Thursday, September 18, 2014

Journey from opposition to support

As you know, the opposition to LGBT equality often paints itself as religiously motivated, leading the media-entertainment industry to promote a meme of gays v Christians.  Well, WE all know that's not true.... but after years of abuse at the hands of those sorts of Christians, the LGBT community often runs leery of faith.    So over at my other blog, Gay Married Californian, I run a series called "Voices of Faith Speak Out" to highlight LGBT-supportive members of faith communities.  I'll get back to that in a minute.

Recently, you may have heard the heartwarming yet bittersweet story of two elderly ladies in Iowa, who after 70 years together, got married.  They had lived pretty much in the closet for most of their lives.  Don't ask Don't tell.  There's a wonderful profile in the Des Moines Register, and I encourage you to read it.  This is the bittersweet part.  After their wedding,
"I began to hear them addressing each other as 'sweetie' or 'dear' which they had never done before in public," he said. "They had learned to live with their heads down so long. And now they don't have to live with their heads down."
Exactly.  When we are who we are, it's hard to demonize us as the other.  And when you've had to wait so long and work so hard for the right to marry your partner, well, as a writer in the HuffPo puts it, 
if proponents of traditional marriage are truly worried about sanctity, doesn't taking marriage away from those who likely revere it the most -- the same-sex couples like my brother and his husband whose ceremonies are far more focused on the extreme gratitude over their ability to be legally recognized in marriage than the cosmetic details of the day -- seem to contradict what they are after?
Meanwhile, back at our Iowa lesbians, who married in the church where they have been worshiping since 1947.  It is the first same sex marriage in that church.   The article continues,
"It's Vivian and Nonie," [the Rev] Hunsaker said of the decision to marry them. "They had been in the church since 1947. They had been deacons and in the choir. We thought of them as a couple. Nobody asked them, but you can't not know. In the church directory, they have their picture together. 
"When you don't know somebody, it's easy to make statements about right and wrong. But when you know someone, have a relationship with them, which is what God wants, you want the best for them."
Ah, that's the thing.  When you have a relationship with someone, which is what God wants, you want what's best for them.  It's not two strangers on the TV.  It's Vivian and Nonie.  Well of course.
"So many wonderful people in our lives were there, people that knew about us but loved us still," Vivian said. "God brought us to this point. We don't know why..."
And that is a prime example of why LGBT folk coming out as gay is important. And not only that, why it is so important that Christians to come out as LGBT allies.  

Meanwhile, congratulations to those dear sweet ladies.  Marriage doesn't change anything, but yet it changes everything.  I know.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Catholic roots of Hobby Lobby

From Salon, a history of the Hobby Lobby decision and a description of how its roots lie not in the purported Evangelicals who brought the case, but in the fierce rear-guard actions of the Roman Catholic conference of bishops.

 [The Bishops called] for a broad conscience clause that would allow any employer who had a moral objection to contraception to refuse to provide it. Increasingly it looked as if the fight wasn’t about finding a reasonable compromise that would allow Catholic employers to distance themselves sufficiently from the provision of contraception to satisfy at least the letter of the widely ignored Catholic teaching on contraception. It was an attempt to block the federal enshrinement of contraception as a basic women’s health care right.
Let's be clear about that.  "Religious Freedom" is a canard intended to cover the real effort to make contraception expensive and difficult to get.  Having failed to get their laity to adhere to RC teaching on birth control, they want to get the government to help them.
Women’s health advocates and political pundits expressed amazement that contraception could be so controversial in 2012. But they shouldn’t have been surprised. That’s because the forty-year fight over reproductive rights had never really been about abortion; it had always been about women and sex—specifically, the ability of women to have sex without the consequence of pregnancy. That’s why it was the shot heard ’round the world when in the midst of the flap over the all-male birth control panel radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” for wanting her insurance to treat birth control like any other prescription medication. Limbaugh had revealed what the right really believed about women and sex: Women who wanted to have sex—especially outside of marriage— and control their fertility were doing something fundamentally illicit and shouldn’t expect anyone else to pay for it. To them, birth control was just a lesser form of abortion.
My emphasis.  That's what it's about: controlling women's sexuality.  This is the old Roman Catholic binary of woman as slut or virgin. It continues to frustrate me that we women are letting them do this.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014


In James Joyce's novel Ulysses, Stephan Dedalus wrestles with the guilt that comes from his refusal to pray at the bedside of his dying mother, some time before the novel begins.   His friends mock him.  If he really has no faith, than what would it have cost him to throw this gift to a dying woman?  Even though he says he doesn't believe, doesn't his refusal to bow down suggest in some weird way that he does?  

What about prayer? I don't myself pray, nor do I meditate, but I have no problem that others do. As someone who lacks the God gene, as I put it, and who thinks there's nothing out there, perhaps I'm just too embedded in the concrete (or shallow) to engage in the self-emptying of that sort of spiritual practice.  But, I'm not the least offended when a friend offers to pray for me--quite the opposite.  I view an offer of a prayer as a gift.  How churlish it would be to refuse something given generously by those who love me.  

Over at the Village Voice, a letter writer asked columnist Andrew W K what he should do when he (the letter writer) is asked to pray for his ill brother.  I suspect he was surprised by the answer from someone who would not describe himself as religious, exhorting him to get on his knees and give it up:
Prayer is a type of thought. It's a lot like meditation — a type of very concentrated mental focus with passionate emotion directed towards a concept or situation, or the lack thereof. But there's a special X-factor ingredient that makes "prayer" different than meditation or other types of thought. That X-factor is humility. This is the most seemingly contradictory aspect of prayer and what many people dislike about the feeling of praying. "Getting down on your knees" is not about lowering your power or being a weakling, it's about showing respect for the size and grandeur of what we call existence — it's about being humble in the presence of the vastness of life, space, and sensation, and acknowledging our extremely limited understanding of what it all really means. 
Being humble is very hard for many people because it makes them feel unimportant and helpless. To embrace our own smallness is not to say we're dumb or that we don't matter, but to realize how amazing it is that we exist at all in the midst of so much more. To be fully alive, we must realize how much else there is besides ourselves. We must accept how much we don't know — and how much we still have to learn — about ourselves and the whole world. Kneeling down and fully comprehending the incomprehensible is the physical act of displaying our respect for everything that isn't "us." 
....The paradoxical nature of this concept is difficult, but it is the key to unlocking the door of spirituality in general, and it remains the single biggest reason many people don't like the idea of prayer or of spiritual pursuits in general — they feel it's taking away their own power and it requires a dismantling of the reliable day-to-day life of the material world. In fact, it's only by taking away the illusion of our own power and replacing it with a greater power — the power that comes from realizing that we don't have to know everything — that we truly realize our full potential. ...
To know that you don't know is the definition of a spiritual awakening. And keeping that realization at the front of our mind and in the core of our being informs the rest of our existence. It takes a deeper type of strength to admit to ourselves that we don't have it all figured out than to run around keeping all our plates spinning. It seems strange to think that turning yourself over to your own bewilderment would actually bring clarity, but it does. Solving this riddle is the beginning of any true spiritual journey. 
Read the whole thing.  And then come back here and comment, what is prayer? 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Deep confusion over the meaning of "religious freedom"

You may remember that now that OK has erected a copy of the ten commandments on government grounds, a Satanist group has now demanded equal rights to put up their own statue.  Using the Freedom of Information Act, they requested correspondence regarding their request and discovered that the people of Oklahoma are deeply, deeply confused about the concept of religious freedom.

Yes, people have a choice as to what they want to believe and yet we need to make that “choosing” as easy as possible to choose Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Therefore, concerning the rights of different religions, I don’t see where the CIVIL LAW OF EOUALITYAPPLIES. It is repulsive to me to even have to consider another religion as being equal to Christianity.
Painfully absent from these sort of arguments was a recognition or understanding of the establishment clause. In their view, religious freedom is like pie and giving a slice of freedom to Satanists means taking a slice away from Christians. Accordingly, many callers invoked a tyranny of the majority, arguing that religious minorities can be ignored because Oklahoma is “The Bible Belt.” One letter suggested that the monument to Satan be allowed but that its scale must be in proportion to the percentage of Satanists living in Oklahoma. 
....Because the authors of the messages fail to understand the difference between government endorsement of Christianity and the personal liberty of Christian citizens, Constitutional issues surrounding the separation of church and state are interpreted as demonic attacks perpetrated by “God haters.” 
Constitutional ignorance has fueled our culture wars and perpetuated a narrative that Christianity in America is under attack. September 17 is Constitution Day, the perfect opportunity to recognize that the First Amendment has two clauses about religion; we’re not only a nation that values religious freedom, we are also a nation that recognizes the government shouldn’t tell us what to believe.
Yeah good luck with that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The religious freedom argument against equality

From Scotusblog (Lyle Denniston)
With lawyers moving very rapidly, the number of appeals to the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage rose on Tuesday to seven, as state officials in Indiana and Wisconsin separately challenged a federal appeals court ruling against their bans, and lawyers for the couples planned to file immediate replies. The new cases landed at the Court five days after that decision; the states had the option of taking ninety days to file.
The Court has the option of taking on either or both issues, and it also has the option of putting off any consideration for the time being, despite the heavy pressure from virtually everyone involved in the cases, who contend that the Court should not wait any longer to decide. None of the cases is a mandatory appeal. It would be highly unusual, however, for the Court to pass up all of the cases, when everyone is championing review now. 
If the Court opts to take on the controversy anytime up to mid-January, a final ruling could be expected before the new Term is completed late next June.
And guess what?  The case may well rest not on constitutional law, not on fairness, but on religious freedom. Hello, Hobby Lobby.  Mark Silk at Religion News Service on an amicus brief filed for Utah:
The religious organizations make clear in their amicus brief that, besides addressing all relevant Fourteenth Amendment issues, the Utah case uniquely addresses the burden placed on religious liberty by SSM. Quoting from a 2012 letter from a coalition of anti-SSM religious leaders, they write:
Judicially redefining marriage powerfully conflicts with religious liberty because, among other reasons, such a dramatic change in the law inevitably will lead to “forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations – throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies – to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.”… 
Utah’s petition provides an opportunity to address whether avoiding religious conflicts and church-state entanglements is a sufficiently weighty reason, alone or combined with other interests, to warrant allowing States to retain the age-old definition of marriage. 
If the court did find such avoidance sufficiently weighty, I’ve no doubt that the next legal step would be to ask that all states be forbidden to permit SSM on religious liberty grounds. But the real significance of the brief, it seems to me, is that it represents an acknowledgment that SSM is becoming the law of the land, and that the battle has now moved to the securing of legal exemptions for religious objectors.
So, the logic here is that anti-gay archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's religions freedom demands that the state deny me my civil rights (not to mention any non-Catholic church's religious freedom to marry me).  The sad thing is, after Hobby Lobby, it's just what might appeal to the 5 Catholics on the bench in DC.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Atheists cannot enlist in the military.

Apparently being an atheist is worse than being gay, in the eyes of the Christianists in Congress.  At least gays get to serve in the military.

Or is that the Christianists in the Air Force.  The Wall STreet journal:
An atheist airman stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was denied reenlistment for refusing to sign an oath with the words “so help me God,” provoking protest from a legal advocacy group that represents atheists in religious freedom cases..... 
“The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” Ms. Miller told the Air Force Times. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”..... 
An Air Force spokeswoman [said]  that it cannot make “so help me God” optional without congressional authorization. “Reciting ‘So help me God’ in the reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 USC 502,” Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson said.
Eugene Volokh disagrees.
10 U.S.C. § 502 expressly says that each person may swear or affirm. Likewise, 1 U.S.C. § 1 expressly says that an oath includes an affirmation. And an affirmation means precisely a pledge without reference to a supreme being. Given this context, it seems to me quite clear that “So help me God” in the statute should be read as an optional component, to be used for the great bulk of people who swear, but should be omitted for those who exercise their expressly statutorily provided option to affirm — because that’s what affirming means (omitting reference to a supreme being).

Even looking at the statute standing alone, then, the Air Force thus has no business denying people the ability to affirm, which is to say to omit “so help me God.” 
I am SO TIRED of the constant intrusion of certain people's religion into our public life.  THis is the kind of thing that makes even a good-tempered atheist start to rave about the flying spaghetti monster and invisible pink unicorns.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Another purge

Here we go again.  This time, two teachers in St Louis, who kept their relationship private, married and applied for a mortgage.  Their employer, the Cor Jesu high school, was sent the mortgage application and now the two teachers are jobless.  So much for buying a house together. 
Reichert said she and Gambaro were asked to resign after the school said in late July it received a copy of a mortgage application with the couple’s names. The couple had married in New York over the summer and the school said they had violated the moral contract faculty are required to sign as part of employment.....
In a Facebook post, Gambaro wrote that although alumnae support for her and her wife had been overwhelming, “the law is not on our side, nor is the church, so we have no ground to stand on.”
So do we conclude that none of the other teachers at Cor Jesu use birth control, or have sex out of marriage, or have remarried following divorce?  My, they are a pure bunch.
According to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, a growing number of Catholics support same-sex marriage. The 2013 poll, which surveyed close to 500 Catholics, found that 54 percent of Catholic voters support same-sex marriage, while 38 percent oppose it. 
Gambaro and Reichert, for their part, said they hoped their terminations would “guide the Catholic school system towards greater tolerance and acknowledgment of LGBTQ issues.” 
“We are both grateful for the time we had at Cor Jesu Academy,” Gambaro and Reichert wrote to the Post-Dispatch. We “will cherish the memories and experiences created with students, athletes, and colleagues over the years.” 
Our previous coverage of Roman Catholic purges of gay employees here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Freedom" only applies to straight white CHristians


From ThinkProgress:

A Florida mayor ejected one of his constituents from a City Commission meeting on Thursday because he declined to stand during the invocation and pledge to the flag at the beginning of the meeting. 
Winter Garden Mayor John Rees, a nonpartisan official leading an Orlando suburb of about 37,000, was caught on video demanding that an audience member stand for a prayer, which thanked God for “allowing us to live in a country where we’re free to believe, think, and pray.”
Clearly the irony here escapes him.
The audience member responded, “I don’t believe I have to do that, thank you.” After the prayer, Rees again instructed the constituent, identified by the Orlando Sentinel as Joseph Richardson, to stand for the pledge to the flag as “children have to in school.” Richardson again politely declined.....

City police then enforced the mayor’s demand and Richardson left.
Ah, that pesky first amendment.
In a 1942 case on this exact question, the U.S. Supreme Court held that students cannot be coerced into reciting or standing for the pledge. Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote in his majority opinion that “if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” 
Why is it that the concept of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, that straight white Christians  are so quick to invoke,  does not apply to anyone else?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Judge Posner's smackdown

By now you may have heard that the appeals from WI and IN, defending their marriage bans  to the 7th circuit didn't go so well.  And the star of the hearing was Reagan appointee Judge Richard Posner.  The Advocate pulls some of the highlights from the transcript.

Fisher: The issue here is to deal with what may be a fleeting moment of passion that leads to a child that nobody contemplated…

Judge Posner: Do you criminalize fornication?

No, no longer.

Would you like to? 
No, it's not at issue here.

It sounds like a way of dealing with this unintended child problem. 
It's one thing to criminalize—

You don't seem to like adoption as a way of dealing with it. 
That is not true. …

So why do you prefer heterosexual adoption to homosexual adoption? 
We don't.

Of course you do. You give all kinds of benefits to the heterosexual adoptive parents. ...
The benefits that you're talking about are not triggered based on sexual orientation, they're based on marital status.

Come on now, you're going in circles. The question is, why do you want the children who are adopted by same sex couples … to be worse off? … 
Judge Hamilton got in some zingers too
Judge Hamilton: Both you and Indiana have argued that what you really want to do is promote child births in marriage, right?

Samuelson: Correct. 
And encourage parents to stick together and raise those children, right?
I assume you're familiar with how that's been working out in practice over the last 25 or 30 years? … The proportion of births to unmarried mothers have increased by 53 percent in Wisconsin. … It's sort of like trying to focus on the mote in someone else's eye while ignoring the beam in one's own. …
Go to the Advocate to read more.  Court watchers think this one goes our way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The contraceptive mandate redux

The Obama administration has proposed a work around for private employers who object to contraceptive coverage.  Now, instead of telling their insurer that they object, they are supposed to tell the government.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a response that was somewhere between tepid and picky. In a statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said, “On initial review of the government’s summary of the regulations, we note with disappointment that the regulations would not broaden the ‘religious employer’ exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate. Instead, the regulations would only modify the “accommodation,” under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage. Also, by proposing to extend the ‘accommodation’ to the closely held for-profit employers that were wholly exempted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hobby Lobby, the proposed regulations would effectively reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom.”
Thus nothing is good enough.

As Charles Pierce writes,
After all, the opposition to birth control is not based on the opposition to a government mandate. It's based on the opposition to the medicine, and the purpose that medicine serves. The question being litigated -- in public and, sadly, in the courts -- is not constitutional. It's theological. The essential text is not the Constitution. It's Humanae Vitae.