There Is Also a Secular Argument For Infanticide

1522095_10152076191576077_222205893_n (1)American Atheists president David Silverman recently attended this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with the intention of reaching out to non-religious conservatives. CPAC, if you aren’t familiar with it, has featured such illustrious moments as:

All of that, by the way, happened within the past week alone. So, how did Silverman go about sharing the word of atheism at this most respectable of political conferences? Roy Edroso of Raw Story reports on his strategy:

“I came with the message that Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked,” he told me, “and that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives — social conservatism isn’t real conservatism, it’s actually big government, it’s theocracy. I’m talking about gay rights, right to die, abortion rights –”

A simple enough idea: conservatives can continue to uphold (some of) their political values without any need for religious faith. Silverman, understandably, didn’t seem very interested in legitimizing homophobia or the deprivation of terminal patients’ medical autonomy. Anyway, where was he going with that last part?

Hold on, I said, I think the Right to Life guys who have a booth here, and have had every year since CPAC started, would disagree that they’re not real conservatives.

“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

Oh. Okay.

Taken literally, the statement that secular arguments against abortion do exist isn’t a very controversial one. Yes, there are anti-abortion arguments that do not rely on supernatural or theological claims. These arguments can instead rely on concepts like “rights”, “human life”, “personhood”, and so on, without introducing any explicitly religious elements.

Of course, the mere existence of such arguments says nothing about their soundness. Silverman himself stated that he was simply recognizing these arguments even as he disagrees with them:

and please understand this is not support. I’m vehemently pro choice. Just acknowledging they exist. They do.

But whether such arguments exist, and whether they have any merit, is beside the point. What really stands out as notable here is Silverman’s more open-minded approach to this particular issue, even as he dismisses other issues outright.

Silverman is not interested in reaching out to conservative CPAC attendees who oppose marriage equality, oppose end-of-life decisionmaking, or support prayer in schools. However, when it comes to conservatives who oppose the right to abortion, he takes a rather more tolerant stance. While he sees homophobic conservatives as having no place in organized atheism, he’s more willing to recruit anti-abortion conservatives to the secularist cause.

Whether he would actually agree with this or not, that’s how his special exception for abortion opposition comes across. To him, homophobes don’t have a place in our movement – but abortion opponents do?

Is this necessarily a demographic worth reaching out to? JT Eberhard argues:

We must be willing to work with people with whom we disagree on some subjects. …So if you acknowledge that someone need not be right on all subjects for them to be right on the one you’re working on together, this can’t be a reason for you to be upset with Dave Silverman.

But this does nothing to explain why abortion rights should be a subject on which disagreement is acceptable, while LGBT rights, for example, should not. Drawing a line at that particular point seems arbitrary. JT continues:

I don’t think it’s fair to expect someone to avoid telling the truth (that a secular argument exists for being anti-choice, lousy though it is) in order to not give a hat tip to the people Silverman has said multiple times he opposes on that subject. That seems a bit like getting exacerbated at scientists whenever they acknowledge the existence of complexity in the universe because they’ve given a “tip of the hat” to creationists. … If you acknowledge as atheists we shouldn’t shy away from stating facts even though we know there are people out there who will twist them toward an inaccurate or unethical position, then you can’t really be upset with Dave Silverman.

Here is another truth that we, as atheists, need not shy away from stating: there is a secular argument for the elective infanticide of healthy newborn humans. It is not even a very complicated argument, and it is one that is perhaps especially well-suited to atheistic naturalism, scientific empiricism, and the rejection of mainstream Christianity.

Suppose that we abandon the idea that the human species occupies a uniquely privileged or “sacred” place among all organisms. Our ethical considerations in how we treat human life – from blastocyst to infant to elder – should not lean on an assumption that humans are special simply for the mere fact that they are humans. Ethical questions should take into account actual substance rather than just a name: the features that actually constitute an individual human. These features can include the extent to which they can experience pain and pleasure, their level of awareness of the world around them, their ability to possess distinct desires and goals, and their level of awareness of themselves as a sentient being.

When we recognize that questions of ethical treatment should consider such features, two conclusions emerge: First, humans are not the only organisms that merit our ethical concern – various animals are also capable of suffering pain, having desires, and possessing different degrees of awareness and self-awareness. And second, not all humans are identical by these metrics; depending on their degree of development, some may be more or less aware, more or less capable of experiencing pain, and so on.

Therefore, instead of a model wherein all humans occupy a special ethical category meriting unique concern, we can conceive of a spectrum of ethical concern along which all organisms fall – humans and other animals alike. One potentially uncomfortable fact is that some animals may be more well-developed than some humans in their capacity for self-awareness, desires, and so on. As Kate Wong notes in Scientific American:

Human babies enter the world utterly dependent on caregivers to tend to their every need. Although newborns of other primate species rely on caregivers, too, human infants are especially helpless because their brains are comparatively underdeveloped. Indeed, by one estimation a human fetus would have to undergo a gestation period of 18 to 21 months instead of the usual nine to be born at a neurological and cognitive development stage comparable to that of a chimpanzee newborn.

Similarly, MRI scans of dogs suggest that they are capable of experiencing emotions on a level similar to human children:

Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.

The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.

Dogs may also possess mental capabilities on par with those of 2-year-old humans:

According to several behavioral measures, Coren says dogs’ mental abilities are close to a human child age 2 to 2.5 years. … As for language, the average dog can learn 165 words, including signals, and the “super dogs” (those in the top 20 percent of dog intelligence) can learn 250 words, Coren says. “The upper limit of dogs’ ability to learn language is partly based on a study of a border collie named Rico who showed knowledge of 200 spoken words and demonstrated ‘fast-track learning,’ which scientists believed to be found only in humans and language learning apes,” Coren said. … Dogs can also count up to four or five, said Coren. And they have a basic understanding of arithmetic and will notice errors in simple computations, such as 1+1=1 or 1+1=3. …

Through observation, Coren said, dogs can learn the location of valued items (treats), better routes in the environment (the fastest way to a favorite chair), how to operate mechanisms (such as latches and simple machines) and the meaning of words and symbolic concepts (sometimes by simply listening to people speak and watching their actions). … During play, dogs are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards, said Coren.

So: Humans are not the only organisms capable of emotion or developing accurate mental models of the world, and we’re certainly not the only organisms capable of experiencing pain or a desire to continue to live. Indeed, some animals possess these capabilities to a greater degree than newborn humans.

And yet, despite their possession of these capabilities, there exists a widespread disinterest in recognizing a “right to life” of animals. Instead, people commonly consider it acceptable to kill animals if we simply decide it is necessary. Cows “exhibit behavioral expressions of excitement when they solve a problem”, but all that’s needed to justify killing a cow is our mere preference that it should become several delicious steaks rather than continue existing as a feeling, thinking organism. Dogs exhibit intelligence and emotions similar to toddlers, but people leave healthy dogs to be euthanized at shelters every day.

In a society that accepts such treatment of animals as a norm – and accepts even the most trivial of human desires as a justification for such treatment – it should be similarly acceptable for the custodians of any newborn human to have that infant killed, for no reason other than their simple desire that this baby no longer be alive. Newborns have lesser abilities of thinking, modeling, perceiving, feeling and wanting than animals, and probably an equal capacity to experience pain. Yet the presence of even greater capacities in many of these areas has largely failed to convince us to recognize a “right to life” of animals. So why should the life of a human embryo, fetus, or infant be seen as always worth preserving and protecting?

Scientific findings support the facts underlying this argument for infanticide rights. This argument also has strengths which other common pro-choice arguments lack. For instance, one such argument contends that whatever right to life an unborn fetus may have, it is always outweighed by a person’s right to bodily autonomy – their right not to be compelled to provide sustenance, in the form of their own bodily resources, to another organism.

However, this “competing rights” argument opens the door to debate over just how important these respective rights are, and whether a fetus’s right to life really is small enough to be overridden. It implicitly agrees with abortion opponents in recognizing that a fetus actually does have, to some degree, a right to exist. And it requires proponents of a pro-choice position to maintain that a person’s right to bodily autonomy is, in all circumstances, the more important right in this situation. Abortion opponents, like Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists, may in turn contend that the fetus’s rights carry overriding weight.

In contrast, the pro-infanticide argument presented here does not have this vulnerability. It does not recognize an embryo, fetus, or even a newborn human as possessing a “right to life” to any degree whatsoever. And so it is not even necessary to argue that a person has a right to bodily autonomy which overrides a fetus’s supposed rights.

Clearly, there is a secular argument for infanticide. One does not have to support it or agree with it, and one may feel that it is far from decisive or clear-cut, but it does indeed exist. Others might twist this argument to make atheists look bad, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid recognizing this truth.

I’ve met David Silverman before, and he was a really nice guy – I hope we get to meet again. I don’t have any problem with believing that he certainly meant well with his outreach efforts at CPAC, as idiosyncratic as his views on acceptable political differences may be. And a few isolated quotes expressing a nuanced position – albeit a potentially disagreeable one – aren’t necessarily cause to dismiss and ignore a person entirely.

What I would ask is this: What is American Atheists doing to reach out to pro-infanticide atheists and bring them into the cause of organized secularism? Is our conception of the parameters of a “right to life” any less worthy of being courted than that of abortion opponents? If we’re really seeking to expand the tent of atheist activism, why extend it only in their direction, and not ours? I’d contend that if anything, those of us who are pro-infanticide can bring much more of value to the atheist movement than anti-choice conservatives would, such as our evidence-based approach to secular ethics. And if you think it would be distasteful to reach out to us, ask yourself: is it really more distasteful than inviting people who would legally force a person to give birth against their will?

Righteous ecofeminist takedown

Guest post by Heather McNamara

In my Women’s literature class, all of the books we read had ecofeminist themes. Obviously I got an A. I know. I can’t help it.

Even though the class is over, it got me thinking about ecofeminism. I read a few articles about it and the widest criticism I can find is that the narrative is typically centered around white women. In case there are a few 101s in the audience, I’ll briefly explain why this is a problem. While obviously white women have legitimate feminist agendas,when white women dominate the narratives, the concerns of people of color are at best ignored and at worst willfully invalidated. More on this in a minute. So, when I went to the library to get a book about ecofeminism, I intentionally overlooked the eight volumes that appeared to center mostly on white women’s concerns and went straight for the one book that had chapters about colonialism and women of color. Simply titled “Ecofeminism,” I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Chapter two, “Ecofeminism through an Anticolonial Framework” on account of the name of the author, Andy Smith. Generally speaking, when I want to read about anticolonialism, I don’t want to read it from the perspective of somebody who shares a name with some of the most notorious English colonizers. I prefer to hear from those who have personal experience. Andrea Lee Smith is a Cherokee feminist scholar and not a white man as her name suggests. Silly me. She has written a whole lot of awesome books that I now have to read. That being said, I soon found Andy actually had quite a lot of interesting stuff to teach, and I wanted to share them with you. Below are some selected quotes:

The Inuit of Canada reported that NATO war exercises had been wreaking environmental havoc where they live. The 8,000 low-level flights that had already taken place over Inuit land had created so much noise from sonic booms that it had disrupted the wildlife and impaired the hearing of the Inuit. Furthermore, oil falling from the jets had poisoned the water supply.

The Shoshone reported that low-level flying also takes place over their land. One man was killed when his horse threw him because it was frightened by the noise of the jets. They reported that the flying had been scheduled to take place over the cattle range until the Humane Society interceded, saying this would be inhumane treatment of the cattle. Consequently, the war exercises were redirected to take place over Indian people instead.

Wow, way to go Humane Society.

In the interest of being brief and not just quoting an entire chapter on my blog, I’ll just let you know that what we learn next is that waste dumping on Native land, since it’s not “American land” does not need to meet the same EPA requirements. Because of this, it’s cheaper and therefore preferable for some unscrupulous companies to dump their waste on native land and cause miscarriage, cancer, and birth defects.

Now, here’s where we learn about exactly how racist white-centered feminism is:

The inability to fully embrace an anticolonialist ideology is the major stumbling block in developing alliances between Native people and members of the mainstream environmental movement and the feminist movement.

For instance, in “Deep Ecology and Ecofeminism,” Michael Zimmerman argues in favor of eradicating the dualism between humans and nature. “only by recognizing that humanity is no more, but also no less, important than all other things on earth can we learn to dwell on the planet within limits that would allow other species to flourish” However, deep ecologists and other environmental theorists are often not consistent in applying this theory in practice. For instance, sentiments that have been expressed in Earth First! Journal include that “the AIDS virus may be Gaia’s tailor-made answer to human overpopulation” and that famine should take its course in Africa to stem overpopulation. Such sentiments reinforce, rather than negate the duality between humans and nature, because they imply that humans are not part of nature and that their destruction would not also mean environmental destruction… In addition, it is noteworthy that the people that are targeted as expendable (victims of AIDS and Africans in the foregoing example) are people of color or Third World people who have the least institutional power or access to resources in society… To even make such a comment indicates that one has to be in a fairly privileged position in society where one is not faced with death on a regular basis. It also assumes that all people are equally responsible for massive environmental destruction, rather than facing the fact that it is people in positions of institutional power who are killing the earth and the people who are more marginalized to further their economic interests. It is racist and imperialist to look at the people who are dying now from environmental degradation (generally people of color and poor people) and say that it is a good thing that the earth is cleansing itself.

All emphasis mine. So in other words, all that crap that you hear about overpopulation killing the planet and all this disease being a perfect cure for it? Sorry to burst your bubble, but allowing the deaths of millions of poor and marginalized or those in developing countries is not going to bring the earth back to balance. It’s not Gaia undoing the damage. It IS the damage. Removing poor and indigenous people is the least efficient way to save the earth.

It’s a slightly pricey book but your local library may have it. Just follow the link I’m not doing MLA citations outside of school.


Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.

Disorganized thoughts on the Zimmerman trial from a white person to whom you should not be listening.

Guest post by Heather McNamara

I wish I had been surprised last night when the verdict came through Not Guilty, but I wasn’t. The last time I was surprised was 13 months ago, when I learned that not only had George Zimmerman not been arrested immediately, but he’d managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from his supporters.

In the several days after Trayvon Martin was shot to death, several of my subordinates were late to work. At the office where I was working at the time, most of my subordinates were people of color. At my level, it was about half white, half PoC. All of my superiors were white. Most of my subordinates lived in Sanford. The protests were clogging up the streets and messing with the traffic and bus routes, and so they were having a hard time getting to work on time. The white people in the office were having a grand old time discussing their thoughts and opinions on the protests (everyone is too worked up!) and their various thoughts on possible terrible outcomes (what if this means no more stand your ground law?!). The people of color in the office said nothing. Their faces generally remained stony and quietly resentful as they worked hard for the pittance my superiors paid them. I stayed silent, embarrassed and afraid for my livelihood.

I lived in Simi Valley, California when the Rodney King verdict came through. Simi Valley is a primarily wasp/latin@ city about a fifty minute drive north of where the riots took place. In spite of the fact that the rioters were generally not chartering buses and driving up to our little town to mess things up, we had a curfew. Police enforced the in-at-dusk emergency rule. Our field trip was cancelled on account of several of the jurors had been from Simi Valley and the school decided that if we drove even a mile south with “SIMI VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT” printed all over the side of our bus, we’d be moving targets. Nothing happened to Simi Valley. Nonetheless, several months later, there was a KKK protest against… what? I don’t know what. The existence of people who aren’t them, I suppose. They left advertising fliers at my daycare. My mom was disgusted when she saw them. We weren’t there for much longer.

As a child who had experienced a curfew following the Rodney King verdict, and the rage of the California black communities at the O.J. Simpson trial, I took righteous indignation for granted. I assumed that any time some blatant example of racism occurred, I could count on people of color to get pissed off and take to the streets. Of course I also took the existence of racist people for granted, but in my juvenile interpretation of things, I thought the sides seemed evenly matched.

When I was 28 years old, I realized I was gay. It was then that my eyes were opened to complacency – not just my complacency, but the complacency of all marginalized groups. I was very suddenly aware of the ways that people delude themselves into thinking they’re not bigoted, that they just hold some justifiable opinion or another about this or that marginalized group. It was impossible for me to ignore the incredibly sad fact that sometimes marginalized people believe those opinions, and that sometimes they’ll be so desperate for approval that they’ll assist in justifying them. It took more introspection and bravery than I’d ever before mustered to overcome my tendency to do the exact same thing. I’d been proud of blending in with straight people. I’d been uncomfortable in women’s locker rooms or bathrooms because I thought if they knew about me, they’d rightfully want me out of there. I’d been afraid to tell anyone that their intolerance of me was not the same as my intolerance of their intolerance.

A lot of my black facebook/twitter friends are saying things about how they hate white people, or white people suck, or they need to shut the fuck up. Part of me is uncomfortable when I see this. I think no, please, the hateful cannot hate on my behalf any more than I can refuse to hate on their behalf. I want to tell them how much I wish I had the power to fix this. But I know it isn’t about me. So, I tell my white facebook/twitter friends who are saying stupid bullshit about how the witnesses were inarticulate or about how they’d be afraid if they saw Trayvon in their neighborhood to shut the fuck up. I delete them. And once I dropped my knee-jerk defensiveness in response to my black friends’ rage, I realized that I took comfort in it. I was empowered by their lack of complacency. Somehow, the world seems to make more sense.

The prosecution claimed that this crime wasn’t about race. It was. But even if it wasn’t, even if we could prove conclusively somehow that George Zimmerman really was only afraid of hoodies or there’d been a rash of Skittles-wielding burglars in his town, the outcome of this trial was about race. The defense team was funded by thousands upon thousands of people who could easily imagine themselves in the same position – so afraid of a black teenager that they would do the unthinkable and end his life. It was funded by people who imagine their fear as so justifiable, so logical, so worthy of respect that literally any heinous response to this worry is okay. It was funded by gun nuts who don’t give a shit how scared anyone else is when they wear their guns in plain sight at the grocery store, but truly believe that anyone who scares them deserves to die. George Zimmerman is free because he had their money.

Some people who read this are going to consider their racism more seriously than they had before. They’re going to do so because they’ll see my picture and notice that my skin is fairly pale and that I therefore have nothing to gain by speaking out against racism. They’ll think that I am therefore unbiased. They will dismiss similar words from people of color because they’ll see bias the same way the anti-gay bigots saw bias when Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional by a gay judge. I don’t know what it’s like to experience racism, but I know a little bit about bigots. I know they’re not creative. I know they have self-centered morality. I know they think they’re good people. I know they have warped definitions of what it means to be a good person. And I know that when they do the unthinkable, they will have the support of thousands upon thousands of bigots who will spend any amount of money to prove to themselves that they’re not bigots. I know that they will look at the money they spent and imagine it’s proof that they’re really the victims. And I hate them.


Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.

Looking Gosnell in the Eye

In early 2011, Dr. Kermit Gosnell was arrested on charges of murder related to his abortion services: one charge for the death of a woman who had sought an abortion at his Philadelphia clinic, and seven additional charges for the killings of infants that had been born alive. The grand jury report on Gosnell’s clinic contained a variety of emotional appeals that were largely irrelevant to the actual charges, and at the time, the sensationalized report received wide coverage and was frequently used to attack abortion generally. My partner Heather analyzed the report and its subsequent coverage, and found many arguments by the grand jury and the media to be lacking. Many magazines and publications refused to print her analysis, and now that the trial of Gosnell has begun and these same arguments have flared up once more, we’ve chosen to republish her piece here. -Zinnia

 


 

Looking Gosnell in the Eye
by Heather McNamara

In the wake of the release of the grisly grand jury report and the media firestorm surrounding the atrocities at Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic, we, as pro-choice feminists, have been posed a difficult question. Basted in gruesome quotes, the emotional appeals from the pro-lifers (and more reserved pro-choicers) who read the report are everywhere and seem to ask, “Did you know it was this gruesome?” The responses from pro-choice advocates have been reserved – usually articles featuring calming, tranquil images of very pregnant women in silhouette standing by windows, presumably contemplating all the trials and joys ahead of her, and certainly not crying on the bathroom floor with a positive pregnancy test. “Think of the women!”, we say, “think of the babies”, they say, and nobody seems to be answering the question: well, did you know it was that gruesome?

The difference between flashing the grand jury report and flashing large poster images of aborted fetuses in front of clinics is subtle but effective. Gosnell broke the law. He kept an unsanitary facility; he performed abortions that were so late term that they should have been done, assuming they were legal, in hospitals where better monitoring was available; he did not properly care for his patients; and he was arguably negligent with the way he prescribed drugs. These things are absolutely wrong, and no doctor, no matter how much good they intend, should be recklessly endangering lives. Each and every woman who sought the help of Dr. Gosnell deserved a safe, clean, well-staffed clinic. It’s difficult to argue that the abortions Gosnell performed were not wrong, because there were clearly so many things he did that were wrong.

However, there is no connection between the lives Gosnell endangered and the ethicality of abortion, and some of the things in the grand jury report that disgust us – jokes about the fetuses being “so big they could walk me to the bus stop”, for example – are things that could happen in clean, professionally staffed clinics. There is no law against bad taste. So why were they even mentioned in the grand jury report? Among the shocking and frankly manipulative language contained within, we find outright misleading quotes such as “these women were giving birth” to refer to the induced contractions to dilate cervices, “he played with the baby” to refer to his touching the fetus’s hands, and “he stuck the scissors into the back of their necks” to refer to a method of terminating a fetus that has long been widely recognized as entirely valid and comparatively humane. The proper vernacular is “intact dilation and extraction”. Quotes like these, considered rationally, should not compel us to question abortion, but instead should make us question the state of mind and competency of the grand jury. In legal contexts, emotional appeals are out of place.

The reality is: medical procedures can be violent, visceral events. Every day in hospitals everywhere, people are bruised, broken, and cut open. Ribcages are cracked open, skin sliced open, veins burned and yanked out, sensitive areas cut, and burns scraped. These things are done to help and save people. The inner workings, procedures, ethics, and yes, tasteless jokes in any clinic could be detailed in such a way as to turn you off the idea of healthcare forever, but that does not make anyone’s need for it any less valid.

Dr. Gosnell ended the lives of some fetuses, which, left alone, would have become cute little bouncing pink babies in adorable little outfits. He cut into the backs of their necks and severed their spinal cords. Legitimate abortion providers also do this. They dilate women’s cervices, which can be painful, they terminate fetuses, and they cut flesh. And so what? Does the weakness or strength of your constitution, or anyone else’s, comprise a valid basis for granting or removing a woman’s control over her most precious domain – her body?

These arguments exist for one purpose: to desensitize us to the plight of the presumably healthy, if scared and distraught pregnant women we imagine, and turn our attention instead to the horror we can observe. They’ve caught us at a vulnerable time when several states are introducing bills to limit and outright deny access to abortion. Now is not the time to be squeamish. Now is the time when we, as feminists, can show we’re not afraid to confront the difficult and unpleasant realities of abortion – the disturbing bloody images, the fact that sometimes women don’t actually have a Very Good Reason to be seeking one, and even the unfortunate physical and emotional consequences that sometimes follow. Once we acknowledge that these things are there and real and unpleasant, we can continue to assert our right to do it anyway, and in doing this, remove their power over us.

 


Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.

2012: end-of-year review

2012 has been a pretty amazing year. Every year is interesting and full of stuff that happened, but this one was special in a lot of ways. Barack Obama was elected for the second time, we actually won in popular votes on marriage equality for the first time ever, and a bunch of people were voted out of office after saying ignorant things about women and rape. Private Bradley Manning’s trial finally began, and I’m probably going to get dragged into that all over again. There was The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Paranormal Activity 4, and new music from The Birthday Massacre, Madeon, Ellie Goulding and Kesha. On the other hand, there was also a huge hurricane and a horrific amount of gun violence, but at least we managed to survive another apocalypse. Altogether, it’s been a hell of a year.

More personally, I have a yearly tradition of looking back and seeing how much I’ve improved myself, and in that respect, this has been one of the most significant years of my life in a while. I’ve always figured that if I look at myself a year ago and see that nothing has changed, that’s when I’ll be in real trouble. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of a risk of that happening any time soon.

This was the year that I permanently moved to Florida, at least until Heather and I move somewhere else. I got my first apartment with her, and as time has gone by, I’ve become a little better at being a stepmom. I spoke at the Florida Secular Rally, which was my first time giving a speech ever, and people seemed to enjoy it.

But by far the biggest and most wide-ranging change of this year has been transitioning. I know that many of you have been watching where I’ve been headed for over four years now, and it’s probably not surprising that this is where I ended up. It certainly took me long enough, but I finally decided it was time to take this to the next level. After living as a woman for over a year, I came out to my family, most of whom didn’t suspect a thing. I even told my grandfather, despite everyone warning me not to, but it all turned out much better than I could have imagined. It was all absolutely terrifying, yet somehow I did it, and nobody has a problem with it.

I picked a new name and filed for a name change, which should be finalized after the new year. I found a really good therapist and a doctor, and I’ve been on hormones for more than 3 months now. I’d been putting it off for a while because I thought I didn’t need it, and then because I was worried about how it might change me, but I finally decided I at least had to see what it was like.

Make no mistake: the physical and mental effects of removing your testosterone and replacing it with estrogen are significant. And I discovered that this is exactly what was missing in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a tense and irritable person, and even the smallest parts of everyday life never really came easily to me. I assumed that being perpetually stressed was just how I am, and it was my problem to deal with, possibly with weed or something. But I was wrong.

This has improved me more than I ever expected. My body is changing to feel more comfortable than it did before – to put it bluntly, I have breasts now – and my overall mood has become so much calmer and happier. I can find joy in almost anything, instead of frustration. Emotionally, I can feel nuance instead of numbness, and I can finally cry when I feel like it. My life has gotten so much easier because of this one little thing – insofar as a second puberty is just a little thing.

The most incredible part is that if I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have known that my body and my mind had this much room for improvement. I thought things were as good as they get, I thought I could be okay with the way it was before – but then I found something that made it all even better. Life doesn’t suck anymore!

I know there’ll never be another year like this, but I do hope the coming year is just as transformative, enlightening, and all-around awesome. And I hope that at the end of it, I can look back and say that it’s surpassed even this one. Happy new year!

A civil rights slaughter, stopped in its tracks

Fluttershy: "Yay."It’s over. Finally.

Now that the first sitting president to endorse marriage equality has been re-elected, after a campaign that was unbearably tense and exhausting, we can relax and stop spending all day worrying about how every little development will affect his chances of victory. It’s done. We did it.

And that’s not all. In Florida, we managed to defeat Amendments 1 (which would have prevented any penalties against individuals or businesses that refuse to comply with a health care mandate), 6 (which would have barred public funds from being used for abortion services) and 8 (which would have repealed the ban on giving public funding to religions). We also retained three Supreme Court justices who had come under attack by the Republican Party and Americans for Prosperity for being too “liberal”.

Elsewhere, Tammy Baldwin became the nation’s first openly gay senator. Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown, following his ridiculous claims that he could determine her Native American heritage or lack thereof by sight. Todd Akin, who said that women’s bodies would somehow prevent pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape”, lost to Claire McCaskill – after alleging that her campaign was “trying to make me look like some kind of a weirdo or something” and “thinks you should vote based on what people say” (nah, really?). Richard Mourdock, who considered pregnancy from rape a “gift from God”, was also defeated. And Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins survived efforts by anti-gay groups to oust him following his ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in 2009. This is especially notable because three of the other justices had previously been removed by a similar campaign.

But the other really big story of the night? Marriage equality measures in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

State-level gay marriage bans have a long, ugly, depressing history. Until now, the result was completely predictable whenever it was put to a popular vote: we lost. 30 to 0. Then 31 to 0. Then 32 to 0. It had become a crushing regularity for us, and our opponents knew it. This became their talking point: “every time same-sex marriage is on the ballot, the people vote against it.” And it hurt because of how true it was. It wasn’t entirely unexpected when North Carolina and Maine were the most recent states to vote against equality. But when California passed Proposition 8, that really stunned us. If even the people of California wouldn’t vote in favor of gay marriage, then who would?

Quite honestly, it was looking pretty hopeless. State marriage measures had become something many of us dreaded, because we just knew in the back of our heads that we were almost certainly going to lose, no matter how hard we fought. There was always the quiet dread as we watched the poll numbers, initially in our favor, plummet in the days before the vote when anti-gay groups packed the airwaves with ads claiming we were going to teach children how to be gay. And then there was nothing to do but wait for the inevitable blow to land. I stopped getting my hopes up, and so did many others. It was too painful to be that emotionally invested.

We knew that public opinion was trending upward for us, and that the day had to come when this would be reflected in the popular vote, and we would be the victorious ones at the polls. As I said in 2009 after Maine voted to repeal marriage equality:

The margins are narrowing, and the support for gay marriage is still growing. There was a time when it was unthinkable that 47% of any state would stand up for gay marriage. We’ve come this far.

I knew that day would come, but I didn’t quite believe it – I couldn’t let myself. I’m still not sure I believe it.

But yesterday was that day.

In Maine, LGBT rights groups succeeded in placing a same-sex marriage referendum on the ballot. This time, we were the ones on the offense, taking the initiative to seize our equal rights. And in a state which only 3 years earlier had voted against our equality 53-47, we won – 53% to 47%. Marriage equality is the law of the land in Maine by the people’s vote.

In Maryland, a statute legalizing gay marriage was put on hold after anti-gay groups petitioned to put it to a referendum. And last night, we won, 52-48. Marriage equality is now law in Maryland, by popular vote.

In Minnesota, a constitutional ban on gay marriage was proposed, in addition to the statutory ban already in place. The failure of this amendment wouldn’t mean allowing same-sex marriage – its proponents simply wanted to make it even more difficult to repeal the ban, in what was nothing more than a bitter and spiteful thumbing of their nose to future citizens who would overturn their bigotry. And while same-sex marriage is still not legal in Minnesota, voters rejected this amendment 51% to 48%. Enacting marriage equality will now be that much easier.

And in Washington, a marriage equality law was likewise delayed as our opponents worked to force it onto the ballot. While the final results won’t be in for some time due to mail-in ballots that still need to be counted, it’s currently looking good for equality, and CNN has called it for same-sex marriage.

I really was not expecting this. I figured that, if we won any of these, it would have been in Washington. That alone would have been phenomenal – our first victory at the ballot box. But I had no idea we would win all of them. I didn’t think it was possible. And while I steeled myself for defeat, I completely neglected to prepare for victory. I just don’t know what to think, and the reality of it is still soaking in.

For the first time – ever – they’re the ones who are left reeling the day after. They’re the ones who will have to struggle to explain how they lost. They’re the ones who were rejected by the people. And we’re the ones who can rejoice. Their winning streak is over, and so is our losing streak. Their talking point is dead – marriage equality doesn’t lose at the ballot box every time. They can’t take state-level victories for granted anymore, and we can’t take our defeat for granted either. They told us the only poll that matters is the one on election day. Well, here it is.

Make no mistake, the opponents of LGBT rights gave this their all. They said marriage equality was a step on the road to communism. They said “the future of the family” is at stake and “our religious liberty is in jeopardy”. They said “this issue will destroy and undermine the church”, and marriage would “disintegrate”. AND THEY LOST.

The Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus, and NOM donated millions of dollars to the campaigns against equality. A reverend described homosexuality as “worthy of death” at an official Maryland Marriage Alliance event. A Catholic archbishop went so far as to tell the mother of a gay son that her “eternal salvation” depends on believing homosexuality is a sin. AND THEY LOST.

A former Maine bishop said that Catholics “cannot justify a vote for a candidate or referendum question that opposes the teachings of the Church”. A Maine representative used his own gay brother’s death as an opportunity to claim that “we have no right to redefine marriage”. Minnesota students posted dozens of pictures of themselves citing the exclusively religious reasons for why they voted against our equality. AND THEY LOST.

Their ads featured a man who considers homosexuality a disease,  compared families with gay parents to gangs, claimed schools are teaching children “how to sodomize”, and said “the heart of transgenderism is a lie”. AND THEY LOST. They compared gay rights activists to Hitler. AND THEY LOST. They called homosexuality “highly promiscuous”, “centered around anonymous sexual encounters”, “largely predatory”, and that “many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse”. And they lost.

They lost. Homophobia lost. Racism lost. Sexism lost. Ignorance lost. Bigotry lost.

We won. And so did our country.

Come see our live election night coverage at 9 PM Eastern!

Just like pretty much everyone else, Heather and I have a lot of nervous tension to burn off about this whole election thing, so we’ll be holding a special live show on BlogTV at 9 PM Eastern time tonight, covering the presidential race and other important races and measures on the ballot this year. If you have any suggestions for particular races and proposals we should cover, feel free to recommend them in the comments or during the show. We’ll keep it going until we’re too tired to continue. See you there!

Update: We’re going to bed. Elizabeth Warren won, Florida Amendments 1, 6 and 8 were rejected, and Virginia Question 1 was approved. We are happy about all of this. Let’s hope marriage does well in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. See you tomorrow!

An especially pointless lie

Matt Barber of the homophobic right-wing Liberty Counsel recently tweeted a photo of a massive crowd gathered at a rally, which he described as “Media report support for Romney dwindling. Media lie”. In no time at all, blogger Jeremy Hooper found that this was not a gathering of Romney supporters, as Barber implied, but actually a photo of an Obama rally from 2008.

What exactly did Barber think he would accomplish with this? To bolster his claim that support for Romney is actually more substantial than is being reported, he had to find a photo of a huge crowd that had not turned out for Romney at all, but rather for Romney’s opponent. It doesn’t get any more self-defeating than that.

Why “religious freedom” arguments about gay marriage fail

This November, Minnesota will vote on an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution. Reverend Mark Kuether of the Congregational United Church of Christ recently wrote an opinion piece for the Detroit Lakes Tribune, arguing that religious freedom requires legal recognition of gay marriage. Kuether says:

This amendment would tell clergy who they can and cannot marry in their congregations. Some churches and religious organizations want to recognize the relationships of committed gay and lesbian couples. Some don’t. It should be their choice. However, this amendment does the opposite. It tells religious leaders they are not allowed to marry same-sex couples. Many faiths want to decide for themselves. This amendment represents a one-size fits all government mandate on our state’s churches.

It’s easy to see why this argument is appealing: it takes the usual religious objections to legal gay marriage, and turns them on their head. Instead of claiming that legalizing same-sex marriage would curtail religious freedom, it argues that a ban on same-sex marriage is the real infringement on religious freedom. And it also points out that “religion” is not a monolithic body that’s uniformly opposed to gay marriage, as many religious opponents of gay marriage often like to pretend.

But the religious freedom argument for marriage equality is just as flawed as the religious freedom argument against marriage equality, and for precisely the same reasons. Those who argue against gay marriage on the grounds of religious freedom make the mistake of conflating civil marriage law with religious marital practices. Out of willful or genuine ignorance, they claim that the legalization of same-sex marriage would mean all churches and other religious institutions are now required to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. This is simply contrary to fact, which is plain to see in every state where same-sex marriage is legal and intolerant religions are still free to conduct only the weddings they want.

Just as with opposite-sex marriage, same-sex marriages under civil law are the kind you get at the city hall or another government office. Its legal aspects are a purely secular matter, and that legal recognition does not oblige any religion to celebrate these marriages. The recognition of opposite-sex marriages in civil law has never meant that a Catholic church is required to let just anyone get married in a cathedral, and same-sex marriage is no different. The people who make this argument don’t seem to understand that you can’t just go to any church, synagogue, mosque or temple, and demand to get married there. In other countries with official state churches whose doctrines are decided by legislators, those churches may be required to solemnize same-sex marriages, but in the United States, the government is entirely unable to tell a religion which marriages and relationships it can and cannot celebrate.

For that reason, the claim that a ban on gay marriage “tells religious leaders they are not allowed to marry same-sex couples” is likewise false. Various religious bodies, including the United Church of Christ, already choose to recognize same-sex marriages and perform same-sex wedding ceremonies as part of their faith. And if they only wanted gay, queer, and otherwise extraordinary couples to get married at their churches, they would be fully within their rights, too. Because civil marriage and religious marriage are completely separate practices, a civil ban on same-sex marriage does not prevent them from doing this.

Conversely, a certain religion’s marital practices are not and should not be used to define the civil marriage laws which apply to everyone. The Catholic church may choose to recognize as valid only those marriages which abide by their specific religious requirements, but that doesn’t mean these are the only marriages that are recognized under civil law. No religion gets to dictate our nation’s civil, secular laws, and they can’t demand that everyone be forced to live under a particular religious doctrine that they may not even believe in. Even if no religion in history approved of same-sex marriages or wanted to perform them, this would be no argument against recognizing same-sex marriages under civil law. And just as we wouldn’t let an anti-gay church define what marriage is for everyone, we also shouldn’t let a pro-gay church define what marriage is for everyone.

Respect for religious freedom does not demand that our civil law must ban all the marriages a religion bans, and allow all the marriages a religion allows. The scope of religious freedom does not extend that far. There are certain faiths that approve of many different kinds of marriages which are not recognized under civil law. Does this mean the state is required to recognize child marriages or multiple marriages just because someone’s religion does? No, just as a racist church that disapproves of interracial marriage cannot impose this rule upon the populace at large. But all of these groups already have the freedom to practice their religious marriages in accordance with their beliefs. And just as the legalization of same-sex marriage does not burden that freedom, neither does banning same-sex marriage.

The claim that legal gay marriage limits religious freedom is a complete non-starter. But so is the idea that its absence poses a similar restriction. There are already plenty of excellent points in favor of same-sex marriage, and no good ones against it so far. We don’t need to rely on arguments that proceed from the same faulty premises, so why pretend religious freedom has anything to do with it?