Wednesday, December 31, 2008
An escalator leads from the entry plaza right up to the top floor, inviting you to enter the building in an unconventional way, preparing you to expect something different. Upon entering, one of the first things you see is a kind of graphic mural lining a large shaft from the top of the tall ceiling dropping below the floor. When looking down and seeing an orange metal platform way below us rising up, we realized with a small shock of revelation that we were looking at an elevator shaft. The glass-doored elevator car is monumental (21 feet tall and wider than tall), and moves through that artwork. (As my friend Kraig remarked, it's almost worth the price of admission to see the elevator.) The galleries on the top floor were generously large, open, and well-lit, and nicely presented an collection of modern sculpture and paintings. (Many of the works themselves are quite sizeable, so it is helpful to have such an ample space to view them in.) Some of them are amusingly whimsical (like the giant blue balloon dog and the giant cracked red egg shell), some are just odd (a bust of Louis XIV in chrome), some are classic (the Warhols and Lichtensteins), and some are just not my thing (like the blank canvas with plain block letters that said something like "There are no ideas in this painting", to which I thought, "clearly true"). The middle floor of the museum is not open yet, and the bottom floor contained a pair of monumental sculptures by Richard Serra called "Band" and "Sequence". While it may seem extravagant to have a 20,000 square foot gallery dedicated to just two sculptures, they are seriously cool. The sculptures are giant ribbons of brown steel that wind around and in upon themselves, creating surreal spaces and corridors. The curving flow of the steel walls invites you to follow them around to see where they will lead, and the walls lean in at times and out at others, playing with your sense of space. (The curved and leaning walls are reminiscent of the Disney Hall, but on a more intimate scale, and with a softer more organic color and texture rather than gleaming shiny aluminum.) With "Sequence" especially, the continuously curvy corridors were surprisingly long, making us feel like we were walking on some kind of hyper-Moebius strip. That was definitely worth the admission.
The BCAM is connected via a promenade to the old Ahmanson Building, creating a new entry plaza. The plaza is graced by an art installation by Chris Burden called "Urban Light", an arrangement of streetlamps placed unusually close together to form colonnades by their repetition and variation. The Ahmanson Building has been reconfigured to facilitate movement between a new west entrance (from the new campus) to the old east entrance (to the Times Courtyard) on a higher floor. The central atrium now has a grand staircase between those two, and the open multi-floor atrium is now dominated by a cool monumental Tony Smith sculpture called "Smoke". One thing I do miss is that where the upper floors used to all open onto the atrium, they are now closed off. But overall, I'm liking the new additions to LACMA.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
He starts from a graceful exposition of Natural Law doctrine:
The ultimate foundation for our responsibility towards the earth rests on our beliefs about creation. The earth is not simply our possession which we can plunder according to our interests and desires. It is rather a gift of the Creator who has designed its intrinsic laws and with this has given us the basic directions for us to adhere as stewards of his creation. The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the Creator Spirit, clearly means that their rational structures which, transcending the mathematical order, become almost palpable in our experience, bear within themselves an ethical orientation. The Spirit which has formed them, is more than mathematics, he is the Good in person, using the language of creation, and points us to the way of right living.Unfortunately, that's where Benedict takes the traditional wrong turn, with the overly simplistic claim that bonding in heterosexual matrimony is a universal moral imperative. His analogy to forest conservation calls to mind the evolution of that science. Where we once approached conservation with the idea that we should protect the trees from all threats, we have since come to realize that some "threats", including fires, are actually a part of the natural process, essential to the long-term maintenance of the forest ecosystem. If we were to apply Benedict's philosophy to forest conservation, we would take every possible step to put out forest fires (including naturally caused ones), and we would do all we could to ensure that every acorn that fell had the opportunity to germinate into a full-grown tree. But this would be completely unnatural. In the delicately balanced complex ecosystem, undergrowth keeps too many acorns from sprouting too densely, while occasional fires keep the undergrowth from getting out of hand and allow certain other plants to germinate. We understand this now.
Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense.
With such an understanding in mind, the more rational approach for a "proper ecology of man" would be to recognize that man thrives in a complex society where different people make different contributions using their different talents, and not all people are called to the same end. With regard to the propagation of a societal species like ours, there is no justification for the claim that each and every individual has a duty to mate and reproduce. Many mate and reproduce, but some make other contributions to the furtherance of humankind, like teaching, caring for the sick and infirm, creating works of art, progressing science, and otherwise supporting families and society. Need I mention priests? It is really the height of blind arrogance that a celibate man addressing a curia composed entirely of celibate men could pontificate so obtusely about the moral call of all humans to mate, with such a glaring counterexample right in front of him. And as if this weren't enough, Benedict, in his 4th point of this very speech, cites 1 Corinthians 12. That whole chapter is an eloquent conceit on the Church as the body of Christ, with each member working with different gifts, just as each part of a body contributes differently to the whole:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.It defies reason how Benedict can cite this very scripture in a speech insisting that all parts of the body should be reproductive organs.
21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The subject of this book was the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts, a subject made quite fascinating by her expositions of different facets of their story. I learned much (for instance, I never before appreciated the differences between the Pilgrims and the Puritans), and was introduced to great characters -- John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson -- of whom I had known little more than their names. Vowell's sketches, while sardonic, are also well-grounded in source material, which is often quoted. In the audio book, read by Vowell herself, the quoted parts are read by actors, an interesting effect, as you get to recognize the voices after a while. Rather than a strictly chronological sequence, she presents a series of expositions on different characters and themes, which interlock and reinforce one another to paint a full history by the end. Unlike most historians who endeavor to be objective and detached, Vowell wears her distinctive point of view on her sleeve. She relates personal anecdotes and sentiments reflecting her subject, and at times makes ironic juxtapositions with more modern events with an unabashed subjectivity. For instance, her meditations on the theme of a "city on a hill", articulated in a famous sermon by John Winthrop, recur in accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but also jump to Reagan and Kennedy and other brief excursions into American exceptionalism. I don't see this as detracting from the history at all, in fact, it makes it more memorable. Just as a columnist with an explicit viewpoint can be just as illuminating and credible as an "objective" journalist, so is Vowell's style of history as illuminating and credible as a drier scholarly history. Her distinctive retelling of their stories brings these historical characters to life. A greatly entertaining and educational read.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
For one, I think it's clearly disproportionate. While any donation toward injustice is regrettable, a great many people gave much larger donations than Christofferson's $100, and few if any have received the same focused wrath. Moreover, her donation was personal and not made on behalf of El Coyote. True, she is the daughter of the owner, and the public face of the restaurant. But the restaurant, as Lopez notes, has 89 employees, many of them gay. A couple of other managers pooled together a several hundred dollar donation to Equality California, and the donations of other employees to No on 8 may well have outweighed Christofferson's $100 for Yes. Because business is down 30%, likely the result of the boycott, many employees have had their hours cut and may be laid off. So this boycott has unjustly caused harm much more widely than its intended target.
I can sympathize with those who are angry at El Coyote, and can understand why this particular donation incurred such wrath. A friend recently noted that there's a strong sense of betrayal, because for so many gay people, El Coyote has seemed to be a safe and welcoming place for us, a part of "our neighborhood". And El Coyote has certainly done a significant share of its business from its gay clientele. Thus, this particular donation came with a sense of betrayal. We expected people like Howard Ahmanson and Rick Warren to be donating heavily to Proposition 8, and donations from people in Kern and Orange counties were expected. But here, in a gay-friendly restaurant, in the gay-friendliest part of town, where we always thought we were among friends, even a modest donation was an unexpected betrayal. It was a violation of an unspoken trust, and shattered the feeling of comfort and safety that many gay people felt at El Coyote. And for gay people, that can hit especially hard. Many gay people have been estranged or kicked out of their natural homes and families, which makes their feeling of adopted "home" in gay-friendly neighborhoods and venues like El Coyote have much greater import. I don't think this justifies the harsh response, but I think it explains the emotional logic of it. It was a betrayal that cut especially deep and close to home.
On the other hand, Christofferson seems oblivious to the injustice she has helped to perpetrate. It's one thing for people who claim not to know anybody gay (or who disown those they know) to advocate such things. But these people, like Sarah Palin and apparently like Margie Christofferson, who claim to have gay friends, yet still advocate against our equal rights, that's just galling. How can you claim to be someone's friend, and then vote to infringe their rights? That's as nonsensical as saying "Oh, I have lots of black friends, but I just don't think they should be allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as white people." Sorry, Sarah, sorry Margie, but you're not our friend. We've gone on too long letting you get away with pretending that you are. Are we just supposed to roll over and say, "oh well, you helped pass the revocation of my civil rights, but let's let it go, and pour me another margarita?" I don't think so.
Philosophically, I have a bit of discomfort with the fairness of a boycott, given the asymmetry in our laws. In "libertopia", everyone would have unfettered choice about who they do business with. But here in America (and especially in California), we recognize the power of a majority to economically tyrannize a minority, and so we have created laws against discrimination in public accommodations. Businesses are generally not allowed to discriminate (at least based on a variety of protected classes like race, religion, etc.) in choosing their customers. But customers, on the other hand, are allowed to choose their businesses. For instance, while it would be illegal for a restaurant to refuse to serve black people, it is not illegal for black people to organize a boycott of a restaurant. There's just something asymmetrical and unfair about that. As evidenced by El Coyote's empty tables, boycotts can have a powerful effect. The freedom of businesses to serve or refuse to serve whoever they choose has been sacrificed for the good of keeping economic cudgels from pummeling unpopular minorities, thus preserving liberty across the board for a diverse society where it might otherwise be practically infringed. It would seem a fair bargain that organized consumers not pick up that same economic cudgel, for the same reasons. Obviously, there's no practical way to legislate such a thing. But it is a philosophical qualm I have about boycotts in general.
On the other hand, Christofferson made a choice that had obvious ramifications for the business that she manages (and that her mother owns). One of El Coyote's significant assets was the "good will" that it had cultivated over the years in the gay community. It would be impossible for Christofferson to be oblivious to the value of gay good will to her business, and foolish to think that her position on Prop 8 wouldn't put that asset in jeopardy. And any businessperson ought to understand the value and the fragility of that intangible asset. While she has every right to her own political views and donations, when her advocacy goes against a constituency prominent among the clientele of her business, she has no right not to be responsible for the consequences. She has the right to insult any customer she pleases, but not the right to expect that customer to come back.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The movie is well worth seeing for its powerful performances and provocative story, especially for those who did not see the play. But the film is not as powerful and provocative as the play. This is especially surprising to me since the playwright did his own adaptation and directed it too. I'm wondering whether Shanley has changed his mind about the sorts of questions he wants to challenge his audience with, or whether he just balked at being so provocative to a wider audience. In any event, the film adaptation subtly but profoundly alters the play.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
One nice touch that really hit home with me was a scene where a scared gay teenager, about to be sent by his parents to some horrific anti-gay deprogramming camp, calls up Harvey Milk just because he'd seen him on TV, and Milk was the only gay person that boy knew. And Milk gave him the self-confidence to run away (quite possibly saving his life, given the high gay teen suicide rates). Fortunately, I have wonderful parents and I never had to deal with that nightmare, but I can remember a similar experience. When I was just coming out senior year in college, I read in the newspapers about a guy who was an engineer working for TRW, who was gay, lost his security clearance, sued, and won. Since I had already accepted an offer at TRW, when I read that, I was fearful and wanted to talk to that guy. I called that total stranger, my voice trembling (especially over the "I'm gay" part), and thankfully got some good advice and reassurance about my future as a gay man working at an aerospace-defense contractor. Seeing that scene in the film took me right back to the memory of that phone call, the scene rang so true to me, and in that moment I appreciated even more deeply how much Harvey Milk meant to a whole generation of gay men and women just a couple years older than me. How much he changed everything.
I also didn't know anything about the Briggs Initiative at the time (I was sixteen). The film did a great job of building up the wave of anti-gay ballot initiatives that was sweeping the country then, with Anita Bryant as the spokesperson, and the feeling of embattlement that created in the gay community. It was such an eerie resonance between those events and the events of the past couple months, us feeling embattled by sign-waving protesters wanting to vote down our marriage.
The cast in this film were uniformly excellent, and there are surely Oscars in its future. Sean Penn, for sure, is getting Best Actor. But Josh Brolin, another actor who completely melted into his character, also did an impeccable job as Dan White, the traditional working class guy with a psychopathic undercurrent. And James Franco gave a solid performance as Milk's boyfriend (despite all the "eww, what was it like?" brouhaha over whether two straight boys could convincingly kiss), and Emile Hirsch really brought Cleve Jones to life. Kudos to director Gus Van Sant for finding the ideal balance of documentary factuality and emotional genuineness, both elements required for a masterful portrait of a hero.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
A couple of things in the NY Times article about this latest announcement jumped out at me. The breakaway denomination would like to be embraced by Canterbury as part of the Anglican communion, but apparently they've decided that they'll go with him or without him. "Bishop" Martyn Minns, of the Falls Church in Virginia, was quoted saying, "One of the questions a number of the primates are asking is why do we still need to be operating under the rules of an English charity, which is what the Anglican Consultative Council does. Why is England still considered the center of the universe?" What does he suppose that "Anglican" means, if not that England is at the historical and ecclesiastical heart? That's like asking why Roman Catholics think everything revolves around the Bishop of Rome (a.k.a. the Pope). Moreover, that is the long-established tradition, how it's been since the beginning of Anglicanism. Hypocritically, "tradition" and "that's how it's always been" are their favorite argument against same-sex marriage, but when they're the ones making a radical ecclesiastical change, tradition is no longer compulsory.
The article also noted that this splinter movement, which has only a handful of bishops, can't all agree on just how conservative they want to be. At least one of the splinter dioceses has ordained women priests, but a couple of the others have said they refuse to recognize women priests. You've got to see where that leads. Without the constraint of reasonable moderate leaders in this new denomination, there will be a rush to the right to see who can out-conservative whom, alienating more and more people in their wake, and the splinter will dwindle or split into smaller splinters. In a few years, look for the announcement about Dallas and San Joaquin splitting off to form the True Anglican Church of North America Except Pittsburgh and Canada, leaving behind the Anglican But Not Anglo-Centric Church of the Northern Part of North America.
Monday, December 01, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
I had this notion that it would be really nicely complimented by corn and onions. So I got a couple ears of fresh corn and some cippolini onions from the farmer's market. (Cippolinis are those ones that look wide and flat, like a regular onion squashed flat, and they have a nice sweet bite to them.) I cut the corn off the cob, chopped up the onions, sauteed them in butter, then added some pumpkin chunks when they got soft. I added only salt and a little pepper, as I wanted the taste of the fresh ingredients. I thought it was marvelous. My husband though it was a bit bland and didn't like the texture of the pumpkin. He loved the corn/onion mix though. So the next week, as I still had half the pumpkin chunks in the freezer, I thought I'd try the same concept as a soup. I'd made some good pumpkin soups before, usually cooking the chunks with chicken stock and a splash of cream, and putting it all in the blender. But I thought I'd try something a bit different. I was thinking a light sweet curry theme might be good, so I heated some coconut oil and added the pumpkin chunks and a splash of soy milk, until they were soft. I then used a masher to mash them up like mashed potatoes. (An immersion blender would have been better, but I don't have one.) I continued to add the soy milk until I got a nice soup consistency. I added salt, pepper, curry powder, and some cinnamon. I still liked the idea of sweet corn and onions as a compliment, so I sauteed those up just as I had the week before, and added them into the soup, leaving them unblended so the soup would have some bits to bite into. It was delicious. Pumpkin is definitely a reason to be happy about fall.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
About a month ago, we saw Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. While nothing profound, it was a fresh and entertaining film, capturing the feel of an all-night music-driven bar-crawl across New York City. Anyone who's been clubbing all night knows that the energy of the night has its ebbs and flows, moments when the stimulation breaks and the tiredness catches up with you, but then moments when the right tune or word re-energizes you again. This film did a great job of capturing that feel of an all-nighter, with the lulls capturing that dull feeling reminiscent of Lost in Translation, but then the next moment bringing a crazy energy like Go. Michael Cera and Kat Dennings bring authenticity to the title characters, making me truly remember (for the first time in over a couple decades) what it felt like to be in high school, when you cared what eveyone else thought even when you pretended not to, and when you first discover how powerful it can be to share your vulnerable self with someone else. Sure, Michael Cera is making a career of playing more or less the same soft-spoken earnest character as in Superbad and Juno, but it's a good character, and subtly deeper here. (Besides, I can think of other great actors who made a career playing more or less the same character. Richard Dreyfuss, for example.) There's a larger network of characters who have various links, some obvious and some hidden, and who cross paths in some unexpected ways, and there are some amusing subplots involving a lost drunk friend and the amazing travels of a piece of gum. But this film isn't quite as plot-driven as Go in that regard, it's more about characters and texture and music. And director Peter Sollett mixes these elements masterfully. Like a great playlist.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
UPDATE: The LA Times editorial board was on the same wavelength: "Maybe schools need to strengthen their civics lessons so that future voters will understand that supreme courts specifically are charged with ruling on constitutional questions -- and it is a sacred and historic role of the courts to protect minority rights as enshrined in state and federal constitutions. Indeed, if courts merely existed to ratify the will of majorities, they would add little to our society." And the spate of ensuing letters showed plenty of citizens needing those remedial civics lessons.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
- Is Prop 8 invalid because it is a revision, rather than amendment of the Constitution?
- Does Prop 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine (i.e., does it usurp the role of the Court in protecting minority interests in fundamental equal protection rights)?
- If Prop 8 stands, what is the effect on the marriages that have already occurred?
Interesting that the Court took the initiative to take on the third question, as I don't believe any of the petitions raised it. In the Marriage decision, Justice Kennard wrote a separate concurrence to elaborate on how that decision could be consistent with having previously struck down the "San Francisco marriages" of 2005 as unconstitutional (an opinion she disagreed with). But speaking of Justice Kennard, I'm not sure what to make of the fact that she alone dissented from accepting the petitions, and would have preferred a separate petition to deal with the issue of the pre-Prop 8 marriages. Does that mean that she would have completely dismissed the petitions, or does that merely mean that she thought it inappropriate for the Court to request a hearing on that issue without really having been asked? If the former, that doesn't bode well at all. I'm suspecting it's the latter.
In the one other tea leaf to be read, Justice Moreno alone would have granted the stay of enforcement.
One last bright note, the Court denied the request of the Campaign for California Families to intervene. CCF President Randy Thomasson is the guy who tried to put up an even harsher ballot initiative that would have tossed out domestic partnerships as well. Only the original Prop 8 proponents will be allowed to intervene.
Briefs are due in January, and oral arguments could be heard as early as next March under an expedited schedule.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
On the other side, there are five parties opposing these petitions. A few of them make respectable arguments on the core revision vs. amendment issue, pointing to the precedents they view as most analogous, and pressing the "voice of the people" argument, but ignoring rather than addressing the equal protection arguments. A fourth party, the Pacific Justice Institute, offers only weak arguments around the margins (like an argument that the Cities of LA and San Francisco lack standing to file a petition). A fifth party, one D.Q. Marriette Do-Nguyen, claims to be speaking on behalf of the Almighty Eternal Creator, as His Heiress. For the edification of the Supreme Court Justices, she reveals the message of the Almighty Eternal Creator, as revealed to her in a dream last week, concerning not only Prop 8 and abortion, but also the Iraq War, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Elliott Spitzer, and other gems of received wisdom. I kid you not. (As one friend commented, something about opposing same-sex marriage really brings the nutcases out of the woodwork.) The arguments of the Almighty notwithstanding, I'm hopeful that the Court will find the petitions as stirring and compelling as I do.
Monday, November 17, 2008
There's a good argument to be made that a change to the Constitution that actually repeals fundamental rights is substantive enough in scope to warrant the revision process, and the three appeals that I've read (I've heard there may now be a fourth) have made that argument. This would actually vindicate the intuition of many people that it's outrageous that the revoking of a fundamental right could be put to a ballot initiative for a bare majority. For those who care about constitutional forms of government, Prop 8 sets a frightening precedent (and it is indeed unprecedented). If that precedent is allowed to stand, then any unpopular minority group could have its constitutional rights revoked by a bare majority of the voters. Conceivably, we could put up an initiative that Mormon marriages would no longer be recognized by the state, or even more egregiously, California could legalize slavery again. Is it reasonable to think that California voters could enact such changes with just 51% of the voters on a ballot initiative? Undoubtedly, such measures would be struck down on appeals to the US Constitution, but one would hope that the California Constitution's guarantee of fundamental rights would stand on its own in this regard. Our constitutional government provides for "checks and balances" in separate branches of government, and one of the important duties of the Supreme Court is to safeguard the constitutional rights of minorities against what the founding fathers termed the "tyranny of the majority". A measure like Prop 8 defies that fundamental separation of powers. That's the gist of the arguments being made, and the Court may well find them compelling. Governor Schwarzenegger has advocated as much, and 44 California Senators and Assemblymembers have signed on to an amicus brief in favor of that position.
Of course any Supreme Court decision ultimately comes down to the seven Justices making the decision. The decision last spring recognizing a fundamental right to equal recognition of same-sex marriages was made by the minimum of four Justices, with three dissenting. For the original four concurring Justices, if they really believe what they wrote last May (their language was pretty clear and strong in terms of fundamental rights and protecting a minority group), then they would stand up for their opinion, and strike down Prop 8 as an insufficiently enacted constitutional revision. Those Justices were courageous in the face of what they probably knew would be substantial popular backlash (protecting minority rights, as the Court has noted, is often an unpopular job), and we can hope their courage does not falter. Unfortunately, ominous rumblings about their re-election prospects, and calls to remember Rose Bird, are being made by the Prop 8 backers (who have proven how ruthless they can be). Then we have the three dissenting Justices. The underlying issue for them will be whether they take the earlier decision as established precedent when evaluating this claim, or whether that precedent (that they didn’t agree with) is still open in their minds. Technically, this is a new and purely procedural issue (i.e., whether the initiative was inappropriately put forth as an amendment) that doesn't invite a revisiting of the earlier decision (whether there is a fundamental right to marry the person of one's choice), but in practice it may be hard to resist the opportunity to implicitly revisit the earlier decision in deciding this one. On the other hand, if I recall correctly, when the Prop 8 proponents requested a stay of the final Marriage decision pending the election, I believe that was unanimously denied by the Court, indicating that the dissenters are swayed by at least some arguments for proper procedure and not revisiting settled matters. Judging by the opinions filed in the Marriage decision (in addition to the decision, there was one concurrence and two separate dissents), I'd say the most likely outcome is that Prop 8 is invalidated by the same 4-3 decision as the original Marriage decision, since the four concurring justices spoke strongly about the role of the Court in protecting rights of minorities, while the three dissenters spoke strongly about the Court not overturning the will of the people expressed at the ballot box, and those same issues arise here.
The filings can all be read here (update: I just heard there are now six separate filings). Of those I've read, the NCRL brief does the most technical work in discussing the various precedents on the revision vs. amendment issue, but the brief by the Cities makes the most readable and very eloquent statement of the issue. If you read only one, read that one.
There are rumblings that the Court will take some action on Wednesday, making initial decisions whether to even hear the case (I think they will, since both sides are urging that), and whether to issue an immediate stay in the meantime (I suspect they won't). Stay tuned.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In reflecting on the wake of Prop 8 and the great marriage debate it stirred up, I am impressed how significantly the line of scrimmage has shifted. Even same-sex marriage opponents generally claim that they support equal rights, just not "redefining marriage". For example, the Mormon church, in a statement this week, said "the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches." And in national polls, those who support same-sex marriage, combined with those who oppose it but support civil unions, comprise a growing majority. Politically, at the federal level, same-sex marriage opponents such as John McCain espouse a federalist ("leave it to the states") policy. A pragmatic approach to modifying DOMA would build on this consensus.
Concerning Part 2, rather than simply repeal it, it should be modified to recognize civil unions. The pragmatic compromise of civil unions currently exists in some form in at least four states (Vermont, California, New Jersey, and New Hampshire), and it would be consistent with the apparent consensus on providing equal legal treatment that these should be recognized as equivalent to marriage for the purposes of federal law. I think most Americans, regardless of their approval of gay marriage, would see the injustice of two life partners not having their earned Social Security benefits protect their partner in the event of one's death, or having a surviving partner have to pay a whopping "gift income" tax on half the value of a jointly held home. Thus Part 2 should be amended as follows:
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means a valid marriage or relationship substantially equivalent to marriage (e.g., a civil union) as recognized by law of the state of residence, and the word ‘spouse’ refers to a person who is a party to such marriage or substantially equivalent relationship.
Concerning Part 1, while some would proclaim same-sex marriage by federal fiat on all 50 states, I don't believe that is prudential at this time. I think it's better to give the controversial issue some breathing room by supporting the federalist position, that states should be allowed to determine their own policies. However, there is an important modification that should be made here. While states should be given latitude to set their own marriage policy for their residents, federal law should provide a guarantee of "safe passage" for visitors to the state. Nobody should ever again suffer the fate of Lisa Pond, who collapsed while vacationing in Florida and ultimately died in a hospital that actively prevented her partner from seeing her, directing her care, or obtaining her death certificate. I hope few Americans would see that as good public policy. Thus I propose the "Family Safe Passage Amendment" to DOMA Part 1. The distinction should be quite workable. Consider that each state has different license plates for automobiles, and different requirements for licensing cars. When I as a California resident drive my car into Arizona, I don't immediately have to take my car to get an Arizona state vehicle check and an Arizona license plate. That would be ridiculous if I'm only visiting. On a temporary basis, Arizona accepts a California-registered vehicle. However, after an appropriate period of time, if I'm still in Arizona, then I do have to register my car there, and bring it into conformity with local requirements. It should be the same for a marriage (or equivalent). If I have a California domestic partnership (a "marriage equivalent"), and I go into the emergency room while on a business trip in Virginia, my partner should be recognized appropriately at the hospital there, despite Virginia's own draconian marriage policies. Isn't that a change we can all believe in?
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I haven't participated in any of the large protests going on since the election. I understand people feeling like they want to vent, and a few demontrations are probably a good thing to signify the passion behind this issue. But I don't think expressions of outrage are the most productive means of changing anyone's mind. We've made a huge amount of progress in the eight years since Prop 22, and I attribute that progress primarily to gay people from all walks of life being more open and visible. Not as angry sign-waving people or folks marching in a parade, but as co-workers, as parents of school children, as fellow churchmembers, as soldiers, and in all the ways that anybody encounters their fellow citizens in our society. Just living our lives in quiet but open and unapologetic dignity does more than anything else to open our fellow citizens' eyes to the injustices in our current government policies. Some of those policies need to be explained to people (e.g., unequal tax treatment and social security benefits), but they can be explained calmly. The observation of injustice speaks for itself far more loudly than demands for justice can be shouted.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
- "Fundamental rights are exactly that. They should neither wait for popular acceptance, nor be revoked because it is lacking."
—Los Angeles Times endorses NO on Prop 8
- "it is only fair that it afford equal protection to all who choose to make loving lifelong commitments to one another. We recommend a "no" vote on Prop. 8."
—Orange County Register
- "Should we use the state constitution to take the right to marry from a particular group of people? We believe that notion is wrong, and recommend a "no" vote on Proposition 8."
- "To approve Proposition 8 is to codify discrimination. Californians cannot let that happen."
- "Californians need to move beyond the divisiveness that Prop. 8 has engendered and embrace tolerance and reconciliation. Live and let live. We recommend a NO vote on Prop. 8."
- "Just as an individual's sexual orientation is not a legitimate basis on which to deny housing or a job, it is not a legitimate basis on which to deny individuals the right to marry. Californians should reject the call to amend the state constitution to exclude some people from marriage. That would be a black mark on the constitution, just as past exclusionary acts remain a stain on California's history."
- "Gay and lesbian couples deserve the same dignity and respect in marriage that heterosexual couples have long enjoyed. We urge a No vote on Proposition 8."
—San Diego Union-Tribune
- "We strongly urge voters to carefully consider the harm Prop. 8 would do not just to gays, but to all Californians, and reject the initiative. "
—Contra Costa Times
- "The idea of using a ballot measure to single out a certain group of Californians for denial of individual rights - based on their sexual orientation - would represent an ugly distortion of the very purpose of a constitution. ... Californians should reject Proposition 8."
—San Francisco Chronicle
- "The state constitution should never be amended to limit Californians' right to their own personal and religious beliefs. It should scrupulously uphold equal rights under the law. That is what it now does, based on a state Supreme Court ruling this year affirming a right to same-sex marriage. Voters should not take the extraordinary step of amending the constitution to take a right away. They should reject Proposition 8."
—San Jose Mercury News
- "The Star urges a "no" vote on Proposition 8, which would embed discrimination in the California Constitution."
—Ventura County Star
- "Same-sex vows cause no harm to our families. The reasons given for Proposition 8 just don’t stand up to scrutiny."
—Redding Record Searchlight
- "The decision to marry is those couples' business, and no one else's. There is no compelling public policy reason to reverse that arrangement, and voters should say no to Prop. 8."
- "In our view, Proposition 8 is a misguided and unconstitutional proposal. We urge voters to reject Proposition 8."
—Napa Valley Register
- "Same-sex marriage does not diminish marriage between a man and a woman. It's a basic civil right that everyone - regardless of gender - should have. The time has come. Therefore, we oppose Proposition 8."
—Palm Springs Desert Sun
- "The freedom to marry is fundamental in our society, just like the freedoms of religion and speech. Our laws should treat everyone equally. No on 8."
- "Even people with reservations about same-sex marriage should consider the import of voting against a legal right. We support the right under California law for gays and lesbians to marry. Vote no on Proposition 8."
—Santa Cruz Sentinel
- "All loving, committed couples should have the right to marry, with all the benefits and obligations that relationship incurs. That's the law now in California, and it should remain the law."
—Merced Sun Star
- "The arguments against same-sex marriages seem close to arguments against mixed-race marriages you'd hear back in the '60s. Hopefully we'll get beyond all that some day. Vote no on Proposition 8."
- "The California Supreme Court has quite rationally decreed that the state has no power to take away anyone's right to marry the partner of her or his choice. We agree. Vote "no" on Proposition 8 on Nov. 4."
—San Gabriel Valley Tribune
- "Advocates of Proposition 8 offer several arguments, but none of them stand up to close scrutiny."
—Santa Rosa Press Democrat
- "No sea aceptable imponer estas creencias a toda la sociedad y, mucho menos, cambiar la Constitución de California. Estamos con el NO a la Proposición 8."
- "Vote NO on Proposition 8"
—La Prensa San Diego
- "8 NO. Our California Constitution guarantees the same freedoms and rights to everyone - no one group should be singled out or treated differently."
- "Reject Proposition 8. California is better than that."
—LA Daily News
- "Who gets to define marriage? If it is the state, then constitutionally, we all must be treated the same."
—The Daily Breeze
- "It is morally deficient to codify intolerance, and wrong to deprive certain citizens of basic rights on no higher grounds than the prejudice of others. But the presence among Prop. 8 detractors of major California companies like PG&E, AT&T, Google and Levi Strauss illustrates that this issue speaks to economics as well, if somewhat more quietly than to equity and civil liberty. Prop. 8 fails this test, too, pointing California toward a less promising future."
—San Francisco Business Times
- "NO, NO, NO"
—San Francisco Bay Guardian
Friday, October 10, 2008
I appreciated your thoughts about the purpose of marriage. I agree that marriage ought not to be about the fulfillment of selfish desires, but about the cultivation and practice of the virtues of altruism, serving others, and love (the "agape" kind as famously described in 1 Corinthians 13). Ideally, of course, we should be altruistic, loving and of service to all others, but being the fallible imperfect humans that we are, we can best only strive to come close to that in the context of one other person we devote our life to in marriage, and hope that the altruistic and loving tendencies that we practice within our own family might spill over a little bit into the rest of the people around us. Theologically, as you have expressed, a marriage of two fallible people should be a symbol and an imperfect reflection of the perfect love of God for his creation. God by his grace working through such marriages can inspire others and spread his grace.
The way I was raised, these ideas weren't spoken of much outside of the officiant's remarks at weddings, but I think I absorbed them more strongly by my parents' living example. I grew up with a picture in my head of what my life should be like, and there was no question that it should be centered around a marriage. Thus, at age 20, when I discovered that I was gay, the most difficult part was that my picture I'd always had, of what my life should be, seemed irreparably shattered, and there was nothing but an empty dark unknown in its place. Over time, blessed by the strong support of loving friends and family, I was able to integrate a new picture, one that preserved all of the essential values that I was raised with, but put together in a new way, in the kind of a life I would be able to live with integrity. That new picture also centered around a marriage, with all the same core values I was raised with, except that it involved two men rather than a man and a woman.
I realize that's a radical idea for you. It was a radical idea for me at one time too. But try to imagine my experience. You'll note I said I discovered that I was gay. It's certainly not something I chose. I was raised, like everybody else, thinking I was straight. I was shocked and resistant when I first realized that I wasn't straight. But I know now that being gay is profoundly who I am, and I know that I was created this way. Given that realization, there are four basic paths I could have taken:
(1) live a life of selfish hedonism
(2) marry a woman anyway, and force myself to live a "straight lifestyle"
(3) live a celibate life of monkish asceticism
(4) marry a man, and live in a completely traditional marriage aside from the gender of my spouse
Let's dismiss option 1. Hedonism would be completely untrue to who I am and the values I was raised with. I think we can agree it's not a good option.
Option number 2 is the naive solution, but we've seen too much wreckage from people who have tried that path. Marriage is challenging enough when our instinctive attractions are harnessed in the same direction as our higher goals. To lack that part of the "glue" in a marriage at the same time as attractions are pulling you in a different direction is an invitation for failure. Moreover, that choice is in conflict with the value of self-integrity (I would always being lying to myself and to others at some level), not to mention the value of putting my spouse before myself. How would that ever be fair to the woman involved, since there would always be some part of me I can't fully give her in the way she deserves, and she would be denied the opportunity to have a man who could love her in every dimension? That type of marriage is built on a rotten foundation.
Some would recommend option 3, celibacy, but that's a sad option for someone who finds themselves capable of loving commitment, to have every channel for expressing it with fidelity and integrity prohibited by legalistic moralists. I by no means wish to disparage those who find themselves called to a life of celibacy, which can be noble and rewarding. But it's frankly cruel and misguided to urge that life on those who are not called to it. I was created with a rare capacity to love another man, in the way that most men love women. None of us knows why. But wouldn't it be blasphemous to claim that God made a mistake in his creation, or that God were unable to work his grace through me as I am? I firmly believe that my capacity to love is something that can be used for good purposes, in ways that God would bless, and that it is a kind of blasphemy to squander God's gifts by letting them wither in us unused. Which leads me to option 4.
In thinking about marriage (and believe me, I have thought about it a great deal), I came to realize that there was nothing in the essential concept of it that two men couldn't undertake. Two men are as capable as a man and woman of exchanging vows of lifelong loving commitment, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, and faithfully living out those vows. Two men are as capable as a man and woman of striving within their marriage to put the other first, striving to copy the example of our parents' faithful marriages, striving to be a good example for the younger generation. Two men as are capable as a man and woman of being a symbol and a vessel for God's grace.
That's the kind of marriage that George and I had in mind when we exchanged our marriage vows, and that we have been endeavoring to practice in the seven years so far that we've been living out those promises. The vows we exchanged were the same in content as yours or as any married couple, and equally solemn. Our marriage is no more a selfish indulgence in physical attractions than yours is. We're striving toward the same marriage ideal that you are, as best each of us can with the particular gifts and limitations with which God created us.