Saturday, September 24, 2005

Ripping Out the Roses

The move by the new pope and his hardliners to either clean the stables of perverts – to frame it their way – or remove from religious service some of the Church’s most faithful by painting them with too broad a brush – to frame it in the progressive church’s way – is beginning to create friction. Today’s New York Times reports of a suggestion by one priest that gay priests should start wearing pink triangles. Bad enough Pius XII has been called "Hitler’s Pope." Imagine what this could to to the new administration.

The reason for getting rid of gay priests? Too much temptation. Like, hello, this is the first time priests have had to deal with temptation? Where is the theology that says they have to be spared temptation?

And where is the evidence they need to be spared – the fact that 80% of the abuse cases are male on male sex? ‘Scuse me, but how about keeping your eye on the donut here. Adults should not take their pleasure on vulnerable kids.

Turns out they’ve decided if you want to kill the weeds the way is to rip out the roses and daffodils as well as the ragweed. They’re moving not only on abusers but on adult priests who might be tempted to do the naughty with other adult priests.

OK, I say. I’m not going to save your damned church for you. You want to run it into the ground? Be my guest. Here’s a couple suggestions, though, to men of the lavender set who want to be professionally spiritual but don’t know how they’re going to weather the witchhunt.

- Father Percy? You like to diddle little boys against their will? Get out of the church now and get help. Go into real estate or something.
- Father Timothy? You like the occasional getaways with hunky high school football players between 16 and 18 who like older men in the back seat of a pickup? If you can’t keep your vows of obedience and celibacy, get out of the priesthood and get work as a gay masseur. As the Benedictines say, lavorare est orare (to work is to pray.) Only do it in Denmark, or one of those other adult countries where the age of consent is 12, or something like that.
- Father Clarence? You can’t stop flirting with Father Wilbur? Get out of the church, both of you. Get yourselves an apartment, buy some IKEA furniture, go into social work and do some good. Work as lay catholics to make the church focus on turning the other cheek instead of kicking so much gay butt.
- For the rest of you, the Episcopal Church is nice. You get to keep your collars and refer to yourself as catholics.

This is just a start, obviously. With all the priests pouring out of the church, there’s bound to be some interesting creative thinking about where these good men can put their talents. Don’t stay where you’re not wanted, guys. Stop tying yourselves up in knots.

The world needs love.

September 24, 2005

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sublime Victories and Ridiculous Goings-On

Last week ("Veto" – 9/8) I sent around a commentary on the status of the same-sex marriage issue in California in which, in retrospect, my own optimism kind of surprised me. Today, I would be less surprised. In Massachusetts, the homophobic lobby tried again to pass a state constitutional amendment barring gay people from having their unions publicly recognized.

I’m used to the homophobes winning and having to wax philosophical with "stepping backward to get a good jump" and similar consolations. Or watching their mean-spirited attempts to codify their fears fail by a narrow margin, and not wanting to celebrate, because close calls don't make you feel very festive. Every once in a while, however, a victory comes down the pike that tastes sweet indeed and confirms my faith that things may be all right one day for gay people in the U.S. of A. The Massachusetts legislature shot the proposed anti-gay amendment down by a vote of 157 to 39.

In an unrelated story, in Kentucky recently, a man walked into a classroom where his 14-year-old son was a student, took off his belt and gave the kid a beating. Right there in front of the teacher and the kid’s peers. In Kentucky, apparently, the man broke no laws. This is a spare-the-rod, spoil-the-child part of the country, and the father, apparently, was upset that the boy’s older brothers had "gone bad" and needed to prevent further decay in the family.

We are a federation of semi-autonomous states – something hard for the French, the Japanese, and many others to fathom – so we have these differences in values mirrored in our laws. In Massachusetts, the majority of non-gay people have now come to see their gay marrying neighbors as just plain folk whose desire to build their own strong families works with, not against, a broader social desire for strength and stability. A positive notion worthy of support. Biblical notions of the patriarchal family are giving way to Enlightenment notions of the nurturing family. In Kentucky, where support for patriarchal authority holds more sway, things are different.

This doesn’t explain all there is to explain about the culture wars, of course, and it’s more complex than a conflict between red and blue values. But I suspect Massachusetts is leading a national trend toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, and my guess is, at the national level, a majority of Americans will see the Kentucky father’s response to his kid’s misbehavior as woefully inappropriate. Me and my bleedin’ heart liberal friends want to call it child abuse – more psychological than physical, actually, when you consider what this will do to the kid’s sense of self-respect in the eyes of his peers. I don’t think we’re out of tune here with the rest of our fellow Mericans. If I’m right and you can put the two together as head-and-tail events on the national level, there is cause for some degree of optimism.

Meanwhile, moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, also in the news today is a progress report on the Vatican’s plan to root out gays from its priesthood. Benedict XVI speaks of the need to "purify" the church. What a show these guys put on. In a world of ambiguity, what purity there is is in the church’s pure bigotry. 80% of the child abusers, it turns out, abused boys. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of people who like sex with their own sex are not child abusers. Never mind that the church provides a formula for dysfunctionality by teaching young boys their same-sex urges are sinful and then offering them a haven in the priesthood where they won’t have to explain their lack of interest in girls, and where they will never deal with their sexual confusions except to further repress them. Never mind that priests have altar boys, not altar girls, junior seminarian priests, not junior novice nuns as constant companions. Never mind all the other possible explanations why there are adults taking advantage of children, and this "step in the right direction" doesn't begin to address the 20% of priests who abused little girls. And never mind that the bigger problem in the church has been its inclination to protect its clergy and hang the kids out to dry.

Imagine in this day and age looking at the crime rate among blacks in the inner city and concluding the way to deal with it is to keep all black people from moving into "our" neighborhood. It still happens, but not like it once did because we have come to understand racism a whole lot better than we did. Benedict and Company have yet to learn this lesson. He’s going for the good folk as well as the bad folk with equal zeal. So much for "Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner" rhetoric. It’s "review each of the 229 Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States for ‘evidence of homosexuality,’" not evidence of child abusers.

There is a bright side in all this. This might be a good time to rifle through the dumpsters of your local catholic seminary for tapes and record collections of Judy Garland and Maria Callas, tailored shirts, kick-ass shoes and killer appetizer recipes.

September 15, 2005

Thursday, September 8, 2005


Schwarzenegger has vetoed with disconcerting speed the bill the California State Assembly just passed that would allow gay marriage. I read the paper this morning with a ache in my belly and a draft in my head to the Governator of a letter dripping with prayers he might soon be carried off on the trashpile of history with all the other political followers-not-leaders who put expediency ahead of doing the right thing.

I couldn’t use that snappy threat not to vote for him any more. I wouldn’t have voted for him on a bet to begin with. There is a perversion in me that wants me to feel sorry for him. Here he is, the once Golden Boy, with ratings in the toilet. His base would have stormed the Capitol if he had approved this legislation. He really had no political choice.

OK. So color me pervert. Poor Arnold. In the wrong place at the wrong time. He probably knows this base of his is driven by fear and ignorance of gay folk. I’ll bet he knows lots of gay folk up close who live lives of dignity others might well learn from. But, like Clinton, he has to go with the flow and represent what he believes is the majority. So let’s not hate Arnold over this, I’m thinking to myself. Let’s not make him carry the burden of cultural conflict. In years to come I suspect the man will feel bad he had to make the decision to veto the bill. He will not be able to say, as civil rights make their way into the lives of Californians, that he led. He will have to explain to the end of his days that he had no choice, he had no choice, he had no choice.

Question is, is he following the crowd really? Is this where folks are these days in this slow but sure sea change of opinion over whether people who express their sexuality homosexually are threats to society? Word is trickling in that the rap gays have taken on being child molesters and psycho-narcissists is just plain hooey. Gays are folk, period, full stop. Some create the Sistine Chapel, others spend too much money on shoes. Some hate kids, others love their kids to death. The one true certainty in all this homophobia is that as non-gay people come to know gay people they loosen their previous reservations about treating them as equals.

Runner up for truest of certainties (with all due apologies to Strunk & White for my need to geld the rhetorical lily here) is that California is one mondo bizarro. It has a State Assembly, for example, of folk who are elected as the representatives of its people. They meet in the Capitol regularly to pass legislation. But then, it turns out, they sometimes pass legislation which turns out to be contrary to the "will of the people" as expressed by referenda.

In 2000, Californians passed Proposition 22 by 61% -- a very large margin by anybody’s standards. Prop. 22 declares, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." What’s curious about the way California does business is that any law passed by initiative like this can only be overturned by another initiative, and not by the legislative branch of government. Arnold is on strong ground when he says he’s following the will of the people – if you can be sure that the will of the people in 2000 is the will of the people in 2005. Technically, it has to be taken to be so until there is another referendum which reveals the will to be otherwise.

So there it is. Mark Leno and all those other lovely people in the Democratic Party in California who passed Assembly Bill 849 (in both the Senate and the House, don’t forget) will have gay people's undying gratitude for their "initiative." I think they are real leaders who took that extra step toward full civil rights for gays in line with the shift in public opinion. I think it is filtering in to the hearts and minds of Californians that history is moving away from homophobia. Scandinavia is far away culturally from all but the latte set, but when Spain and then Canada passed laws allowing gays to marry, I think it got people thinking. When Prop. 22 was passed in 2000 polls showed people favored a ban on same-sex marriage by 57 to 38 percent. A poll taken last month by the same pollsters showed those figures were now 46 for, 46 against. A dead heat. And if you look up to the larger context, while there has been occasional backsliding, approval for gay civil rights has been not-that-slow and very sure in coming.

The lesson may be that gay people simply need to show patience. I’m not recommending this. I won’t go with the current flow to shout "Arnold stabbed us in the back" but I have decided I can no longer believe that justice delayed is anything but justice denied.

Mark Leno, who led the fight for AB849 is taking gas for his attempts to argue Prop. 22 meant only that Californians did not have to recognize gay marriages in other states, that it said nothing about California, and therefore AB 849 does not run counter to the spirit of Prop. 22. But that’s embarrassingly silly. Of course people voted against gay marriage because they didn’t want it here, either. Leno is led by a touching desire to make the right thing happen now, and not when it has been aired and discussed for God knows how much longer. He’s not a fool; he’s simply really familiar with the injustice that homophobia has laid on gay folk for so many many years.

Gay marriage will come to California. I think in my lifetime. I am not sure about its acceptance in the U.S. in my lifetime, but as other countries move in that direction, who knows how people’s thinking may change. And if gay people continue to share their love of family openly with their non-gay neighbors and display the commonality of their hopes and challenges, more and more non-gay people will come to see what a wretchedly sour misuse of language and thought it is that they are "a threat to the family."

Don’t take the champagne back to the store. Keep it cool.

September 8, 2005

Friday, September 2, 2005

Obits and Labels

If you romp as I do every day through The San Francisco Chronicle, you pass the obituary page to get to the editorial page. This morning the smiling face of a young guy jumped out at me. This is San Francisco and when young people die my first thought is AIDS. I quickly scanned down to "Jimmy is survived by his domestic partner of seven years…" and thought, sadly, yes, one more. Just like the reading researchers say, reading is not about pouring information into an empty vessel; one casts one’s eyes across text to confirm or deny information previously structured within the brain.

Except that instead of moving on after the quick scan I decided to stay with this obit and noticed something I had at first missed. "Jimmy passed away suddenly," it begins, "without illness into the hands of God on Aug. 18th, 2005."

Whoever wrote the obituary curiously chose not to tell us why Jimmy died. It makes me wonder whether he lied about the illness and the reference to "the hands of God" makes me wonder if this is an AIDS denial. It still goes on, I am well aware, after all these years, especially among certain religious groups. I can’t relate this to the culture wars because I have too little information. I didn’t know this smiling face, but because it caught my attention the knowledge of his death saddens me, and I find myself wondering what it must mean to the people who loved him.

Jimmy Oh was Korean-American. His parents live in Oregon, his sister lives in Oakland. He grew up in Europe and his partner’s name is given as well, and if you google the partner you see he is well-connected. (I've changed the names since there is no point in identifying them.)

But Yang Ho "Jimmy" Oh, born in Seoul on my father’s 59th birthday (to drive home how recently that was), died in his 32nd year and that’s too soon by far.

I’m not nuts about obituaries, but this one captured my attention because only seconds before hitting upon it on page B4 I had read on page A9 about how the people trying to take away domestic partnership rights in California are still hard at work. You may know the story. There is an initiative that would amend the California state Constitution not only to ban same-sex marriage, but to take away the whole concept of domestic partnerships as well.

The fight is on between these people and State Attorney General Bill Lockyer over how the measure should be labeled. Lockyer has labeled it "Marriage. Elimination of Domestic Partnership Rights" and attached a description in 100 words or so that explains that it will eliminate the right of gay couples (or any couples who are not married) to form a partnership which will enable them to share the same rights of community property and health care as married people.

The people sponsoring the bill have the name "Liberty Counsel" and they are represented by their attorney Mary McAlister. Liberty Counsel. Note the peculiarly American construct. Form an organization to take away people’s right to form partnerships because of a literal reading of scripture and label it "Liberty." Reminds me of the use of "democratic" in the names of the various Democratic Republics of the now diminishing communist world.

Lockyer wanted Californians to understand what a vote to kill domestic partnerships will mean, so he decided to tell them. Liberty Counsel’s lawyer is fighting to kill the title "Elimination of Domestic Partnership Rights," which they declare "misrepresents the measure," even though that is absolutely and unequivocally what the bill will do, and change it to something that will "more accurately" represent what the bill will do – "protect marriage rights."

If voters took the time to understand what they were voting for it would not be necessary to fight this battle over labels. But they don’t. And if you ask the average Joe and Lucy whether they want to "protect marriage rights" – especially if you add "because they are under attack" – Joe and Lucy will no doubt do the right thing and say, "You betcha." But if they vote this way, the long term story will not be the label change from "Eliminate Domestic Partnership Rights" to "Protecting Marriage Rights." It will be the label change "domestic partner" to "insulter of the institution of marriage."

The California Senate has just passed a same-sex marriage bill. If it passes the House, it will move California ahead of Vermont, and even Massachusetts, toward recognition of gay marriages. The fight is bitter and sad. Bitter because of such subterfuge as the Liberty Counsel is trying to pull off. And their desire not only to keep gays from being "married," but to keep them from forming secure civil relationships at all. Sad because so many people are worried gays are pushing culture change too fast and the result is as likely to be a backlash as it is to be a legal victory. Nothing hurts like thwarted expectations and it’s sad how many people I hear warning we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

State Senator Hollingsworth, a Republican from Riverside County, warns us we need to base our state laws on God’s will. "Forward me the e-mail you got from God on this and I’ll vote your way" would be my response to such horseshit, but State Senator Alarcon, a Democrat from Los Angeles County, wouldn’t dare talk like this even if he agrees with me. This is America and the national language is now god-talk. "The last time I checked," said Alarcon in response," a higher power created all of us. In the eyes of God, they are all human beings, all equal to him…Why are they not equal to us?" You see the success the conservatives have achieved in being able to determine the level and style of discourse on the subject.

By 1965, progressives had largely succeeded in knocking down most barriers to interracial marriage, but conservatives could take heart that in some places in the U.S. interracial marriage was still illegal. (The ban was removed only in 1967.) Forty years later the question is how many California conservatives are ready to join their liberal colleagues in casting gay marriages in the light in which they’re seen in Canada and Spain and much of the rest of Europe. And, if they’re not so inclined, whether the voters will take their cue from a negative vote and take away domestic partnerships as well.

I know I’m risking heartbreak. But I’m not listening to people who tell me not to get my hopes up.

September 2, 2005