Monday, June 16, 2008

Gay Marriage

A few hours ago California became the second state to legalize gay marriage. At 5:01 PM in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom presided over the wedding of a couple ladies in their 80's.

Four years ago, Mayor Newsom was also presiding over weddings in San Francisco, but a court stopped that practice and voided over 4000 marriages. Thirty days ago the California Supreme Court decided the case brought about from one of those 4000 marriages and found that the California Constitution not only had no implicit ban of gay marriage but was worded such that the government was required to allow gay marriage.

In just over 4 months, California voters will march to the polls and vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Current polling gives the measure a 50-50 shot of passing, significantly down from just a few years ago and unprecedented when set aside the numerous similar proposals that have won in landslides in other states.

I tend to indecision on most cultural issues. I like to think of this as openmindedness. Unfortunately, in November I'll be one of the millions voting on gay marriage in California and so I'll have to make a decision of some sort.

The arguments against gay marriage fall into three veins: it's unnatural, it's unholy and it undermines the fabric of society.

Homosexuality is natural. It occurs in nature across several species including our cousins the primates. Gay marriage is less unnatural than it is nontraditional. I struggle, as many do, with the idea of two people of the same sex being married. The linguistics alone throw me. There goes his and her towel sets. Who gets the ring with the big diamond? Bob and his husband? Diane and her wife? Mrs. and Mrs. Smith? All of this comes about from the dismantling of thousands of years of societal, cultural and linguistic tradition. That can be tough for anyone, but does it justify a ban on gay marriage? I can't think it does. I find going to the DMV for a driver's license to be a nuisance, but I keep on going.

Gay marriage is, in fact, unholy. All the mainline Christian faiths are against it. The Muslims have to be against it, especially the sects that don't even let women show their faces. The religious argument fails to move me, though. First, I'll apply the baseline argument that government imposing biblical law is unconstitutional. Second, I'll argue that citing biblical text to support a policy argument is useful in debate, but worthless logic. If a person should choose to outlaw gay marriage because of biblical precedent, then that person cannot stop at gay marriage. Leviticus and Deuteronomy are littered with wonderful little admonitions and rules. Take one, take all. Of course, I haven't read the New Testament as closely and perhaps Jesus reversed a number of those rules, but kept the gay marriage one intact. Someone more attuned with the Christian faith will have to enlighten me. I'm not holy. I have no religion. The religious argument just doesn't work.

The most compelling argument regards the fabric of society. The argument goes that the fundamental unit of society is a family. In this case, a family is made of a father, mother and children. Any other arrangement of this basic unit is inferior. Boys need fathers. Girls need mothers. Both genders need the balance, the influence and the example of the opposite gender to edify them fully. As a society moves away from this fundamental order the society deteriorates.

I have always found this argument appealing. It seems reasonable. It can be backed by some fairly strong data. Alas, it isn't perfect. Single mothers raise perfectly good children, as do single fathers. I haven't seen any evidence that children raised by gay parents turn into misfits draining the lifeblood of society. Families with a father, mother and children can be as dysfunctional, corrupting and destructive as any other group; indeed, more so in some cases.

To date, no one has offered me a persuasive argument for banning gay marriage. Am I completely comfortable with gay marriage? No. It tosses dirt in the face of millennia of tradition. It alters the fabric of society in ways that cannot be anticipated. It does all of this, but that does not make it something that should not be, not in a free society that values justice and was founded on the idea that pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right.

Eight years ago I voted against the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that is now part of Nebraska law. I did so because it was worded in such a way that a particularly careless interpretation could outlaw same gender roommates that weren't having sex. I did so because I don't like new laws because I don't like more government especially government meddling about in my bedroom.

In a few months, I will vote again and I plan to vote the same way and for at least some of the same reasons. This time I might not be one of the few who does.

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Regarding your June 1st post, I agree completely, but for the sake of fairness let me make an addition.

The Republican Party sanctioned Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. Each of those states will seat only half their delegates (the same as the Democrats compromise plan). The Republicans were less dramatic and handled it far more cleanly, but the end result is the same - some votes just don't count as much as others.

Also, the Republicans held primaries in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam and Virgin Islands. They were less generous with delegates (Puerto Rico only beating out a handful of small states) and the delegate count wasn't nearly as important on the Republican side, but they helped choose the nominee all the same.

Of course, the Republican Party hasn't been accused of believing every vote is equal and should be counted, so at least they aren't hypocrits.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Of great interest recently has been the battle in the Democratic Party. One might think that a primary this heated and fought this long would be good for the country. One would hope that as these two candidates meet from state to state they would be talking about the issues and explaining their plans. They would be analyzing each others’ plans, critiquing them. The citizens would see the process of a good idea made better.

Finally in the party’s convention we would see the final hammering out of a solution for healthcare, education and gas prices, laid out into a party platform that all democrats would sign on to and work towards. Because it was a combination of all the best parts of everyone’s plans.

By now we should know who each candidate is, what they believe and how they will go about enacting their solutions, step by step. But at this point all I know is that Obama is for change, though I don’t know what change that precisely is, and that he is young and inexperienced. What I’ve learned about Hillary is that she has the best chance, of the two democrats, to win the election in November. And that she is running a negative, kitchen sink, campaign.

I know many people actively supporting each candidate, and yet few of them can tell me who has a better plan on any issue, nor can any of them even tell me what their candidate’s plan is. The biggest part of this problem is that these people are what are commonly referred to as activists. They are passionate about their candidate. They are passionately against the other candidate. Yet they can not tell me how one or the other will make my life, their life, or what really matters, how they will make our country a better country.

The most glaring problem with the democrats is not that they still have two candidates fighting for the nomination. It is that they blatantly disregard their own values. They have been screaming for 8 years about people’s right to vote. They’ve been yelling about disenfranchised voters (people not being able to vote). They been hiring lawyers and filing court cases all over the country about voter fraud and people’s votes not being counted for this reason or that. Yet they won’t let their own people cast their votes at their own convention. This weekend their party announced a ‘compromise.’ They would seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan, but with only half a vote. Since when does someone only get half a vote? Since the 3/5ths compromise in which we gave free men a full vote and slaves a 3/5 vote. The way the Democratic party has divvied up the delegates in these two states reminds me of the way the slave owner then cast the ballot for their slaves, essentially disregarding what the slave would have voted and casting their ballot the way the slave owner wants the slave to vote.

If this party truly believed in one person, one vote, they wouldn’t be having caucuses where if your candidate does not have enough votes in your precinct among the people who were able to show up at that precise time and location, you are forced to change your vote to one of the other candidates. Not to mention if you are working, homebound, or out of town for whatever reason, you don’t even get to vote. They would ensure that no matter your circumstances, you could cast your vote and your vote would be counted. They wouldn’t be penalizing the voters in a state because a few changed the date of their election, they would be working with that state to make sure that every voice was heard.

In announcing their decision this weekend on the Democratic website, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Rules and Bylaws Committee Co-Chairs Alexis Herman and Jim Roosevelt gave the three principles they made their decision on.

“One, that we must be fair to the voters in both states. Two, that we must be fair to both campaigns who abided by the rules in good faith and three, that we must be fair to the 48 states that followed the rules.”

One, I’m not sure how giving them less than a full vote is being fair to the voters in both states. Two, Well to tell you the truth I don’t really care about the “campaigns”. Three if they were concerned about being fair to the other 48 states, then why do those states each get less of a say about who the candidate will be then a single American territory?

If they want to play by the rules they wouldn’t have representation from American territories selecting their candidate for president, since the Electoral College does not give any representation to the people in the territories. They wouldn’t be giving Puerto Rico more delegates than 25 of the states. If the party hadn’t seated Florida and Michigan delegates, one territory would have more influence in who their party candidate is than 27 of the 50 States. Quick math, that is 54% of the states. I’m not quite sure how this is fair to any of the other 48 states, or how this can be construed as playing by the rules.

While I still personally believe that the best way to get something/anything done in government is to be a member of either party, I am coming to a greater understanding of why our country’s founding fathers were so adamantly opposed to political parties.

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In July 1813, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "So many Subjects crowd upon me that I know not, with which to begin." And so I think it is with us.

This is an election year and the historic length of the campaign, the candidates and the ongoing 'drama' have fueled an unprecedented interest in politics that touch on every dimension of our lives. There are any number of subjects that could be addressed. There are, indeed, any number of subjects that should be addressed and in a manner less fitted to 2 minute debate banter and highly polished campaign posts.

So many subjects crowd upon us but let me start not with the details, the proposals, the political gamesmanship (because they will have their time), rather let me begin with the concept of selfishness.

It begins the other day with one of those ubiquitous emails passed through the hands of cyberspace. This one was sent to me from an office colleague and the subject line read: 545 People. In the email someone had copied over the words of a short essay by Charley Reese. Mr. Reese went about explaining how the whole of the United States government is run by 545 people (435 Congressmen, 9 Supreme Court Justices and 1 President) and that they and they alone are responsible for whatever mess we now find ourselves. It's all agreeable enough and the fanfare for his words can be easily seen with a quick search for his article online, but added to my email and not included in the original was a last line encouraging us to vote them all out of office. Oddly enough, we never actually do that and the reason comes from another, more recent piece of writing.

Last Thursday, Victor David Hanson, wrote an article for called All About Me. In it he assesses how the baby boom generation has taken to solving problems. They want it both ways - more oil without more drilling, affordable housing that always appreciates rapidly in price, generous Social Security with lower taxes. He concludes with the following:

Our present problems were not really caused by an unpopular president, a spendthrift Congress, the neocon bogeymen, the greedy Saudis, shifty bankers or corporate oilmen in black hats and handlebar moustaches -- much less the anonymous "they."

The fault of this age, dear baby boomers, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Therein lies our problem. Reese and Hanson are both correct. There are 545 people running the government, but there are millions of people voting for them. We keep buying what they keep selling.

A politician in office has no incentive to fix the country's problems. A Democratic Congress with a Republican President won't vote for a health care proposal because they need the promise of a health care proposal for campaign mailers. A Republican Congress with a Democratic President won't vote for a gay marriage amendment because they need the promise of a gay marriage amendment for television commercials. A large number of people make a great deal of money by fighting the good fight without any end results.

Meanwhile, the American people have no stomach for sacrifice. Congress may have abysmal favorability ratings, but individual Congressman have sky high numbers. As long as the pork barrel projects and federal money keep coming back to the home district the votes keep coming in. The voters lament the rising deficit, the weakening dollar, the rocketing fuel prices and the myriad scandals, but as long as someone is bringing home the bacon they keep voting in the same old purveyors of pork. We rarely ask ourselves, "Is it good for the country?" In the booth, alone and unpestered, we ask ourselves, "What's this guy going to do for me?"

Congress and Presidents want to keep their jobs. Voters want everything that helps themselves and doesn't hurt them. We are selfish creatures. The men that created this country understood that and were fearful of the whims of the masses. Unfortunately, time has eroded the protection of checks and balances that they envisioned, not because the system is failing us, but because we are failing ourselves.

There is so little thoughtfulness because thoughtfulness takes time and effort. There is so little of substance because substance takes time and isn't nearly as entertaining as the latest minute long video on YouTube. We have created a world of slogans and branding. We think of Democrats and Republicans as if they were Cadillac and Lincoln and how cool, intelligent and rich we are is evident by the party listed on our registration card.

Are we Democrats because we believe in the Democrat's solutions or because all our friends are Democrats? Are we Republicans because we believe in the Republican's solutions or because our parents were Republicans? More importantly, do we profess to believe in whatever talking points the party has put up on their website because we simply don't have the time or interest or thoughtfulness to have our own ideas. Have we become so enamored with our own thoughts and so distrustful of our own thinking that we cannot tolerate listening to anything that doesn't already agree with us?

I hope we have not. I hope that the two of us are not alone in thinking that there is a time, place and necessity to say what we think and not what the party brand requires, the voters desire and the world will little care about in a couple years. The government is more than 545 people and the solutions to all of our problems throughout the history of this country have involved sacrifice and something more than simple self interest.

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