"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Monday, July 06, 2015

Marriage News Watch, July 6, 2015: The Final Installment

Only a few isolated locations in the country remain where same-sex couples can't get married. Those opposed to equality are getting increasingly desperate, with stall tactics and long-shot legal games. We're also likely to see renewed attacks on other civil rights, so there's still going to be a lot of work to do in order to protect equality. But the story of marriage is changing from something we're fighting to achieve to something we're actually living. That's why as of this week I'm wrapping up Marriage News Watch.


Sunday, July 05, 2015

Urban Wildlife

Call this one "Saturday Science a Day Late": interesting article at Raw Story about the resurgence of "wild animals" in urban environments:

In recent years, a host of charismatic wild species, the coyote being only the most famous, have returned to American cities in numbers not seen for generations. Yet the official response in many areas has been, at best, disorganized, and people’s responses varied. The time has come for us to accept that these animals are here to stay, and develop a new approach to urban wildlife.

Most big American cities occupy sites that were once rich ecosystems. New York and Boston overlook dynamic river mouths. San Francisco and Seattle border vast estuaries, while large parts of Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, DC rest atop former wetlands. Even Las Vegas sprawls across a rare desert valley with reliable sources of life-giving fresh water, supplied by artesian aquifers the nearby Spring Mountains. All of these places once attracted diverse and abundant wildlife.

I lived, until recently, in an older neighborhood on Chicago's North Side -- big old trees, large yards, quiet. I would sit out in the back yard in the early morning and observe the opossums and raccoons wandering through the yard. The opossums would walk within a couple of feet, unless I moved -- then they would panic and run. The raccoons were fearless and inquisitive -- one morning, I had to yell at a pair to keep them from climbing on me. And of course, in addition to the squirrels, I'd see an occasional rabbit.

I've never seen a fox or coyote, although there have been regular reports of sightings around the city -- including the coyote that wandered into a Quizno's sub shop downtown on a hot summer day and just flopped down and the nice cool tile floor. And someone posted a video a couple of years back of a deer and half-grown fawn in an alley in Lakeview -- one of the most densely populated parts of the city. Deer are apparently becoming a real problem in the suburbs.

And we have peregrines and kestrels -- the City encourages them, to keep the pigeons in check. (It's interesting to note that in my new neighborhood, pigeons were rampant. They've largely disappeared, at least from my building, where they used to roost on a couple of nice ledges under the stairs. I was wondering why, then one day saw a couple of peregrines coasting around in the sky.) And in recent years I've noticed an increase in songbirds -- those little brown birds that are not sparrows. Maybe that has something to do with the City having planted over half a million trees in the past decade or so.

Note that Chicago has an extensive park system that includes several wildlife refuges, and sits on a major migratory bird flyway, and there have been a couple of programs restoring some areas to a "natural" state -- meaning, basically, restoring native species. North Pond and South Pond in Lincoln Park are the two that I know best.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Two Must-Reads

The first is an article by Gabriel Arana at Huffington Post on why conservatives think they lost on marriage equality:

In an interview, [Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission] told The Huffington Post that one of the movement's main mistakes in the gay marriage fight was assuming traditionalists would always have public opinion on their side. Social conservatives didn't anticipate or prepare for the dramatic turnabout in national sentiment on this issue over the last 10 years, he said, assuming they'd always operate from a position of strength in the culture war. They believed that fundamentally, Americans shared their values.

"I think that many pro-marriage people assumed that we would always represent a majority in American opinion," Moore said. "For a while, that was true. But we needed to be prepared to argue for something that is right regardless of whether or not the majority of Americans agree with us. I think that was a key error."

That is being blind to history. America's social history has been pretty dynamic -- we've gone from voting rights reserved to white landowners to voting being expanded to all white men to all male citizens to women; we've incorporated laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, and in some states a number of other factors (military service, physical or mental disability, marital status) not only into our legal system but into our moral framework. To think that, because most Americans at one time subscribed to a particular set of values (and idea that doesn't really seem to have much basis in reality anyway), they will always subscribe to that set of values, is beyond wishful thinking. (And I might note that the "values" assumed here are not really "American" in any real sense. Yes, there are truly American values, and they are, to some extent, the opposite of the "values" that Moore and his confreres espouse.) And note that Moore is insistent that he and his fellow conservatives are "right," no matter what anyone else thinks.

Moore added that the movement had also failed to put a humane face on its opposition to same-sex unions, though he said he thinks this was not the primary reason for the loss.

"There were some people speaking to this issue from my side who were angry and presented a public face of outrage in a way that I don't think was helpful," Moore said. "Evangelicals don't dislike our gay and lesbian neighbors, and we don't mean them harm."

Two points on this statement: angry, outraged and hateful has been the public face of their movement from the beginning. Take the major voices: Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, Bryan Fischer, Moore himself, among many others: they have consistently pushed a message that labels gays as perverts, pedophiles, Nazis, communists, less than human, which makes that last sentence laughable, at best. It may not be the primary reason for their loss, but it's up there: Americans in general tend not to like extremists very much, and the visible part of the anti-gay movement has been populated by extremists.

On a related note, here's an opinion piece by Amanda Marcotte on the real reason conservatives oppose the ruling in Obergefell, analyzing a piece by Ross Douthat:

While other conservatives moved on to incoherent babbling about “religious liberty”, Douthat used his New York Times column to dig his heels into the argument soundly rejected by Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges: that same-sex marriage is somehow an assault on traditional marriage.

Kennedy argued that the case for same-sex marriage “strengthened, not weakened” the institution of marriage by affirming that it upholds “the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” Douthat, however, remains skeptical, complaining that “approval of divorce, premarital sex, and out-of-wedlock childbearing” is on the rise and that younger Americans, in particular, take “a more relaxed perspective, in which wedlock is malleable and optional, one way among many to love, live, rear kids—or not.” This sense that marriage is optional offends Douthat greatly, as he sees it as an immoral shunning of duty.

What Douthat objects to -- no-fault divorce, child-bearing out of wedlock, etc., etc. etc., have nothing to do with same-sex marriage, and actually predate the battle over marriage equality by a generation or more. In point of fact, Kennedy was right, and I've said all along that it was more than a little ludicrous for the "Christian" right to loudly proclaim that they were protecting marriage from people who want to be married.

Marcotte does, I think, get to the meat of the resistance:

Douthat isn’t wrong on the facts, even if he’s wrong on his assessment of them. It’s true that women in modern society no longer feel like they have to be married to be granted entrance into adult society. Single women living by and supporting themselves is no longer considered scandalous. Marriage is, bit by bit, becoming more about a partnership between equals who choose each other for the purpose of love and happiness. Which means it’s becoming less about giving men control over women’s lives.

In this sense, Douthat isn’t wrong that “support for same-sex marriage and the decline of straight marital norms exist in a kind of feedback loop.” To accept same-sex marriage is to accept this modern idea that marriage is about love and partnership, instead of about dutiful procreation and female submission. Traditional gender roles where husbands rule over wives are disintegrating and that process is definitely helped along by these new laws allowing that marriage doesn’t have to be a gendered institution at all.

I would say, however, that for most Americans, those traditional gender roles have disintegrated.

I've been wondering why their loss on same-sex marriage has generated such extreme rhetoric on the right. I don't recall that sort of extremism over Loving or even Lawrence. All I can think of is that Obergefell demonstrates beyond any doubt that they have lost any right they might have had to call themselves "mainstream." The country has moved well beyond them, and to their way of thinking, it should be holding still. In one respect, they are right: they're being marginalized, but it's not any great conspiracy doing it to them: they did it to themselves.





Do They Hear What They're Saying?

Nine state lawmakers in Iowa have come out with a remarkable statement on the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell:

The Iowa lawmakers suggest in their statement that same-sex marriage violates the separation of church and state.

Separation of church and state means the government cannot interfere with religion, the statement claims. “At the same time, in order for the United States to function at its best, the people who represent the citizens in government must reflect a strong Judeo-Christian ethic in all we do, including having a solid, unmovable moral basis in our laws,” it adds.

Someone has obviously missed the point.

Friday, July 03, 2015

About Those County Clerks

That is, the ones who can't seem to separate their religious beliefs from their jobs. Like Katie Lang in Hood County, Texas, who said:

I am grateful that the First Amendment continues to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of public servants like me. That has not changed since last Friday.

She, at least, seems to recognize that the First Amendment also protects others from having to cater to her religious beliefs -- there are other clerks willing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in Hood County.

And then there's Decatur County, Tennessee, where the entire office resigned.

Clerk Gwen Pope and employees Sharon Bell and Mickey Butler cited their religious beliefs as the reason behind their decision.

Confirming the resignations, County Commissioner David Boroughs praised the employees’ decision because “their faith is so strong and well-rounded that they feel they can do that.”

Chris Hayes has a fairly good report on the phenomenon:


One of those Kentucky county clerks is now being sued:

Now, the ACLU has filed a federal class action lawsuit against one of those clerks, Kim Davis (below right) of Rowan County, on behalf of two gay couples and two straight ones.

From the ACLU’s release:

In explaining the ACLU’s decision to file suit on the couples’ behalf, ACLU of Kentucky Cooperating Attorney Laura Landenwich stated, “Ms. Davis has the absolute right to believe whatever she wants about God, faith, and religion, but as a government official who swore an oath to uphold the law, she cannot pick and choose who she is going to serve, or which duties her office will perform based on her religious beliefs.”

The interview in the Chris Hayes video with Casey Davis, county clerk of Casey County, Kentucky, is instructive, although perhaps not in the way that Mr. Davis expected: as you listen to him, it becomes very clear that the point of this exercise is not to preserve his freedom of conscience -- that's under no attack, in spite of what he says -- but to establish his "right" to enforce his religious beliefs on everyone else. That's really the basis of all of these so-called "religious freedom" bills being introduced in state legislatures: to enshrine one set of religious beliefs above the law and above everyone else's civil rights.

In the case of county clerks and other government agents in particular, I'd be willing to bet that one could make a strong case for violation of the Establishment Clause.

It's going to be interesting to see how this all pans out, although with Liberty Counsel standing ready to take up the defense of these poor, persecuted "Christians" I'm fairly optimistic.

Today's Must-Watch

Kids react to Obergefell:


There is hope for the future.

It's kind of long, but it's worth it.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

This Is Going To Make Waves

The Episcopal Church has voted to allow same-sex weddings in all congregations:

On Wednesday the Episcopal Church overwhelmingly voted to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples. The vote occurred at the Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City, and it passed in the House of Deputies just days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality.

The new rule will be implemented after November 1, and will eliminate gender-specific language from church laws on marriage. Instead of words like "husband" and "wife," the new church law will use words like "the couple." Same-sex couples will be permitted to have religious weddings in the church; however the new rule also gives clergy permission to decline to perform the ceremonies.

The vote was overwhelming:


Not everyone is happy about it. From the Institute on Religion and Democracy:
Bishops making these changes have chosen to align themselves with culture rather than the Bible, which puts forth a model of marriage and family life upholding marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. The vast majority of global Christians affirm traditional marriage. Unsurprisingly, there are no bishops in an official capacity from the Church of England here at General Convention, let alone from Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches.

Why would there be representatives of the Church of England (the Episcopal Church is autonomous) or other denominations in any capacity, much less "official"?

This will have repercussions in the Anglican Communion, possibly even leading to schism. We'll see.





Speechless

We've all heard what a total loss Fox News is as far as actual information is concerned, but the degree of ignorance displayed by their hosts and anchors is genuinely astonishing. We have another Ten Commandments battle, this time in Oklahoma, where the state supreme court ordered the government to remove a monument on the capital grounds.

State Rep. Mike Ritze (R), whose family funded the monument, told Doocy that he was shocked because the judges had never ruled against a Ten Commandments display before.

“Well, you know, it’s curious because in many instances like this, Mike, things in state capitals and on public ground are regarded as historical because that’s where our laws and our heritage comes from, came from in the beginning when this nation was first founded,” [host Steve] Doocy opined.

Hmm -- Enlightenment philosophy, English common law, Roman law, even some Iroquois law, but the Ten Commandments? Sorry, no.

The real problem here is that the Fox audience doesn't seem to value critical thinking skills very much, and they're likely to take this kind of blatant ignorance as gospel. Can I suggest that this has more than a little to do with the state of public discourse in this country these days?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Today's Must-Read

From Sen. Elizabeth Warren, writing in Time:

Our Constitution fiercely guards freedom and liberty, and strongly disapproves of state-sanctioned discrimination. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges recognizing a fundamental right to equal marriage for LGBT Americans sits squarely within both text and tradition. Indeed, what is truly remarkable about this case is not the outcome, but rather the people who made it possible — all of the many individuals across our nation who came forward to fight for the liberty and equality that our Constitution guarantees for all of us.

She takes particular aim at Chief Justice John Roberts' unbelievable dissent:

When looking at this equal marriage decision, Chief Justice John Roberts asserts that the Constitution “had nothing to do with it.” He’s wrong. Our Constitution had everything to do with it — with the liberty of two adults to have their love treated the same as that of any other couple. And it is because of the tireless work of jurists, lawyers, husbands like Jim Obergefell, and countless other LGBT Americans who stepped forward to speak out, that our nation will no longer look away from what our Constitution requires.

Read the whole thing.