Monday, May 25, 2015

Comfortable with my discrimination

Legislation to deal with the homosexual issues is now ready for the United Methodist General Conference next year. Details are in my brother blog.

No place to live

During all the celebration over same-sex marriage in Ireland, Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, was asked so what about a referendum there? Short answer: Nope. Longer answer: Marriage equality isn't a constitutional question (and others agree). The Parliament is the place to act on the issue. But Abbott will not allow a vote while he is Prime Minister. Never mind that a referendum would probably pass (though a constitutional amendment probably wouldn't).

Anti-gay politicians in Alabama have been working hard to thwart the ruling of Federal Judge Ginny Granade that struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban. Advocates went back to Judge Granade and she has now ruled. Yes, the ruling applies state-wide. Though, she wrote, at this point we might as well wait for the Supremes to speak.

A new Gallup poll shows support for marriage equality is now at 60%. It is significant for a reason – the amount above 50% is greater than the margin of error. The number of Americans who support marriage equality is definitely a majority.

Researchers at Trulia have compared median annual income for new college graduates to the median rent in the top 25 rental markets in America. Their finding: new grads can't afford to rent anywhere. In most markets their income would need to double or triple to find a place to rent. Put another way a new grad in Portland, OR could afford 0.1% of rental properties. A big reason for this is because of the Great Recession, which scared and prevented people from buying houses, the rental market has zoomed upward.

McDonald's recently had a shareholders meeting at its headquarters in Oak Brook, IL. Thousands of employees – cashiers and cooks, the people paid minimum wage – also showed up with a few labor leaders. The complaint: the company spent nearly $30 billion over the last decade to boost the stock price through dividends and share buybacks. That's a discredited strategy that gives a short-term payout to a handful of rich investors. The protesters say the money should have gone into living wages. McDonald's is so skimpy with its pay its workers cost taxpayers $1.2 billion a year in public assistance, meaning taxpayers are subsidizing the company's profits. Many protesters carried an enlarged version of their paycheck to show how little they're paid.

Balances religious freedom and discrimination

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, asked the state legislature for a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, similar to the one that caused such a ruckus in Indiana. A Louisiana House panel rejected it in a 10-2 vote. Jindal, who has formed an exploratory committee on becoming a GOP candidate for president, said, fine, he'll do it himself by executive order.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued an executive order of his own.
The city of New Orleans appropriately balances religious beliefs of all kinds with civil liberties, including freedom from discrimination. … The purpose of this Executive Order is to confirm for the residents of the City of New Orleans, its businesses and visitors that religious beliefs are protected from unjustified governmental burden, but that there is no tolerance in the City of New Orleans for discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin or ancestry, color, religion, gender or sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, marital or domestic partner status, age, physical condition or disability.

State Senator Karen Carter Peterson took to the senate floor to blast Jindal. Strange that he doesn't like executive orders when they come from Washington. Strange that his first commercial about the executive order ran in – Iowa.

Got it wrong

In my summary of Dan Savage's book American Savage in yesterday's post I left out an important point. In the last chapter, in which Savage debates Brian Brown, the argument turns to the authority of the Bible. This is important when so many of our opponents believe the Bible is the Word of God and therefore without error. Savage stated if the Bible got slavery wrong – and it did – what else did it get wrong? If it is so wrong about an easy issue such as slavery what are the chances of it getting a complicated issue such as human sexuality 100% right?

Brown tries to claim that the brutal form slavery as was practiced in America is only an Old Testament thing, and the slavery practiced in New Testament times, or at least with Hebrew masters, wasn't all that bad. It was mostly voluntary (indentured servitude) and of a short duration. In addition, the New Testament doesn't really support slavery.

During the debate Savage let Brown's comments go. There were so many other illogical threads to chase after. Once the video of the debate was made public others refuted Brown's claims. Yes, even New Testament era slavery was brutal and yes the New Testament does endorse it and doesn't condemn it. So, back to Savage's question. If the Bible got slavery wrong what else did it get wrong?

That's another way of saying our morality is and should be independent of the Bible.

To be fair, the Bible also got a great deal of morality right. Do unto others... Love one another... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, neither male nor female...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A moralist for our time

I just finished Dan Savage's latest book American Savage. If you really don't know who he is, you need to get out more. If you insist, the basics are at his Wikipedia page. In this book he lays out his opinions on a variety of topics. I find his views to be well reasoned and to make a lot of sense. I'm glad to see he is being called a moralist for our time. Since Savage is a columnist for sex advice several of the topics in the book are about sex.

I'm going to save chapters 1 and 13 for the end. My summary of the other chapters:

2. It's never okay to cheat (except when it is): Humans are bad at monogamy (why else do we put that in marriage vows?). There are certain situations where it is better to have sex outside of a marriage than to dissolve the marriage. Outside those situations if a spouse strays once or twice over a long marriage that is a sign that the spouse is pretty good at monogamy. That's why Savage coined the term "monogamish."

3. Sex dread. Sex education is taught in schools two ways. There is the abstinence only curriculum, which is very good at raising teenage pregnancy rates. There is a "comprehensive" curriculum, which also teaches about safe sex and birth control and sometimes addresses the needs of sexual minorities. It is better, says Savage, but not nearly enough. Both ways demonize sex, which is not a healthy thing to do to sexual beings. What is missing is such things as how to give and receive pleasure, what one should expect from a partner and what their partner will expect in return, what it means to find a compatible mate, and how to identify an abusive relationship. Only rarely will a teacher delve into these topics.

4. The GGG spot. Savage describes this as good, giving, and game, as in strive to be good in bed, giving pleasure without immediate reciprocation, and game for anything – within reason. That last part refers being willing to explore a partners sexual kinks as long as no harm will result. Those that do satisfy kinks usually have a much better and longer lasting relationship.

5. The choicer challenge. Lots of conservatives claim being a homosexual is a choice. Savage tackles that with a challenge. If you believe that a gay guy can flip a switch and become straight, show it is possible by flipping the switch and becoming gay. Prove it by having sex with Savage. No takers so far.

6. My son comes out. When this book was written in 2013, Savage's son D.J. was 15. The adoption was told in the book The Kid. In this essay Savage talks about what that book did to promote adoption by same-sex couples. He refutes the conservative view that gay parenting is bad. He notes the rate of same-sex couples raising kids is highest in the most conservative Southern states – gays and lesbians felt forced into straight marriages, produced kids, then realized they couldn't continue the charade. As for the chapter's title, D.J. came out – as straight. His parents had suspected for a long time.

7. Crazy, mad, salacious. Savage explores stereotyped portrayals of gay men in movies and television and how some stereotypes crept up on him.

8. Folsom prism blues. The Folsom Street Fair is all about men dressed in (sometimes not much) leather. Savage looks at a few anti-gay leaders who try to "sneak" into such events trying to expose the depravity of gay people.

9. The straight pride parade. Some straights, and even some gays, are turned off by pride parades with scantily clad dancers. Savage is challenged with the comment, "You don't see straight people flaunting our sexuality like that." He replies: "You should." And many straight people do – at Halloween.

10. Four closet cases. Savage sometimes meet older gay men in bars (Savage is now 50) and wonders how much of their lives had to be spent closeted. Savage goes on to discuss four closeted gay men who didn't have to be closeted and who wreaked a lot of damage before being outed. Washington state legislator Jim Webb pushed a great deal of anti-gay legislation before a scandal brought him down. Evangelist Ted Haggard used to preach against homosexuality until a callboy became fed up with Haggard's hypocrisy. Senator Larry Craig did at the national level what West was doing at the state level. He got caught in a raid in an airport men's room. Psychologist George Rekers made a name for himself by publishing studies in conversion therapy in which he used strong (perhaps brutal) reinforcements so that young boys would avoid effeminate behavior. Rekers declared his star subject to be cured – though the subject later committed suicide. Rekers was spotted returning from Europe with a young man hired to "lift his luggage." These men didn't need to be closeted, but choosing the closet caused considerable damage.

11. Mistakes were made. Savage searches for the bisexual male. From his own youth he knew that most men who say they are bisexual are really gay and are trying to come out only halfway. A study or two seemed to back that up. Then came a study that weeded out the liars. That was able to show bisexual males indeed exist.

12. On being different. Savage, his husband Terry, a few gay couples, son D.J. and a couple of the boy's straight friends vacationed in Hawaii. This contradicts the claim that gay men are all pedophiles. All the men in the group were gay. And the fathers of those boys knew their sons would be safe. It was during that vacation that Savage read the book On Being Different by Merle Miller, which was expanded from the article "What it Means to Be a Homosexual" written in 1971. In those 40 years things have gotten better. In this chapter Savage also discusses the start of his It Gets Better Project.

14. Rick and Me. Savage recounts what led to Rick Santorum having a Google problem.

15. Still evil. Less evil. But still evil. Savage delves into why he believes Obamacare is much better than what we had, but is still an evil system. Insurance companies skim billions off the top in profits. We still have insurance companies dictating care. And people are still falling through the cracks. The solution that isn't evil is Medicare for all. Along the way he exposes a few hypocrites. Savage is amazed that many conservative Christians oppose universal health coverage.

16. It's happened again. Savage discusses the frequent mass shootings in America. We need to do something now. Savage ends by noting that many in Congress push to allow guns everywhere, including workplaces. But there is one place where one cannot carry a gun – the Capitol building. Congress claims people have a right to carry a gun into your workplace but not their workplace. Perhaps there is a way to reduce gun violence: sell bullets for $5000 each.

17. Bigot Christmas. Savage invites Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (theirs, not yours) over for dinner for a debate, which was uploaded to YouTube. The chapter's title comes from the intense cleaning and planning done in August, normally only done at Christmas, so that Savage could host a bigot. The general consensus (except among the anti-gay crowd) is that Savage won the debate. Brown used too much circular reasoning.

Now back to the chapters I had skipped before. I am discussing them last because they hit too close to my current situation.

1. At a loss. Savage grew up Catholic. Though he now says he is atheist he recognizes he is still culturally Catholic. After his mother died he felt the need to sit in Catholic churches. That's where he felt closest to his mother and it gave him some comfort. But even while there he knew he could never be a member of a Catholic church again, couldn't even go through the motions, because their anti-gay stance is so strong.

13. Extended Stay. Savage declares his support for the Death with Dignity movement, which allows terminal patients to choose to die on their own terms. His mother had pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung condition. She thought she was doing well when she lived longer than the original five year prognosis. But then her condition dramatically worsened. At a moment when his stepfather was away from the hospital room the doctor told Savage he needed an answer now – put her on a ventilator where she might last a couple more days but in a coma, leave her with an oxygen mask where she would last maybe six hours (not enough time for his other two siblings to arrive), or remove the mask where she would likely suffocate in less than two hours. Explaining all that to your mother is an awful position for a son to be in. She chose to remove the mask, though before she did frantic calls were made to her other children. He will be haunted by a couple questions: Though she was given lots of pain medication, were her last hours filled with pain? Would it have been better to end her life immediately and not go through the suffocation?

Yes, way too close to my situation with my Dad.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Ireland voted on a constitutional referendum on whether the age of eligibility for presidential candidates should be lowered from 35 to 21. It was defeated with 73% voting no.

No, wait, that isn't the news you care about.

The other referendum on the ballot was whether the constitution should be amended with this text: "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex." That one passed by 62%! This is a big deal for several reasons.

The yes side was ahead in all districts but one. That means even most rural districts voted for marriage equality.

Ireland is only the 20th country to approve same-sex marriage.

Ireland did it through a popular vote, not legislative action or court order, the first country to do so. This was done as a change to the constitution, which had to be done through a vote, even though many think we shouldn't vote on rights. But it means it cannot be undone, except by another vote.

Turnout was about 60%, quite high for Ireland. There were lines on the last day to register to vote. There was a big effort by expatriates to return to Ireland for the vote, see Twitter tag #hometovote.

Ireland is much more Catholic and much more religious than the rest of Europe. Of course, the Catholic church was heavily involved in the No campaign. This defeat is a sign the Church's hold on the country is dwindling.

Those on the No side conceded defeat graciously, some within an hour of the start of vote counting. Not so gracious was Brian Brown, the American leader of the National Organization for Marriage (theirs, not yours). He also got the size of the No vote wrong. Irish vote counting seems a bit more civilized than what is done in America. They don't start counting until 9:00 the next morning. No need to stay up all night waiting for returns and results.

Next comes the writing and approval of a Marriage Act, which should happen in July. The law would be go into effect in August or September. Irish laws apparently must have a 3-month notice period. That means the first same-sex weddings will happen near Christmas.