same-sex marriage

Senator Salmon

The Problem With Anti-Marriage Equality Politicians

The past couple of weeks have seen a lot of conversation about marriage equality. Between SCOTUS hearing arguments on DOMA and Prop 8, and Republican Senator Rob Portman coming out in favor of marriage equality in support of his son, there’s a lot of hope coursing through the veins of advocates across the country. And then there are stories like this one, that make your heart ache for humanity:

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) says that having a gay son has not swayed his views on the marriage issue and that he still opposes marriage equality, reported last week.

Salmon, a staunch social conservative, expressed love and respect for his son during an interview with 3TV in Arizona but said that he is “not there as far as believing in my heart” that marriage should be available to same-sex couples.

So here’s the deal. We can talk about the importance of changing hearts and minds one at at time and one day at a time. We can talk about Rep. Salmon being one of those hearts we need to change. But I’m angry, and it’s not because I disagree with him on this issue. I’m angry because of the decision making framework he’s using to evaluate legal matters.

Let’s revisit his statement, shall we? When giving a reason for why he won’t support marriage equality:

…not there as far as believing in my heart…

That’s sweet, and sentimental, and human. EXCEPT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION, WHICH IS WHAT YOUR DAMN JOB IS. As a reminder, this is the oath taken when being sworn into office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

See anything in there about heart? Or personal religious affiliation? No? I didn’t think so. Following your heart is great in terms of personal decisions, but when you’re on the job in politics, your decision making calculus is different. Period. You swore an oath to that end.

In other words, I’m fine with you holding your own personal beliefs. I mean, really, I’m not fine with it if your personal beliefs are that certain human beings are inherently less valuable than others, but I recognize that it is your right to hold such oppressive beliefs dear. What I am not fine with is you opposing marriage equality based on your personal beliefs, because the same laws that allow you the right to hold those beliefs protect the rest of us from you forcing them upon us.

So if you cannot provide a sound legal argument for why marriage equality should not exist, I don’t want to hear it. And if you’re a legislator who cannot provide a sound legal argument for opposing marriage equality, then you’re doing it wrong, and you don’t deserve the office you hold.


A Letter to Our Future Pope

Dear Future Pope,

Welcome to the job! I’m sure you are overwhelmed, excited and anxious about the massive responsibility with which you have just been endowed. Or maybe you’re feeling peaceful, basking in the glow of God’s will, and your confidence in it. Either way, you’ve stepped into a mess – no other way to put it.

The abdication of Pope Benedict XVI means that you now head a Church in crisis. In a complex and suffering world, the Church has been struggling for some time in their quest to connect with those of us in the pew. The disconnect is inversely related to age; younger demographics are finding it harder and harder to relate to the Church and its teachings. Discerning a way to overcome this challenge is now your job.

I am your challenge.

I was raised in the Catholic Church. My mother came from a large Irish Catholic family. With her 12 brothers and sisters, and well over 20 cousins running around, my life was a parade of sacraments and celebrations. I participated in catechism classes. I made my First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. My confirmation name was Bridget. I was, at the time, a vapid, shallow thing, and in many ways, the opposite of Saint Bridget. Her story was one of rejecting earthly beauty and romantic pursuits in favor of her love of God. She was a woman of compassion and generosity- beautiful inside and out. Perhaps I wanted to remind myself that I was capable of more depth. Maybe the idea of faith not being incompatible with beauty in the end was reassuring. I don’t know. I was a dumb kid. We mostly went to Church on Christmas and Easter as we got older and schedules got busier, but I identified as a Catholic when asked… and on Ash Wednesday, when no one needed to ask.

But if we’re being honest, my reservations with the Church began to emerge in fifth grade.

See, my mom was Catholic, but my dad was Protestant. They respected each others’ beliefs; in their minds, all that mattered was that they were both Christian. They wanted their children to be Christian as well, but in a parental expression of their mutual respect, made sure we were exposed to both of their churches. That meant some Sundays we were at Mass, and other times we went to my dad’s very, very Evangelical Church. That meant that on top of my catechism classes, I went to youth groups that gave out awards for Bible verse memorization.

In fifth grade, one week started what would become a life of feeling unwelcome in any church. My catechism teacher that week was discussing the difference between mortal and venial sins. She explained that mortal sins endangered your soul. When a student asked if that meant you could go to hell, she said yes. She indicated that missing Mass was a mortal sin. I piped up that I sometimes missed Mass because we went to my dad’s church. Her response?

“That counts as missing Mass, so yes- that’s a mortal sin.”

Wondering why I should go to hell because I prayed in a different location, I went to youth group a few days later. As we bowed our heads to pray, and as Catholics often do, I automatically began with the Sign of the Cross. A collective gasp came from the youth group leaders- kids themselves at only ten years my senior. They pulled me to the side to inquire about my pre-prayer hand signals, and when I told them that I also attended the Catholic church in town, they expressed concern for my soul over my worship of the Mother Mary.

To say I was confused would be putting it lightly.

But like I said, that was only the beginning. It would be silly if I were to hold you and the Catholic Church accountable to one bad experience. And to be fair, it wasn’t just the Catholics. As I grew up, the seeming competition between congregations in my small, conservative town caused me to become more and more disenchanted with organized religion in general. I had my own beliefs, but found myself a member of a community with which I could not commune. This was particularly true of the Catholic Church.

As a woman who has never considered gender to be an obstacle to achieving my goals, the Church’s treatment of women was hard to swallow. It didn’t make sense that women were not allowed to be priests; what about being female negates our ability to effectively communicate on issues of faith? It didn’t make sense that the Church would continue to stand against birth control; procreation does not make me more or less of a Christian, and it doesn’t seem awfully Christ-like to doom the faithful in poverty and their children into a life of hunger and desolation in pursuit of such an argument. I cringed as I listened to descriptions of marriage in terms of female submission and male provision from Church leadership. It’s hard to feel at home praying in a Church that seems to see your role as one of reproductive submission.

I mean no disrespect- I know the Church preaches that women should be cherished and protected. I know there are many women of strength in the Bible. I also know that these messages sound a little hollow and tinny in light of Church practices.

The sex scandal and pursuant cover-up turned my stomach. It spoke to a system set up to protect its participants- not lead those they serve in faith. It spoke to a pervasive sense of privilege. I have defended the Church to critics in the wake of these revelations, but that had far less to do with my allegiance to a hierarchy than it did the good, hard-working priests I had met in the past.

And then there’s the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage. I’m not really concerned with the justifications. The thing is, nothing taught by the Church about homosexuality has ever lined up with real life for me. Some of my best friends are gay. They are beautiful people, inside and out. I cannot fathom a God that would condemn someone for loving someone else. It is impossible for me to support an organization that actively encourages policies that discriminate against them. That’s a deal breaker.

I will never be able to completely cut ties with the Church; my sprawling family guarantees this. I will always do the Sign of the Cross when I pray. I still think about what I’m going to give up for Lent. I whisper a rushed Our Father when I get nervous. But in many ways, this is a merely matter of habit and comfort.

So perhaps it’s not fair to say you face a challenge. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say you face nearly impossible odds. Realistically, unless the Church were to rather rapidly modernize, I doubt you will be able to overcome these obstacles. Given the typical rate of Catholic dogma evolution, such a modernization is unlikely. Like I said in the beginning, you’ve stepped into a mess.

I suppose that means all that’s left to do is pray that you have the courage to be Christ-like. After all, if the stories are to be believed, he was pretty damn revolutionary himself.



Why the 2012 Election Matters More Than You Think

Source: Politico

It’s official. With Romney revealing Republican Congressman Paul Ryan as his Vice-Presidential pick, and a mere 86 days until election day, the election season is ramping up to fever pitch. This election is set-up to be one of the most significant in decades, but not for the reasons that most are talking about.

The economy sucks. There’s no doubt about that, and there’s a good chance it gets a lot worse before it gets better. The deficit is ballooning, and then there’s that buzz word everyone likes to throw around- the Fiscal Cliff. What does that mean, exactly? The Fiscal Times explains:

The “fiscal cliff” is what Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has called the many major fiscal events that could happen simultaneously at the close of 2012 and the dawning of 2013. The events include the expiration of the Bush era tax cuts, the payroll tax cut and other important tax-relief  provisions. They also include the first installment of the $1.2 trillion across-the-board cuts of domestic and defense programs required under last summer’s bipartisan deficit reduction agreement.  At the same time, lawmakers may have to raise the debt ceiling once again, potentially triggering another standoff in Congress.

So there’s that. The problem is that Congress won’t tackle the issues in any meaningful manner until AFTER the election. The cuts in question are, at a minimum, controversial, and it’s much easier to run on fluffy talking points than actual policies. The economy, has, deservedly, become the focus of this election, but the reality is that, despite the focus, the campaigns aren’t actually addressing the concerns in any substantive manner, and the solutions that HAVE been presented aren’t all that great. Even with the sparse policies available for examination, the campaigns aren’t pragmatically discussing the pros and cons, relying on sweeping campaign rhetoric to guide public opinion.

With neither side presenting a great case on fiscal policy, other issues are of greater significance, but none more so than the battle over same-sex marriage. I’m pretty sure I’ve made my position on the issue abundantly clear by now. Its importance cannot be understated. If the Constitution says all humans born or naturalized in the United States are entitled to the same privileges under the law- and the tax benefits, survivorship rights and more associated with legal recognition of a marriage are privileges granted by the government- banning same-sex marriage, and access to the privileges therein, tells those in same-sex relationships that they are less than human. 

But why should anyone pay attention to the candidates’ positions on same-sex marriage? Typically, I’m not one to encourage single issue voting, especially since Presidents do not control the legislative process, but this time is different. Consider, via the Wall Street Journal:

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday declined to rehear arguments over a California ballot measure banning gay marriage, after previously upholding a district court’s rejection of the law.

The decision is the final marker before the case likely moves to the U.S. Supreme Court. […]

Andy Pugno, a lawyer for the group supporting Prop 8, said the ruling “essentially clears the way to where we ultimately knew this was going, which is the U.S. Supreme Court.” He said he would ask the Supreme Court to take the case. […]

Ted Olson, another lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the Supreme Court would likely decide in October whether to hear the case, and if it does, would probably issue a decision by June 2013.

Mr. Olson said the case could head to the Supreme Court in the same time frame as a separate challenge to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. A federal appeals court in Boston last week ruled that the federal measure, too, was unconstitutional.

The case would head to the Supreme Court at a time when public opinion on gay marriage is shifting. Polling analyses by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that in 2004, 60% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage and 31% supported it. This year, Pew said, 43% of Americans oppose gay marriage while 47% support it.

This issue is about to be heard by the highest court in the land, and the decision will either be the Plessy v. Ferguson or Brown v. the Board of Education on this subject. For those of you wondering why a pending decision by the judiciary has any bearing on a Presidential election, consider, via (begrudgingly) the Daily Caller:

The final reason for the especially high stakes is that the Court’s balance is up for grabs. Since Justice Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall 21 years ago, no president has had a chance to alter the Court’s precarious 5-4 conservative majority. But during the next administration, three justices — conservatives Kennedy and Scalia and liberal Ginsburg — will reach their 80s. Whoever wins the presidency likely will have the chance either to strengthen the Court’s conservative majority or shift the balance to the left.

The replacement of a single conservative justice by a liberal would produce a profound shift in constitutional law. Most important cases are decided by a 5-4 vote along conservative/liberal lines, encompassing such vital issues as property rights, campaign finance, school choice, federalism, the rights of criminal defendants, Second Amendment rights and constitutional limits on congressional power.

When the Romney campaign has made clear that they believe in a “traditional” definition of marriage, and gone so far as to express support for a federal law banning same-sex marriage, it’s not hard to consider the potential ramifications of their nominations on the Supreme Court. Of course, there’s no guarantee that such a nomination would occur before the issue of same-sex marriage hits the docket, but because there is a chance it does, potential nominations are of the utmost importance.

Your vote could determine whether the courts adhere to the Constitution or regress to the pre-Civil Rights era. The economy may be the most immediate challenge we face, but in a world where neither side is offering a solution, it’s time we pay attention to the issues upon which they can and will act. Quit hiding behind the rhetoric of tax rates and breaks that are being misconstrued and abused on each side, and hold these candidates accountable for their influence on the most critical civil rights issue of our generation.