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by Peterr

God Laughs at Prop 8 and DOMA

4:08 pm in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

SCOTUS made one of their periodic announcements of the schedule of arguments for upcoming cases for which they had granted a hearing, and I could not help but hear God laughing in the background. Let me draw your attention to this portion of the announcement, via SCOTUSblog:

Tuesday, March 26:

12-144 Hollingsworth v. Perry – constitutionality of California’s “Proposition 8″ ban on same-sex marriage; also, question of standing to appeal

Wednesday, March 27:

12-307 — United States v. Windsor – constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s benefits limited to married opposite-sex couples; also, question of standing for U.S. government and for House GOP leaders to appeal the case

The laughter I hear comes from looking at the calendar.

On March 26th, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kagan (the three Jewish members of SCOTUS) will be hearing about the injustices levied by the state against gays and lesbians on the first day of Passover — an eight day commemoration in the Jewish calendar of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt. For Jews, the repetition of Moses’ cry “let my people go!” figures prominently in the Passover story, as God’s spokesman went to Pharaoh again and again to demand freedom from slavery and oppression.

Given what LGBTs have endured at the hands of the modern state, “Let my people wed!” has a nice contemporary ring to it.

And then there are the Catholics . . .

For Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and Sotomayor — the six Roman Catholics — these two days of arguments take place between Palm Sunday and Easter. It’s Holy Week, when Western Christians recall Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd, his betrayal and arrest on trumped up charges, his show-trial and execution at the hands of the state with the blessing of the religious authorities, and his resurrection. For Christians, Holy Week is the commemoration of a perversion of justice, set right by a divine veto.

Given how justice has been denied to LGBTs in ways great and small by the enactment of DOMA, it strikes me as divinely ironic that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives will be defending injustice during a week when Catholics and other Christians are in the midst of remembering the injustices perpetrated by Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas as they tried — unsuccessfully — to preserve their own power.

I fully expect to hear more from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on this, in the same illogical vein as Chicago’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George’s recent missive. (The best reply I’ve seen to it is from Neil Steinberg in the Chicago Sun-Times.) But using this style of argument during Holy Week will make Cardinal George sound like Caiaphas, not Christ, and I don’t think BLAG will have any more success than did Pilate or Herod.

Back in 2008, five sad days after Prop 8 was approved by California voters, I had the pleasure of hosting an FDL Book Salon chat with Mitchell Gold, discussing his book Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America. As I wrote in the set-up piece, these are stories of pain, power, struggles, partnership, and surprises (both nasty and wonderful). But discussing this book just after Prop 8 was enacted really altered the discussion:

In my head, I actually had two posts ready for this Book Salon, depending upon the results of the Proposition 8 vote in California. If “No on 8″ had prevailed, we could talk about how wonderful it is that the largest state in the US had taken a stand in favor of civil rights and fuller acceptance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. We could talk about the positive message that this would send to anyone who is GLBT or who loves someone who is. That post, sadly, will have to wait for another day.

But that day is coming — make no mistake about that — just not as soon as we’d like.

Ultimately, these are stories of hope. In reading this book, I was reminded again and again of SF Supervisor Harvey Milk‘s famous “Hope” speech (YouTube excerpt here) :

And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.

Hope. By the end of the book, that this what these stories are finally about. Hope that life can be better for all of us, and that pain and trauma are not the last words for any of us, regardless of our own sexual orientations or the orientations of those we love.

I truly believe that day of justice and hope is getting closer.

Some might call the connection between the SCOTUS calendar and the Jewish and Christian religious calendars a mere coincidence, but being a pastor, I can’t help but see a little divine humor at work. As BLAG will soon find out, trying to make arguments in defense of injustice during two powerful religious commemorations of justice is hard to do.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and let all the courts say “Amen!”


No, I’m not suggesting religious appeals have any place in the secular legal discussions at the heart of this case. But that doesn’t keep folks like the USCCB or the evangelical fundamentalists from making them, and I’d like to give these religious appeals a little theological attention before they really start cranking up. Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Happy 91st Birthday, Helen Thomas

2:00 am in Media by Peterr

Ah, birthdays.

Yes, it’s President Obama’s 50th, but I’m more impressed with Helen Thomas, who came along some 41 years before Obama. To put the two in perspective, Helen has spent more years grilling presidents and their spokespeople than Obama has spent out of diapers.

One of my delights at FDL are the Book Salons, where authors famous and not-so-famous come to chat with whomever drops by. The subjects covered by the books are wide ranging, and the authors are generally really happy to chat about whatever questions the FDL commenters pose.

Somewhere on my “Top FDL Book Salons of All Time” list is Helen’s November 2009 chat about her book “Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President To Know and Do.” To give you a flavor of it — and the remarkable woman who celebrates her 91st birthday today — here are some of exchanges in the comments (with my own current observations in italics).

A word of warning: it’s amazing — and somewhat depressing — to see how on-target her comments in 2009 remain some 20 months later.

* * *

Jeffrey Feldman (host of the chat): It’s clear from the book that Lyndon Johnson’s presidency made a strong impression on you both. If Johnson were around to give Obama advice on the top issues right now (health, Afghanistan, unemployment, carbon levels), today…what do you think he would say?

Helen: LBJ would say “Get the hell out of Afghanistan and don’t make the mistakes I did in Vietnam. Give your all-out support for public health insurance option, and forget about collecting Republican votes. I did that with Medicare, and it worked.”

(“. . . and forget about collecting Republican votes.”? Either LBJ hasn’t shown up, or Obama listens to him as much as he listens to Paul Krugman.)

* * *

dakine01: . . . if you could corner President Obama and force him to make ONE policy change or political act, what would you tell/force him to do?

Helen: I’d tell him to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and pay more attention to people at home who are hungry and without jobs.

(The fact that we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan, and still have enormous numbers of people at home who are hungry and without jobs is mindboggling.)

* * *

Teddy Partridge: Did George W Bush give you a nickname, and did you ever get called it?

Helen: I’m sure he did, but I don’t want to hear it. Probably not for a familiy [sic] audience.

(I’m sure she could speculate on some of the possibilities, though — and she’s probably on target with regard to its suitability for publication.)

* * *

Peterr: No disrespect intended toward the late Tim Russert, but his testimony at the Scooter Libby trial — where he stated under oath that his presumption was that every conversation he had with a person of prominence was considered off the record unless otherwise stated — was strong evidence to me that there is often far too cozy a relationship between the DC media and those they cover.

In your many years of covering the White House, what is the best way you’ve seen for ordinary folks to push the media to act in the interests of the general public when they seem to have cozied up a bit too much?

Helen: For starters, people should not get mad when reporters seem rude to politicians. Sometimes that’s the only way to get their attention, and get real answers. They have to be accountable, and they usually don’t to be. [sic -- perhaps should be "don't want to be."]

Peterr: My problem with the reporters isn’t that they are too rude, but they aren’t persistent ENOUGH when confronted with stonewalling, for example. When a press spokesperson — or the President — responds to a difficult question by tossing out lots of bright shiny objects to distract folks from the fact that they didn’t actually answer the question, how can we encourage the media to say “Excuse me, but that didn’t address what you were asked. Would you like to try again?”

Is there any chance at all that a reporter at a presidential press conference would ever give up their own personal question by saying “Mr. President, I don’t think you answered what my colleague asked you a moment ago. Could you please answer *that* question?”?

Helen: Excellent point. It should happen more often, especially when follow-ups are barred. We can always hope.

(Yes we can. We’re still hoping . . . but no luck so far. But I felt honored to not only have had Helen answer my question, but let me offer a followup. Sure beats the way in which some presidents have treated Helen.)

* * *

demi: What are both* of your recommendations for us to get the biggest bang for our dollars in terms of affecting the changes we want from our government? [*Addressed to Helen and Craig Crawford, her co-author, who was doing the typing for both of them]

Helen: For starters, elect people who speak for the people and not the superich. And get Goldman Sachs out of the Treasury Dept!

Cynthia Kouril: [standing on chair cheering and clapping]

(I think lots of folks shared Cynthia’s reaction, and still do. Speaking of which . . . have you heard the rumors that Timothy Geithner may be on his way out at Treasury? What are the odds that a Goldman Sachs alum of some kind might take his place, should Geithner leave?)

* * *

perris: Helen, what do you think of obama’s opinion that “we need to look forward not backward” addressing the abuses of the previous administration? . . .

Helen: It’s covering up the past. We must learn from our mistakes, no matter how painful.

(Sadly, Obama has continued to want to remain stubbornly ignorant of the past — or wants the rest of us to remain ignorant of it — and thus prolong the pain. See just about anything written by Jeff Kaye on torture, for example.)

* * *

Dearie: Helen & Craig, you might notice that many of us on the left & central-left have kind of maxed out on Obama. Helen, you’ve seen presidents come and go; do you think Obama has a chance to clean up his image with us progressives?

Helen: Yes, if he displays more courage.

Craig: He’s nailed hope. It’s time for audacity.

(Helen, after watching the repeated caves to the GOP since this book salon, I’d say that’s a major hypothetical you put out there. Courage in defending Democratic principles (let alone progressive principles) has not been terribly much in evidence. Craig, we’re still waiting on that audacity. The longer he waits, the more audacious he’ll have to be.)

* * *

Speaking of hope . . .

Every president hopes that God broke the mold when he made Helen Thomas. Everyone else better hope that those presidents are wrong. She is one of a kind, to be sure, but we sure could use more media people who follow in her footsteps.

Happy birthday, Helen!

(Oh, and you too, Mr. President. Kudos to you for recognizing that in the White House press room, her birthday was at least as significant as your own.)