Saturday, May 31, 2008

What's Keeping Me Awake Nights

Given the history of political tactics used by the right, the Rove-inspired attacks that lack reason or rationality, yet appeal to the less thoughtful (but still electorally-empowered) among us, I've been having some fitful nights concerned over how social conservatives will attack marriage equality. As I stated in an earlier post, the main arguments currently appear to be morality, tradition and the welfare of children. These are either not germane (Biblical morality has nothing to do with civil marriage) or are easily refuted (tradition changes all the time and extending civil equality to same-sex couples won't prevent opposite-sex couples from forming stable families).

For me, the major challenge lies in countering the coming attacks that will contend that the approval of same-sex marriage will result in proscriptions on religious freedom. The right wants the electorate to believe that gay couples will want to force churches to marry them.

Here's their logic: because homosexuality has been classified as a "suspect class" (at least under California law), similar to race, religion or national origin, the GLBT community can now expect similar protection against discrimination. A public accommodation, like a bus line or a lunch counter can't prohibit African-Americans or Jews or Pakistanis from using a public accommodation simply because they are black, Jewish or Pakistani. Now the same is true of homosexuality.

Here's how it's playing out. In New Jersey, a Methodist organization is suing the state because it feels pressured to hold same-sex commitment ceremonies in an open-air building that is used both as a church and other purposes, including weddings. The church owns the property, but receives tax benefits because of its non-profit status.

In Philadelphia and in Berkeley, the Boy Scouts have been forced to pay market rents for spaces they use, rather than the subsidized $1/year rents they had previously been charged. Why? Because the Boy Scouts don't allow gay folks as members and both those cities (rightly, the courts ruled) don't want to subsidize discrimination.

In these instances, however, the case seems clear: you can't have it both ways. If you want the tax benefits, you have to accept the laws of the community charging the tax. If you want to be a private organization and discriminate with impunity, fine. Just don't expect the rest of us to underwrite bigotry.

However clear that seems to me, it may be less so to Christianists.

The most challenging case, however, is one out of New Mexico. A lesbian couple planning a commitment ceremony tried to hire a photographer -- that refused to take pictures of the ceremony, citing religious grounds. The couple sued under the state's anti-discrimination law and the photographer was fined $6000.

To be honest, that one seemed a bit extreme to me. What happened to "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone"? Then I thought, what if the photographer was Muslim and refused to photograph a Jewish wedding? Would we feel the same?

So, the Christianists are coming. And they are going to be shouting that the queers are trying to strip them of their religious rights. (Never mind that the Catholics have been denying divorced people the right to marry in their churches for decades without incident or lawsuit.)

Just read. And this. Money quote: "Wilson said that California's faith-based organizations will likely be barred from sexual-orientation discrimination in the use of facilities that are offered to the public, and may increasingly find themselves the targets of discrimination-based civil-rights litigation."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

OK, let's have it...

As Bill O'Reilly says in this clip, if the same-sex marriage opponents want to win in November (assuming the proposed amendment to the Constitution makes it to the ballot), they are going to have to come up with a logical reason why same-sex marriage is bad for California. All his guest can come up with is, "because that's the way it's always been."

I don't think they can do it. The fundies have three basic arguments:

1) "It's immoral."
This is easily dispensed with. Whose idea of "moral" do we choose? Many religions think gambling is immoral, but the state runs a lottery and there are dozens of casinos, card rooms and race tracks in the state. Standing on morality means relying on religious belief as the basis of your argument, and given this is a secular issue, that won't stand with a majority of voters.

2) "Marriage has traditionally been one man, one woman."
This isn't any more valid than the first, but this may be the hardest nut to crack. The definition of marriage, contrary to what the right keeps repeating, has changed a great deal over the past two millennia. It was originally a matter of property, designed to link powerful families. In some cultures, during some point in their history (including modern-day Islam), "marriage" could mean one man, many women. It used to be that marriage truly meant "until death do you part." Modern divorce laws have changed that. More than once. For many years "marriage" did not include couples composed of people of different races.

The challenge is, no matter how much logical reasoning you deliver to some people, they will simply be unable to change their mind in terms of what they will tolerate. There will be a large segment of the population, primarily older, who will dig in their heels and say, "I like it the way things are."

3) "Children do better with a mother and father in the home and traditional marriage supports a stable environment for raising children."
First off, there is no fertility means test for marriage. Infertile couples, or those beyond childbearing age are not denied marriage licenses. Even fertile couples who choose not to have children are allowed to marry.

Second, whether you like it or not, non-traditional family arrangements can create children. Single women go to sperm banks, lesbian couples do the same or find male friends to donate the needed cells, and women get pregnant out of wedlock and choose not to marry the father, for whatever reasons. Denying committed same-sex couples the right to marry will not change that one whit.

There is no evidence that children in families headed by a same-sex couple do any worse, but even if it happens to be true, giving the children of same-sex couples a more stable environment (which marriage will certainly do) is obviously a good thing. You can't keep gay people from having children, but we can at least provide the option of a more stable relationship setting for them to grow up in.

The battle continues.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Poll Results

Here's a bit of good news. Let's hope it holds up. Of course, polls on subjects like this are notoriously inaccurate, as some people don't express their true opinion for fear of seeming bigoted.

Decider or Deceiver?

According to former White House press secretary Scott McLellan's new book, due out next week, Bush “convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment,” regularly engaging in self-deception.

And here I thought it was just us he was lying to.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Civics 101

And another thing -- all the people shouting about "activist judges" overturning the "will of the people" need to remember one thing: the courts are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. Glenn Greenwald of Salon said it especially well: "The duty -- the central obligation -- of judges faithfully applying the law and fulfilling their core duties is to strike down laws that violate the Constitution, without regard to what percentage of the population supports that law, and without regard to whether it would be "better" in some political sense if democratic majorities some day got around to changing their minds about it."

Read his entire column here.

Same-Sex Marriage=The Holocaust

I'm still not sure why the religious right is so mortified over the prospect of same-sex civil marriage. There is no evidence that same-sex couples having access to the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage does any damage to traditional marriage. Though I guess I should be careful about using that term -- whose traditions are we talking about? Restrictions on race, women as chattel and polygamy could certainly be defined as "traditional" in terms of marriage. For the life of me, I can't see how Bob and I having a marriage license would affect anyone else's relationship. I know, I know, they think by approving civil marriage we we will be putting society's stamp of approval on what many people think of as sin. I would remind those folks that some religions think the consumption of alcohol, or dancing or wearing immodest clothing is sinful, but we tolerate those behaviors in our pluralistic society.

But, for whatever reason, the same-sex marriage thing has really got under their skin. Witness this from an organization called "Save California." Click to see the whole page, but here's the money quote: "History is replete with examples of doing what was right despite unjust laws and tyrannical orders, (including) the post-WWII Nuremberg trials punishing military officers who followed orders and committed crimes against humanity." What's interesting is what this page said when it was originally posted: "Ask your county clerk if they were a Nazi officer during WWII and had been ordered to gas the Jews, would they? At the Nuremberg trials, they would have been convicted of murder for following this immoral order."

Apparently they think the wording was abhorrent, but not the overall concept. They're wrong.

Imagine the Effort

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.
As you watch this video (about seven minutes long), try to imagine the ferocious amount of work this must have taken. The animation itself is very cool, but it's the scale in which it is realized that amazes me. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Young@Heart" -- A Must See

This movie won't change the world -- but it will make you smile, bring a tear to your eye and give you a greater appreciation for both the strength and frailty of life in its last days.

"Young@Heart" is a documentary film that follows the Young@Heart chorus as they prepare to add new songs to their repertoire. The choristers are all senior citizens, ranging in age from 74 to 92. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir they are not, but the level of commitment (and soul) they bring to their efforts more than compensates for any lack of talent or the shakiness of tone that comes with age.

What's most interesting about the Young@Heart Chorus is the sort of songs they do. Their set list includes songs by Prince, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Sonic Youth, The Ramones and Coldplay. It may sound like an odd fit, but many of the songs take on new and wonderful depths of meaning when you hear them sung by people who know they have only a little time left. "Golden Years" and "Stayin' Alive" have a completely different sort of resonance when these folks sing them. Their performance of Dylan's "Forever Young" at a prison had tears rolling down my cheeks.

The most beautiful and moving aspect of the film is how, in the face of infirmity and death, these 18 or so septugenarians, octogenarians (and one nonegenarian)just keep pressing on, living in the moment, making music and bringing happiness and pleasure to those who hear them. It's likely the most inspiring film I've seen in years. Do yourself a favor and go. Tonight.

(NOTE: the video link above is of the chorus singing Coldplay's "Fix You." The featured singer is a man with congestive heart disease, a former member of the chorus who returned to the stage for one night only. The puffing sound you hear at the beginning is his oxygen delivery system.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Moving on

The last two days have been exciting, wonderful, joyous, as we celebrate the Court's historic decision. I'm kind of blown away that the justices (virtually all appointed by Republican governors) actually went as far as they did. So are the news media. But the ones who are, I think, truly blown away are the religious conservatives who are fighting to repeal this decision by amending the state's constitution to metaphorically etch this decision in stone.

To all those out there who believe homosexuality is sin, I agree. According to virtually all religious traditions, homosexual behavior is forbidden. However, we're talking about CIVIL marriage here. No one is going to be forcing any church to marry anyone they don't think is worthy.

But here is the other thing I want to say to church-going folks: don't you have better things to do with your Christianity? Aren't there poor to be helped, homeless people to be nurtured, abandoned children to be cared for? Aren't any one of those things -- and perhaps a thousand others -- more important than preventing two people of the same gender from committing themselves to caring for each for the rest of their lives. Just asking.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tempted? You bet!

This sounds like exactly the sort of thing I need. I wonder what it might do to creativity?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

BIg Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the California State Supreme Court will deliver its ruling on the constitutionality of Proposition 22, which bars the state from recognizing same-sex unions performed out of state. If they find that law incompatible with the state constitution's guarantees of equal civil rights, California could become the second state where it is legal for same-sex couples to marry.

As usual, the pro-"family" set is ready with their usual blather: "The government should promote and encourage strong families," said Glen Lavy of the Alliance Defense Fund. "The voters realize that defining marriage as one man and one woman is important because the government should not, by design, deny a child both a mother and father."

Let's take both of those issues, one at a time. First, the government should indeed promote and encourage strong families. That includes gay families. After all, when two people are willing to take on legal responsibility for the debts of their partner, that goes a long way toward encouraging stable families. Second, allowing the definition of marriage to include same-sex partners does not deny any child a mother and a father. Who said these gay couples are having children in the first place? Even if they do, the research done to date says children raised in same-sex households thrive just as well as those in more traditional families.

Let's hope the Court has seen through these specious arguments.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Up for a relaxing stroll?

Then don't head up this path. But since you are sitting safe somewhere, go ahead and watch this video.

Friday, May 09, 2008

I hope this is true...

...because this gives me hope that McCain will have a harder time beating Obama than some think. It's a brief, but excellent, analysis of a very important aspect of politics as practiced in the Internet age.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

New York, Spring 2008 -- Day Fourteen, "The 39 Steps"

"The 39 Steps" is a stage adaptation of the Hitchcock film of the same name. At first glance, this doesn't seem like the best choice for adaptation. "Rear Window" would be a more logical choice, or "Strangers on a Train," or even "Psycho." Each of those have relatively few locations and limited characters. "The 39 Steps," on the other hand, has over a hundred characters and takes place in London, Scotland, in (and on) a train, farms, homes, a police station...

Fortunately, none of that really matters, as long as you're playing for laughs. Which is exactly what this stage adaptation (imported from London) does -- magnificently. After what seemed like one wounded family after another at the beginning of the trip, it was delightful to close the trip with this madcap (no word better suits this production) evening in which four actors play 100+ roles. In truth, three actors play 100+ roles, because Charles Edwards plays just the one part, Richard Hannay, the ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

I'm trying to imagine someone not having a good time with this -- and having a hard go at it. It comes at you with such sincere, wacky brilliance, clowning with such imagination and intensity that I truly can't imagine anyone being able to resist it. It's two hours of physical comedy, pantomime (it's OK, it's the good kind) and absurdity that are focused on finding as many ways as possible to make you laugh.

Part of the fun of "The 39 Steps" is watching how one low-budget theatrical technique after another comes into play. It's a wonderful example of the power of theatrical imagination, as the producers find ways of telling a complex story using simple tools.

A bigger part of the fun is watching the amazing cast perform this incredibly physical comedy. The way they portray passengers chatting in a train compartment (all four of them rocking in loose unison) and a chase scene on top of the train (by flapping their coattails to simulate the rush of air past them) -- or a hundred other bits of business are little moments of genius. Not earth-shattering genius, nothing that will change the world, just new ways of making us laugh and think.

I suppose if I try hard enough, I could imagine some grump thinking the references to other Hitchcock movies are too obvious, and that the moment someone mimes being behind glass the jig is up, or that the whole enterprise is entirely too silly. But I don't like to imagine people like that.