Sorry, Christians, but gays are people, too

Good news has been popping up over the past week or so for the rights of gay Americans:

A federal appeals court in California has denied a petition to have Prop 8 -the 2008 California ballot initiative that defines marriage as between a man and a woman – further reviewed by a larger panel of judges, which means the case likely is headed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In February , the majority of a three judge panel sitting on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Prop 8 ruling that the initiative “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California and to officially reclassify their relationship and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.” The court ruled on narrow grounds specific to California and Proposition 8. It did not find a fundamental right of same sex couples to marry.

Supporters of Prop 8 – opponents of gay marriage – had asked for “en banc” review of the case. This would have meant that the Chief Judge of the circuit along with 10 randomly selected judges would have mooted their colleagues’ decision and started anew. But in a filing today the court said that a majority of judges had voted to deny the petition.

We all know that Political Figure Scalia made his decision on this matter a few decades ago, and we all know that once Political Lapdog Thomas gets word of his lawless colleague’s position he will also be voting against equal rights. But that said, it’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court, even with 4 devoted bigots, will ultimately rule against fair treatment under the law. Sure, it took them until the 1950’s to make the right call on the mirror issue of racial segregation, gays in America have been swift with showing just how much of this country they are. Now that over half the nation is ready for equal rights for gays, I think the Supreme Court may be ready, too.

Plus there’s this:

Today’s ruling comes a week after a federal appeals court in Boston struck down a key provision of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In that case, legally married same sex couples argue that the federal government is denying them benefits available to opposite sex couples.

The Supreme Court will most likely consider both the Prop 8 case and the DOMA cases next term.

The tide is a-turnin’.

Thought of the day

In Internet Feminism (which is a distinct school of feminism), it has become standard to effectively say, ‘If you disagree with any aspect of something a woman is saying about equal rights* and you have a penis, then you’re a misogynistic asshole.’

*It’s important to distinguish equal rights from other labels of rights. I primarily think of this in terms of ‘civil rights for gays’. Most people won’t use this phrasing, instead opting for ‘gay rights’. There is no such thing. That would be gay privilege – and no one is asking for that. Just the same, there is no such thing as ‘women’s rights’. That phrasing equally indicates privilege. To be fair, the intention of the speaker is rarely to reference anything about privilege; it’s just sloppy language. Regardless, let’s be more careful.

Racism through proxy

Didn’t you know? The racist past of 20th century America wasn’t based upon cultural oppression, poor education and high illiteracy, the loss the economic viability of slavery, religious tolerance and encouragement for slave holding, segregation, rural isolation, or any of those well-known things. Nah. It was based upon eugenics.

Frequently, when seeking a legal precedent for same-sex marriage, advocates will cite the Supreme Court’s rulings against anti-miscegenation laws. Those laws, which existed in a number of states in the early half of the 20th century, prevented people of different races from marrying. The primary Supreme Court ruling in question was Loving v. Virginia which effectively rendered unconstitutional all laws against interracial marriage. Interestingly the specific law it dealt with, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, wasn’t based on ‘racism’ per se, but on scientific ideas of eugenics, an idea derived from Darwin’s evolutionary theory, a product of the scientific and legal consensus in the 20′s and 30′s.

You got that? Racism – that thing that existed long before the abolitionist Darwin came along – wasn’t really the basis for the Racial Integrity Act. Heck, how can a law be racist if people try to justify in other ways? I mean, no one wanted to quiet down all those civil right leaders because they were black; it was really because they were uppity. Or all those women who wanted to vote? Well, gee, let’s be fair. No one was against them voting because they were women; it was really because they were hysterical. Or those Injuns. Golly shucks, it wasn’t because they looked different and dressed funny; it was really because they were so savage.

What the above blogger – to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, Jack Hudson – is willfully missing is that eugenics was never much of a scientific idea as it applied to humans. When it comes to animals, we use it frequently because we put less value on the lives of, say, livestock. That makes it more acceptable to say it is of high value for a cow to produce copious amounts of milk; we haven’t given the cow much value in the first place, so we have no particularly diminished anything. With humans, we tend to start with a high base value. Whether that’s right or wrong is another question, but it’s what people tend to do.

Let’s say we have two sorts of scales. We have a universal scale we use to measure species against each other. It’s a rather detestable, arbitrary scale, but the reality is that we unconsciously use it all the time (it’s okay to torture a moth, but not a bird, usually). Then we have a local scale which measures individuals against each other. Say each scale runs 1 (low) to 10 (high). On the universal scale we almost always rank humans as having the highest value of 10. We may, however, rank other animals very highly. A baboon, for example, may be a 9. This provides for two distinct base lines; we start humans at a high base value than other animals.

This high base value comes with a number of usual stipulations. Treat all humans fairly, all humans deserve freedom, do not kill any human, etc. But once we apply the local scale, we may put restrictions based upon actions and behaviors. Deranged killers do not deserve their freedom. On the universal scale they’re still a 10 by virtue of being human, but they may rank as a 1 on the local scale.

What eugenics did was change the fundamental ranking of humans; it altered our universal scale ranking. No longer were humans 10 simply by being human. They were instead ranked by the same arbitrary measures used to place baboons and leopards below humans in the first place.

But in order to get to the point of ranking humans as non-humans based upon race – and this is a crazy one – racism had to exist. The prejudices and bigotry of civilizations did not spring from any scientific idea: look at the Christian-induced Dark Ages. A severe lack of science did nothing to stop the de-valuing of individual human lives.

In the time during and after Darwin, racism flourished. From this – not evidence, knowledge of genetics, or any known mechanisms of evolution – eugenics arose. Science was the faux veneer abused to make it all look legitimate. Evolution had nothing to do with the matter. But even if it did, this is all an ugly, dishonest, creationist rhetorical tool. Associate evolution with something bad and, well, it just must be wrong! Just ignore the fact that evolution is a scientific fact, void of anthropomorphic values, while eugenics is nothing but a reflection of racist values.

The rest of this ugly, ill conceived post goes on to quote a philosopher of bigotry, Francis J. Beckwith, about same-sex marriage.

“It is clear then that the miscegenation/same-sex analogy does not work. For if the purpose of anti-miscegenation laws was racial purity, such a purpose only makes sense if people of different races have the ability by nature to marry each other. And given the fact that such marriages were a common law liberty, the anti-miscegenation laws presuppose this truth. But opponents of same-sex marriage ground their viewpoint in precisely the opposite belief: people of the same gender do not have the ability by nature to marry each other since gender complementarity is a necessary condition for marriage. Supporters of anti-miscegenation laws believed in their cause precisely because they understood that when male and female are joined in matrimony they may beget racially-mixed progeny, and these children, along with their parents, will participate in civil society and influence its cultural trajectory.

Most of the emphasis is in the original piece itself, but note mine in bold. By nature. You know what that is? It’s an invocation of Natural Law theory. That’s the silly little theory that says the good is what is natural. What it really tries to do is say that human action is bad because it presupposes that humans are somehow not a part of Nature. But it isn’t honest enough to come out and say it. And what’s worse, it is entirely impotent to explain why same-sex marriage is bad but flying across the country in a giant metal tube is good.

Beckwith is saying the analogy drawn between anti-miscegenation laws and anti-gay marriage laws fails because the former was meant to prevent reproduction while the latter has a different basis. This misses the whole point of the analogy. Historically it’s very important to understand the reasons behind discrimination. Practically it matters less: discrimination is discrimination is discrimination. How one wants to rationalize bigotry doesn’t really matter, what with Lady Justice being blind and all.

But if Beckwith really wants to disseminate the reasons for gay discrimination, the reality is that bigots place their opposition to marriage equality in their religious-based sexual immaturity, their ignorance of what it means to be gay, and the one big thought that goes through their minds, “Yucky!”.

Some benefits for gay couples

It’s a step in the right direction.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday expanded benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees, a move likely to be welcomed by gay rights activists who have questioned his commitment to their causes.

Obama said he had directed government agencies to offer a number of new benefits to the families of gay and lesbian federal employees, including family assistance services, hardship transfers and relocation expenses.

How horrible. More families have more equality. Next logical stop: sex with animals. R-right?

Of course, the only way any of these families can actually get more than a taste of equality is through full marital rights – you know, those legal rights that are legally conferred upon people through a legal contract.

Obama expands rights for all

I’m not sure how I managed to miss this story, but Obama has expanded visitation rights in hospitals that will primarily benefit gay couples.

The president directed the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation in a memo that was e-mailed to reporters Thursday night.

Administration officials and gay activists, who have been quietly working together on the issue, said the new rule, once in place, will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding, a move that covers the vast majority of the nation’s health care institutions.

While those who irrationally hate gays because they think homosexuality is all about sex (and that’s just icky!) are going to paint this as special rights for gays, it is an expansion of rights for all.

Obama’s memo to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius orders the development of new rules to ensure that hospitals “respect the rights of patients to designate visitors” and to choose the people who will make medical decisions on their behalf.

This is common sense. Even with legal documents in place, gays and some unmarried straight couples still face horrific discrimination in hospitals. Specifically, this recent memo is in response to the case of Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn.

Ms. Pond had filed a living will, a binding legal document, that appointed Ms. Langbehn to make medical decisions for her should she become too ill to speak for herself.

But even after copies of that document were faxed to the Florida hospital where Ms. Pond was dying, nurses refused to allow Ms. Langbehn and the couple’s three children into the room.

It is difficult to imagine that a heterosexual couple — even an unmarried heterosexual couple with a similarly long-standing relationship — would be treated the same way.

In another case (from the same link), a couple had designated each other as the person in charge of medical decisions should the other become ill.

Like Ms. Pond, Ms. Ritchie had a living will that designated her partner to make medical decisions for her. But hospital officials wouldn’t provide Ms. Reed with any information on her partner’s condition. Without that information, she couldn’t possibly make informed medical decisions, as Ms. Ritchie had intended.

Things like this are the successes of bigoted voters who go to the ballot box thinking they’re protecting some institution. This isn’t about abstract social constructs. It is about human beings. This goes beyond the petty narrow-mindedness that pervades so many; the happiness of others is what matters. Equal rights for all will increase happiness while not affecting the currently privileged one bit.

What is so damned hard about this? Institutions matter only insofar as they protect people.

Making the pleas

I’ve been pleading with people who I suspect or know will vote “Yes” on 1, the Maine ballot measure that would codify one group’s idea of morality over another, thus damaging the very concept of rights (and, incidentally, keeping it illegal for same-sex partners to marry). Here is one message I made specifically for someone, but it can apply to anyone leading toward oppression.

Even though I’m unlikely to change your mind if you’ve already decided, I still want you to know that no one should impose their morality upon another. That is what “Yes on 1” means. It doesn’t simply mean you are against homosexual sex or relationships. It means you believe it is your place to tell people how they should behave. Look deep within yourself and ask if your rights are being infringed by same-sex marriage. Ask yourself if you will hurt financially or physically. Ask yourself if your religious beliefs can no longer be practiced. Ask yourself if this harms your liberty or life. Does it prevent your personal pursuit of happiness?

As November nears I find myself getting more and more passionate and more and more focused on this issue. I give almost no thought any more to whether or not love matters. I care little about whether or not homosexual sex is moral or immoral (or amoral). What concerns me – and far more deeply than anyone knows – is that this is fundamentally about rights. Infringe upon the rights of one group and you no longer have those rights for any groups; they become privileges. They place one group above another based upon majority rule, not based upon equality and fairness. Rights must be rights for all.