October 29, 2004

A Bigot By Any Other Name

A response to a friend's email claiming that racism is different from homophobia:

I never used the word “homophobia,” which is a bit precious, and puts a rather too-mild face on plain old bigotry. Of course, as I said, ignorance and fear are the creeks which feed the river of all bigotry, but "phobia" suggests a condition that you can merely avoid by avoiding the thing that causes it. But for people who actively seek to harm homosexuals, whether through direct violence, or through discriminative actions or legislation, well, mere “phobia” doesn’t describe them or their condition. Also, you know as well as I do that sexual orientation is exactly like race or gender in that it’s an innate quality or trait, and cannot be changed, although I don’t think it’s a strictly binary state – there is a whole spectrum, ranging in degrees from heterosexual through bisexual to homosexual. Intersex people are born with the genitalia of more than one gender, and their sexuality is similarly ambiguous, but you can’t blame them for their differences.

Religion, on the other hand, is a choice, and people frequently choose a different religion from the one they were born into, and sometimes change belief systems several times in their life. However, people’s religious beliefs are so strongly held and so personal that we have enshrined protection for them in our Constitution. Desire for religious freedom was one of the primary reasons the first colonies were established. Now, if we’re going to protect something that’s a choice, shouldn’t we protect something that’s equally personal, but is not a choice? It is wrong to discriminate against people because of who they are, and I cannot support it. I have met people who have experimented with different sexual partners, but I’ve never met anyone who has truly changed their underlying sexual orientation. Trying to be someone you’re not just ends up hurting everyone involved, and it is foolish to encourage people to pretend to be straight.

You wanted the “irreducible essence” of what marriage is, ergo my no-frills definition. I was only trying to come up with a legal definition, not an essay about the possible deeper aspects of a marriage relationship. Different people have different ideas about what marriage should be or can be, and I don’t think the government, which is what we were talking about, has any business quizzing people on how much in love they are with their partner, or how romantic it is, or any other personal questions. If I were not interested in having children, I’m not sure how much I’d be interested in getting married. I sometimes think that we as a society are unhappy in marriage because we expect it to be this amazing romantic sexy thing, and are disappointed when it’s hard work, and not lingerie and champagne all the time.

October 26, 2004

Civil Rights Speeches from America's Past Illuminate the Present

As part of my ongoing political debate with D, I researched quotes to support my hypothesis that the language historically used to justify slavery, racism and sexism is still being used to justify denying equal rights to gays, lesbians, intersex and transgendered people.

To address our differences of opinion regarding the rights and liberties we believe are afforded all Americans by our Constitution, I will turn to a 19th-Century orator, who spoke in 1871 on the topic of Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Rights.

Virginia Woodhull:

I trust you will pardon me the statement when I say that I do not comprehend how there can exist an honest and perfect appreciation of the fundamental propositions upon which the superstructure of our government is based, and, at the same time, an honest hostility to the legitimate deductions of them, therefore I appear before you to expound as best I may the law involved by these propositions and to point out the inconsistencies of those who evince hostility to such deductions.

Here is Julia's definition of marriage: The state of two persons being united in a legal, consensual, and contractual relationship recognized and sanctioned by and dissolvable only by law.

Mrs. Ernestine I. Rose, 1860:

But what is marriage? A human institution, called out by the needs of social, affectional human nature, for human purposes, its objects are, first, the happiness of the parties immediately concerned, and, secondly, the welfare of society.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, arguing for the right to divorce, 1860: http://abacus.bates.edu/~skelley/cl04C15Conven1860.htm

If marriage is a human institution, about which man may legislate, it seems but just that he should treat this branch of his legislation with the same common sense that he applies to all others. If it is a mere legal contract, then should it be subject to the restraints and privileges of all other contracts.

Where two beings are drawn together, by the natural laws of likeness and affinity, union and happiness are the result. Such marriages might be Divine. But how is it now? You all know our marriage is, in many cases, a mere outward tie, impelled by custom, policy, interest, necessity; founded, not even in friendship, to say nothing of love; with every possible inequality of condition and development.

…Now, do you believe, men and women, that all these wretched matches are made in heaven? that all these sad, miserable people are bound together by God? I know Horace Greeley has been most eloquent, for weeks past, on the holy sacrament of ill-assorted marriages; but let us hope that all wisdom does not live, and will not die, with Horace Greeley. I think, if he had been married to the New York Herald, instead of the Republican party, he would have found out some Scriptural arguments against life‑long unions, where great incompatibility of temper existed between the parties. (Laughter and applause.)

Stanton continues with an exact articulation of what I have always said about laws outlawing abortion and restricting the reproductive rights of women:

It is folly to make laws on subjects beyond human prerogative, knowing that in the very nature of things they must be set aside. To make laws that man cannot and will not obey, serves to bring all law into contempt.
Here is a sentence that could be applied to the concept of marriage rights for all:

Why is it that all agreements, covenants, partnerships, are left wholly at the discretion of the parties, except the contract which of all others is considered most holy and important, both for the individual and the race?
At the end of the 1860 National Women’s Rights Convention, William Lloyd Garrison’s words were summarized as follows:

The rights of woman are coëqual and coëternal with the rights of man, being based upon human nature; and, therefore, are not to be determined nor circumscribed by an appeal to any book in the world, however excellent that book may be. It was [Mr. Garrison's] conviction that, until the true origin of all rights was perceived and acknowledged, very slow progress would be made towards their obtainment. No matter what any book might say to the contrary, human rights were equal, inalienable, indestructible, without reference to sex or complexion. They belonged to the constitution of every human being. It seemed to him, in a government like this, that they had nothing more to do than to put the ballot into the hand of woman, as it was in the hand of man. If, after she had a fair share of political power and representation, any of her rights were cloven down, then the fault would be her own. Let her say what shall be the laws, in coöperation with man, and the work would be done. He trusted the day was not far distant when woman would fully enjoy the benefit of the democratic theory of government. That theory we must carry out, or go backward to despotism, repudiating the revolutionary struggle, and spitting upon Bunker Hill and Lexington. We must give to all the same rights under a free government; and then we should be a consistent and glorious republic.

D., you insist that extending marriage rights to all human beings would be “destroying” marriage, or “tearing marriage down and rebuilding it from the ground up.” Was Major League Baseball “destroyed” when Jackie Robinson was allowed to play? Or what about when women were allowed to play basketball – did it have to be torn down and completely rebuilt?

Here is Carrie Chapman Catt in 1916 on the anti-suffragists’ arguments, which are, not coincidentally, the same ones used to keep gays from enjoying equal rights:

The male and female anti-suffragists of all lands will puff and blow at the economic change which will come to the women of Europe. They will declare it to be contrary to Nature and to God's plan and that somebody ought to do something about it.

There have always been arguments for protecting the status quo; the most indefensible of these, in my opinion, cite the Bible as justification. Wasn’t Jesus a uniter, not a divider? The ultimate uniter, in fact? “The slave shall not rise up against his master” was a Bible verse used to justify the harsh punishment of slaves who escaped or plotted uprisings.

Carrie Catt again on the “Anti-suffrage” movement. This perfectly encapsulates what I believe about all socially progressive movements:

We have not won the reactionaries of any party, church or society, and we never will. From the beginning of things, there have been Antis. The Antis drove Moses out of Egypt; they crucified Christ who said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself"; they have persecuted Jews in all parts of the world; they poisoned Socrates, the great philosopher; they cruelly persecuted Copernicus and Galileo, the first great scientists; they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake because he believed the world was round; they burned Savonarola who warred upon church corruption; they burned Eufame McIlyane [sic] because she used an anaesthetic; they burned Joan d'Arc for a heretic; they have sent great men and women to Siberia to eat their hearts out in isolation; they burned in effigy William Lloyd Garrison; they egged Abbie Kelley and Lucy Stone and mobbed Susan B. Anthony. Yet, in proportion to the enlightenment of their respective ages, these Antis were persons of intelligence and honest purpose. They were merely deaf to the call of Progress and were enraged because the world insisted upon moving on. Antis male and female there still are and will be to the end of time. Give to them a prayer of forgiveness for they know not what they do; and prepare for the forward march.
I found a web page with a bio of a Georgia governor. Here's a quote from it:

Like his contemporaries, Griffin ran for office on a staunch segregationist platform. The U.S. Supreme Court had declared segregation unconstitutional just before the 1954 gubernatorial campaign. In that campaign Griffin promised to protect segregated schools "come hell or high water." During the Griffin administration no Georgia schools were integrated; the desegregation process did not begin until 1961, two years after he left office.
There’s that word “protect” again -- being used to describe the efforts of racial segregationists.

From a Louisiana man's blog:

…I had thrilled to the music of Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Little Richard, and other "race" musicians whose upbeat rhythm and blues was almost drowned out by the cosmic voice-over of Boss Leander Perez, virtual dictator of Placquemines Parish, Louisiana, who fulminated like Goebbels or Hitler about the imminent dangers of allowing "burrheads" into our schools in 1957. I was then serving as an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the suburbs of New Orleans. I vividly remember a hot Sunday morning after Pentecost when the pastor solemnly announced that the parish school would be integrated that coming fall. The good parishioners wept openly at the prospect of this seemingly apocalyptic event.
BBC Four: Jonathan Freedland discusses America 30 years on with Lani Guinier and James Fallows Dec. 19, 2002.

And MLK’s words in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written over 40 years ago, in 1963. It’s interesting what he has to say about the church’s position on civil rights; the words are still true today.

I have hope that [Mayor] Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

… One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.

… So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." … So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

… So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I see every parallel between the struggles of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s and the struggles of gay Americans for equality and respect today. The reason that the judge in Massachusetts ruled as she did this year is that she could see no way to justify “separate but equal” marriage rules. Perhaps, as the religious leaders in Birmingham asserted, the current fight over gay rights is not “well timed,” but it’s been more than 35 years since the Stonewall riots, and there is still an unbelievable amount of hate directed at gays. Hate stems from fear, and fear from ignorance – the same emotions that were at work in opposing women’s suffrage.

October 22, 2004

Abortion in China vs. America

From an ongoing email discussion about religion and politics:

I was thinking about it again last night, and you have been the person who has always brought up China, as if there were no difference between China and America, and no difference between compulsory birth control or abortion and mere birth control and abortion rights. I don’t think there is anyone of any political bent in this country who supports the idea of importing China’s harsh population-limiting laws over here. Thankfully, there is as yet no need for it. Also, I and many people, even those who are in favor of reproductive rights, agree that China’s system is harsh, draconian, and often leads to abuses, as your article points out. (There’s also a big difference between behavior/attitudes/government in rural areas and in urban areas in China.) On the other hand, America is a democracy that stresses individual freedom, and has been around for over 200 years. In China, the current government has not been in power nearly as long, and Chinese, and indeed, Asian culture and tradition has long encouraged subverting individual desires for the “greater good,” however that may be defined. China is also a country that has in the last century has experienced several wars, foreign invasion and occupation, regime changes, and a pogrom directed at murdering, imprisoning, or exiling all intellectuals—vastly different from our experience during the same time frame. During all of this upheaval, its population growth rate raged out of control, and in 1970, the total fertility rate was about 6 children per couple, one that was clearly unsustainable considering its third-world status, its lack of food, and its lack of industrialization, which tends to support larger population density. Their solution seems to have curbed the population growth rate, although not without creating new problems, many of them related to cultural practices, the need for children to take care of aging parents, and the relative value of women and men in China. Here is a .pdf of a study on this topic: http://www.csis.org/china/020925kaufman.pdf

Now, back to America, which is what I have been talking about. You are conflating reproductive rights with coercion. I don’t advocate any coercion by anyone or any government entity of any woman regarding her reproductive choices. Ever. I think all women (and men) should be able to obtain effective birth control, and that individuals, not the government, should decide when and whether to have children. Period. I don’t advocate forced abortion or sterilization any more than I advocate forcing women to give birth. Either practice is barbaric and unacceptable in a country that claims facilitate “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Neither compulsory abortion nor compulsory birthing are consistent with the individual rights and freedoms we pride ourselves on in this country. I am not in favor of either of these things, OK?! No, I don't want America to be like China, OK?

The fact is, that if abortion is outlawed, poor women will be the ones to suffer, because rich women will always be able to afford to travel somewhere abortion is legal. Laws limiting reproductive freedom will disproportionately affect poor women, those who can least afford to have unwanted children. The law just makes it that much harder and more miserable to be poor, and the likelihood of poor women dying in childbirth (11% is the risk of dying in childbirth vs. less than a tenth of a percent due to a legal abortion) or due to a botched abortion.

You mentioned racism the other day, and I do think it’s at work in some people who oppose reproductive rights. They see more teenagers of color having babies, and more white teens having abortions (although that’s not quite accurate) and they don’t want to see the minority population rate rise faster than the white. One guy I used to work with who opposed abortion rights said, “Okay, just go ahead and make yourselves extinct.” Right. As if that were possible in today’s world.

As for Brazil, or Mexico, or whatever we were talking about, it’s most certainly not racism that is prompting my observation about how the misery of the favelas would be lessened if people had fewer children. It doesn’t matter what color they are; the condition of people who are dirt poor and squatting in junk heaps behind the high-rises of Rio is not at all improved by having more children to feed. It just so happens that most of the people in the third world are not white, and not coincidentally to the poverty of many of these families, that they tend to have a much higher number of children per family than in the first world. But it’s also poor whites--no coincidence that so many Irish families, both here and in Ireland were historically so poor--they had a lot more mouths to feed. It’s a truism that there is a direct correlation between freeing women from the burden of constant pregnancy, and improving those families’ socioeconomic condition and level of self-determination. Did you know that the risk of death associated with childbirth is about 11 times as high as that associated with abortion? The Alan Guttmacher Institute maintains up-to-date facts on reproductive and sexual health issues, including abortion: http://www.agi-usa.org/sections/abortion.html

On the Andrea Macris issue, I’ve got a lot of outstanding borrowings right now, but that doesn’t mean that any harassment claim I were to bring would be categorically untrue. I don’t think she’s making it up, any more than Anita Hill was inventing things. Bill O’Reilly has always been smug and arrogant, and I guess we’ll see if the claims have any merit. I would certainly find it difficult to go back to work for someone who had treated me that way, but I am not going to judge the veracity of either party until after further investigation into the assertions.

October 7, 2004

Political Discussion 10-7-04

I must take you to task a little bit for your recent approach to debating. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of all the non-political issues you’re having to deal with lately, although they do sound like campaign issues, strangely enough. But when, over the course of several emails, and then in person, you make generalizations about me and those who share my beliefs, and put words in my mouth that you know darn well I would never say, much less feel to be true, and equate me with some of the worst tyrants of recent memory, then I can’t help but be puzzled and hurt, if not angry and outraged. Calling me a “Saddam-loving leftist” just because I don’t like G. W. Bush’s policies is not only a non-sequitur and thus a lousy argument, it’s an ad hominem attack, which is inappropriate in any debate, and frankly, beneath someone of your intelligence and discernment.

The point I was trying to make the other night is that this administration and its supporters, like some previous Republican administrations, has equated criticism of the president and his policies with being “un-American,” and has called any and all kinds of dissent “disrespectful” and “unpatriotic.” This goes back to the 1992 debate when Bush Sr. questioned Clinton’s patriotism because he had visited Moscow as a student. It continued during the last election, and after 9-11, when Ari Fleischer said in response to Bill Maher, "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." The article where I found the quote also discusses numerous other instances of government- and self-censorship of opinions that were critical of Bush Administration policies, and documents the growing atmosphere of suppressing dissent. The message board posts I was referring to reflected Fleischer’s influence.

And still it continues. Just yesterday on NPR, there was a piece on a Senate debate over implementing the 9-11 Commission’s policies, and they were talking about the Duelfer report. Sen. Stevens (R-Alaska) insisted when Sen. Durbin (D-Illinois) criticized Bush’s reasons for invading Iraq, citing the report’s finding no WMDs, that this criticism was “disrespectful of the president.” Durbin countered that he respected the office, but that as an American, he had a First-Amendment right to criticize the president, and such criticism is not disrespectful. You may listen to this exchange here.

I had to interrupt you the other night because you kept making the outrageous assertion that I wanted to suppress the speech of those on the message boards, even though you knew damn well that it wasn’t true, and that it wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. I can’t believe you really think I’m that much of a hypocrite. Of course, I think everyone is entitled to express their opinion, no matter how much I might disagree with it. But there’s this weird double standard, and what pisses me off is the position of so many people who describe themselves as Bush supporters, or conservatives, or “those on the right,” or whatever title they choose. They are saying, “We can express our opinion because it jibes with the current administration’s party line, but all of you who don’t agree with the current administration should shut up because you’re being: (choose one) a) unpatriotic; b) disrespectful; c) un-American; d) supportive of the terrorists; e) a mixed-message sender.” My saying “The president is an idiot” is not un-American; however, my saying “You can’t say the president is an idiot because it’s un-American” goes against the concept of free speech, and is therefore un-American. I don’t know a single liberal/leftist/Democrat who wishes to restrict free speech, but I know plenty of conservatives/rightists/Republicans who do. And I don’t get it at all.

I think the government should be there to protect people from harm, should provide a legal framework for living and working in our society, should be an advocate for those who need one, and should provide temporary or permanent help with food, shelter, and health care to those who cannot help themselves, and who ask for this help on their own behalf or on behalf of a friend or family member. I do not think that the American government has any business dictating the religious, reproductive, or sexual practices of its citizens, and would hate to live in an America where this was accepted. You seem to advocate a “nosy parker” sort of government, and it’s one I could never support. There’s a big difference between thinking that abortion is wrong and vowing not to have one yourself, and believing that a law should be passed so that everyone will be forced to live according to your beliefs. What if there were a law saying that all unmarried girls under 18 had to abort any child they conceived? I would oppose that as equally wrong and restrictive. Haven’t you ever read Dostoyevsky's “The Grand Inquisitor?” People need to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions, even if they turn out to be mistakes. I think that the French have gone too far in restricting people from wearing headscarves, crosses, and other religious symbols, because while I would never want to wear a headscarf and find the practice rather sexist, it does me no harm, and it’s none of my business. France insists that it’s a “secular society,” but in contrast, the U.S. is a society that traditionally has taken a more laissez-faire attitude, and has embraced all the many religions and peoples it comprises. May it ever be thus.

I am beginning to think that personality is a huge factor in determining political allegiances, because certain personality traits seem to run parallel to party lines. Maybe our political leanings are more deeply rooted than we know. But as a former underdog, I find myself consistently rooting for the underdog, and I can’t help but align myself with others who share my inclinations.

October 4, 2004

The Debate Before the Debate

The beginnings of an ongoing political/religious/social debate between me and D.

In response to a presidential debate-watching party invitation, D wrote:

Will I be the only non-left person around? I'm used to that, though it tends to make me uncomfortable and I tend to stay in the closet. Much as a non-controversy-enjoying c**ksucking faggot might not tell his favorite people on a regular basis about his sexual proclivities if said fave peeps were rel-right extremists. Diversity, we learn, does not mean that one can dare to think different, as it were; not among the elite, not among the so-called educated or thoughtful classes. And I really don't enjoy it. Anyway.
I replied:

Wow! Sounds like someone hasn’t had their nap… Regarding the debate, I haven’t gotten any definite RSVPs for tomorrow, so you may be the only other person there besides me.

And I would totally disagree that among my educated/ thoughtful friends that one does not dare express an alternate opinion or that alternate or diverse views are not permitted. It’s just that after four years of having a president that I didn’t vote for, whose policies/values/priorities I didn’t agree with then, and who has since then, in my opinion, mucked things up worse than I could have imagined, and who has manifested in his policies all the character traits I found troubling, I am tired of watching my country suffer economically, socially, and in the court of world opinion, and I’m mad about it.

And speaking of how free speech has increasingly been discouraged and restricted, I’m also sick of hearing how it’s unpatriotic or terrorist-supporting to criticize the president or to disagree with any of his policies, and that I should just swallow the giant putrid cumwad that is the “Patriot Act” without blinking, while the real dangers and the real terrorists elude us. I guess I wouldn’t get mad if I didn’t care about where we’re headed, and I will probably go into a deep funk if we have four more years of Dubya.

I have to hear about him every day on the news, and I’d say that even moderates or Bush supporters can be fed up with hearing about his daily activities, so it’s nice to have the occasional opportunity to talk to friends who share my views, and who join me in my frustration. But if you come watch the debate at my house, I promise I won’t tell anyone that you’re gay, not that my friends would mind. :~}