Tag Archives: Gay Rights

Another Victory for Equality

A map of the US depicting the laws regarding same-sex marriage in states across the country. See post for details! (File taken from Wikimedia Commons)

On June 24th, the state of New York legalized same-sex marriage, becoming the sixth state in the US to do so.

Notes on the map accompanying this post: Dark blue indicates states in which same-sex marriage is completely legal. The slightly lighter blue indicates states in which couples may be in a union that gives rights similar to marriage. The lightest, cyan blue indicates states in which legislation grants limited rights to same-sex couples. Dark gray indicates that the state recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Light gray indicates that the state neither specifically prohibits nor recognizes same-sex marriages. Salmon indicates that the state has statutes banning same-sex marriage. Bright red states have constitutional provisions banning same-sex marriages. Dark red indicates that the state’s constitution prohibits same-sex marriages and some or all kinds of same-sex unions. Big surprise that the 6 “Tornado Alley” states have this. Sorry for the long-winded explanation! All this information and more can be found here.

This is another big step forward in the fight for marriage equality in the US for same-sex couples. 6 states have fully legalized same-sex marriage: Iowa, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and now New York. This trend began around the year 2009, in which four states, all in New England, legalized same-sex marriage. The first fully legal gay marriage to take place in America occurred in 2004 in Massachusetts, and was a huge victory in the fight for LGBT rights.

Since then, things seem only to be speeding up for gay rights. After a lot of vacillating on the issue, President Obama has begun to take a stand over the last half-year or so, first pressing for the successful repeal of DADT in December of last year, the military policy barring gays from military service (which will finally go into effect on September 20), and later announcing that his administration will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

These events, along with the most recent news of New York’s wonderful decision, is a powerful sign that the public is moving inexorably toward a positive attitude toward marriage equality and homosexuality in general. Though there are still many staunch opponents of gay rights, and will be for years to come, the real momentum seems to be on the right side in this debate, and that’s not going to change.

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 2)

Will we finally let go of our differences? (Source: scu.edu)

This is the second part of an earlier post, which you can find here. If you’re a bit lost, give my earlier post a read!

Sadly, we’re nowhere near as far toward this as we could be, or should be, and I must admit there’s a long way to go. But progress is being made, and in no small way! A great example of this is in the steady advancement of gay rights over the past years. Public opinion is moving toward favoring marriage equality, DADT has been repealed (nominally at least), 6 states allow gay marriage, and Maryland will soon join them. To add to this, the Department of Justice is no longer upholding DOMA, a strong step that shows that government is moving with the popular opinion. The long run for marriage equality is looking even brighter, as more than half of voters under the age of 30 (55%, to be exact) approve of same-sex marriage, and the media generally treats it as both normal and acceptable.

Of course, this is by no means the only place we’re moving forward! Huge strides are being made across religious, social, cultural, and linguistic barriers, as people all around the world are connecting in new and incredible ways. Even just in the short time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many new and amazing people, and talk with them about some of the most important things in life, and we’ve been able to do this across entire oceans!

This new century brings incredible new potentials with it, unlike anything in centuries past. Just as the 20th century brought about amazing new developments and turning points in our collective history, the 21st century is bringing a new kind of change, one that brings understanding and peace, instead of division and strife.

Maybe this is just the optimistic musing of a young mind, but as I mentioned above, this seems to me to be happening in a variety of very real and tangible ways! I’m finding more and more people who are willing to reach out and understand others, no matter what their differences are. People seem to be slowly becoming more willing to accommodate the different ideas of others, without feeling the need to be right. In schools, more children are being taught the value of acceptance and tolerance, instead of the value of winning an argument. There seems to be a greater and greater need and desire for interfaith dialogue, and prominent religious leaders (Feisal Abdul Rauf, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and many others) are standing up to try and bring greater peace and unity between religious traditions, without sacrificing diversity.

As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done here, but a lot of progress is being made as well. Though we’re only a tenth of the way through it, I can see this century being a bright one, a time when people will slowly but surely realize that all of our differences, all of our outward appearances and supposed differences can be left at the wayside. This 21st century will be, I’m sure, one of Common People.

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Filed under People & Society, Seeking the Spiritual

Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 1)

I watched a fantastic documentary tonight, for the third time. It’s called FLOW (standing for For Love of Water). The documentary discusses the privatization and pollution of the world’s water, and highlights the growing problem of water shortage, and what we must do to prevent it. I wrote a brief post about this a few months ago, and it’s certainly something I’ll explore more in the future.

But what really caught my attention this time around was a very short quote, from an elderly Indian Gandhian. The venerable man said, shortly and simply, “Twenty-first century is the century of common people.” Now, I apologize if this doesn’t strike you in the same way as it struck me, but this really made me start thinking.

A little interjection here: As far as I can tell, the phrase “century of the common people” is based on a speech given by Henry A. Wallace, FDR’s vice-president, in 1943 on the goal of the Allies in the Second World War. In the speech (which you can find here), Wallace says that the 20th century can and must be the century of the common man, not the century of America. I assume that this is what the Gandhian based his idea for the 21st century on.

I tend to think of the future in pretty optimistic terms, and I think that the world is generally getting better, albeit slowly. But a number of events over the past few years have really called my view into question. As I’ve grown up in the US, I’ve seen a terrible economic crash, horrific terrorist attacks, natural disasters compounded by human error, a plethora of wars, arguably one of the worst presidents this nation has ever had, and a whole host of other terrible things. So it’s been hard over the past few years to convince myself that things are getting better on the whole.

But! There are still many things that make me think positively about the future! And this is one of them.

Now, I can’t claim to know exactly what the gentleman in this film was referring to when he said “the century of common people.” But I can certainly tell you how I interpreted it! This phrase has helped give form to an idea I’ve been having for quite some time now, about the ways in which the world is improving, and that idea is this: Even though there is still great suffering and division in the world today, people are becoming much more willing and able to understand each other, help each other, and grow closer to each other, even with oceans of water, difference, or disagreement between them.

I see much greater understanding between people of different faiths, cultures, beliefs (political, philosophical, religious, or otherwise), and lifestyles looking past their differences in an effort to understand each other more, and this is what the Century of Common People looks like. We’re moving into a time when we can live with and even love the differences in other people, and regard them in a deep and loving way, no matter how dissimilar we may be.

I’ve decided to break up this post into multiple parts, as it’s already becoming fairly lengthy and will keep growing. Check back soon for the sequel!

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Pay Them No Mind

They must have missed the "Love your neighbor" part of the Bible.

In a striking and unilateral defense of the First Amendment right of freedom of speech, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church today, guaranteeing them the right to picket at military funerals and stage the hateful protests they’re so well-known for.

According to the SCOTUS brief on the case, Snyder v. Fred Phelps et al, the church has a constitutional right to picket funerals and stage their demonstrations, no matter how controversial the message they preach is.

For those of you who are uneducated about the WBC, let me give you a brief primer. WBC is a “church” in Kansas headed by a rapidly aging, hate-spewing ex-lawyer named Fred Phelps. The church frequently pickets military funerals or gay pride events to inform Americans that their tolerance for sin, particularly the “sin” of homosexuality, has put them on God’s black list. You may recognize them from pictures of Midwesterners holding large signs that read, “GOD HATES FAGS.” A little further research on the insane beliefs held by the Phelps’ will show that they believe that more or less everyone person who isn’t a member of their hate-mongering church has been signed up for eternal damnation for some crime or other.

Back to the Supreme Court decision! The court ruled, in an 8-1 decision in fact, that WBC does in fact have a right to say what they want where they want, no matter how much hatred is behind their words. As long as Phelps and friends adhere to the given guidelines for orderly protests/pickets, which they did in the case brought before SCOTUS, they are merely exercising their constitutional rights.

To me, this really brings up a crucial and confusing moral question: Do people have a basic right to say and believe anything they please, so long as it doesn’t bring direct harm to others? The Supreme Court answers that question with a definitive yes, and so do I. The most basic principle of the First Amendment to our constitution is the right to free speech. Even if the only things that a person or a group has to say are hateful, disagreeable, or downright wrong, that person or group has a right to say them.

Now, I’m by no means defending the opinions of the Westboro Baptist Church. On the contrary, I’m saying that, while the opinions that these people hold are utterly despicable and deplorable, they still have a right, in this country, to voice those views. Because our government is made up of so many diverse groups of people, often with diametrically opposite views, and our broader population is even more diverse, it’s impossible to say that any one view should get special treatment. While almost everyone in the country disagrees with WBC, if we were to make a law against them, then we would be institutionalizing the majority viewpoint, rather than an unbiased law. And that’s exactly what the Constitution was meant to prevent… right?

This does bring up one issue though: What if what they say is more than controversial, but outright dangerous? The UK has explicitly banned Fred Phelps and one of this daughters from entering their country, and threatened to exclude any other WBC members who tried to get in. Their reasoning is that the message of hate that the Phelps’ preach has the potential to incite hatred and violence toward gays in the country, and that this is reason enough to keep them well away from British soil. This other side of the argument is a difficult one to deal with. On the one hand, I want to say that I support the rights of all people to say and believe what they choose. But isn’t there a limit? Once a person’s belief starts inflicting terrible emotional harm on others (as WBC does at military funeral pickets), hasn’t it gone too far?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know which way I should lean on this issue. I do, however, have an answer for how to handle the WBC: Minimize their impact. As it is, the WBC makes national news more often than almost any other religious institution (though I would be hard-pressed to say that the WBC is really any kind of religion), even though the church is really only composed of a small core of insanely radical nutjobs. Because they’re so radical and hateful in their message, the church gets an incredibly disproportionate amount of coverage and attention. So, I would say that their power doesn’t come from their message, their signs, or even their protests. It comes from their infamy.

People treat the WBC as an influential force of evil in the States, which to some extent is true. But truth be told, they have almost no real power or influence on peoples’ opinions! The more the Westboro Baptist Church is treated like a force to be reckoned with, the more strongly they’ll voice their repulsive opinions. Counter-protest them when you can, tell your friends who they are, but don’t treat them as if they matter even a bit. The more distress and pain we show because of these peoples’ actions, the more they’ll continue to inflict suffering. So if you ever come across Fred Phelps and his cronies, turn around and pay them no mind, instead focusing on the people they’re trying to hurt. Because we want our children and grandchildren to look back at these people with utter disbelief, and laugh at the idea that someone could ever be so ridiculous.

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New Hope for Marriage Equality

Maybe the day when LGBT individuals can have full and equal rights in the US is closer than we thought!

For once, the odds seem to be in gay rights’ favor! A number of recent events seem to be indicating that gay rights are advancing much faster than anyone might have expected only a short while ago.

Over the past months and years of Barack Obama’s presidency, many liberals and gay rights activists have been becoming increasingly frustrated toward the president for what had been his general spinelessness towards issues involving homosexuality. The president had been timid toward this crucial issue for the first half of his presidency, using carefully measured words and precisely articulated yet vague statements to postpone his having to make any kind of real statement on the issue.

But, just recently, there have been a number of crucial developments for gay rights in the States. It’s well-known by now that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy restricting homosexuality in the US Armed Forces was repealed, when President Obama signed the action into law on December 22, 2010. But it hasn’t taken effect yet! DADT is technically still in place. But it’s starting to look like Obama and the current Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, are taking steps toward really taking this ridiculous policy off the table for good.

More importantly though, the Obama administration (and accompanying Justice Department) declared on Wednesday that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, and the attorney general directed the Justice Department to stop defending it in court. In essence, the Obama administration is flatly refusing to defend the law any longer. This has been, I think a watershed moment, both in the advancement of equal rights for LGBT people and in Barack Obama’s presidency. It has come after two years of Obama’s middle-of-the-road attempts at politics and policy, which were a dark disappointment after his promises for “change we can believe in.”

Though the president’s views on gay marriage are hazy and non-committal at best, he has said that his thoughts on the matter are “evolving,” a word which suggests that he’s coming around on this issue. About time! His decision to stop defending DOMA is not only an incredible step forward for gay rights, it’s also a signal that he may be starting to move back toward the more lofty promises of his campaign, and really bring about positive change. It seems like the president has realized that he’s not going to gain the support of conservative voters either way, so he’s made the (probably wise) decision to consolidate his voter base on the liberal side of politics he comes from. Finally, Obama is moving from a half-hearted defender of gay rights to a much more direct and aggressive advocate for progress.

But that’s not all! There’s more! (obscure Dan Savage reference!) The general conservative response to the administration’s decision has been half-hearted and feeble, to say the least. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney have said nothing about it so far, and the strongest politicians’ reaction came from Mike Huckabee, who only said the president’s decision was “utterly inexplicable.” The responses to this support the argument that opposition to gay marriage is fading in the Republican party (thank God!). But why is this happening? One theory that’s been proposed, and I agree, is that our current economic crisis has changed the subject of controversy from social issues to financial ones, so most Republicans’ first concern at the moment is budget-cutting, not “defending traditional family values.”

All the same, conservative religious groups like the Family Research Council have of course given their two cents, insisting that Obama’s decision is simply pandering to gay rights groups. But, in this author’s opinion, things are looking up for gay rights, overall! DADT has been (nominally) repealed, DOMA has been directly challenged by the current administration, and conservatives are putting up less resistance to the advancements of gay rights and marriage equality. And while there’s still a long road ahead, the last few weeks and months have seen gay rights moving forward in leaps and bounds.

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And You Thought America was Uptight!

Before I get started discussing this, I’d like to say that I know this is old news, so please refrain from telling me to pick up the paper. That said, this news is still sadly relevant! In fact, it’s come to the forefront again very recently. So hear me out.

Homosexuality and homosexual practice has always been a point of contention in Africa, especially in recent years. The general sentiment in many African countries (most notably Uganda) is that homosexuality is not just wrong, as many Americans feel, but an outright abomination and crime. In October 2010, the magazine pictured here (not the Rolling Stone you’re thinking of) released the names and addresses of 100 “Top Homos” in Uganda under an injunction to “Hang Them.” One of the people named in the article (and pictured on the cover) was David Kato, a gay rights activist in Uganda who was beaten to death with a hammer just 3 days ago in his home.

It’s been proposed (and perhaps not wrongly so) that the flames of anti-gay sentiment in Uganda were stoked in large part by a number of evangelical Christians that have helped “encourage” the evangelical Christian community in Uganda to view homosexuality as an aberration, an unnatural way of life, and of course, a sin. In the thinking of such blameless souls as Rick Warren, homosexuality is against the grain of normality, and is thus not something that need be considered a human right. To slather icing on the cake, a number of American evangelical leaders have popularized the idea that homosexuality is the immediate precursor to the dissolution of the African family. In the words of the minister of ethics and integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.” Classy guy, eh?

Ya know, this sounds pretty similar to what the Evangelical movement is seeking to achieve on American soil. Fundamentalist Christians have for years been striving to exorcise homosexuality from the US, but this isn’t a fight reserved just for America. No no, the “gay agenda” must be rooted out across the globe, according to folks like Scott Lively.

And Uganda seems to take this as a sacred and blood-soaked duty. The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, drafted a bill that threatens to drastically expand the penalties that can be imposed on gays in Uganda, up to and including capital punishment. Besides that, the bill, if passed, would call for homosexual Ugandans who have fled the country to be deported for punishment. But wait, it gets better! Museveni made the decision to bring this bill about after being converted to Christianity by American evangelicals. Regardless of who actually drafted the bill, none of these “good Christians” have voiced strong opposition to the bill, at most discouraging Parliament from such drastic measures. Similarly, none will say that Museveni’s insanity toward gays was at all inspired by them.

Yet more proof of the destructive capabilities mustered by members of the American evangelical movement. All we can do now is hope and pray that this bill never passes.

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