DOMA ruled unconstitutional by CONSERVATIVE federal judge

A woman married to another woman owed almost $400,000 in estate taxes upon the death of her wife because DOMA prevents the federal recognition of her marriage, so she filed a case arguing that this was illegal discrimination.  This case was just reviewed in federal court by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, a super conservative judge.

Shockingly, not only did he (and the court) rule DOMA unconstitutional, his opinion includes language that states that LGBT should be treated with heightened scrutiny under the Constitution.  This basically means that the court recognizes that LGBT are a historically marginalized group who deserves special consideration when having laws directed at them.

In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.

Not only is DOMA unconstitutional, but ALL attempts to discriminate against gay people have to pass heightened scrutiny — something that law has, somewhat shockingly, completely failed to establish.

The hope now is that SCOTUS will adopt the same reasoning.  They should because it is completely reasonable, but that doesn’t always mean anything.  If SCOTUS did accept this reasoning and adopt it, it would functionally mean that all discrimination on the basis of orientation would be illegal.

The opinion is here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/110431508/12-2335-447

This is a big deal, or at least could be. Fingers crossed.

BREAKING NEWS: Green Presidential Candidate Jill Stein Arrested

Jill Stein and her running mate have just been arrested outside the presidential debate for “blocking pedestrian traffic” AKA for showing up in protest of the two party monopoly over politics in this country.

Video of the arrest:

http://rt.com/usa/news/police-jill-stein-debate-589/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/10/16/green-party-candidate-arrested-outside-debate-site/

Death and Talks

Today, I’m giving a (very brief) talk at our interfaith society’s meeting about atheists and death. This is a semi-outline of my points and suchlike. Criticism is accepted and encouraged. A good deal of the highlights are cribbed from this piece: Why Atheism Inspires Me to Seek Social Justice.

Hi, everyone. I’m Kate. Junior, Psychology and Psych. Services double major, president of the Secular Student Alliance, atheist blogger, maker of rambling and self-descriptive lists.

I’m to talk about atheism and how the non-theistic community handles death. The questions that the others on the panel have addressed: their faiths rituals for the death of member, the prayers, the burial rites, aren’t ones I can answer.

Atheism isn’t defined by shared rituals, by prayers, by faith. I can’t tell you what is done by the atheist family of a deceased atheist because there is no script. At its simplest, most defined-by-dictionaries, atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. There isn’t a guidebook or a standard or an “ought to” or “should”.

I can’t tell you that atheism makes facing death or bereavement easier, though I’ve heard grieving atheists say it’s true. I can’t say that because I haven’t faced loss as an atheist, and if there’s one thing death does, it’s reminding us of our own humility and frailty.

This is a roundabout way of saying I can’t answer a lot of your questions, I suppose. Here’s what I can say: I can tell you why I face my own mortality and that of my friends more comfortably.

I’ve but this one life to live, and that motivates me more than anything. That means when I see homophobia, when I see sexism or littering or injustice in the world, I must act. I must act because all I have is this very moment. But most importantly, I must act because the person who is suffering, like me, only has this moment for themselves. There isn’t any other happy alternate life for them either.

In religion, heaven (and hell for some), is some kind of equalizer. Die horribly, or unexpectedly, or after a long illness? Heaven means you’re in a better place. It’s a solace for those you’ve left behind. Hell lets us feel more okay about those we find evil, or that guy who cuts us off in traffic. Without that egalitarian afterlife, you can only improve this one. Without ‘just rewards’ and ‘just desserts’, you just have to make this one place and one moment better.

Secular Patient Advocacy?

Hey, I don’t know anything about this field, but I thought some of my readership might.  My best friend’s mother is in really bad shape because of cancer and because of delayed diagnosis because of doctors being indifferent to her care.  She sent me the following e-mail:

Can you ask the Secular community what patient advocacy resources are available, and where to demand better, more thoughtful treatment? I think a lot of the shit Mom’s had to deal with has been a combination of medical error and the terrible quality of health care in SC, but I feel like this process has been complicated because, in general, doctors and nurses are rude and dismissive. This is a huge problem because I think it sends people into the arms of quacks on the “alternative medicine” side, and I’d really like there to be some kind of secular answer to that bullshit. I just don’t know where else to start.
Any thoughts you have would be wonderful, and if you don’t know, that’s OK too.  Secular community help me out!

Intake Edition

This quarter at school, I’m enrolled in a number of classes geared towards a pre-professional student. Of course, I’m a psychology undergrad, and to be a counselor or therapist, graduate degrees and/or certifications are required. However, at this point my class load is centered around learning theoretical orientations, practicing micro-skills (don’t cross your arms at a client), writing up psychosocial histories of imaginary clients, looking at standardized tests of mental functionality.

Simultaneously with this, I’m restarting therapy at a new location. I write about the first interview with a new client…and then I go to my first interview. We talk about effective note-taking techniques….and I observe my therapist’s legal pad of blue scribbles and arrows and diagrams. I plan my first psychology internship…and then give permission for an intern to sit in on my session.

In discussions with peers and classmates and friends considering finding therapists, I notice a sort of mystery surrounds therapy. Everyone’s sure you sit around and talk about things eventually, but how do you get one? What about all the forms? How do you start with someone you’ve never met? And, in the case of friends applying for reduced or free sessions (at community or university health clinics, who have limited therapists, and often take only some of their possible clients), what are all the questions looking for?

I can’t tell you how every therapist works. I can’t tell you how to get taken on for free or reduced-fee treatment. I can’t tell you that the first therapist you see won’t be homophobic or transphobic or non-skeptical. There’s bad therapists and therapists that you just don’t like because they’re too loud or too boring or too patronizing or too unsure. But I can de-mystify the process a little. I can tell you what I know of each side. I can know that I felt safer, more relaxed, when I knew what would happen beforehand, and hope that I can offer you a little of that.

Not considering therapy* because brain-wise, you’re just peachy? That’s spectacular, but as I ranted to Facebook friends today, you aren’t handed an Always Mentally Heathy Certificate at birth. You aren’t the Okay side that gets to pity the Other. Life is messy, and those lines are blurry at best.

So. The Intake Interview. The dancer in me thinks of this as an audition: trying to figure out what treatment and whether or not the two of you can work together. It’s unethical for a therapist to take on a client for whom they aren’t qualified, so some of this is them feeling out what you need from them. Intake has other ethical obligations; the counselor tells you when they would have to break confidentiality (harm to self or others). They have to check for suicidal ideation, because your life trumps it all. They have to get a handle on what you might be dealing with.

This means a lot of questions. Direct, sometimes uncomfortable questions. Were you abused? Do you think of suicide? (In my case) How much food have you had today? Yesterday?

Then there’s my least favorite: Why are you here? I loathe it. How do you start? What do you say? I want to say how well I’m doing, how much I’ve improved…and that’s not what they want. They want all the bad, six years of eating disorder that morphed into disordered eating and out-of-control exercising. So I run through it. I’m never linear; I stop and go back, and gesture, and leave out names and clarify and repeat and confuse. I’m never satisfied with my explanation, and I trail off until they finish scratching out notes.

Intake is…unpleasant. It’s scooping out your guts along with your life story. You offer up this blobby mass of tears and feelings and facts and say, “This is me. Help, please?”.

And it’s worth it. You do it once, and you have this terribly unproductive session, but it’s over and there’s a file and you don’t have to retell it ever again. You can move forward. Therapy starts. You come back and there’s a plan.

Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. It’s not a cure-all, and I don’t want to represent it as that. A lovely friend reminded me after my Friend Manual posts that it’s important to talk about psychology’s bad side: the side that tried to “cure” and diagnose homosexuality, a side that still does problematic gatekeeping, that still has practitioners that treat their own clients with therapy that isn’t empirically based.
Furthermore, not everyone CAN access therapy. Transportation, the cost of insurance, cultural norms, inability to take time from work or life or caring for family are all problems we need to and should address. 

You just got Biden’d

I should probably start with the fact that I am a huge Joe Biden fan.  Joe is snarky and funny and his “gaffes” are usually just him being too honest rather than anything else.  Plus he destroyed Robert Bork.  Plus he’s really smart.

But Joe Biden knocked it out of the park today.  He was not only fired up in a way that could almost make you forget Obama’s lack of energy last weekend, he consistently called Ryan on his lack of specifics, flip-flops, and lies.  I’ve never heard someone call someone a liar in as many ways as Biden did tonight.  Truly well done.

Martha Raddatz was a superb moderator as well, really pushing for specifics from both candidates — something that will probably be called liberal media bias because Ryan didn’t have any specifics to offer.

Highlights:

“Oh now you’re Jack Kennedy?” – Joe

“Biden leveled the playing field alright, leveled it right through Paul Ryan’s milkshake. Which he then drank.” – Ana Marie Cox

“FACT: Ryan has opposed abortion access for rape victims since 1998 http://thkpr.gs/OXi9fE” – Think Progress

Biden mentioning Bork.

“The CNN panel of floating women voters hated that Ryan answer on abortion. It stayed flat as a pancake” – Guy Adams

“Ryan reiterates that secularism – the distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.” – Andrew Sullivan

Stepdad: Well, he’s better than Sarah Palin. #damningwithfaintpraise

“Hello 9 1 1? There s an old man beating a child on my tv” – Bill Maher

Paul Ryan bringing up a car accident story in an attempt to connect on a personal level… to Joe Biden… whose wife and daughter died in a car accident…

Malarkey, Sarah Palin, 47%, Osama Bin Laden… so much things

Let’s look at the — let’s take a look at the facts. Let’s look at where we were when we came to office. The economy was in free fall. We had — the Great Recession hit. Nine million people lost their job, 1.7 — $1.6 trillion in wealth lost in equity in your homes, in retirement accounts from the middle class.

We knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class. And in addition to that, when that — and when that occurred, what did Romney do? Romney said, no, let Detroit go bankrupt. We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said, no, let foreclosures hit the bottom.

But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend recently, in a speech in Washington, said 30% of the American people are takers. These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, not paying any taxes.

I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent — it’s about time they take some responsibility here. And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, we’re going to level the playing field. We’re going to give you a fair shot again. We are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the superwealthy.

They’re pushing the continuation of a tax cut that will give an additional $500 billion in tax cuts to 120,000 families. And they’re holding hostage the middle-class tax cut because they say, we won’t pass — we won’t continue the middle-class tax cut unless you give the tax cut for the superwealthy. It’s about time they take some responsibility.

The Republican spin machine is amazing, they’re already trying to turn this into Joe Biden was condescending because he laughed at Ryan too much.  I think that as soon as the only defense you have is that someone laughed when your man told lies, you’ve confessed that you’re losing on substance.  But Republicans are so much better at staying on target and on topic with these things.  Remember, fact-checking someone when they’re talking is disrespectful.

But the fact remains that Biden’s number one goal is to get the base fired up.  The reality is that if all registered voters were to vote, Democrats would win in a landslide.  And there’s no way to watch the performance he just gave and not be fired up if you agree with him.

[Guest Post] Raining on the Gay Pride Parade

Today is National Coming Out Day. Below is a guest post from Miriam, who writes at Brute Reason (“Ruining your fun since 2009!”). She’s a friend, a social justice blogger, psychology student, and aspiring therapist.

National Coming Out Day is a bittersweet day for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea. I’m thankful to be out to my friends, and I’m glad that so many people are able to come out nowadays–although, of course, we still have so much left to do.

However, the reality of my life is this–I can never come out to my family.

Now, I know how the script goes. The poor queer kid is terrified of coming out. They’re sure that their parents will disown them or start a fight or send them to therapy or just go silent and cold, never to really return again.

But then they finally get up the courage and do it anyway, and their parents cry and hug them and say, “Well, this may not be what we would’ve wanted, but you’re our child and we love you anyway.”

Or they say, “Oh, we already knew, silly.”

Or they say, “We don’t care who you love as long as you’re happy.

Or they say, “Okay. When can we meet him/her/them?”

But that’s not how it would go for me at all.

I know them too well after 21 years. “We wouldn’t want our son raised around…those people.” “Call it whatever you want, just not ‘marriage.'” “I mean, I don’t care what they do, but why do they have to shove it in our faces all the time?” “It’s disgusting.”

It’s not just that I don’t want to be branded as one of “those people,” of course. If it were just a matter of dealing with bigotry, I could do it. As an open atheist and survivor of mental illness, I do that plenty.

The larger issue here is that of my culture, which is a collectivist one. (You wouldn’t know by my skin color, but it is.) In my culture, family ties trump personal identity. You don’t disappoint your family for the sake of “being yourself.” Love may be unconditional, but acceptance is not. My family is not required to accept who I am simply because I am their daughter.

In fact, although my parents probably think I’m not nearly obedient enough, every step I take to individuate myself from them is full of anxiety and guilt. Knowing how disappointed they are at my refusal to pursue a PhD or marry someone of our ethnicity or be politically conservative is hard enough; coming out would just be too much.

Of course, my privilege is what makes this choice possible–ironically. Since I’m bisexual, I can still date with my parents’ knowledge, and since I have the privilege of attending college and living apart from my family, having a separate life that doesn’t involve them is an option for me too. And even if I were to be outed, the consequences would not be nearly as awful as they would for many other LGBT folks. I try to remind myself of these things a lot.

But regardless, this is why I have never truly felt like a part of the queer community. Centered as it is on the idea of coming out–to everyone, not just to friends–it leaves little room for people like me, who choose to remain closeted in certain spheres of our lives. We are cowards at best and traitors at worst.

Instead of accepting my choice and supporting me through it, some people throw the same tired bits of advice at me. “You have to be yourself, it doesn’t matter what your family thinks.” “They’re just bigots anyway, ignore them.” “If they really loved you they’d accept who you are.” “I’m sure they’ll get over it.”

Advice like this comes from a Western perspective, a perspective that I understand and even agree with, but that does not even resemble the one I was raised with. I will not abandon my family for the sake of my identity or for the good of the queer community. “Being myself” is not more important than my family. “Ignoring” them is not an option. And yes, they do really love me, and I really love them too.

So, I’m sorry to rain on the gay pride parade. I’m sorry this isn’t another inspiring story about overcoming homophobia and coming out. I wish it could be.

But that will never be my story. I will not martyr myself for the cause. All I can do is keep writing and doing activism that will give others the opportunities that I don’t have.

-Miriam