“What are we afraid of?” NJ State Senator Raymond Lesniak on Same-Sex Marriage

SenlesniakI cried when I read this.

I’m crying again now as I re-read it.

This is a person who gets it. He didn’t always get it — he didn’t always support same-sex marriage — but he gets it now. Not just as a matter of fairness or justice, not just as a matter of rational public policy. He gets it about why it matters.

It’s New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, in a blog post on the NJ.com blog titled Why not gay marriage? And I’m just going to quote the whole damn thing.

What are we afraid of? That we’ll tear the fabric of society apart?

Seems like the fabric of society is already torn apart. Fifty percent of first marriages end in divorce. Less than 40 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. There’s rampant corruption in government. There are random acts of violence in Virginia and Newark, random acts of violence committed every day in our cities and our suburbs. Religious figures commit sexual assaults. Anti-gay political and religious figures are caught in the same sexual trysts they condemn in their public pronouncements.

I love my church, being raised a Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church does wonderful charitable works for the poor throughout the world, yet when I attended Mass recently, the priest gave a homily condemning those who do not follow the rules of the Church. Not a word about the gospel of the day, a beautiful reading from the gospel by Matthew on loving thy neighbor as thyself.

I left after the lecture and waited for my friends in my car, crying and feeling abandoned and not loved. But I digress.

Civil unions in New Jersey give committed gay couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples. Except the right to get “married”. The very law that gives these loving couples the rights of marriage deprives them of the loving feeling of being married. Outcasts only because of their love for each other.

Allowing gay couples to marry is not going to repair the fabric of society, but it’s not going to tear it apart either.

To paraphrase John Lennon, let’s give love a chance. We might just find out that it works.

BTW, to the folks in this blog who have been arguing that civil unions should be the legal contract and marriage should be the religious ceremony — for everyone, not just same-sex couples — I’d just like to repeat what Lesniak said:

“The very law that gives these loving couples the rights of marriage deprives them of the loving feeling of being married.”

That’s the part that keeps making me cry.

VowsI don’t just want a legal contract that mimics marriage. I want the experience of marriage. Marriage is an institution/ ritual/ relationship that has existed for thousands of years, one that has tremendous resonance in our culture, in a way that civil unions simply don’t. Separate but equal is not equal. It never has been, and it never will be.

And I am touched beyond words that this Catholic state senator from New Jersey gets it.

Right Wing Hypocrisy: The Blowfish Blog

David_vitter_official_portraitI have a somewhat unusual take on the recent slew of right-wing politico sex scandals — David Vitter, Bob Allen, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, etc. etc. etc. — over at the Blowfish Blog. The piece is called Right Wing Hypocrisy, or Why Sex Guilt Fucks Things Up For Everyone, and instead of just ranting about these folks’ hypocrisy (although I do a certain amount of that as well), I ask the question:

Why are the the specific taboo sex acts they engage in so often the exact same ones they publicly campaign against?

Here’s a teaser:

Admittedly, a big part of this pattern comes from the media focus. Hypocrisy in powerful public figures is big news, and I’m sure there’s some cherry-picking in the coverage. After all, “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he campaigned on the sanctity of marriage!” makes great headlines. “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he voted to renew the Farm Bill!” isn’t going to make headlines anywhere but the Surrealist Times.

But even given that, there’s a precision to the match-ups between the public condemnation and the private behavior that seems like more than coincidence and media focus.

Ted_haggardTo find out what I think is behind this “preach in public against the exact things you’re doing in private” pattern — and why I find myself having a smidgen of compassion for these assholes — check out the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Carnivals: Of Feminists #42 and Of the Liberals #44

CarnivalIt’s blog carnival time again! Carnival of the Liberals #44 is up at The Richmond Democrat, with its usual excellent collection of fine lefty pinko blogging. This is actually a selective carnival — unlike many blog carnivals, they only select the ten best blog postings from the previous fortnight — so I’m pleased and honored to have been selected again, with my piece on why civil unions aren’t equal to marriage either theoretically or practically: One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough.

And Carnival of Feminists #42 is also up at Uncool (wicked cool blog name, btw), with tons of nifty feminist blogging. They also included my One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough piece, so I’m excited. Enjoy the blogging!

The Lefty Pinko Wire Service

Alternet_logoI just found out about this recently, and I’m having the “Where have you been all my life?” reaction, so I want to tell everyone else about it.

It’s AlterNet. It’s sort of a lefty magazine/ wire service: a compendium of progressive news, opinion, and blogging from all over the Internets, with both original pieces and reprints from other sources. (What do you call a reprint when it’s online instead of in print?) They’ve got some serious heavy hitters: on today’s home page, I’m seeing writing from Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Julian Bond…

Gretatricorn…and me.

Me, me, me.

I just had my first piece go up on AlterNet this weekend — “Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough”, reprinted from this very blog — and I’m thrilled beyond measure. (Of course they don’t include all the pretty illustrations that I use on my blog; but being on the same Web magazine as Julian Bond and Michael Moore kind of makes up for that.)

This could be a big break for me. It could get me some real exposure in new and exciting places. So keep your fingers crossed — I’m going to continue to send them my best lefty blogging, and hope to appear there more. Check out the site — it’s a great source of good, smart, thoughtful lefty writing, and with any luck, it’s going to make me a star.

One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough

AisleThere are plenty of reasons why civil unions really aren’t equal to marriage — even if the rights and responsibilities spelled out in a state’s civil union law are identical to marriage in every way.

There are legal reasons why they’re not equal — marriage is recognized in every state and indeed every country, while civil unions aren’t; so the rights and responsibilities don’t necessarily travel with you when you leave the state that granted them. There are emotional reasons — marriage is an institution/ ritual/ relationship that has existed for thousands of years, one that has tremendous resonance in our culture in a way that civil unions simply don’t. And there are moral reasons — as history has born out, separate but equal is pretty much by definition not equal.

But if none of those convince you, here’s a really good practical one.

JusticeAs of right now, five months after New Jersey’s Civil Union Law took effect, at least 1 out of every 7 civil-union couples in New Jersey are not getting their civil unions recognized by their employers.

1 out of 7. 14 percent.

If 14 percent of married couples in New Jersey were being denied full, legally-guaranteed marriage benefits by their employers, there’d be outraged stories on every news source in the region, and quite possibly rioting in the streets.

Gsehead2And actually, it’s probably more than 1 out of 7. The 1 out of 7 figure comes from 191 complaints reported to Garden State Equality (out of 1,359 civil-union couples) — and chances are excellent that not everyone who’s having problems is reporting it. And before you ask — no it’s not just one big bad company that’s skewing the results. According to Garden State Equality, the 191 cases involve close to 191 companies.

So civil unions aren’t just legally unequal to marriage; they’re not just emotionally unequal; they’re not even just morally unequal. They’re unequal in the most literal, practical sense of the word. Even in the state where the civil union is the law, people in civil unions are not being treated the same by their employers as people who are married.

HendricksleboeufI get that civil unions are a big step forward. There are times when I’m astonished by the fact that “well, same-sex marriage is out, but civil unions would be okay” has become the moderate position on the issue, maybe even the moderate- to- conservative position. I get that they’re better than nothing — heck, 6 out of 7 civil-union couples in New Jersey are getting their benefits, and that’s not trivial. And I get that, the Supreme Court being what it is right now, it may not be the best strategy to put same-sex marriage to a test on the national level until we get some new faces on the bench.

VowsI’m just saying: It’s not the same. It’s not enough. And I am disinclined to pretend that it is. This fight will not be over in this country until same-sex marriage is legal and fully- recognized in all 50 states. You can put nice cushions in the back of the bus — but it’s still the back of the bus.

(Thanks to Good As You for putting the press release on their site.)

Joined At the Brainstem: Relationships and Privacy

Speak_2Several years ago, I read a piece of relationship advice that always stuck with me. (I wish I could find it now; but I can’t, so I’m going to have to paraphrase.) It was by a lesbian relationship adviser, and she said that in the first six months of her relationship with her partner, they had a rule that, if one of them asked, “What are you thinking right now?” the other had to answer, completely honestly and spontaneously.

BrainstemThe advice writer said that, while this obviously was difficult and painful at times — both for the asker and the askee — it “worked.” At the end of the six months, she said, “we were joined at the brainstem.”

This was before I got together with Ingrid, back in my single days, and at the time, I remember thinking, “What a bad idea.” In fact, it struck me so strongly as a bad idea that I remembered it all these years.

But now that I’ve been in a serious relationship for close to ten years, my feelings have changed somewhat. Now I think about the idea of sharing every passing thought with your partner on demand, and I don’t think, “What a bad idea.”

I think, “What an appalling, unbelievably stupid, extraordinarily horrible idea.”

Brainstem_2Okay. Two reasons. First, we have the actual stated goal of this little exercise: joining with your partner at the brainstem.

Why is that a good idea? Why is that something you’d want?

Brain2I like that Ingrid has her own brain. I like Ingrid’s brain. It’s a good brain. And it’s good in ways that are often very different from my own. The fact that Ingrid has her very own brain means that she can surprise me. She can make me think about things differently. She can make me question my ideas and assumptions. And possibly more important than any of this, she can make me laugh.

None of which she could do if we were “joined at the brainstem.”

After close to ten years together, of course we know each other very well indeed. Of course we sometimes finish each other’s sentences, sometimes know exactly what the other person is going to say. But not always. And while of course I treasure how well we know each other and how close we are, I also treasure the fact that, nearly ten years into our life together, we’re still learning about each other.

Second, and maybe more importantly:

Brain4Having your own thoughts and feelings — which you can share with others or not as you choose — that’s one of the central defining characteristics of being, you know, a person. An individual. A being with some sort of selfhood.

And the idea that you should give that up when you get in a relationship gives me chills.

Now obviously, when you get into a relationship, you give up a certain amount of privacy. The closer the relationship gets, the more privacy you give up. And of course, different people need different amounts of privacy. Some couples are fine having their partner in the bathroom with them while they pee; others need to live in separate apartments.

PrivacyBut the privacy of the inside of your own head? That’s really basic. That’s a huge part of what makes you who you are.

Why would you want to take that away? Either from your partner or yourself?

BitchAnd I’m not even getting into the potential rudeness and hurtfulness of the exercise. I mean, it’s not as if every fleeting thought that passes through my head is one that I really stand by, or even think is true. If I have to hurt Ingrid by telling her something she doesn’t want to hear, I bloody well want it to be something that matters — not some petty, selfish, mean-spirited bitchiness that happened to be crossing my synapses at the exact moment she was asking, “Honey, what are you thinking?”

Telepathy2Maybe I’m being unfairly judgmental here. Maybe this “complete and unedited honesty on demand” thing is just a greater degree of intimacy and a lesser degree of privacy than I’m personally comfortable with. But it just seems like an unbelievably bad idea. Especially for lesbian couples. Lesbian couples already have enough of a tendency to merge, to lose their individual identities in each other and in the couple-identity. And the whole thing that’s cool about a relationship is that it’s a balance between intimacy and selfhood. You can’t have intimacy if you don’t have different people, with different identities, to come together and connect. The idea that more closeness is always better in a relationship is, IMO, a seriously dumb one.

So am I being too judgmental here? Have any of you ever done the “complete and unedited honesty on demand” thing in a relationship? If so, how did it work out? If not, is it an idea that appeals to you? I’m weirded out — but I’m also curious.

That’s Not What We Meant: Hate Crime Laws, Round 2

Hate_crimeI think that those of us who support hate crime laws — and I do — have a moral obligation to speak out when they’re mis-applied. If we’re going to argue — as I do — that they’re substantially different from hate speech laws or rules and don’t constitute a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, I think we need to speak out when they get applied in a way that is unconstitutional and does restrict free speech.

And it seems like that’s what’s happened in a case in which teenage girls who distributed anti-homosexual fliers at their high school were charged with a hate crime. (The original news article about it has expired off the web, alas, but you can get details here and here.)

LynchingSo I think it’s important to say: No. That’s not what we meant. Hate crime laws mean that when you kill someone or beat them to a pulp because they’re gay or black or Muslim (or for that matter, straight or white or Christian), it’s a more serious crime than killing someone or beating them to a pulp because they dented your car or slept with your girlfriend, and it deserves a harsher penalty.

They don’t mean that you get hit with a hate crime charge for distributing flyers. No matter how hateful they are.

JusticeNow, I don’t think a single misapplied arrest proves that hate crime laws are bad laws. I mean, laws against murder and rape and assault get misapplied all the time, and I don’t see anyone screaming for those laws to be overturned.

LaramieAnd I understand that this case may not be as simple as it seems on the surface. If one or both of these girls committed some other serious crime, and the prosecutors think it was motivated by anti-gay hatred, then I could see the flyers being admissible as evidence of a hateful motivation in that other crime.

But the distribution of the flyers itself?

No.

That should not be a crime.

First_amendmentThat is most emphatically not what we meant.

Stranger in an Increasingly Strange Land: An Atheist Identity, Part 2

Atheist_tshirtIn yesterday’s episode, our heroine gassed on about how atheism — or naturalism — is a positive philosophy, more than just a lack of belief in God or the soul or the afterlife. In today’s startling revelation, she answers the second part of the question of why her atheist identity is so important to her — politics, and the place of religion and atheism in our society.

Second: Politics and society.

AlfredIf religion weren’t so important and so prominent in our society, my atheism almost certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near as important to me as it is. As Eclectic said, I might be non-religious in the same way that I’m a non-butler, or that I’m not from Poughkeepsie, or that I don’t eat broccoli.

CrowleyfoolIn fact, if religion weren’t so prominent, I might not even be an atheist. I might still be an agnostic, or a woo-woo Tarot reading hippie, or a vague believer in some sort of mystical animating spirit that connects all living things. The fact that religion is so much in my face has forced me to think about it carefully, to really consider what I believe — and how likely it is to be true.

PrayinghandsBut in America — and around the world — religion is unignorable, and getting increasingly so. Just as one example: According to a Gallup poll, almost half the people in this country believe in strict Creationism — that “God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” And these people have become increasingly powerful politically in the last couple of decades, with some very real-world effects — fucking up our schools, our health care system, our environmental policies, etc. etc. (I could go on in this vein at some length, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Gay_fistSo being an atheist is important to my identity for the same reasons being queer is important to my identity. My queer identity is important because of homophobia, and the assumption of heterosexuality, and the fact that queers have been stepped on and have to scream just to be heard. (And interestingly, as these things have diminished somewhat — at least in the little lefty paradise of San Francisco — my queer identity has become somewhat less important to me. The fact that I’m with Ingrid — very important. Crucial. The fact that I’m a bi-dyke
 not as important as it used to be.)

Pat_robertsonAnd similarly, my atheist identity is important because of the religious right. Because of laws restricting abortion rights. Because of abstinence-only sex education in the public schools. Because of the Christian right getting Wal-Mart to stop politely saying “Happy Holidays” to their customers instead of “Merry Christmas.” Because of children being terrorized with the prospect of burning and torture if they even question what they’re taught about God.

Pope_benedict_xviBilly_grahamBecause when my atheist father was admitted to a nursing home, my brother was asked, “Is he Baptist or Catholic?” (As if those were the only choices. That one didn’t just piss me off on behalf of atheists — it pissed me off on behalf of Jews, and Muslims, and Buddhists, and Wiccans, and Unitarians… and for that matter, Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians.)

TheatheistAnd because according to a recent Gallup poll, only 49 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for President, while 59 percent would vote for a homosexual, 92 percent would vote for a black person, and 95 percent would vote for a woman. Think about what homophobia, racism, and sexism are like in this country, and that’ll give you some context for this statistic.

CreationismBefore you hit the Comment button — Yes, I know that that’s not the only way to be religious. But it’s a depressingly common one, especially in this country. And because of its “believe what you’re told” nature, it’s a way of being religious that wields a frightening amount of political power. If most religious believers in this country were moderate and tolerant, I’d still think they were mistaken in their beliefs… but I wouldn’t particularly care.

Again, I could go on about this at much greater length, and at some point I will. But that is a post for another day. The point is: If none of this crap were true, I might well be a non-believer in the same way that I’m a non-butler.

But it isn’t.

Atheist_buttonSo I’m not.

It’s a Baby Woman!

Welcome to the world my niece, born this morning, Monday June 4, at 5:45 am. 8 pounds exactly. (Sorry, no pictures yet. Don’t worry — I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll be getting plenty of them in the coming months, and indeed years.)

It’s funny. When Ingrid’s sister told us she was pregnant, and I was all, “Yay, I’m going to be an aunt,” I had a brief moment of wondering, “Hang on. Am I, in fact, going to be this kid’s aunt?”

And then it immediately occurred to me: Of course I am. Every bit as much as my Uncle Joe, my Aunt Susan, my Uncle Bob, are my uncles and aunt.

When I was a very little kid, I don’t think I even understood that there was any difference in relationship between my Uncle Joe and my Aunt Marcia, my Uncle Owen and my Aunt Susan, my Aunt Phoebe and my Uncle Bob. They were all just my aunts and uncles. And even when I got old enough to understand that there was a difference between aunt or uncle by blood and aunt or uncle by marriage, it’s not like it was a difference that made any difference. If that makes sense. They’re still all my aunts and uncles.

And that’s how I feel about my niece. I am this baby’s aunt. Every bit as much as if she were my brother’s kid. And every bit as much as if Ingrid and I were legally married.

I can’t wait to meet her.

Even If It’s Wrong: Barack Obama, Religious Faith, and Same-Sex Marriage

Barack_obama_1There was this piece about Barack Obama in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. And it had a comment in it — about both same-sex marriage and religious faith — that chilled me to the bone.

Barack_obama_2“If there’s a deep moral conviction that gay marriage is wrong, if a majority of Americans believe on principle that marriage is an institution for men and women, I’m not at all sure he shares that view, but he’s not an in-your-face type,” Cass Sunstein, a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago, says. “To go in the face of people with religious convictions — that’s something he’d be very reluctant to do.” This is not, Sunstein believes, due only to pragmatism; it also stems from a sense —

and here comes the kicker, people —

that there is something worthy of respect in a strong and widespread moral feeling, even if it’s wrong.”

I’m trying to think of the best way to put this:

No_2No, there isn’t.

No, no, no, no, no.

A wrong moral feeling is not — repeat, NOT — made worthy of respect by being either strong or widespread.

Danger_poisonI don’t just think this idea is wrong. I think it’s dangerously wrong. I think this idea — that even if a belief is wrong, if a lot of people share it and hold it passionately then it has somehow earned gravitas and respect — this is among the most destructive ideas that human beings have come up with.

Why? Because it is essentially a self-perpetuation machine for bad ideas.

LynchingDo I even need to explain this? Think of all the evil, harmful things in human history that have been supported by a strong and widespread moral feeling. Slavery. Clitoridectomy. Imperialist wars. Religious wars. The disenfranchisement of women. The censoring of information, and active disinformation campaigns, about birth control and sexual health. The Salem witch trials. The Inquisition. Genocides ranging from the Trail of Tears to the Holocaust. Lynchings. Putting queers in jails and mental institutions. Do I need to go on?

And every one of these events and institutions was made stronger and more durable by this “worthy of respect” idea — everyone else thinks it’s okay, so how bad could it really be?

Witch_burning_monty_pythonThe idea that a strong and widespread moral feeling deserves respect, even if it’s wrong… it’s morality by mob rule, by popularity contest. It’s an idea that enables people to not think about what’s right and wrong in the world, but instead to let everyone else think for them. It’s an idea that makes it possible to not question received wisdom, even if that wisdom is blatantly contradicted by the reality around you. It’s an idea that makes people vulnerable to skillful demagogues who are experts at manipulating strong feelings and fears — especially the fear of being left out, of not being part of the group.

Ted_haggardAnd it’s one of the more troubling aspects of religious faith — the idea that holding strong, passionate religious beliefs is by itself a good thing, regardless of what those beliefs are, regardless of whether they’re demonstrably untrue or demonstrably harmful. The idea that being a “person of faith” is an admirable trait, one you have to give at least grudging respect to… even if you find that person’s actual faith itself to be bigoted, evil, stupid, and/or insane. The idea that a lot of people believing the same thing together at the same time is a beautiful thing — regardless of whether the thing they believe is in any way based in reality. (BTW, before everyone writes in — yes, I understand that this isn’t the only way to be religious. But it’s a depressingly common one. And I think the “faith ultimately trumps evidence” nature of religion makes it unusually susceptible to this way of thinking.)

Bill_clintonAnd I don’t want a President who thinks that. That’s what we had with Bill Clinton — a weathervane President who was unable to take an unpopular moral stand, on same-sex marriage and about a billion other issues. And as much as I would give ten years off my life to have Bill Clinton be President again right now (how depressing is that?), as much as he’s pretty much been the best President of my conscious lifetime (and how depressing is THAT?), I sure as heck wouldn’t vote for him in a primary, and I don’t want another President like him.

WeddingBecause the upshot is this: Ingrid and I want to get married. Legally. But a whole lot of people have a strong feeling that it’s wrong — and that feeling is supposedly deserving of respect. Even though that feeling is based on ignorance. Even though that feeling is based on hatred and fear. Even though that feeling is being manipulated and taken advantage of by corrupt, power-hungry frauds. Even though that feeling completely disrespects us. We’re still supposed to respect it.

NoAnd I say yet again: No.

No, no, no, no, no.

Fuck that. We have to do nothing of the kind.

Barack_obama_3(P.S. Yes, I’m aware of the fact that these are not Obama’s own words — they’re the words of a colleague describing her his understanding of his ideas. But it’s a colleague who seems to understand him very well. And given the positions he’s publicly taken on same-sex marriage (he supports same-sex civil unions, but opposes same-sex marriage because “marriage is a religious bond”), it seems pretty damn plausible that “worthy of respect even if it’s wrong” is an accurate representation of his position on religious homophobia.)