What?There are gay
people in Utah?Oklahoma?Indiana?
Like many, I’m watching the state-by-state battles for and
against the right of same-sex couples to marry.
There are three ways rights are granted, or taken away.By referendum – a vote of all the people, – by
the courts, or by the legislature.Whenever
the people of any given state try one way, opponents cry foul and insist it
should be another way.LGBT people have
looked to the constitution as the most reliable source of authority for
equality and federal or Supreme Court judges bear that out.Only they can overturn majority rule when the
majority is less concerned with fundamental rights than with an ideological
victory.By the same token, ideologues with the majority behind them argue that there is no better way to determine right or wrong than by majority
rule, and insist the decision should be made by popular vote.Never
mind that majorities sometimes fail to give minorities their due.Alternatively, when a group has a majority in
the legislature, these same forces make the argument that the legislature
speaks for the people as duly elected representatives, and they should make the
So far, six states (CA, CT, IA, MA, NJ, NM) have granted same-sex
couples the right to marry in the courts; eight states (DE, HI, IL, MN, NH, NY,
RI, VT) have done it in their legislatures;and three (ME, MD, WA) have done it through popular vote. DC got same-sex marriage rights when the major signed a bill by the City Council in 2009.
Because support for same-sex marriage hovers at around the
50-50 mark, a decision is not always a decision.A federal court judge found Utah’s ban
unconstitutional, for example, but a couple weeks later (on January 6 of this
year) the U.S. Supreme Court put a stay on the judge’s decision because the
And sometimes, things go the other way.Or, as in the case of Maine, first one way
and then the other.In Maine, the
legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, but it was repealed within the
year by popular vote.Three years later,
in 2012, voters showed a change of heart and same-sex marriage was passed by
popular vote.A history of the strategies used in each
state is available here.
surprising is the speed with which support for same-sex marriage is showing up
even in the red states.Utah is an
example.So is Oklahoma.In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist seems to
have his finger in the wind.Once a
proud anti-gay rights Republican, he first switched and became an
independent.Now he’s gone all the way
and is a declared democrat and unequivocally behind same-sex marriage rights.
in contrast, seems to be moving backwards. A panel of thirteen lawmakers on the House
Elections and Apportionment Committee just voted 9-3 along party lines to send
an amendment, known as House Joint Resolution 3 (HJR-3) to the full House for a
General Assembly vote that would ban same-sex rights - just in case some federal court judge should decide in the future that their current law already banning gay rights is unconstitutional.The ban was
approved in 2011 but must by law be approved a second time.It will likely make the ballot in
Now what the hell is the Elections and Apportionment Committee doing proposing anti-gay legislation in the first place? Why isn't that a job for the Judicial Committee? Here you see American democracy at work. It was in the Judicial Committee originally, but they were not inclined to push it. (You have to wonder why - too much evidence that anti-gay laws don't pass muster in the courts?) So the GOP leader of the House took it away from them and turned it over to Elections and Apportionment precisely because he knew they had the Republican anti-gay votes. Once in the legislature it is likely to pass and come up for a vote in November in the general election.
Not only is the Indiana Legislature being crafty; they are being particularly mean about it. Polls show support for same-sex marriage in 2013 at around 55%
nationally, up from around 51-53% the year before, and it’s clear that many more people would vote for civil unions than for same-sex
marriage rights. Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and
Wisconsin have civil union rights but not yet marriage rights.Yet
Indiana seems to be lining up with the red states of the South, and following North
Carolina’s lead.North Carolina approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2012 by 20 percentage points and then
went on to ban civil unions, as well. Ironically, though, this move could backfire. The decision to go all the way and prohibit same-sex civil unions may just end up being perceived as too hostile to gays and turn Indiana voters off. It's possible the GOP designers of HJR-3 are shooting themselves in the foot by wanting it all.
decided to take a closer look at the meanies, these nine Indiana legislators, to try and
learn something more about where they are coming from. What I found came as no surprise. If you read
their official web sites you see a picture of ordinary Americans, people
with families and jobs and a good work ethic, as well as a desire to go into politics to make the world a
better place.But among these would-be banners (and this
is not a contradiction to what I just said) there is Woody Burton, winner of
the “legislator of the year award” given by the Indiana Bankers.Something else he’s known for is his
sponsorship of the “In God We Trust” license plate.
Richardson’s accomplishments include amending House Bill 1283, which deals with libraries, to declare the Grouseland Rifle the official state rifle.
Then there’s Milo
Smith. The Bilerico Project, an online
group of LGBT activists, pointed out in 2007 that Smith, despite having a gay
son, voted for an earlier incarnation of this homophobic bill. Despite claims that he would not deny gay people the right to civil
unions, he is now coming down once again on the side of the homophobes behind
there is Ed Soliday, who one year ago introduced legislation to require doctors
to perform an ultrasound before prescribing an abortion-inducing drug.
is “church country,” and Jeff Thompson advertises his membership in the
Northview Christian Church among his affiliations, and Richard Hamm is a trustee in Calvary Baptist Church.Nothing wrong with that, of course, except
for the fact that the discovery of church affiliation in America more often
than not signals simultaneously the discovery of a social force to define gays
and lesbians as sinners first, and citizens with equal rights second.Timothy Wesco, the home-schooled son of a
preacher has posted a website in which he states, “I
recognize that ultimately I will be accountable to my Savior, the Sovereign,
Omnipresent and Omniscient God of the Universe.” When a politician tells you his
ultimate guide is his religion and not his state and federal constitutions, it
sends a shiver down the backs of gay and lesbian people.
telling that the cultural battle between those on the one hand who would impose their religious
guidelines on the rest of us, and those of us, on the other, who would place the value of equality
for all above all else, is often fought indirectly.Opposition in Indiana to HJR-3 is coming from
places like Indiana University, Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins Inc. Representatives from these organizations all
testified that they believe HJR-3 would have negative repercussions on their
ability to attract and keep a diverse work force.Aha!The financial argument.The way
to find common ground with religious people who are nonetheless practical.One can only hope it has sufficient
with the religious and otherwise conservative legislators are the usual
suspects.There is Curt Smith, president
of theIndiana Family Institute, and Ken Klukowski, a law professor at
Liberty University, among others.Liberty University, in case you can’t place it, is Jerry Falwell’s
baby.Also Kellie Fiedorek of the
Alliance Defending Freedom, Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council, Glen
Tebbe of the Indiana Catholic Conference, Micah Clark of the American Family
Association of Indiana, Ron Johnson of the Indiana Family Institute’s Indiana
Pastors Alliance, and Eric Miller of Advance America.All those organizations with the patriotic
names fronting for religious-based homophobia.
Indiana Family Institute is making the same argument the Catholic hierarchy
likes to make – what the gays are up to is limiting their religious freedom to
discriminate.According to them,
organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From
Religion Foundation are underway to restrict our right to hold to our religious
beliefs at work, on a school or university campus, at church, or even when you
turn out to vote your values. If successful, these attacks on our religious
liberty could greatly restrict our ability to respond to the Great Commission
and share the Gospel. At Indiana Family Institute (IFI), we are committed to
protecting the right of every Hoosier to freely live their faith.
Somehow passing a law preventing people from marrying the
person of their choice gets twisted into an attack on the freedom of other people to express their religion.What a mindset it must
take to swallow that line of reasoning.Yet,
the illogic must work.Why else would
the Catholics and fundamentalist protestants be using it?
The Family Research Council and the Alliance Defending
Freedom are both organizations set up under the hand of James Dobson.You remember him – the founder of Focus on
the Family.Dobson, you may remember,
argued that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the result of America’s turning its back on God.The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the American Family Association as a “domestic hate group.”
Advance America is a conservative legislative watchdog
association.To see what they are about,
watch this speech by Indiana’s conservative governor, Mike Pence, where he quotes a Heritage
Foundation claim that “families” reduce childhood poverty by 85%.No mention is made of the fact that gays and
lesbians are battling for the right to become families and to have their
children grow up in legally recognized families.Just as the argument that religious freedom
is under threat by the formation of gay and lesbian families turns truth
exactly upside down, so does the argument that gay and lesbian families are in
competition with mommy and daddy families and therefore a threat to them.
But such is the level of discourse in America where the
struggle for same-sex civil rights marches on.
One step, one state, at a time.
Hope you’re settled in for the long run.
As Betty Davis (as Margo Channing) said in All About Eve, “fasten your seatbelts; it’s
gonna be a bumpy night.”
But bumpy is the bad news.For the good news, consider the direction we’re moving in.
A half-hour documentary by online magazine vice.com has just
come out on the struggle the LGBT community in Russia is undergoing just trying
to keep their heads above water, to say nothing of achieving some semblance of
civil rights and freedom from bullying and other oppression by thugs and by
What is happening in Russia is a sadly familiar story.A man rises to the top and sets about
consolidating power for the long term.Putin is an expert at the game.He knows how to use the tools of manipulation.Long oppressed under communist rule, the
Orthodox Church, Russia’s nationalistic state religious entity, has worked its way
back among the masses.The collapse of
the Soviet empire has also unleashed Russian nationalist sentiment in the public at large, as well.Put the two together and you have a perfect
combination for manipulating Russian hearts and minds.One should never underestimate the readiness
of a people to be manipulated by patriotism and religion.Only one thing is missing to bring that
sentiment to a laser-beam focus and flame insecurities just beneath the surface
– a common enemy.A scapegoat.
Other than an occasional wacko like Russian Orthodox monk
Brother Nathanael, who still pushes the Protocols of the Elders
of Zion, the Russian church is not likely to foster anti-Semitism any more.The Holocaust has inoculated most people
these days against that inclination.Can’t go for the Jews.
Enter thegays and
Were it not for the upcoming Sochi Olympics, the anti-gay
campaign recently unleashed in Russia might have gone largely unnoticed
Putin’s policy planners, though, homophobia has come to be recognized in the
West as a religion-based bigotry, and in one country after another, it is going
the way of the other bigotries of racism and sexism.Gay rights are now recognized in most modern
countries as civil rights, and have been supported officially by the High Commissioner
for Human Rights at the United Nations since 2011.Putin doesn’t have the free hand he might
have had a decade or two ago.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t trying.Young and
Gay in Putin’s Russiacaptures a vivid picture of what gay activists in Russia are faced
with.Particularly informative are the
now familiar prejudices of the homophobes.Whereas advocates of stoning and the like are now at the fringes of society in the West, in Russia under the new laws crazies now have police
protection. Moreover, often it
is the police themselves carrying out beatings and intimidation.One spokesperson claims that in the West
things have gotten so decadent that they are now setting up brothels for sex
Chief author of the anti-gay legislation criminalizing gay
behavior in Russia is Vitaly Milonov, a member of the “United Russia” faction
of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg.He is shown near the end of the documentary
in his office under the portrait of the Metropolitan Patriarch Kirill ofthe Russian Orthodox Church. “In Russia the majority of the people follow
Christianity,” says Milonov, clearly intending that fact as justification for
his political actions. “And according to
all the surveys, 85% or Russians support the law.”
The New York Timesreports a different set of figures.They cite a study in which 45% percent of Russians surveyed thought gay men and lesbians should enjoy the same rights as all other
Russians. A slightly smaller number – 41% – declared they should not. (15%
In an ABC News interview a couple days ago, George Stephanopoulos asked Putin about these laws.Putin shot back with an aggressive
counter-attack, saying, essentially, “Put your own house in order before you
criticize us.”He also attempted to make
a distinction between protesting a law, which he insists is legal, and
advocating homosexuality, which is not.What the documentary shows is there is no practical way of making that
distinction. Russian police are breaking
their own laws by arresting individual protesters standing alone.They are supposed to be allowed to make their
points without hindrance.One activist
carries a sign that reads “It’s OK to be gay.” His sign is torn up and he is marched away. Apparently if he had said simply laws saying it's not OK to be gay should be changed, he would not be breaking the law. I wouldn't bet on it.
Gay activist and lesbian Masha Gessen expresses concern that under the new laws children could
be taken from their families. The law affects her personally, since she is the mother of a young boy she adopted when he was two years old. Because of
her activism, she knows she could be targeted, and charged with one “administrative
infraction” after another.Once enough
charges have accumulated, the state could step in and declare her an unfit
mother and take her child away.They could do this with biological children, just
as easily, actually.In the interim
between her interview in the documentary and the Stephanopoulos interview, Masha Gessen has left Russia.
Putin may claim all he likes that Russian citizens are free
to express themselves.When gays and
lesbians vote with their feet and emigrate out of fear, his words ring hollow.It’s actually useful to watch the Putin
interview and Young and Gay in Putin’s
Russia back to back.Beating gays
up in the street and subjecting them to the “urine cure” could be dismissed as
the work of thugs.But watching the
police dealing with protestors makes it clear just how hollow are Putin’s
claims and removes any doubt that the international protests against Russia’s
anti-gay laws are justified – if you still needed persuading.
I attended the opening night last night of this year’s Berlin and Beyond film festival,
sponsored by the Goethe Institute of San Francisco and by Lufthansa.The film chosen for the opening was Georg
Maas’s Zwei Leben (Two Lives).
The film is not light entertainment.It is exceedingly dark, right down to the
shooting technique of placing characters in a claustrophobic setting and
lighting little more than their faces, leaving most of the screen pitch black.If you have the patience, however, the film
will reward you in the end.
There is a good review of the film by Boyd van Hoeij available
on The Hollywood Reporter, giving film details and explaining what
the viewer is up against going in.Because filmmaker Maas chose to make the kind of film that doesn’t
insult an audience with too much explanation and simplification, and doesn’t
tell a story chronologically, the audience has to work hard to figure out
what’s going on.That approach probably
appeals to the sort of people who enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles.For many, though, it’s a stretch.
There are other layers of difficulty.The film addresses a historical wrong it
clearly wants to put right.That will
lose the folks who will feel they are watching a message movie.It’s a fictional account of a child born to
a Norwegian woman and her lover, a German soldier of the occupation in
1941.It was originally based on a
considerably reworked unpublished book by Hannelore Hippe.Full
comprehension of the plot depends on a knowledge of the Cold War and the
conflict between two divided and antagonistic Germanys, and events that took
place at a time when twenty-five-year olds today were not yet even born.Given
the surprising number even of young Germans who cannot tell you who was on the
two sides during the Second World War, and the fact that half of American high school kids cannot identify the Holocaust, this, I expect, will severely limit
How many Americans under thirty know, for example, that
Germany was divided into four zones and occupied by the British, Americans,
French and Russians, that the zones of the first three became the West German
Federal Republic and the Russian zone became the German Democratic Republic
(GDR – or DDR, in German.)And that the
west experienced an “economic miracle” early on, while the communist GDR became
a police state with a “security service” known as the Stasi, which kept particularly close
track of the comings and goings of its own citizens and brooked no dissent.
We know a lot these days about the NSA and their spying
activities in the Warsaw Pact nations, including the GDR, but we know much less
about how the West was infiltrated by GDR agents working abroad.
Zwei Leben is the
story of a woman taken as a child from an orphanage and groomed to make her way
to Norway to spy for the Stasi.They
were aided in this program by the fact that German soldiers had occupied Norway
during World War II and left behind some 11,000 children from relationships
with Norwegian women.And because Hitler
saw these children as useful in building the future of the Reich, he had them
taken from their mothers and sent to Germany to be raised.The birth rate in Germany wasn’t sufficient
to his plans and these children, born to Aryan mothers, helped fill the gap.
An organization known as Lebensborn was set up outside of
Munich in 1936, and in 1941 the first branch was set up in Norway.Unmarried mothers, shunned by their family
and neighbors for being collaborators, could find shelter and pre-natal care
and give birth without social stigma.The mothers were commonly “persuaded” to give up their children for
adoption.In the absence of any
alternatives, most did.There were
nine such facilities in Norway (as well as two in Denmark, seven in Poland, and
one each in France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg.)
Once you get past this exceedingly challenging wall of
historical detail, the film opens into a powerful drama of a family dealing,
forty-five years after war’s end (the film takes place in 1990), with having
its wounds reopened, as it becomes the story of a girl who made her way across
the Baltic first to Denmark and finally to Norway in search of her mother.The mother, Åse Evensen, now a great-grandmother, is played by Liv Ullmann.Watching her face throughout is one of the
reasons one goes to the cinema.
She is not the main character, though.That role is the character of her daughter,
Kristine, who we eventually discover has been working as a Stasi agent, played
by Juliane Köhler (Aimée& Jaguar, Nowhere in
Africa – she also played the role of Eva Braun in Downfall). Also in this superb cast are the German action film hero Ken Duken (Max Manus, Inglorious Basterds) and Rainer Bock (White Ribbon, War Horse, Inglorious Basterds)
and Norwegian actress Julia Bache-Wiig (A Somewhat Gentle Man, Max Manus), and one of Norway’s top-ranked actors, Sven Nordin (Elling).
We have to choose
between condemning Kristine for her deception and sympathizing with her for her
growing sense of moral responsibility for it.
The clear villain
of the story is the GDR.They are no
more, and cannot defend themselves, and no doubt that’s just the way everybody
involved wants it.What’s to defend of a
country who might have exposed the Nazi crimes in its past, but manipulated
them to its advantage, instead?
perhaps three-fourths of the movie or more to set this all up, when the
full complexity and the moral challenge of the daughter’s character are brought
to the surface, the last half hour becomes a thriller.I won’t spoil the ending, except to say you
are brought back in a big way to the cause on which the plot is based.So much of war’s injustice involves the shame
of victims for just being victims.Like
the “comfort women” of Asia, to use the word preferred by the brutalizers
(because it is also the word used by the media), pressed into prostitution by
the occupying Japanese army, the “love children” of soldiers and women in
countries they occupy, as well as the women themselves, are still climbing out
of the shame.With Nazi war criminals in
their 90s, we feel a statute of limitations is nothing more than a further
injustice, so we keep after these criminals till their dying day.
The women (also now in their 80s and 90s) and children of
occupied nations torn from each other and forced to live a lifetime of shame
are no less worthy of our dogged efforts to put right a wartime wrong.Such, at least, is the message of Zwei Leben.
The film was highly acclaimed in Germany, where it opened
last September.It has been nominated as
Germany’s candidate for Best Foreign Film at the upcoming Oscars.According to Maas, who was present at last
night’s showing, it was less well received in Norway.When asked why this is, the filmmaker could
only speculate.One Norwegian complained
that he portrayed them as more vulnerable to espionage than they actually
were.That may have something to do with
it.And it would come as no surprise if
the shame of so many Norwegian women still lingers.Audiences were sparse, compared to audiences
in Germany.Which leads me to speculate
that the shame associated with being part of an invader nation doesn’t rise to
the level of shame associated with being part of a nation that is invaded.
When the movie comes to a close you are hard put to identify
its genre.It is a psychological drama,
and a thriller.It’s part action film,
part didactic historical documentary, part courtroom drama.And in the end, it’s a human drama about the
yearning for family, love and security at all costs.One that leaves you wondering whether it’s a
cost you yourself would be willing to bear.
In 1996 I went to Italy with several friends and had one of
the more memorable vacations of my lifetime.Back in the 1960s, when I was in the army, my friend Jerry and I had
traveled there.We had little money and
traveled on the cheap.Jerry looked up one
time at the villas in the hills outside Florence and said, “Let’s make a
promise.When we get rich, we’ll come
back and stay in one of those villas.”I
Early in 1996 Jerry wrote and asked me, “Are we rich yet?”
It seemed that we were.At least I had a well-paying job and more money than I had ever had in
my younger life.It’s now or never, we
For eighteen years, I have had a memento of that trip.While in Florence, we came across a shop
selling products by Labor Deruta.I’d
seen them around for years, and decided I’d buy one.I chose a serving platter.It was an extravagant purchase – cost me
several hundred dollars, and the price of shipping it to Japan virtually
doubled the cost.
I’ve treasured that plate all these years.A couple of years ago, it got a chip in
it.That didn’t phase me. The chip gave it character, and the imperfection made it fit better with my less-than-neat-and-tidy lifestyle.
Yesterday, the platter broke.Don’t know how.It doesn’t matter.
I had treated it with special care.It got lots and lots of use.I decided it was time to say good-bye to an
old friend.Taku wants to glue it back
together, but I understand there’s a risk to putting food on chipped
dishes.I could put it on the wall, of course. But that strikes me as an unworthy end for such a useful member of the household that gave us such pleasure. I don’t know what I’m going to do
with it, but I’ll find some proper way to dispose of it, I expect. Maybe break it into tiny pieces and toss it off the pier at the Berkeley Marina, as we do with the ashes of friends.
I hate saying good-bye. I've never been good at throwing away old shoes or giving old clothing to Goodwill.This good-bye comes in the same week that I
got the news that my first great love just died of a heart attack. My first experience of going weak-kneed
over another human being. And it's hard to concentrate. My head is filled with memory tapes running from nearly sixty years ago. I'm surprised to find they're in such good condition. I’m mourning the loss of one of my oldest
friends. And I’m
mourning the loss of a treasured object that lived in my kitchen. Time for some meditation on the fragility of
life, on how all good things come to an end, and on the importance of making
the most of things while they’re with you.
For the importance of counting blessings. For recognizing how easy it is to see people
as things and things as people. For
appreciating the heightened awareness than comes with melancholy.
And for showing some attention to the other chinaware in my
kitchen now terrified they are about to be sacrificed along with their leader.
Wish I had never said aloud, “Time to throw all this junk
out and buy new.”