Thursday, July 13, 2017

Malta, marry me

OK, let’s say you’re a gay couple from Għargħur (pronounced “arur”) and you want to get married. There are several possibilities. One is to get yourself to Floriana, a route you've no doubt taken dozens of times, but just to be sure: take Santa Katerina Street south out of town. After a couple minutes it becomes Tal-Balal Street. Stay on it all the way to the first roundabout, where you should turn south onto Hal-Gharghur St. Take that all the way to the Dun Karm highway, turn left and take Dun Karm till it runs into the Regjonali. Turn right into the Regjonali, which will soon become the Marsa-Hamrun Bypass. Stay on the Marsa-Hamrun Bypass as it becomes Dicembru 13 St. and until it takes you eventually into the Virtu Passenger Terminal in Floriana.  About twelve minutes in all. Then take the catamaran ferry to Pozzallo in Sicily. That trip, which you surely know unless you've never been off the islands before, shouldn’t take more than 90 minutes, once you’re underway.
From there it’s about a 17 hour drive on the A1, via Milan (careful of the construction) across the French border to Chamonix. Same-sex marriage is now legal in France. There is a small hitch, unfortunately. You must be a resident. It is best if you communicate with the mayor’s office, the mairie, on the best way to establish residence. There is also a requirement that you publish your bans, and wait a brief period to allow for objections. That process normally takes about four weeks, so bring enough cash to get you through. Unless you have a French parent, there may be trouble getting a dispensation to wed, and I can’t caution you enough to clear this with the mairie in advance. You will probably also need a Certificat de Coutoume from your embassy, with notarized translations of any documents not already in French.  These must be authorized with an apostille stamp.  You must marry at the mairie within ten days after authorization is granted.

If a French wedding sounds too complicated, you can get to Germany in about the same time – seventeen hours – from Pozzalo, via Switzerland and Austria. (Or, if you prefer a big city, you can drive on to Munich in

about an hour more.) Germany is not quite ready yet to perform same-sex marriage, but the law is set to go into effect, barring last-minute objections by the Constitutional Court, sometime in the fall. It’s best to get in contact with the Standesamt in the city or town where you intend to marry. The ceremony will cost you between €65 and €200. It will be conducted in German and you will need to bring your own interpreter, if you need one.

The red tape for weddings in Germany for non-Germans involves about the same complexity as the red tape in France. Specifically, both partners will need:

• A valid passport

• An official birth certificate

• Proof of a minimum of 21 days of continuous residence in
Germany (this can be a Meldebescheinigung issued by the local Anmeldeamt)

• Proof of being single (Ledigkeitsbescheinigung)

• Birth certificates of children (if any) the couple may have had together

• The required application and questionnaire from the Standesamt

One or both partners may have to provide the following depending on their particular circumstances and the requirements of the local magistrate's office:

• Certificate of No Impediment (CNI) (Befreiung vom Ehefähigkeitszeugnis)

• Marriage certificates from previous marriages

• A financial statement

Once you’ve cleared those hurdles, you’re good to go.
Alternatively, you can now just drive twenty minutes over to the Phoenicia Hotel in Valletta and have your wedding at a five-star hotel. They are a licensed wedding venue, and can handle all arrangements. And, of course, you can make the arrangements yourself. You will need to apply no more than three months in advance of your wedding day but allow at least six weeks.
This third possibility just opened up today when Malta opened up marriage to same sex couples.
Click here to join the party.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Ehe für alle!

Ehe für alle!
Marriage for all!
Es ist vollbracht.  Biblical German for “it has come to pass…” or “it is accomplished.”
One needs lofty language for a day like this.
I’d like to say I don’t know why I’m so emotional about this, but that would be a lie. I’ve written many times now about my "history of things that never happened,“ and how I once was on the verge of emigrating to Germany when I got out of the army, got waylaid by Japan, and lived life on a different path. To this day, I feel an affinity for Germany, follow its public issues, and take a special interest in the rights of LGBT people in Germany.
I owe this to a German grandmother – won’t stop to tell the story here; I’ve repeated it many times elsewhere – who instilled in me a German sense of identity to the horror of to the Anglo-Saxons in the paternal side of my family. I’ve since put that "might have been" history out of mind for the most part. It only comes out on days like this, when Germany does something spectacularly well.
To the point. Same-sex marriage is now legal in

and now in Germany, as well.
Volker Beck, in the middle
The Bundestag voted marriage rights for same-sex couples into law Friday morning by a vote of 393 to 226. A strong majority, in other words, with only four abstentions and seven no-shows.
Emotions were strong. Erika Steinbach completed her final day in the Bundestag after 27 years, by telling the assembly that God meant marriage to be between men and women only. Volker Beck also completed his final day in the Bundestag after fighting ferociously for gay rights his entire political life. He is recognized as the “father of same-sex partnerships” and continued undaunted, even after losing his life-partner to cancer in 2009.  When interviewed on the victory just after the vote, he couldn’t hold the tears back.
His colleagues shower Beck with confetti
It is lost on nobody that this debate went on for some thirty sessions over the years. Unlike in many countries, where marriage rights were granted by courts or legislatures against slim majorities in the population, in Germany some 82% of the population has expressed support for same-sex couples. The positive side of this, of course, is that unlike in France and Mexico and elsewhere where there were large protests after same-sex marriage was legalized, this is not likely to happen in Germany, where the population has had more than enough time to get used to the idea.
It is not by accident that the chief opposition comes from the party in power, the party of Angela Merkel, and that party is derived from the church, and many in the party speak openly and regularly of their church affiliation and of the party’s values as “Christian values.” That includes Angela Merkel
the word gets out
herself, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. If there are any remaining doubts that organized religion is the last bastion of resistance to LGBT rights, those doubts can be put to rest here.
Merkel watchers gave, I think, too much credit to the chancellor for her part in this historic turn of events. I, too, wondered for a time whether she was voting her conscience or using the issue to her political advantage. In the end, we will never know – and, of course, it doesn’t really matter. Merkel went against the tide in her party, the CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats or, in Bavaria, the Christian Socialists are referred to together as the “Union”) by allowing in a million refugees. "On Christian grounds," she said, calling them out on their so-called Christian values. This seriously destabilized large segments of the society and turned many away from the CDU/CSU, and for a time it looked as if the Socialists had a real chance to unseat her in the upcoming elections. Only her incredible staying power has kept her afloat.

Now, once again, she surprised a lot of folk by stating that she had had dinner with the lesbian foster parents of eight children and become convinced there was no legitimate reason to see them as inadequate when it comes to raising children. So her opposition to gay adoption fell away – and that was the last remaining serious reason for withholding same-sex marriage from gay people.
breakdown of the vote by party: Union (Merkel's ruling conservatives); Socialists, Left Party and Green Party
So much for Chancellor Mutti (mommy), the warm-hearted Christian lady at the head of government. Angela pulled off a coup by releasing her party members from an obligation to vote in solidarity. They could vote their conscience, she told them. 225 Unionists voted no, 75 voted yes, in favor of same-sex marriage. Since the final vote was 393 yesses to 226 nos, it would not have made a difference, in the end. The vote would have carried anyway. But this way Merkel got to have her cake and eat it too. She personally votes no, thus tightening up her conservative credentials within the party, but allows the vote to go on, thus taking the wind out of the sails of her socialist opponents, and keeping the upper hand in the upcoming elections. Shrewd lady.
I watched the entire debate twice. It is available on YouTube here. Hope they can come up with English subtitles. Watching the Bundestag at work is a treat in itself. To folks used to the bloviating in the U.S. House and Senate, the members of the German Parliament look like they're running a town hall meeting. Watching it debate this issue is a treat with double chocolate icing. Aside from one moment of uninhibited hostility, most progressives spoke glowingly about how this decision should be self-evident, since Germany today was granting rights to a minority all the while taking absolutely nothing away from the majority. The folks on the right, speaking in opposition, could only make the usual claim that they were not homophobic (after all, they had granted partnership rights) and that everybody should respect each other regardless of where they stood on the issue. The one holdout to this view was Johannes Kahrs, a gay member of the socialist party. This issue should have been decided years ago, he said to Merkel, who was sitting within spitting distance, just behind him. “Thank you, Mrs. Merkel,” he said, “FOR NOTHING!”

After all is said and done, what matters is that another barrier to LGBT rights around the world has fallen, this time in the most populous country in Europe.

Happy day.

Oh, happy happy day.

photo credits:

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Young Pope - a review

The Young Pope, a made-for-TV series in ten episodes, starring Jude Law as Pope Pius XIII, is built on a brilliant paradox. The handsome youth, the first ever American pope, would seem to be a walking advertisement for modernity and progressive ideas. In reality, he is the embodiment of the conservative extreme, as far removed ideologically from the current Pope Francis as it is possible to go.

Progressive Catholics have for some time now been trying in vain to turn their church away from the view that heterosexual men should rule the world. Vatican II has failed to get much traction so far, and time after time the Curia has managed to place one conservative after another back in power to fix the mess, as they see it, that John XXIII made in the 60s. Pope Francis’s warmth and relative informality gave great hope at first, but time has made it clear he is not really going to shake things up much. It’s still pretty much business as usual in the Vatican.
That reality has obviously had an impact on the imagination of Paolo Sorrentino, the creator and director of The Young Pope, who has created a fictional character who is simultaneously saint and psychopath. OK, Sorrentino is saying, "What if you guys had your way and got a real conservative to run the show?" And what if this conservative turns out to be the quintessential everyman, i.e., saint and sinner all rolled into one?
As the character of the fictional Pope Pius XIII begins to unfold, the contradictions come across at first as a loud noise. New York Times reviewer James Poniewozik refers to the series as a “pulpy and disjointed…art-house ‘Vatican of Cards’.”  But with time, due in part to some splendid acting, the notion of a young modern-looking pope who turns out to be the most reactionary conservative pope yet, begins to seem not all that hard to conceive of. After all, we live in the age of Donald Trump. Where once we objected that “surely they would not have put a man like this in office,” and “nobody can be quite this self-serving and egotistical,” we now know those once firmly held certainties are certainties no longer.

Trump comes to mind each time Pius frustrates and sometimes terrifies those around him with his unpredictability and his autocratic nature. The plot line has it that the manipulative progressive Secretary of State, Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), has won out against his rival, the manipulative Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell), by persuading his fellow electors in the Conclave (Voiello is simultaneously camerlengo, i.e., Vatican treasurer) that a handsome young face is just what the church needs to regenerate lagging church support after the damage inflicted by recent scandals.
The series begins to grab hold of you once you realize it’s not just about sinister self-serving old men (and yes, they are quite sinister) but about the kind of men found in all large organizations, including especially the Church itself. These are men with a utilitarian ethical system who believe (or act as if they believe) that evil done in the service of good is excusable. At one point the pope says to Voiello, who has just shown him the button under his desk which summons a nun with an excuse that his next appointment is waiting, when he wants to escape an undesirable audience, “You mean, you tell her to lie.” “Yes,” says Voiello, “But she will have plenty of time to repent.” Some have called this “moral flexibility” the “Italian way of running things.” A witty way of poking fun when it comes to little white lies. Something else again when there are larger issues at stake.

It was precisely this mode of thinking that led to the cover-ups in the child abuse scandals. Cardinals thought that ignoring justice and treatment for innocent child victims for the greater good of protecting the reputation of the church was just their way of doing God’s work.That thinking has since backfired badly, and provided a reason for why the church should want a pretty young face to hopefully put things right.
There is a moment in the film of delicious naivete when it becomes clear to Voiello that the pope he was convinced he would be able to manipulate has a will beyond Voiello’s reach. The pope has taken to telling his flock they should not stop to adore him or the church but go directly to God. Never mind that that message is nonsense, considering the historical role the church has taken on as explainer of God’s will through its magisterium, its teachings. Voiello wonders aloud whether it could actually be the Holy Spirit at work. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit selecting this pope in the first place, Voiello wonders aloud, and is now guiding him to reform the church, effectively announcing to his fellow bishops that this bullshit we have been sending out about how our actions are guided by the Holy Spirit is actually true! Just because you're a Machiavellian doesn't mean you can't be a believer.
This then raises the next question. Is the absolutism of the pope, the insistence on maintaining the traditions of the church, the male supremacy, the autocracy, the infallibility, the role of cleric as intercessor, the church as the “only true faith,” the sole door to Heaven, is that actually all true?
Absolutism is at the opposite extreme from openness. The logic of absolute truth is its unbending denial of flexibility, doubt, and diversity. The attractiveness of The Young Pope is its exploration of the notion of what would happen if the absolutists were to gain the upper hand, if they were able to persuade the masses that their claims to speak for God required absolute obedience and submission to the church’s claims.
The heart of the film is the scene where the Pope reveals in his address to his cardinals that these are to be the goals of his reign. He puts on the papal tiara, which he has recalled to the Vatican from a museum in America, dons the robes and sits before his cardinal minions in Oriental splendor to announce the new policy, one that the last pope Benedict XIV hinted at but never got around to actually implementing.  It is worth citing in its entirety, spoken in modern American informal English:

Knock knock! Knock knock! We’re not in. 

Brother cardinals, from this day forward, we’re not in, no matter who’s knocking on our door. We’re in, but only for God. From this day forward, everything that was wide open is gonna be closed. Evangelization. We’ve already done it. Ecumenicalism. Been there, done that. Tolerance. It doesn’t live here anymore. It’s been evicted. It vacated the house for the new tenant, who has diametrically opposite tastes in decorating. We’ve been reaching out to others for years now. It’s time to stop!

We are not going anywhere. We are here. Because, what are we? We are cement. And cement doesn’t move. We are cement without windows. So, we don’t look to the outside world. “Only the Church possesses the charisma of truth” said St. Ignatius of Antioch. And he was right. We have no reason to look out. Instead, look over there.
What do you see? That’s the door. The only way in. Small and extremely uncomfortable. And anyone who wants to know us has to find out how to get through that door.

Brother cardinals, we need to go back to being prohibited. Inaccessible and mysterious. That’s the only way we can once again become desirable. That is the only way great love stories are born. And I don’t want any more part-time believers. I want great love stories. I want fanatics for God. Because fanaticism is love. Everything else is strictly a surrogate, and it stays outside the church.

With the attitudes of the last Papacy, the church won for itself great expressions of fondness from the masses. It became popular. Isn’t that wonderful, you might be thinking! We received plenty of esteem and lots of friendship. I have no idea what to do with the friendship of the whole wide world.

What I want is absolute love and total devotion to God. Could that mean a Church only for the few? That’s a hypothesis, and a hypothesis isn’t the same as reality. But even this hypothesis isn’t so scandalous. I say: better to have a few that are reliable than to have a great many that are distractible and indifferent. The public squares have been jam-packed, but the hearts have been emptied of God. You can’t measure love with numbers, you can only measure it in terms of intensity. In terms of blind loyalty to the imperative.

Fix that word firmly in your souls: Imperative.

From this day forth, that’s what the Pope wants, that’s what the Church wants, that’s what God wants. And so the liturgy will no longer be a social engagement, it will become hard work. And sin will no longer be forgiven at will. 

I don’t expect any applause from you. There will be no expressions of thanks in this chapel. None from me. And none from you. Courtesy and good manners are not the business of men of God. What I do expect is that you will do what I have told you to do. There is nothing outside your obedience to Pius XIII. Nothing except Hell. A Hell you may know nothing about, but I do. Because I’ve built it, right behind that door: Hell.

In the past few days, I’ve had to build Hell for you, that’s why I’ve come to you belatedly. I know you will obey, because you’ve already figured out that this Pope isn’t afraid to lose the faithful if they’ve been even slightly unfaithful, and that means this Pope does not negotiate. On anything or with anyone. And this Pope cannot be blackmailed!

From this day forth, the word “compromise”, has been banished from the vocabulary. I’ve just deleted it. When Jesus willingly mounted the cross, he was not making compromises. And neither am I.


Part and parcel of Roman Catholic conservatism is the elevation of the person of the pope to near-divine status. Pius IX declared the pope infallible during Vatican I, and even though that applies strictly speaking when he is speaking ex cathedra, most of his pronouncements take on near infallible status. To maintain this status, the pope is garbed in sumptuous silks and satins, his fingers covered in jewels and his feet in red slippers. This distinction from ordinary men carries over to the hierarchy as well, with the Cardinals being referred to as “princes” of the Church. Sorrentino makes much of the power of this visual distinction between ordinary men and those with claims to be divinely associated. The film is a feast for the eyes. And Sorrentino has gone even further. His pope is a beautiful hunk of man, seen to be pumping up at regular intervals in the gym. Beautiful and strong and powerful is our “young pope.” With big blue eyes, yet.

I stumbled at first over the fact that Sorrentino decided to have the pope actually be a saint in reality (fictional reality, I mean, of course). He has him perform certifiable miracles. I saw that as confusion on Sorrentino’s part over whether he meant to make the pope an actual saint or simply a vehicle for his audience to question what one would have to be like to qualify. Does one simply have to hold out against abortion, homosexuality, women’s rights, and euthanasia? And maintain clerical celibacy and hierarchy? Or does one have to persuade God to put aside his natural laws in response to prayers as well? Are Catholics watching the film meant to be persuaded this may be an actual saint? Or is Sorrentino seeking to subvert the conservative project?

The weakness of the series is the weakness of all series; it is hard to maintain a constant level of interest for ten solid hours. As a binge-watcher, I am an advocate of not allowing too much time between episodes to pass, so that the characters and events remain vivid. But I understand that all series require soap opera like subplots to fill the time, and often those subplots can become distractions which have the same effect as long breaks. In the end, several of the subplots I first assumed to be distractions turned out to be carefully woven twists that both kept the plot going and revealed the true nature of the main characters. The manipulation of the alcoholic Monsignor Gutierrez (played effectively by Javier Cámara of Talk to Her fame) into becoming his better self by sending him out into the world for the first time to deal with a priest abuse crisis, for example. And the way the pope learns to love the child he has brought into being through a miracle.

Examples of good writing, in other words. To go along with some good acting, generally. (Wish that applied to Diane Keaton, the only actor I thought was badly cast.)
In the end, as much as The Young Pope is considered by some to be satirical, the story is not a critique of the church, unless you (like me) insist on making it one. It is much more the story of an imperfect soul, not that different from the rest of us, who gets to imagine for a while that he can change the world.

The underlying story line is powerful. Lenny Belardo, an orphan who grows up to be pope, is haunted by the need to find his parents, whom he learns at some point are still alive, but do not want to be found. In times of despair, that search becomes a reason for carrying on, and a plot device that carries the story throughout. Some seriously good writing here. Even an occasional bon mot. ("Goodness, unless combined with imagination, runs the risk of being mere exhibitionism.")

I’m not sure that applies to the decision to put a kangaroo in the garden. Have to think about that some more.

photo credits
(with cigarette: