Monday, June 29, 2015

Straight Allies

I’d like to repeat what I’ve said many times before when people have suggested I’m lucky to live in a place with so many gay people, that living in San Francisco means I can take solace that there are many like me and I don’t stand out so much as a gay person.  It’s the gays, they want to claim, who make San Francisco what it is.

That’s not the way I see it.

San Francisco is a great place to live not because there are so many lesbians and gays around – satisfying as that is – but because the straight people are so welcoming.

Life would not be bearable without allies who understand what you’re going through and get your back.  Step up and stand beside you.  Pick the metaphor that best suggests support.  Robin Morgan used to speak of men fighting the cause of feminism as “men of conscience.”  I’ve been urging people to help tear down the Confederate flag because I don’t think African-Americans should have to fight this battle for dignity alone – they should not be the only ones appealing for a rejection of this awful nostalgia for the days when children were ripped out of their mothers’ arms, women were raped with impunity, and the law forbade people of color to learn to read in this country. 

I've been reading lots of discussion the past few days that fits under the rubric of backlash over the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.   Justice Roberts and others argued in their dissents that we should not have shut down the debate, and we need to remember that our opponents out there are people whose arguments are as good as ours.  They “simply disagree.”

Never mind that the "debate" has been raging for decades - virtually my entire life - and I'm 75 years old.

I’ve been told all my life that I’m somebody who advocates sin and the destruction of  society and the family.  And now it’s time to smile and "agree to disagree."


A straight ally in this struggle against aggressive nonsense directed me to the Facebook page of another straight ally, an essayist who writes for Parade Magazine.   Connie Schultz writes (June 27):

I've seen quite the flurry of social media posts suggesting those of us who are celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality decision are not behaving as gracious winners. We should show more understanding toward those who are disappointed, the critics say. We should not "rub it in." Other commonly spotted criticisms of our joy: We are gloating. We are insensitive. We are being poor sports.
 For decades, I have seen the bigotry of homophobia break up families, ruin careers and destroy lives. I've read -- and written -- too many stories about gay teens who chose suicide over another day of bullying -- from classmates and strangers, and sometimes from their own family members. Children. Killing themselves because they felt unlovable as the human beings they were born to be. 
 Over the years, I hosted so many gay friends for holiday celebrations because their own families made clear they were not welcome to come home. I have sat and cried with too many gay friends whose hearts were broken after their fellow citizens passed one hateful piece of anti-gay legislation after another. I have watched so-called Christians pray publicly for the death of people I love. I have seen them do this outside of funerals, their young children holding signs that say, "GOD HATES FAGS." 
This is not a sports championship we're celebrating. We are not victors in a political campaign. 
We are cheering for something that will not harm the lives or the marriages of anyone like me, a heterosexual who got not one, but two government-sanctioned tries to form a more perfect union. We are overjoyed, and we are relieved. America really is better than our worst behavior.
As a straight ally, this has been our shame to bear, this government endorsement of second-class citizenship to people we know, people we love. How many times have I tried to assure my friends and loved ones that most of us don't feel this way about them? How many times have I fallen silent to their rebuttals, their ability to point to what sometimes seemed to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary? 
All of that is now history.
I don't want to harness my joy to make the bigots feel more comfortable. I will not temper my celebration to make those who oppose same-gender marriage feel better about their self-righteousness. I am not celebrating their misery. They didn't lose anything.
I am rejoicing for my gay brothers and sisters. I am welcoming them home.

Thanks, Connie.

Thanks Mr. Olson and Mr. Boies.

Thanks to all y’all, you straight people out there, you men and women of conscience.

Thank you.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Just who do we think we are?

Same-sex marriage in the U.S. as of today*
Just who do we think we are, indeed! What a wonderful question.  It was asked this morning by Justice Roberts in his dissenting opinion to the 5-4 decision to eliminate all bans in the remaining thirteen states against same-sex marriage.  The case known as Obergefell v. Hodges

Here’s the context of that question, on page 42 of the ruling:

...the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?  

The answer that pops into my mind may not satisfy Justice Roberts, but we do not live by the traditions of the Kalahari or the Aztecs.  We are a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men and women should be equal before the law, and that where injustice has traditionally prevailed, it can be put right.

Justice Roberts sees in the Constitution the notion that things ought to be the way they have always been.   Fortunately, the majority of Supreme Court Justices see in the Constitution the inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What it came down to in the end was a clash between two ways of viewing the Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment reads:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The five-person majority read in that “equal protection” clause a justification for taking down bans against same-sex marriage.  They said as much, in so many words:

The fundamental liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs. (emphasis mine) (from p. 2 of ruling).

The four-person minority fell back on the argument that marriage laws should be made by individual states in state legislatures or by referendum, and not by the Supreme Court.  And here is where “interpretation” becomes important.  And why you need people on the bench who view the world from different perspectives.  And not just smart straight old white men, clever though they may be.

I speak as a person who grew up gay in homophobic America.  To this day I have members of my own biological family who believe their duty to their God requires that they not recognize my relationship with my husband.  It took me the first several decades of my life to rid myself of the sense of wretchedness that comes with family rejection.  Some people manage to spot the arbitrariness of religious interpretation, hang on to their religion and still get out from under the homophobia of the churches they belong to, usually quite by accident of birth.  I had to shake off religious doctrine as a mark of provincialism and lack of familiarity with the richness of life before I was able entirely to make that great leap into freedom and dignity.

We live in communities.  It’s not enough for most people to know what’s right and do it regardless of the consequences.  Most of us need approval of our family, friends and peers.  But like many LGBT people who have lived in a hostile home, I have come to understand in the marrow of my bones that my right to human dignity is absolute.  Those who would have me buy into the view that I am “fundamentally flawed” or “intrinsically disordered” – the second of those two ways of putting it comes from the pope of the Catholics himself – are just plain wrong.  Dead wrong.  Cruelly wrong.

The five men and women who put this ban on marriage equality down saw something in the spirit of the constitution that is raw and real and overpowering. The view that LGBT people are “intrinsically disordered” is no more valid than is the view that people of the white race are entitled to own people of color.  It’s an idea that runs contrary to human decency, and we have, at long last, reached the point where the majority of us now recognize that.

It has been painful listening to Roberts and Scalia and Alito (and Thomas, if he would say anything) explaining that our right to dignity is not inherent, that we can have it, possibly, but all in good time, and only if the majority of our fellow citizens goes to the polls and makes it happen.  That argument makes you wonder if these men have any idea what the “pursuit of happiness” is all about.  One can reason one’s way in and out of anything.  The majority took note today that our sexuality is as innate as our race or our gender.  If women are to be treated equally to men and blacks to whites, and if those rights are to be found in the Constitution, they are there in the Constitution for us, as well.

Kennedy is getting tons of credit, and he deserves it.  USA TODAY has as one of its lead articles this morning:

WASHINGTON — Justice Anthony Kennedy cracked the door to same-sex marriage more than a decade ago. On Friday, he finally flung it open.

His decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide came on the 12th anniversary of another of Kennedy's decisions, that one striking down state laws that banned same-sex relations. But that, Kennedy said Friday, was not enough. "Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty," he said.

I don’t want to take any of this credit away from Kennedy.  He did, after all, write the majority opinion on all four of the court's major cases on the subject, including Windsor v. United States, which struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act two years ago.  But I’d hate to see Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer, and perhaps especially Ginsberg, all of whom are profound thinkers and defenders of the U.S. Constitution, be treated as also-rans.  They put a lot into making this a great day for equality in America. 

The strongest sounding argument for not having the Supreme Court make this decision comes from those who look at Kennedy’s swing vote and ask, in mock astonishment, how it can be that a single political appointee to the Court can make a decision which overrides nearly half the country.   Scalia used the word “hubris” to describe the work of his progressive colleagues on the bench.  A “bare majority,” he sneered.   Which begs the question, of course, of whether Scalia would have decisions made any other way. 

Here’s GOP darling Mike Huckabee on the topic:

The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do-redefine marriage. I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat. (emphasis in original)   

I can just hear his Auntie Maude saying to him, “Hush now, Mikie.  You’re embarrassing yourself.”  Does this man running for president really know so little about how our government works?  Did he actually flunk fourth-grade civics?

I say expressing misgivings about the court's determining constitutionality against the will of "nearly half" of the population may be the strongest sounding argument against today’s decision.  It only sounds that way until the brain kicks in and you realize what a prune-faced opinion that actually is.  "Nearly half" is another way of saying “not the majority.”   Do traditionalists like Scalia actually want us to ignore the majority in this case and go with "nearly half" instead?  That's an academic argument, by the way.  Remember, it's the court making the decision on constitutionality.  Not the population at large.

And a Supreme Court Justice is not just a political appointee.  He or she is virtually always a highly experienced lawyer with a solid record of sound judicial decisions.  They are not all equal in stature, and in some cases their political views poke through their legal ones – or at least we suspect they do.  But they are chosen according to a well-established procedure which we, as a democracy, have agreed upon. And for reasons we have agreed upon – checks and balance. Flawed though it may be, this system of giving a body of men and women the responsibility to check the legal decisions made by lower courts and determine whether they follow the spirit of the Constitution beats the hell out of other ways of doing things.  Like democracy, it’s the worst way to do things, possibly, except for all the other ways.  Each decision made, even by a majority of one, is another piece of evidence that sometimes the government actually works as it is supposed to.

It worked that way today.  And my cynicism about the chaos in the legislative branch and the weakness in the executive branch is less today than it was yesterday.  I still worry we’ve gone over the cliff and our democracy cannot right itself.  But today there is some very good news indeed.  Time to focus today on the good things the US of A is capable of.

Happy Day.  

Oh, Happy Happy Day.

*Same-sex marriage legalization pending in Louisiana;
Same-sex marriage ban overturned, decision stayed indefinitely in Alabama:
Same-sex marriage banned even though the Supreme Court of the United States has found similar bans unconstitutional in island protectorates;
Same-sex marriage "legality complicated" in Kansas.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Intrinsically Disordered Mutineers

Following a landmark decision reached last month and announced only today, gay and lesbian subjects of Pitcairn Island will henceforth be permitted to marry their partners.  Governor Kevin Lynch declared this ruling showed how Pitcairn "was adapting to the modern world."

A different conclusion was reached by Archbishop Bletherington “Blighty” Bligh of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Pitcairn and descendant of the protectorate's founder, Captain William Bligh, left there by Marlon Brando in 1790.  Archbishop Bligh took no time to proclaim that the souls of the fifty mostly Anglo-Tahitian inhabitants of the British protectorate were now in serious danger, as the nation "begins its course toward the destruction of the family."  There is some contention over the truth of the claim, since none of the fifty inhabitants appear to be gay.  One is suspected of lesbianism, but she has lived alone for forty years.  “All that could change at the drop of a hat,” said Archbishop Blighty. His entire flock consists of himself and two aging priests, converts from the prevailing Seventh Day Adventist majority, so we know the potential for homosexuality exists.  “And should they both decide to renounce their vows at the same time, there is no telling what depravity may follow.”
Ancestors of the potential homosexuals of Pitcairn Island

Fortunately, the religious leader observed, there is no airport and the island is accessible only by sea, so should New Zealanders or Chileans, Pitcairn’s two closest neighbors, seek to invade the homeland in order to take advantage of the new ruling, they can easily be pushed back out to sea.  

When reminded that New Zealand already has gay marriage and Chile will recognize civil unions come October, the archbishop hinted there was a moral in that story somewhere.

The island has come a long way since 2004, when half the adult male population was convicted of rape, indecent assault, and gross indecency. Steve Christian, mayor of Pitcairn at the time, was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for five rapes and his son, Randy, went to jail for six years for four rapes and five indecent assaults.  The postmaster, Dennis Christian, the island magistrate, was acquitted of charges.  

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The swastika comes to mind

There’s a scene in Judgment at Nuremberg that I think really showed off the acting talent of Marlene Dietrich.   She plays the widow of one of Hitler’s generals who was executed in an earlier trial.  She is trying to convince Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) that “not all Germans are monsters.”

What makes this a powerful scene is the dignity Madam Berthold, the Dietrich character, shows in the face of overwhelming evidence that her husband sacrificed his life to a barbaric cause,  Hitler’s megalomaniacal desire to wipe out the Jewish people and capture Germany’s neighboring countries in what he claimed was a master race’s right to control.  She fails to convince the judge.  For her to win he would have to buy into her world view that the power structure of Germany went into the Second World War out of loyalty not to Hitler but to the German nation, that the cause of defending the honor of the nation took precedence over the will of a demagogue of no character, and ultimately no historical consequence.

It’s an interesting intellectual argument she makes, that nations are greater than the individuals who comprise them and that honor and duty to the nation and the oath of office one takes as a military officer might take precedence over one’s individual moral code.

The plain-talking country lawyer who had been pressed into service as Chief Judge to conduct the Nuremberg trial would have no part of this line of reasoning.  His values are those that evolved in the U.S. Constitution, the ones established by the Enlightenment and expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  No nation, no principle, no cause stands higher than the rights of individual men and women. 

Since the warped young white supremacist who took out a gun and killed nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina last week was revealed to have been driven by the racist ideology of the Confederacy, the country is doing some serious rethinking on the decision to allow the Dixie Flag to fly over the State House in South Carolina.

I have to admit I’ve never understood how white supremacists were able to pull that one off.  How they were able to persuade the rest of us, African-Americans especially, but I think anybody of any race with a conscience and a memory, that it was acceptable to continue to wave the slave-owners’ flag right up into modern times.  On official buildings yet.

I know.  It’s not just the slave-owners’ flag, white Southerners will tell you.  It’s the battle flag of all those who fought and died with the best of intentions, to protect their home from a foreign invader.  Never mind that the reason the “foreigners” were invading was to keep the nation intact and ultimately to rid the south of slavery, on which its entire economy was based. 

Germany is Beethoven and Brahms, beer and sausages, castles on the Rhein, lederhosen, dirndl dresses, machine-making skills and a whole lot more.  Somebody kept those things alive during the dark days of the Third Reich.  And the same applies to Faulkner and hospitality and fried chicken.  There is no reason not to celebrate what the South has to offer the world, lofty or profane.  Losing the Civil War didn't change that. 

But you do not need the swastika to appreciate Mozart.  And you do not need the Dixie flag to love the South.  Both the swastika and the stars and bars remain ugly symbols, reminders of how even the best of us can sink into depravity.  When the German nation killed Jews by the millions, it did so under the symbol of the swastika.  When the Confederacy defended the right of white people to own people of color, to work them to death, to breed them like animals, it did so under the symbol of the Dixie flag.

I have uncles and friends who wore the uniforms of the Third Reich.  An uncle I never met went missing in North Africa while fighting under Erwin Rommel, said to be Hitler’s favorite general.
I don’t know if he was a monster, but I seriously doubt it.  He was a kid, and I would certainly support those who find his death tragic and worth honoring.  Another very good friend who was in the German navy spent his senior years caring for the cemeteries of the German war dead.  I had no difficulty with that.  These were soldiers of the Reich, but they too were victims of the war and a cause most of them lacked the wherewithal to disagree with or resist.

But you don’t paint a swastika on their graves.

If you can put ideology aside, you can see the fall of the Third Reich as a victory for the German nation.  The criminal Hitler regime had to be defeated before the nation could get on a track leading toward an egalitarian democracy.  And the South had to lose the Civil War if the slaves were going to be freed and human rights embraced.  Both the Third Reich and the Confederacy are now history.  Dead and gone and good riddance.

Overlooking the follies of one’s ancestors is one thing.  But embracing the symbols of the racist and genocidal regimes they lived under is another.

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