1. Emblem of the city of Offenburg
    I had a friend years ago whose family name was Reutlinger.  “What is a Reutlinger?  Somebody who reutlings?” I asked, thinking I was being cute.  I should have known it’s the German way of identifying somebody from Reutlingen, in Baden-Württemberg, the German state that snuggles up to France and Switzerland and has Stuttgart for a capital.  Maybe I should have asked what a reut is, since “ling” sounds like a diminutive.  You know as in “foundling” -  a little found thing.  Or as a duckling is to a duck or a gosling to a goose.  Sometimes used derogatively, as in “princeling” – some minor nobody in the royal family.  Fingerling potatoes, some of my favorite things.

    Anyway, I suppose if you are a Baden-Württemberger – you know, as somebody (or something) from Hamburg is a Hamburger and somebody (or something) from Frankfurt is a Frankfurter – you will have to ask not only what a reut is.  You’ll have to ask what a bob, or an ess, a tutt, a ba or a vill is, as well, since there are lots of folks in Baden-Württemberg who are from Böbling, Esslingen, Tuttlingen, Balingen and Villingen.  Villingen-Schwenningen, actually, but I’m assuming that before there was a Villingen-Schwenningen, there were people who were Villingers and other people who were Schwenningers.  But I digress.  And if I’m going to digress, I’m going to have to ask why there are so many –ingens as well.  Lingens without the l – in Baden-Württemberg.  Like Tübingen, for example.  Or Sigmaringen.  That’s likely explained by the Germanic love of the –ng sound.  King and Kong, thing and thong, sing a song while you play ping-pong, and the like.

    But back to Baden-Württemberg.  Why do they combine so much?  Baden-Baden, for example, which means something like “bath-bath.”  Not something like bath-bath, but bath-bath.  What’s that?  Besides being the setting for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I mean.  And the town where Queen Victoria, Berlioz, Brahms, Turgenev and Dostoevsky were known to “take the waters.”  Fans of Brahms can visit his house there to this day – he actually lived there permanently.  Thanks to Google, I just got an answer to my question.  There are lots of Badens, evidently, and this one is located in the state of Baden (think New York, New York).  So no mystery there, turns out, except that I guess that means Baden-Baden today is officially Baden-Baden, Baden-Württemberg.  Not to be confused with that place where the Canadians holed up during the Cold War, Baden-Söllingen, Baden-Württemberg. 

    Baden-Württemberg has other mouthfuls.  Mouths full.  Imagine having to tell people you’re from Schwäbisch-Gmünd all the time.  Or having to live in Pfortzheim and work in Furtwangen and make sure you didn’t make all the kids laugh when you got them mixed up and called one of them Furzheim or Furzwangen – which would translate “fart home” or “fart cheeks.”

    Leutkirch is kind of nice.  “People Church” has a nice ring to it.  As does Heilbronn – “healing well.”  Heilbronn, I understand, serves as the economic center for Ittlingen (what’s an itt?), by the way, as well as Massenbachhausen, Pfaffenhofen, and Untergruppenbach, just in case you were collecting home towns with five syllables or more.  OK, so Pfaffenhofen has only four.  It’s still funny.  Pfaffe (you know how High German pf , f and p are all related historically, and Apfel is apple, and the p of pater in the Romance languages comes out f as in father in the Germanic languages?  Well, Pfaffe apparently was once papa and Hof is “court,” so Pfaffenhofen was some sort of priestly court, except that Pfaffe today has lost its pizzazz and means something like “shifty vicar” or hypocritical Holy Joe.  Not that Pfaffenhofer think any less of themselves any more than people on Broadway think of their street as the street of the broads.

    Just one of them nasty coincidences, I suppose.  Like Tauberbishofsheim in Northern Baden-Württemberg, which, to the uninformed, might suggest a home for deaf bishops (a deaf bishop = ein tauber Bischof).  Since Tauber are also male doves or pigeons, there are other possibilities, which I won’t go into.

    I spent a little time in Freiburg im Breisgau (full name enables you to avoid confusion with other Freiburgs - just as the place where the Franks forded the Rhine is not the same place as where the Franks crossed the Oder (i.e., Frankfurt am Rhein is not Frankfurt an der Oder, which is a river, and not just the German word for "or"), a lovely little university town on the edge of the Black Forest.   The junior year program I was affiliated with had a branch in Munich, where I studied (sort of) and another in Freiburg, and we bounced back and forth because friend Dal (for Dallas), whose real name was Tom Sawyer, had been assigned, much to the chagrin of the other three of us in the foursome friendship, to Freiburg.   We adored him (well, I did, anyway) and missed him so much we borrowed Rudolf’s 1948 VW and smashed it up in Strassbourg one time while visiting.  Rudolf never forgave us, I think.  But I didn’t worry too much about that because when Rudolf was my roommate, instead of washing his socks, he would hang them on the windowsill to air, and I was not filled with a great sense of obligation. 

    So much water under the bridge.         

    My interest today in Baden-Württemberg comes from looking up the background of Angela Merkel’s Number Two Man in Germany – Wolfgang Schäuble.  He’s from Baden-Württemberg and, as Germany's Finance Minister, figures large in the story of Greece’s demise or rescue – the jury, as they say, is still out on that – and possibly the demise of the euro, if not the European Union.

    Probably not.  That’s a highly pessimistic worst-case scenario.   In the meantime, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about the Grexit background, including this man Schäuble.  And his counterpart in Greece, Yanis Varoufakis.  This little clip helped.

    But, as you may have noticed, I am easily distracted.


    Emblem of the city of Offenburg, in Baden-Württemberg, which Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble represents in the German Parliament.  I'd use a prettier picture, except that they all seem to be copyrighted and I don't want to mess with any law-and-order people for the time being.  I understand use of this photo is acceptable as long as I'm not making any money from it. I assure you nobody sends me money for any blog entries - nobody ever has.  And I have nothing but good things to say about Offenburg or Baden-Württemberg.  Even if Gmünd is not a sound one should have to make in polite society.  The link is here.


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  2. 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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  3. 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 an 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.


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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. The tension mounts for those of us hoping the Supreme Court will announce in the next few days that the right of same-sex couples to marry is the law of the land.  Mind-readers and soothsayers are trying to guess how Justice Kennedy is going to vote.  The assumption is the court will vote along ideological lines, although both sides will find justifications in the law for their decisions.  It just wouldn’t do to suggest there is arbitrariness in their thinking on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case that will determine whether that last major barrier to gay dignity will fall.

    For those of us with a dog in this race, it’s an open-and-shut case.  All the arguments on one side stem from the concept of “abominations,” a misreading of the taboo against following gods other than the God of Abraham.  And all the arguments on the other side stem from the conviction that there is no higher value than equality among men and women.  A fair airing of these two positions in a secular courtroom is all it takes to make plain there is no actual argument.

    That’s the conclusion, for example, in  Kenji Yoshino’s book on the story behind the Prop. 8 Trial, Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial.  The plaintiffs, those asking for same-sex marriage rights, present their seventeen witnesses (eight lay witnesses and nine expert ones).  The proponents of Prop. 8 present their two, one of whom recants when the trial is over, and the story is told.

    The story reads like a detective novel.  Yoshino is a beautiful writer.  To read him is to come away convinced there is only one way the Court can decide.  We are heading for one giant “I told you so.”  Either that, or the shock and disillusionment of the century.

    It would be a mistake to suggest Yoshino’s take on the trial is just political.  He is a gay man, is married with children, and makes no secret of how he wants the court to decide.  But his stated goal in writing the book is not so much to advance gay rights as it is to outline the importance of trial courts in American life.  He’s writing more as a lawyer than as a gay man, a fan of the American legal system, and the role the trial courts play in solving major social and cultural issues. 

    He's also a master story-teller.  Yoshino weaves his own personal story into the background story of how religious groups took from gay people the right to marry in California, but they got it back again.  What you’d expect to be a dry account of just another trial turns out to be a fascinating tale of people getting their act together and fixing things.  Judge Vaughn Walker decides to make his trial all about fact-finding, knowing he’s creating an important document and a major moment in American legal history.  Detractors like to paint the star-studded plaintiffs’ lawyers Olson and Boies as egoists seeking the limelight. They saw this as potentially the civil rights case of the century and couldn’t resist grabbing and running with it, the criticism goes.  Yoshino argues back, revealing the soundness of their strategy, the conviction that liberals and conservatives ought to be able to unite behind the 14th Amendment, regardless of any one starting place on homosexuality, that what unites them is a respect for the rule of law and the Constitution. 

    What ended up at the Supreme Court as Hollingsworth v. Perry began with the Prop. 8 trial, where it was known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger.  From the start, the story grows bigger than any single person or group can contain.  When proponents of Prop. 8 attempt to shut down the microphones and the cameras on the trial, they are foiled by Dustin Lance Black, who writes a play based on the transcript.  All of these details are contextualized in Yoshino’s account.  All pop off the page like twists in the plot of a whodunit.

    Yoshino’s book has only been out a month, but it has already attracted a surprising array of glowing endorsements.  (All references that follow are from the book jacket or Amazon editorial page.)  The New York Times Book Review calls it “lucid, subtle and illuminating.”  The Boston Globe calls it “stirring…both timely and durable.”  Andrew Solomon fairly gushes:

    Precision and compassion are frequently opposed, but Kenji Yoshino writes with almost fanatical clarity about the vulnerabilities of the human heart.  His hard-won ability to imbue intellectual conundrums with moral certainty, his meticulous reporting on legal mechanisms and procedures, and his willingness to acknowledge his personal interest in Perry without indulging it to boost his arguments are all signs of his penetrating mind and dignified spirit. His exquisite restraint and quiet eloquence imbue this book, which is as much a triumph of poetry as it is of legal reasoning.”  (emphasis in original)

    And Solomon’s not alone.  Walter Isaacson calls Yoshino’s style “breathtakingly beautiful” and tells us, “By the end, I had tears in my eyes.”

    The beautiful writing, in my view, is just icing on the cake.  Yoshino’s colleagues in the law  recognize what he has accomplished here.  Dahlia Lithwick of Slate calls the book a “scrupulously written account of why facts matter, why trials matter, and why courts are well situated to unearth complex truths.”  Lawrence Tribe takes it even further.  Kenji Yoshino, he says, “offers brilliant insights into the ways a well-run civil trial can serve as an engine of cultural awakening.”

    Not without publicity.  Not without books like this one, to tell the story of a trial that many have labeled the gay rights trial of the new century.  Without voices like Yoshino’s the story just becomes yesterday’s news, and we move on and think the change happens all by itself.  It doesn’t.  It takes people to move things.

    I still have a “No on Prop. 8” bumper sticker on my car.  It was an important time in my life, the last time I got actively involved in the cause of gay liberation.  My husband and I volunteered to work on the campaign and spent hours in San Francisco telephoning to get out the vote and encourage people not to fall for the line the Catholic and Mormon Churches were feeding the public, that it was all about keeping their children safe.  It was the Anita Bryant campaign all over again.  And to our horror and disillusionment with our fellow Californians, we lost the battle.  The state, influenced by a particularly insidious religious ideology, stepped in and used that ideology to take away a civil right.

    What we couldn’t see at the time, though, was that just as the Anita Bryant campaign backfired and gave gay people a reason to get off their behinds and do something, the passing of Prop. 8, which took away the right of same-sex couples to marry in California, shook people out of their lethargy and made plain the injustice of its cause.  The Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial that took place in Judge Walker’s court and later became Hollingsworth v. Perry before the Supreme Court, the case that has us on pins and needles for a decision due out any day now, that case which aired all the misinformation, all the homophobia, all the bigotry, would not have taken place if Prop. 8 had failed.  We would have won the battle and it’s quite likely the war would have slogged on like some World War I misery in the trenches.  Instead, we got the doors and windows open and now have a chance to rid ourselves of the dank smell of homophobia once and for all in this country.  It's a lesson in patience and staying cool.

    It has been a long hard slog.  People don’t let go easily of religious notions implanted in childhood.  Once you convince yourself God wants you to look askance at Philistines, philistine is ever after a bad word.  Once you are persuaded your scriptures are God speaking to you, what are you to do with the information that the Midianites all deserved to die because they don't worship as you do?  How do you keep from looking around for modern-day Midianites?

    Interestingly, the reason Prop. 8 passed eventually became clear.  We focused on facts instead of emotions, thinking that we could convince people with reason that gays and lesbians deserved equal rights.  We thought the case was so obvious, nobody could miss it.

    But they did miss it.  And so the campaign changed, and we began getting gay and lesbian people to tell their stories.  To sit with non-gays and tell them what it’s like to live in their skin and feel injustice in their bones.  And the non-gays, bless their hearts, listened.  The polls show that year by year attitudes changed.  Today, the majority of the American people are in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

    Yoshino explains how Olson and Boies used the same approach in the trial.  Instead of “statistical compassion” they used “narrative compassion.”  Yoshino demonstrates the distinction in Ronald Reagan.  Sit him down with facts and figures about poverty and homelessness, and the man was cold as ice.  Unmoved.  Put a real person in front of him to tell his story and Reagan could be quite compassionate.  You can call this manipulating people through their emotions.  You can also call it getting them to put aside longstanding lists of arguments and figures, often arbitrarily collected, and look at a person’s lived reality.   It’s one thing for the religious right and their lawyers to go on about the necessity of saving marriage from gays who would dilute the sacredness.  And quite another to sit in front of a man like the co-plaintiff Jeffrey Zarillo and hear him say of his partner, Paul Katami, that he loved Katami “probably more than I love myself.”  He continued, Yoshino tells us. “I would do anything for him.  I would put his needs ahead of my own."

    Yoshino shows how the trial cast the conflict between pro-same-sex marriage and anti-same sex marriage in a new light, when you have to listen to real people.  From the right, we hear the argument that gays should not be allowed to adopt children, that they are putting their own selfish desires as adults over the needs of children.  But it’s hard to read the testimony of the plaintiffs and sustain this view, Yoshino explains.

    Is loving another adult more than you love yourself selfish?  …  Perry and Stier were raising four sons together – each woman had brought two sons into the relationship.  How might they have behaved more selflessly?  Should Stier have stayed in her previous marriage to a man?  Should Perry, who had conceived her twins through artificial reproductive technology, not have had them in the first place?  Should heterosexual couples be banned from using sperm or egg donors?  Should the women have ended their eleven-year relationship and married men?  Such questions would be raised with the expert witnesses.  But the proponents [of the ban on same-sex marriage] did not ask the plaintiffs a single question on the stand about their personal lives.  (p. 95)

    Yoshino demonstrates how, when gay people get to tell their story (when the focus is on the narrative reality, not the statistical one) they are able to make clear the distinction between a “negative liberty” and a “responsibility right.”  That is, it’s not about the right to be left alone.  To practice sex as you like.  It’s about the right to take on the responsibility of being a spouse, and potentially a parent.  That switch of focus is often missed in public debates and online chats, where anybody can say anything without regard to truth or balance or evidence.  But when things are slowed down in a courtroom and the judge, jury and witnesses can hear and see for themselves what it feels like to be denied the right to marry, one comes to see the animus in trying to paint people who want to marry as selfish.

    [If you’re interested in an excellent summary of the main arguments of the case, check out Bill Moyers’ interview with Olson and Boies just after the trial’s end here.] 

    The benefit of a thorough hearing, where all of these arguments are brought out in one place, is that it exposes the fact that it is animus and insensitivity, not reason, that motivates the opponents of same-sex marriage.  Yoshino cites Justice Kennedy in this regard:

    Prejudice, we are beginning to understand, rises not from malice or hostile animus alone.  It may result as well from insensitivity caused by simple want of careful, rational reflection or from some instinctive mechanism to guard against people who appear to be different in some respects from ourselves. (p. 190)

    I need to inject one slight hesitation in this otherwise strong endorsement of Speak Now.  As much as Yoshino was able to put the complexities of the case in plain language, my lack of familiarity with a couple legal concepts made me stumble.  The distinction between legislative facts and adjudicative facts, for example, required my going outside the book for a quick and dirty Wikipedia reference.  Other expressions – de novo vs. clear error reviews, occasionally slowed me down.  In the end, though, I preferred being asked to step up to the task of understanding the legal system over being talked down to.  These challenges were few and far between and I have the impression the concepts helped frame the story, and I believe I have a better grasp on the culture of the courtroom than I ever had before.

    The decision to carry the public discourse on same-sex marriage into the courtroom and argue it under the strictest rules of court procedure now means we have a record of how that issue is debated when some of the country’s best minds are put to work on it.  That record becomes available to future court cases, not only in the United States, but abroad, where gay rights are still little more than a dream.  “Nations,” Yoshino says, “can live under the truths of the trial before they are asked to live up to them.” (p. 279).

    In a more perfect world, we would subject all of our most complex issues to the kind of scrutiny same-sex marriage has received.  Abortion.  Immigration.  Climate change.  Whether guns deter crime.  “For me,” says Yoshino, “my convictions about the importance of the civil trial are just as consequential as my convictions about marriage.  And so I say again – for the next great legal controversy that turns on key legislative facts: Let there be a trial.” (p. 280)

    photo credit

    Addendum [added June 22]: Yoshino's conclusion that a court trial can serve as a valuable educational tool, is nicely summarized in the April 21 edition of Advocate.com: 


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  7. Bravery, Loyalty, Hospitality.

    What’s wrong with that?

    A whole lot better than cowardice, treachery and get the hell out of here.

    I have to admit I’ve never seen a coat of arms before where the name of the place is abbreviated.  And so abbreviated that a stranger looking at it would never guess in a million years what it is supposed to say.

    standard apple-headed brown and white
    Chihuahua doggy
    proud tri-colored Chihuahua doggy
    But that’s Chihuahua, where my little girls are said to come from originally – the part of them that is not Jack Russell terrier, that is.  So you’ll understand if I am predisposed to think generously when it comes to the place’s quirks.  Like breeding dogs with apple-shaped heads and wide spaces between their gorgeous bulging eyeballs.  Which are called Chihuahuas in English only.  In Spanish, they are chihuahueños.

    Chihuahua puppies - possibly from Delicias
    I decided years ago I never wanted to live too far from the ocean.  And when there’s no ocean within reach mountains are nice, although they can be claustrophobic.  But much as I recognize the charms of the cactus plant, the idea of living in a city known as the “Queen of the Desert” does not tickle my fancy much.  OK, not at all.  So living in Chihuahua city is out.  Juárez, is out.  Too much crime.  Cuauhtémoc has a nice snap to it.  Delicias – how could one not want to live in a place called delicious?  (“Delights,” actually.)  Guess if my girls ever got the urge to explore their ethnic origins, I might spend a little time there.  But I’d want to come back home.

    In Náhuatl, “Chihuahua” means “dry sandy place” evidently.  Home to Pancho Villa.  The state of Chihuahua is bigger than Great Britain.  It’s the biggest state in Mexico.  Before the discovery of geothermal power, the lights used to go out all the time in Chihuahua.

    the techichi
    Did you know the Chihuahuha evolved from the Techichi?  A “small, mute dog" that kept the Toltec people happy as early as the 9th Century.

    And what’s with all these funny names?  I’ve spent time in Mexico, so I’m aware the indigenous people liked to put t and l together.  Lots of -huatls.    Mazatlán.  Popocatépetl.

    Our very own Miki
    And our very own Ms. Boobie
    But what’s with all these alliteratives?  These repetitions like wawa in Chihuahua.  Or popo in Popocatépetl.  The Tarahumara Indians.  And the pièce de résistance, Puerto Topolobampo, in Sinaloa, where the Kansas City Mexico Orient Railroad was supposed to end up after passing through Chihuahua.  Never got built because Pancho Villa stirred up too much trouble against the rich hacienda owners.  But that’s history for another time.

    Today, it’s time to celebrate the fact that Chihuahua State joins its neighboring Coahuila State to the East in allowing same-sex marriage.    

    Just thought you ought to know.


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  8. St. Thomas Church
    Kreuzberg, Berlin
    I blogged the other day on how the spin from Ireland’s Referendum on LGBT rights is impacting the rest of the world, and Germany in particular.  The German upper house, the Bundesrat, proposed following suit, and making it possible for lesbians and gays in Germany, who already have the right to form “registered partnerships,” granting them all the rights of marriage except the right to adopt children, to take that last step.  The lower house, the Bundestag, is putting on the brakes.  And it comes as no surprise that the folks with their hands on the brake are members of the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. 

    Don’t let the title “social” fool you.  The two union parties have joined forces and work most of the time as a single “union” of Germany’s mainstream conservatives.  They are headed by Angela Merkel.

    A new party, the “Alternative for Germany” Party (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD, in German) was formed in 2013 and is situated politically to the right of Germany’s conservatives.  The other political parties of any size, the Socialist Party, the Green Party and the Left party, are all to the left.

    Anne Will, one of Germany’s most popular TV talk hosts, chose the topic of same-sex marriage for her recent broadcast on June 11, and opened with the question of whether Germany should follow Ireland and go all the way.  The way things stand now in Germany, this means should gays be allowed to adopt children.  To her right, she had two guests with sharply opposing views, one pro-gay, the other anti-gay.  To her left she had the same division, one pro, the other anti.  But there was something else interesting about the two on her left.  The anti-gay guest was a leading politician of Bavaria’s CSU.  The pro-gay guest was a priest.  And gay.

    To be fair, the terms “pro-gay” and “anti-gay” are my terms, and the two I designated anti-gay would no doubt protest this loudly.  In their view they are very pro-gay, in fact.  They simply happen to be drawing the line against allowing gay people to marry.  And maybe not even that, anymore.  But yes, I draw the line, they say, on adoption.  We must think of the children.  Not indulge gay people's whims at their expense.  

    Funny how I used to accept that theoretically one might be “pro-gay” and still find reasons to protest giving gay people the right to marry.  Now I marvel at the fact that even gay people themselves, myself included, took so long to catch on to how thoroughly the insidious message has been culturally transmitted that there is something about being gay that is not quite right.  Even after years of focusing intently on homophobia, both theoretically and in every day experience, one can still miss the fact that if you dig for it (because it's often buried), the only justification people are coming up with for resisting LGBT people’s right to marry turns out to be a religious one, that those religious reasons are arbitrary, and that civil rights ought not be dictated by anybody’s religious notions in the first place.  How is allowing two men or two women to raise a child not good for the child?  Because God created the family male-and-female, male-and-female created he them.  That's why.  

    So I stand by my choice of words.  Despite their expression of love for “the gays,” these two are anti-gay.

    But I don’t want to go down that path at the moment.  Instead I want to comment on the fascinating story I became aware of as I listened to those two Catholic men describe the world they knew, each one describing it through the catholic lens they each had at their disposal.

    Just let me say, before getting to the point, that the fact that all four guests felt obliged to express sympathy in unequivocal language for the LGBT struggle for equality and self-determination is a stunning indicator of just how far the struggle has advanced.  And that includes not overlooking the fact that the program’s moderator, Anne Will, experiences the world as a lesbian as well.

    Where does this last hang-up in Germany over full recognition of the right of LGBT people to adopt and raise children come from?   The notion that it’s best if children have a male and a female parent – their own biological parents if at all possible – still dominates the discourse on same-sex rights.  The fact that the ruling party is Christian-identified is not coincidental.  As in the United States, the correlation between religious affiliation and homophobia is strong, and where the German church still has a voice, gays have a harder row to hoe.

    German talk shows get quite heated – like the media in the U.S., no surprise, controversy seems to bring more folks to the TV couch than the quiet laying out of factual information.  As I listened to the four guests battle it out, it struck me how well the producers of this Anne Will program had done their job.  I doubt, actually, you could get four more interesting voices together, in terms of their views on the topic.  One was the highly articulate and intelligent Frauke Petry, a chemist from Dresden who became an entrepreneur before finally going into politics and becoming the first party spokesperson of the far right AfD Party at its founding.  Often falsely understood as Germany’s analogue to the Tea Party for its nationalist leanings, it is also known as the "professors'" party, since so many of its members hold PhDs.  Many are economists opposed to the surrender of the German mark to the euro.  In any case, Ms. Petry took the stance that her support for same-sex registered partnerships should qualify her as a pro-gay supporter.  Never mind that “that’s good enough” doesn’t satisfy the majority of LGBT people now demanding full marriage rights, including the right to adopt children.

    The person next to her was a no less articulate voice for the other side.  Yasmin Fahimi is the general secretary of Germany’s Socialist Party.  Her views reflect her party’s official position – there is no reason why German citizens should be divided into those with full marriage rights, including adoption rights, and those without. Forced to defend her coalition's dragging its feet on this last step toward full LGBT rights, her only appeal was that the health of the coalition trumped her dedication to full gay rights (the Christian Democrats are the majority member of the coalition, remember, and the Socialists only the junior member), and she hoped the Socialists will one day prevail and Ms. Merkel and chums will ultimately come around.

    The talk show, like many others, reflected the fact that the battle over LGBT rights appears to be splitting the country down the middle.  But only politically.  As in the United States, the government is running behind popular support.  The majority of Germans polled came out in favor of same-sex marriage rights as early as 2006.  A poll conducted in 2012 put that figure at 66% (with adoption support at 59%), and according to another poll, conducted by Reuters in February 2013, by that time that figure had risen to 74%,  And still, the German parliament (the Bundestag) drags its feet.

    In the end, however, interesting as the discussion was, with nice clear statements of the various points of view, the debate shed no new light on the struggle, and I became distracted by what is clearly a side story to this 75-minute discussion on adoption rights, that troublesome last step toward full equality for LGBT people.  There on the stage, to the left of the moderator, were two self-identified Roman Catholics, one who clearly represents the official church, and one who could be said to represent those on the margin.  The mainstream member was Christian Social Union politician Thomas Goppel, the retired Bavarian Prime Minister (the Social Union is a state party as well as a national party).  He spent much of his time trying to make the distinction between "making distinctions between things that are different" and discrimination.  All very logical.  Very heady. "We cannot get away from the fact that men and women are different!"  Missing the woods for the trees, as people who take this tack usually do, he failed to explain why his distinction should make a difference.

    The outlier was a priest named Norbert Reicherts, who has lived with his husband, another Roman Catholic priest, since 2005.  Together, they founded, in 2006, the Center for Theology and Pastoral Care in Cologne, besides which Reicherts does volunteer work with the mentally ill.

    Reicherts and his husband, Christoph Schmidt, were excommunicated in 1998 when they came out of the closet.  But they refused to accept the excommunication.  “We will always be priests,” says Schmidt.  “It is a title given to us by God, and no one can take it away from us.”    When Reicherts spoke, it was the voice of a man whose life is on the line.  The difference between Goppel and Reicherts was the difference between information on a statistical table, and narrative truth.

    The day before Pope Benedict made his visit to Germany in the fall of 2011 and caused considerable consternation by addressing the Bundestag, Schmidt and Reicherts travelled to Berlin to protest the pope’s treatment of gays and lesbians by holding a mass in the St. Thomas Church in the Kreuzberg district.  They couldn’t get a catholic church to open its doors to them, obviously, so they approached the folks at St. Thomas.  St. Thomas is a Protestant Church, and according to Bertold Höcker, the man responsible for Lutheran churches in the Kreuzberg district, where St. Thomas is located, “it was only natural that we would make the space available in Christian brother and sisterhood.”   Höcker also expressed the hope that this event might revive some moribund discussions on ecumenical cooperation.  Something has to happen, he said.  Things are at a standstill.  

    I don’t know if he actually made it, but the Roman Catholic mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit said he planned to attend.   The purpose of saying mass on the eve of the pope’s visit, the priests declared, was to demonstrate that “it is possible to be a believer and a gay person at the same time.”

    Here you have the conflict between religious identity and management of the physical church in a nutshell.   Whether you take that to be rubbing a little extra salt in the wound or putting your ecumenical money where your mouth is, depends on which catholic lens you are using - Goppel's or Reicherts'.

    Whether this is the kickstart needed for the job of getting the various churches to start talking to each other again is a separate question.  First thing that happened is Berlin’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Woelki put his foot down.  Not mincing words, Woelki insisted, “As Local Ordinary (for the city of Berlin) I expressly forbid you to celebrate the Eucharist in the bishopric of Berlin.”  “There will be consequences,” he said.   Meaning excommunication.  Woelki is apparently overlooking the fact these guys were already excommunicated when they chose to marry each other.  Once you've damned someone to eternity, you can't add more eternity. 

    Woelki’s action apparently lit a fire under the Protestant Bishop Markus Dröge, who then put in his two cents.  “It is regrettable that the St. Thomas congregation made their facilities available for this event,” he said.  Unlike in the Catholic Church, he lacks the power to shut things down, however. Why am I thinking of those protestant ministers who told Martin Luther King he should not be sullying his collar by protesting in the streets, the ones he addressed his Letter from Birmingham Jail to?

    But wait.  Looks like the Catholic Church, the official one, didn’t have the power to shut things down either.  The mass took place, as scheduled.  

    Now why would two gay guys acting as freelance priests want to go on fighting a church so intent on marking them as “not one of us”?  Why go on saying mass, performing baptisms and marriages which are, in the church’s quaint diplomatic turn-of-phrase, “valid but illegal”? 

    You’d have to ask them.

    Reminds me of what I once heard the well-known Catholic theologian Hans Küng say.  Some of his ideas were a bit too much for the official church to swallow.  He challenged the infallibility doctrine head on, for one thing.  He kept his job as professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen until he retired in 1996, but was forbidden to teach in the Catholic faculty. 

    Protestants would have welcomed him with open arms, and he was often asked why he didn’t leave the Catholic Church.

    “Because it’s my church,” was his answer.

    photo of Thomaskirche


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  9. The German word for marriage is Ehe.  Two syllables.  Drops right off the tongue.  Can be said without even a serious intake of breath.  Pronounced “ay-eh” – “a” (as in a-b-c) plus “eh,” the vowel sound in “pet.”  The h is silent.

    Then there is “Eingetragene Lebenspartnershaft” – ten syllables to the two of “Ehe” – the word for “registered partnership,” the German legal way of forming what we call civil unions or domestic partnerships.

    Two different words.  One smooth and mellow.  The other drawn out, as clumsy as it sounds.

    It wasn’t that long ago I was having heated debates with friends about the once wild-ass notion of legal recognition and support for gay partnerships.  I came early on to the conviction gays should be allowed to marry.  Many gay activists I know, including some in leadership roles who led the good fight for gay liberation for years, were worried we were moving too fast with marriage demands.  Better take this one step at a time, or we’ll blow it, they insisted.

    What I would have given to be able to fast forward at the time of those debates to Ireland in 2015.  Ireland, and the evidence that the time, at long last, had come.

    I’ve been following the impact of the Irish referendum in places like Australia and Italy, and the hold-out states of the U.S.  And, perhaps especially in Germany, a socially progressive country still holding back while its neighbors in Holland and Belgium and Scandinavia and Britain – and now Ireland – bring their populations into the modern era of full rights for LGBT people.  Today, the Bundesrat, Germany’s Senate, or Upper House, voted in favor of a resolution calling for full marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples.  

    That’s only half the story, alas.  Germany parallels the United States in the way their lower house is controlled by religious conservative hold-outs.  

    Parallel too are the nonsense arguments.  Conservative folk once urged stoning while progressives urged tolerance.  The progressives won out and now it’s the conservatives urging tolerance while the progressives urge acceptance.  “We don’t hate gay people,” say the conservatives.  (But you used to, Jack.  You used to!)   We just don’t think we should change our institutions.  We’re only thinking of the children and how they deserve a mother and a father.

    If you don’t have a dog in this race, the debate can be fun to watch.  If you have had to carry the burden of religious authorities’ claims you are “inherently disordered,” it’s more challenging not to pop your cork.  But Jews have to watch Nazis parade through their towns.  I suppose gay people can be forced a while longer to listen to people who say, “I thought people like that killed themselves!”  Still, today, in 2015.

    It’s hard to be patient.  Hard to have to listen to the claims that your desire for dignity will open the door to incest and polygamy and people demanding to marry their dogs.  To the messed up logic that it’s about protecting children, or that the only reason for sex and marriage is procreation.

    You wait.  And you pay attention.  And you celebrate the forward movement, one inch at a time. Change is coming.

    OK, so the Bundestag, the German Lower House, is not ready to follow the Bundesrat just yet.

    Maybe tomorrow. 

    Or the next day.

    Or the one after that.

    Ehe für alle - jetzt.  -   Marriage for everybody.  Now!

    photo source: DPA


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  10. Karl Wilhelm Finck von Finckenstein
    I have a correction to make.  Well, not so much a correction as a clarification.

    It started bugging me that I had so casually tossed off in that blog entry I posted yesterday the assumption that Finckensteinallee was named after a castle.  I woke from a nap with a flash of insight.  Germans (or anybody else I know, for that matter) don’t name their streets after castles, dummy, I said to myself.  They name them after people!  I did mention one of the Finck von Finckensteins in connection with the castle,  Count Albrecht Konrad, etc. (1660–1735), who ran the castle when Napoleon lived there in sin with Maria Walewska.*   It turns out Finckensteinallee in Berlin was named after Albrecht's son, Karl Wilhelm.

    I managed to locate a document on the origin of street names in Lichterfelde (no one will ever convince me the internet is not the greatest invention in my lifetime) and sure enough, there it was:

    •  Latitude and longitude: 52° 25′ 57.4″ N, 13° 17′ 41.47″ E 52.432611°, 13.294852°
    •  length: 2020 meters
    • laid out in 1878 as Zehlendorfer Straße
    • renamed for Karl Wilhelm von Finckenstein (1714-1800), Prussian minister, on June 9, 1933
    There’s more information, but that’s the essence of it all.

    So who was Karl Wilhelm, then, that he should have a street named after him that I would come to live on?  That’s the easy part.  He was born on February 11, 1714, just two years after Frederick the Great, and being a member of one of Prussia’s most illustrious families, it’s not surprising that he should play a role in Frederick’s life.  Papa Albrecht made sure Freddie’s childhood was pure torture.  As overseer for Freddie’s father, a real bastard if there ever was one (he had Freddie's best friend executed and forced Freddie to watch in order to "toughen him up"), Freddie was forbidden to roll over once he woke up, had fifteen minutes for prayer and toilet, seven minutes for breakfast and on and on throughout the day.  Freddie wanted to play the flute.  His father wanted to make him into a soldier.  Albrecht Finck von Finckenstein was the guy who made this happen.

    Karl Wilhelm, on the other hand, became a childhood friend of Freddie and as he grew up became a trusted advisor.  Freddie sent him first to the Danish court, then in 1742 to England, then in 1744 to Stockholm (where his sister Luise Ulrike married the Swedish king, by the way.)  In 1747 Karl Wilhelm earned the title of Minister of State and was made ambassador to the Russian court.   He was also an honorary member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. 

    Collectively, the Finck von Finckenstein family played quite a role in European history.  Besides Karl Wilhelm’s childhood friendship with Frederick the Great and subsequent success at his court, there is Katharina Dorothea Elisabeth Finck von Finckenstein (1700-1728) who despite her death at a young age at least gave birth to someone whose daughter would marry into the Danish Royal Family.  That made her the great-great-grandmother of Denmark’s Christian IX.  

    And it doesn’t stop there.  Through one of her granddaughters she became the 6x great grandmother of the present Queen Elizabeth II, and thus the 7x great grandmother of Charles and the whole British royal family.  Also Margrethe II of Denmark, Constantine II of Greece, Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Harald V of Norway.   And let’s not forget she is also a 7x great grandmother of Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant – aka “King of the Belgians,”  and Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

    So there.

    It’s also possible she’s got a connection as well to Tommy Finke, who’s got a punk rock band and sings real nice.  Check out this YouTube video of him performing.  Or go to Tommy’s Facebook page and leave him a message. 
    Tommy Finke, aka
    T. D. Finck von Finckenstein

    Now I don’t have confirmation that Tommy is actually heir to the Finckenstein name, but he does use the pseudonym T. D.  Finck von Finckenstein,  and that information is listed alongside information on other members in the Wikipedia entry on the Finck von Finckenstein family. 

    Must now see if I can find proof of an actual biological connection.

    Not that it matters.  I found this entry on his Facebook page for May 27:

    Sorry, wenn ich mal politisch werde. Aber wenn der Vatikan die gleichgeschlechtliche Ehe als "Niederlage für die Menschheit" bezeichnet, dann rege ich mich auf. Weil nämlich weltweit viele Leute auf Rom hören. Für mich wird der Vatikan immer mehr zum Vatican't.

    (Translation:  Sorry if I get political for a minute, but when the Vatican describes same-sex marriage as a “Defeat for Humanity,” then I’m going to get upset.  Because lots of people around the world listen to Rome.  For me, the Vatican is becoming more and more a Vatican’t.)

    Cool, don’t you think?

    *and got that wrong - check the dates.  It must have been his grandson who hosted the French marauder.

    picture credits: 


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