman’s suit against the judge is wending its way through the courts; meanwhile, the Michigan Supreme Court yesterday issued an order that, beginning next month, will protect judges in such cases. It will permit them to control the appearance of witnesses to “ensure that the demeanor of such persons may be observed and assessed by the fact-finder.” The ACLU proposed adding a clause that would have exempted those with sincere religious beliefs from the effects of the rule, but of course that would leave unsolved the problem that prompted the rule in the first place.

The ACLU’s position ignores that there are (at least) two litigants, both of whom have rights. If the garment covering all but the eyes can disguise cues of dishonesty, then fairness to the other side calls for sacrificing the religious freedom to the demands of public litigation. Some will see in my position a distrust of those who choose to wear camouflaging clothing, but I think the point stands from an adversarial perspective.

These situations can often be handled in a better way, though. It would make sense to accommodate the religious belief where possible; as women in almost-total covering become more common, fair accommodation and practicality require developing ways of anticipating and addressing these situations. Thus, in a court that has at least one female judge, hearings with women who can’t remove their  niqabs in front of men could be reassigned. Such accommodations have their limits (this wouldn’t work for jury trials, for example), but should be sought wherever possible. While there will be situations where the conflict can’t be managed, it should be where it can be.