Prop 8 overturned

I was going to do up a big post about Prop 8 in California getting overturned, but it is up in the air whether this goes to the Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit seems to have limited the ruling to California, so the Supreme Court may not deem it worthy of their review. On the other hand, if they do review it, they may limit their ruling to California and any state which has the same history of its supreme court ruling gays have rights and then having voters take that right away at the ballot box.

There is still a long way to go until gays are treated equally in America.

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Anti-gay bigots misstep

Anti-gay bigots are making a stink about the judge who struck down Prop 8 in California. They’re arguing that he should have recused himself or at least disclosed that he is in a long-term relationship with another man:

“Only if Chief Judge Walker had unequivocally disavowed any interest in marrying his partner could the parties and the public be confident that he did not have a direct personal interest in the outcome of the case,” attorneys for the coalition of religious and conservative groups that put Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot wrote.

Saying Walker’s sexual orientation is cause for vacating his ruling would be like saying a black judge who rules in favor of other black people is acting improperly. I don’t think this argument will fly, especially since the ruling is being appealed anyway.

But that isn’t what’s really interesting about this. Look at the argument the bigots are trying to piece together. The only way the public could be confident of Walker’s impartiality is if “he did not have a direct personal interest in the outcome of the case”. And, of course, the reason they claim he has a direct personal interest is because he’s gay. So I presume a straight judge doesn’t have a direct personal interest in the matter? So if the only way a judge would have no personal interest in this case is if he was straight, then how is it that any straight people have any personal interest? It seems to me that the bigot organizations just argued that straight people have no legitimate personal interests to raise when dealing with gay marriage.

But then, I don’t really expect any coherent arguments from these sort of people.

2010: FTSOS in review, July to September

This is the third installment of the 2010 review of FTSOS. See the first two here and here.

July:
Some of the smaller posts I’ve made that I think deserve a little more attention are the ones where I emphasize that biology is all about shape. The article I wrote about the fight against HIV is one of those posts. Research earlier this year found at least one location on HIV molecules that remains a consistent shape between individual viruses. This is important because HIV’s ability to be differently shaped in different parts of a single body makes it difficult to combat.

I also wrote about the difference between atheists, new atheists, and anti-theists. One of the public relation problems for atheism is that it is viewed as a dirty word. People assume it means absolute certainty, and that is seen as arrogant. It’s ironic because belief in God usually comes with certainty and that isn’t seen as being so arrogant, but I digress. Atheism is not certainty. Furthermore, where it is involved in new atheism and anti-theism, atheism acts as a descriptive base; new atheism and anti-theism are normative positions.

One of my all-time favorite posts is the one about photolyase and cancer. Photolyase is a protein that captures light and uses two of its constituents (a single proton and single electron) to force contorted nucleotides back into place. It is not present in humans, but is common in plants and other animals, helping to keep their genes functioning properly. This may be one reason we’re more susceptible to cancer than many of our fellow organisms.

August:
This was a skimpy month for FTSOS. I was away on a couple vacations for the bulk of the month, so the majority of the posts were either from my “Thought of the day” series or they were pictures/YouTube videos. But for what was there, I couldn’t resist pointing out and expanding on a fantastic quote from the judge who said Prop 8 in California is unconstitutional. In his quote he said a ban on gays getting married fails to advance any rational cause. I compared that sentiment to the idea that the majority cannot be allowed to discriminate simply because it is the majority.

I also made a post about a website devoted to philosophical thought experiments. The thought experiment I chose to highlight was Judith Jarvis Thompson’s Trolley Problem. My big motivator was a recent discussion with another blogger who laughably claimed that the trolley experiment was merely a logistical exercise, not an exercise about morality. To date he is still the only person in the world to believe that.

I also went through a few theistic arguments that are obviously failures. The most notable in my mind is the argument that says everything has a cause, therefore the Universe had a cause. There are two major problems with this. First, then why not just say a sort of ‘exo-nature’ caused the Universe? There is no need for consciousness – in fact, that only makes the theistic argument less probable. Second, the whole basis for this argument rests in the idea that forces result in reactions. For instance, if I push a chair, that chair moves; I applied a force. This is basic physics. But the whole shebang of forces and equal and opposite reactions? We’re talking about the science of what we know that happens within the Universe. And all we know necessarily breaks down prior to the Big Bang. The First Cause argument cannot be used because it rests about an unwarranted extension of science. Religion abusing science? Crazy, I know.

September:
The beginning of September was just as skimpy as the end of August because I was still on vacation. But while I never gave a huge post on the subject, the defining moment of the month (and year and decade and…) for me was my hike of Kilimanjaro. I have started writing about it at this point – just not for FTSOS. But in lieu of that you can read the account of the journey from my fellow group member and current Facebook buddy Jim Hodgson.

I also gave a very lengthy post on why prostitution ought to be legal. No one seemed to care, but I put a lot of effort into, so I thought I would mention it here. Basically, we make the practice illegal because of our own discomfort with sex as a society. We also draw false correlations between it and other illegal activities: of course one illegal thing will bring with it other illegal things if it’s something people want. Finally, for the safety and health of all involved, it would be better to legalize and regulate prostitution than keep the old system we have now.

One of the most popular posts on FTSOS that people found via search engines was the one where I lamented low science and math scores in the United States. A lack of funding relative to other areas, hostility towards science, and a general anti-intellectual trend in the U.S. all contribute to the decline of America on the world stage in education.

Another lament was my post about the anti-vax crowd causing deaths. The fact is, people who advocate against vaccines or for made-up alternatives to vaccines are making the world a more dangerous place, making people sick and even causing deaths. Get vaccinated – and, if you have them, especially get your children vaccinated.

Once again I really want to highlight a fourth post here. In this case, it is the one I made about the Problem of Evil. This has forever been an issue that no Christian (or other relevant believer) has been able to resolve. If God is good and evil exists, then we need to answer why. Appealing to free will fails because while God is necessarily good, free will does not need to necessarily exist. In other words, God is required to be good; he is not required to create free will.

Expect October to December tomorrow.

The best quote from Judge Walker

Judge Vaughn Walker has made the decision today that California’s Prop 8 is unconstitutional. He lists a number of reasons it is an illegal amendment, but I think the best quote of his so far is this one:

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” Walker wrote. “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

Targeted persecution isn’t exactly allowed under the U.S. Constitution.

There’s going to be plenty said about this, especially when it gets to the Supreme Court, but I think the biggest complaint from bigots is going to be that this undermines the will of the people. That’s an intellectually dishonest, political, rhetorical, empty, lie of an argument. Rights aren’t dependent upon the say of the majority. As James Madison once said,

There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.

Or Ayn Rand,

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

Or Thomas Jefferson,

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

And when the 65+ crowd starts to fade away, support for equal rights for gays will become the will of the majority. It’s just sad that, like in the greatest days of the civil rights movement, it takes a court to protect the obvious rights of a group. This does, however, shine some light on the current day bigots’ support for the past court decisions that brought some degree of equality to racial minorities – despite what the majority thought. Depending on one’s source, roughly 2/3 of Americans were against interracial marriage a full year after the Supreme Court knocked down the laws against it. If the current day bigots were honest – and they aren’t – they would be howling that past Supreme Court decisions were wrong because they were counter to the beliefs of the majority.

California marriage ban struck down by judge

I have limited time at the moment, but this is too important to not report upon immediately.

Proposition 8, California’s controversial voter-approved gay marriage ban, was struck down by a federal judge on Wednesday in a ruling that deemed the ban unconstitutional.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s 136-page decision ruled that the same-sex marriage ban violates equal protection and due process rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

….

“Today, the sun shines a little brighter on the Golden State. A federal judge has affirmed what a majority of Californians know to be true: that love does not discriminate and that marriage is a civil right, not a privilege reserved for a select class of citizens. The decision handed down today in Perry v. Schwarzenegger reaffirms the notion that separate is never equal,” Villaraigosa said in the statement.

“Although this is a landmark case and one of tremendous importance, we all know that this will not be the final word on marriage equality. We will continue to fight as tirelessly as ever before to ensure members of the LGBT community and all Californians are afforded the same rights and privileges under the laws of our nation,” he continued.

Ashley F. Miller on Salon

Ashley F. Miller has an OpenSalon post up on Salon about Prop 8. I enjoyed it.

Give it a read.

Pay your damn taxes

As the upstanding citizen I am, I just finished getting through all my taxes. As it happens, I am getting money back, but I would have certainly paid up if that’s how the math worked out. Maybe I wouldn’t be doing that in January, but I would do it by April 15th. Paying taxes as they are due is just such a basic concept that one must be ignorant, stupid, or a crook to do otherwise. It turns out the Mormon Church is run by crooks.

The Mormon church worked to hide its involvement in the 2008 effort to ban gay marriage in California, telling the Proposition 8 campaign that it wanted “plausible deniability” in its connections with the movement, documents revealed in a California courtroom Wednesday show.

In the seventh day of testimony in the landmark gay-marriage trial in San Francisco, lawyers for the gay-rights side presented emails showing “close links between the Proposition 8 campaign and leaders of the Catholic and Mormon churches,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Any reasonable person would have to conclude that this sort of political involvement demands the Mormon Church pay its taxes. Maine had this same problem with the Catholic Church recently. In both cases, no taxes will be rendered. It doesn’t make any sense. Ignoring for a moment that religious institutions generally should not be tax-exempt (except as they function as charities), if government is going to grant certain groups privileges, those groups should have to abide by the rules. They constantly and consistently do not do this. No one is saying “No! You can’t support cause X!”. Go ahead, support your bigotry or yearning for a theocracy. Just pay your damn taxes when you do it.