The real price of discrimination

The Thinker by Rodin

Today’s Martin Luther King holiday actually has me reflecting on Martin Luther King. That’s in part due to the annual news stories about the holiday and snippets of his most famous speeches that always show up on social media on the holiday. Most churches reinforce his legacy, as mine did yesterday. The bloody march he led to Montgomery, Alabama, which began at a bridge in Selma, Alabama (it happened fifty years ago this March) killed some and injured many more innocent people who were simply demanding that blacks be treated equally.

One of those killed was a Unitarian Universalist minister, and that’s important to me because I am a UU. The Reverend Jim Reeb was one of many UU ministers who hustled down to Selma to join the march to Montgomery. White men with clubs attacked him and others on the march. He likely died because he could not get to a hospital in time, as he could only be transported in a black ambulance (which also got a flat tire en route), even though he was white. Also among the UU ministers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma was the UU minister Reverend John Wells, then of the Mount Vernon, Virginia UU church. He married my wife and I thirty years ago. He spoke proudly of his participation in the march when we met with him for some pre-nuptial planning.

2014 sobered many of us up who were beginning to believe we lived in a post racial society. After all we had elected a black president not once, but twice. Things are certainly better racially than they were fifty years ago in Selma. Yet if we have come a long way to end racism, it’s now undeniable that we still have a long way yet to go. Quite obviously though it’s not just racism that divides us. Martin Luther King spent most of his ministry trying to bring about racial justice, but he was certainly aware that injustice had many aspects. Racial injustice was easy to see and impossible to ignore. Dr. King also helped open the door to expose other forms of discrimination. While I feel aghast at how much work remains to create a racially just society, I can also feel satisfaction in how far we’ve come in other areas. Later this year it is likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will make same sex marriage a right. Fifty years ago homosexuals were barely acknowledged. This is tremendous progress.

There may be a reason that homophobia receded so quickly. Whereas skin color is impossible to ignore, someone’s sexual preference is impossible to know unless it is disclosed. It might be inferred but it’s hard to say with certainty. Whereas many whites may know few blacks intimately, most of us have a gay sibling, cousin, aunt or uncle in the family (and maybe several). This has the effect of forcing us to confront our prejudices. It is easier for us to identify with others when they are close to us. I think this principally explains the stunning advancement of marriage and parental rights for gays and lesbians. As gays and lesbians gain rights and broad acceptance in society, it is becoming easier for other queers to gain acceptance too. The brave new oppressed social group these days seems to be the transgender community. It’s not hard to predict that this community, which already has rights in some localities, will gain full equality relatively quickly as well as specific legal protections. Many of us have now encountered an openly transgender person in the workplace and they no longer seem scary. I have known three.

We don’t think of whites looking down on fellow whites, but in truth whites do this all the time. The whites that populate most of Appalachia, particularly the lower class whites, are targets of discrimination and ridicule too. Terms like “white trash” should be just as offensive as “nigger”. This is an area I need to work on, as I have lampooned Walmart shoppers in a few posts, although it’s not just whites that shop at Walmart. Sites like peopleofwalmart.com and whitetrashrepairs.com cater to those who like to look down at what we perceive as the faults or eccentricities of lower class whites, but really just those with lower incomes in general or that strike us as intensely peculiar.

The unspoken animus is that while we can afford our lifestyle, they cannot and therefore there must be something wrong with them. In truth, what is “wrong” with them is mostly our refusal to help them raise their economic status. These people are actually much stronger and resilient than those of us further up the economic ladder, they just don’t have the resources to ascend the ladder. If the rest of us were forced to live on a quarter of our income, we would not fare nearly as well, although we like to think we could. More about this is a subsequent post, perhaps.

There are many other ways we overtly or covertly discriminate, but they generally have “ism” in common. Most upper class whites are fine having blacks as neighbors providing they adopt our values, maintain their houses real well and don’t raise any problem children. Racism and ethnic discrimination usually amounts to classism. We gain perceived social status roughly based on our income, which we then parade in the quality of our neighborhoods, the skinniness of our trophy wives and the costs and brands of our cars.

The Irish are as white as any group of Caucasians from Europe, but they were ruthlessly discriminated and ghetto-ized when they came to America, as were many other white ethnic groups. They were not so much melted down as grudgingly accepted into the culture if they could find a golden ticket to the middle class. After a while someone’s ethnicity did not matter, but class still did. Sexism is going through something similar. One of our most glaring “isms” doesn’t quite have a word yet. I call it attractiveness discrimination. There is no question that attractive people in general have privileges and opportunities disproportionate to those perceived to be less attractive. Those judged to be plain or ugly are frequently victims of discrimination: in employment, in insurability, in wages and in many other ways. We project onto attractive people qualities they may or may not have, and sometimes discriminate against attractive people as well by assuming they can do things they cannot simply because they are attractive.

I don’t know how we fully rid ourselves of these biases and discriminatory tendencies. It is an ugly side to our species. Dogs to not appear to be classists by nature, so in that sense they are superior to us. What matters is only how they are treated, and sometimes not even that. What is hard to measure is the true cost of all this multilevel, multi-variable discrimination. Whatever the true cost is, it must be catastrophically high. When I read stories like Republicans in Congress trying to cut food stamp benefits or trying to take Medicaid away from the working poor, at best I wince and at worst I cry. To make people whose lives are already so miserable even more miserable seems like a crime worthy of being sent to hell’s lowest level. Our world is so miserable and the misery seems likely to only increase. Yet the classism within us makes the situation exponentially worse. It denies so many of us the ability to achieve their potential. Imagine what our country could be if everyone could live up to their potential. Imagine how enriched society would be.

This is the true cost of discrimination. Those of us who discriminate may do so overtly or covertly, but when we do it we stick the dagger not only into those we discriminate against, but also into ourselves. We empty ourselves of the values we need to have a loving and caring community.

On this Martin Luther King holiday, this is part of his message that so often overlooked that I am pondering. It leaves me feeling melancholy and fighting despair.

Craigslist casual encounters weirdness: August 2013 Edition

The Thinker by Rodin

(Warning: this blog post is rated R.)

I’ve written eloquently recently about the beautiful northeastern United States. I have tried your patience with my opinions on various cities therein as retirement locations and generally wrote a lot of flowery G-rated stuff. Now that I am back home in Northern Virginia, it’s time to take out the trash, both literally and figurative. Figuratively, this means my second monthly attempt to surf the local Craigslist Casual Encounters section in hopes it will generate more hits on my blog. Let’s see what especially pungent morsels of trash are out there tonight.

As usual, Craigslist does not disappoint. We humans may aspire to greatness, but mostly we are hormone-crazy, sex-obsessed, value-impaired perverts. At least that’s the impression looking at this section of Craigslist. So put a clothespin on your nose and dive in with me.

I am too embarrassed to even quote key passages from this one, but this guy gives gay men everywhere a bad reputation. There are people out there who get off pleasing their gender with their mouth while their partner does a #2. “Be decent looking and ready to do this now!! No endless emails or other bs”, says this allegedly 29-year-old male. I simply cannot fathom how anyone could possibly find this sexually stimulating.

Another thing I don’t understand is why gay guys want to give oral sex to straight dudes. By definition, if you are straight you’re not interested in having sex with guys. “Straight guys go to the front of the line.” Umm, I think you mean maybe bi guys, or more likely gay guys who pretend to like women because they are Mormons. Yikes! And this guy lives in Herndon, just next door.

You know you have had too many partners when you no longer find anyone of your own ethnicity sexy. Typical is this white lady looking for sex, but only if from a tall black guy. “If you’re none of those things, you won’t get a response,” she warns. Well, it goes both ways, lady, sort of. There are also men into Asian women, like this 25-year-old Latino from Dale City. Based on his ability to spell if I were an Asian woman I would definitely look elsewhere. “I would like to fine (sic) a (sic) Asian woman who love (sic) to ****, age and size is not a problem.” It’s nice though that if none are available, he is flexible: “but I’m open to other races so let me know if there is real woman in here who are (sic) horny and want to get ****.” Umm, everyone is going to give you a pass, dude.

Homeless women of the metro area: good news. There’s a 23-year-old guy flying into Reagan National who wants to wine and dine you, and please bring that other unwashed stringy-haired homeless lady on the concrete next to you: “looking for some white females to chill or might be drunk and need a place or someone to chill with or buy them food lol.” You get a comfy bed for the night, a hot meal and sex! It sounds ideal!

Last month I found a “girl” who wanted a “daddy”. Horny older guys must have noticed because now “daddy” wants to find his “girl” (warning: explicit picture). Don’t worry that he’s weird or something just because he is into incest fantasy. “Very sane, very grounded, and not some creepy old man.” I am sure local women are relieved. In any event, he’s probably much more into younger, firmer, tighter women than he is into incest. This fishhook doubtlessly landed in the kiddy pool.

Now this is different, even for Craigslist. Some horny and desperate guys will volunteer to be a sperm donor, as long as they can do it “live”. Some will even let the husband watch while they make their donation. Respectable sperm donors of course make donations at a sperm bank, and often earn a little cash for having DNA with desirable characteristics. This dude though is happy to make his deposit into a cup while you and hubby watch. He will also do it for you and your lesbian partner, or for just you (a woman). Presumably he leaves and you get to keep his deposit.

Some horny men have figured it out: team playing (warning: explicit picture) increases their chances of getting laid because some women want to have more than one man at the same time. So they work together instead of separately. Sounds pretty icky to me but I am sure there are some women into this, but they probably aren’t reading Craigslist. Good luck to them, I guess, but I do hope they use plenty of protection. More than likely their team playing will come to naught. “We are both Caucasian and completely straight. If we meet, it will all be about you and we will do our best to spoil you with pleasure.”

Into grandmothers? I might be at a certain age, most likely because it will be my only option. If there are any grandmothers into sexy, tall black men, it’s your lucky day, however he is not 25, he is 54. Click here, granny.

Are you a wimp? Then you need someone else to take charge and punish you. “I would take it as a great honor if you would discipline me, punish me, make me do things I may not want to do, and to use me for your pleasure.” Dude, your real punishment is going to be that no woman is going to even notice your ad. Consider yourself thoroughly abused.

These were found in just the first page of listings. It’s a safe bet that no more than one out of 100 of these will lead to an actual encounter, and only 1 of 100 of those will lead to something resembling what the writer is hoping to get. The Rolling Stones got it right fifty years ago: you can’t always get what you want. But you may get what you need. For most of these people, I’m hoping it’s a good psychotherapist.

Being gay is no longer news

The Thinker by Rodin

Washington Wizards center Jason Collins came out today. It was a top story on Yahoo News and on many other news sites. The reason why Jason’s proclamation was news was because he is the first major athlete of a U.S. team to do so. Apparently our professional sports teams are assumed to be full of homophobes because Jason was somehow the first to do so. Most likely this “news” will soon become as newsworthy as the fact that there are gays in the military. I know I read the headline and simply shrugged and moved onto the next article.

Gays are all around us. They always have been around us. Most of us heterosexuals just preferred to ignore or discount the evidence. The difference between 2013 and, say, 1963 is in 1963 this was not obvious to us. Few even knew that homosexuals existed, but assumed that if they existed, they were some tiny fraction of the population, like twins conjoined at birth. Now even in deeply red states people know that gays are out there by the tens of millions. While there are still some prejudiced anti-gay bigots, if anything, they constitute a smaller percent of the population than gays and lesbians do. Some of us may still have some moral qualms about gays marrying or think that gay sex is disgusting. But all but a handful of us now understand that there is nothing we can really do about it. If there is anything newsworthy about Jason Collins’s admission, it should be why it took so long.

I really doubt there is anyone on the Washington Wizards or anyone in playing in the NBA who really gives a crap about Collins’s sexual orientation. I doubt any of the fans care either, although they will care if his performance starts to suffer. Ten years ago maybe a player or two might have felt awkward being in the shower with someone openly gay and their sex. Maybe they wondered if they would be sexually assaulted if they reached over to pick up that bar of soap they dropped. Or that they might be secretly gay, as evidenced by the boner they might get when in the shower with the gay guy. Maybe. Not anymore. I certainly never give these things a thought when I am in a public shower. Heck, I doubt I would even register shock if a team of women basketball players joined us in the shower. Unless you are sexually inexperienced or never saw any porn, it’s not like the human body is a mystery. If anything, seeing people naked makes us appreciate that all but about five percent of us look better with clothes on than without them.

Being homophobic is not a natural state of affairs; it is a learned behavior. I grew up in a lily-white community. I don’t recall even seeing a black or oriental person until I was more than ten years old. It sure was strange and uncomfortable for me when we moved south and suddenly I was surrounded by all sorts of blacks. But I got over it. It became normal. After a while I simply gave it no thought. In fact, now I find I like living in multiethnic communities. It’s like moving from a black and white world into a Technicolor world. A multiethnic, multiracial community is far more interesting a place to live in. If nothing else, the choice of dining tends to improve greatly. It would be a real challenge to go back to living in one of these virtually all white communities. It would seem so unnatural now; I’d feel like I had hives.

Sexual orientation is not obvious. Of course some gays choose to flaunt their sexual orientation, but even among gays there is incredible diversity on how they choose to express their sexuality. But that’s true of all of us. We all have our kinks and peculiarities. Most transvestites are happily heterosexual men. The sorts of weird behavior that make me queasy are those that I would never do. Sadomasochism is something I would never do, but some people are into it. As long as it is consensual and I am not participating, it’s perfectly fine by me. I am old fashioned enough to request some civility. I ask that it please be done indoors, preferably with the curtains drawn and not with kids in the house. I cannot be offended by something I cannot see.

You certainly cannot see someone’s sexual orientation. Try as you might you will never see it. You might see behavior that is often associated with gays or lesbians, but I’ve been proven wrong leaping to these assumptions. The only way someone’s sexual orientation matters to me is that it takes her out of my potential dating pool, and since I am married that’s not something to worry about.

I’m sorry that Jason Collins felt the need to come out at all. Granted, it is tougher to be gay and black than gay and white, so perhaps there is some bravery coming out while being both of these. Sexual orientation simply does not matter anymore than it matters whether someone has blue eyes or brown, is short rather than tall, or has size 14 feet instead of size 4. The qualities about someone that truly matter are intangibles like their character. All the rest, including sexual orientations, are simply tests on our character.

I’d like to find out some of that character stuff about Jason. That might be newsworthy.

The Antichrists have arrived and they are called Christians

The Thinker by Rodin

Sorry, Jesus. But it appears that most of the people who claim to follow you are more in line with Satan than with God. At least that’s the way it seems lately. Yes, I know my observations are judgmental and you warned us not to judge others. So I’m judging. So are, best as I can tell, most of the so-called “Christians” out there.

The most recent and egregious example is “Pastor” Charles Worley of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina. He wants to exterminate all gays and lesbians, not just shooting them outright but through starvation. He’s got a plan: build two big pens and make each, say, a hundred or 150 miles long. Put all those homos and lezzies inside, one camp for each. Don’t call it a concentration camp. That might be too good for them because at least the Jews in concentration camps got fed, at least some of them, before eventually going to the gas chambers. No, put all our gays and lesbians in big pens and don’t feed them anything. They eventually die. Thus endeth our problem with those sinful gays and lesbians. And his congregation cheers “Alleluia!”

Gah! As if killing gays and lesbians will mean there will never be another gay or lesbian again? Where does he think they come from? In vitro fertilization? Maybe in a handful of cases, but clearly at least 99% of gays and lesbians come from heterosexual parents. Oh but that’s right, he also believes that your sexual orientation is a choice. Like you can turn heterosexual with the right prayer or something. Clearly, science doesn’t matter much to him, but he also probably believes the world was created six thousand years ago as well.

It seems that most Christians here in America are doing the complete opposite of what Jesus preached. If there is one word that defined Jesus it is simply this: love. More specifically, love broadly and universally. How on earth can someone like Charles Worley become a pastor and not get that? Love, love, love! Love people! Love everyone. Jesus was very clear about this. He made this clear in numerous parables, but particularly in the parable of the Good Samaritan. At the time most Jews in Judea scorned Samaritans. They thought of them as apostates. Jesus went out of his way to make sure his followers understood that they were brothers too. You had to love those who are very different from you, and everyone has the same capacity to love.

Jesus was not about exclusion; Jesus was about inclusion. He hung out with the dregs of Judea: the lepers, the thieves and the prostitutes. About the only thing he hated were the moneychangers at the temple. Jesus was not about hate; Jesus was about toleration. Jesus was not about getting rich, he was only concerned about spiritual riches. In fact, he told us it was hard for a rich person to get into heaven, perhaps because their priorities were misplaced. The currency that really matters, he told us, was your ability to live a compassionate life and thus model what God believes.

How on earth could such an overwhelming message get totally missed? “You will know we are Christians by our love,” we used to sing as a youth when I was a Catholic. Now the Catholic Church is sending goon squads to make sure its sisters spend their time keeping women from getting health care.

This is all so terribly wrong, so antithetical to everything Jesus preached. You can argue about whether Jesus thought homosexuality was a sin or not, but his approach would not be to cast judgment (he specifically said do not do that) but to love them unconditionally instead.

I think it might help if Christians threw away the Old Testament. Trying to resolve the dichotomy between the Old and New Testaments seems to be driving “Christians” crazy, and the Old Testament seems to be winning. “Christians” seem crazily focused on select passages from the Old Testament, like killing homosexuals and adulterers, while selectively ignoring the ones that should bother them, like their self imposed views against polygamy. (Look up how many wives David and Abraham had, just for starters.) There is plenty in the New Testament to throw away too. Paul said we should be kind to our slaves. Doesn’t that imply it’s okay to own slaves? Paul said it was better to marry than to burn. Doesn’t that imply we should avoid marriage to prove we are sufficiently spiritual? Or that marriage, rather than being sacramental, is kind of a moral failing?

I am not a Christian. I am not a Christian in part because I don’t believe Jesus was divine, just very wise. But also I don’t want to be associated with most Christians because like Charles Worley they march off in a completely different direction than the one Jesus tried to lead people toward. However, if I did believe in Jesus’s divinity, I would be a member of the United Church of Christ. It’s one of the few denominations out there that seem to get real Christianity.

Christianity as Jesus preached it is about loving universally, sharing communally, being tolerant, open and accepting and giving your whole heart and soul to all people. You do this so they can be free of misery, to help them find God and to understand Jesus’s true message. Real Christianity is about a welcome table.

So yes, I, a judgmental non-Christian (but in some ways a follower of Jesus) must say simply that most of you Christians are not the least bit Christ-like, but are modeling the Antichrist. You have a twisted and frequently sick theology based on exclusion, hate and misery, rather than universal love and brotherhood. If you want to experience real Christianity, the closest you are going to get to it will be at a United Church of Christ congregation near you. So why not attend a service and get the real Jesus?

Homophobia is receding faster than anticipated

The Thinker by Rodin

New York State recently became the latest state to permit gays and lesbians to wed. That leaves six states, the District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe that have achieved enlightenment. New York’s approval of gay marriage was especially important because of the size of its population. With its passage, the number of citizens who can marry regardless of their sexual orientation effectively doubled. In addition, six other states allow civil unions but do not allow gay marriage, including the populous state of California.

Even here in Virginia the homophobes are receding. In 2006, Virginia passed a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage in the state (already illegal by law) that also explicitly ruled out civil unions as well. Now just five years later, according to a surprising Washington Post poll, a majority of Virginians now approve of gay marriage. I don’t expect Virginia will approve gay marriage anytime soon, but I now think it is likely that I will live to see gay marriage in Virginia. Back in 2006, I believed it would take at least fifty years. Now I am betting it will take fifteen years.

Even weirder, at least one organization staunchly opposed to gay marriage has given up. Jim Daly, head of Focus on the Family says his organization will no longer try to stop gay marriage legislation. They think it’s a lost cause, in part because they can interpret demographic trends. The younger generation is fine with gay marriage; it’s only those sixty plus who still have heartburn over it.

Overall, homophobia seems to be receding. Even Republicans are caring less. The social conservatives are still against it, but there is a significant libertarian wing of the Republican Party that sees gay marriage as a civil right. More and more Republicans are realizing their inconsistency of promoting a “pro-freedom” agenda while restricting civil liberties for others. Fundamentalists remain largely aghast, but even in conservative communities it’s not unusual for people to know someone who is gay. That’s the problem with homophobia. Once you know someone who is gay, and particularly if you get to know them in any depth, you feel sorry if they do not have the same right to marry as you do. If you have any compassion in your heart, it is hard not to just say yes.

The few opposed to gay marriage who are evidenced-based can look to states like Massachusetts, which instituted gay marriage in 2004, and realize that it has not become a Gomorrah, at least no more than it was before the law took effect. A few years ago I spent a week touring New England, where it’s hard to find a state without gay marriage or civil unions. It felt more like Norman Rockwell territory than many deeply red states I also visited, like Arizona and South Dakota. In New England, there are lots of tidy towns with white picket fences, and more churches per square mile than in the South (perhaps because the population density is higher). For the most part, gay couples are no longer the least bit remarkable in New England. You don’t feel the need to discuss it with your neighbor because you have grown inured to the whole phenomenon. To the extent you think about it, it is to wonder why people in other states are still states up in arms about the whole idea. Where’s the harm? Where’s the implosion of society?

As time passes, the arguments of those opposed to gay marriage only become weaker tea. As I outlined some time ago, marriage between one man and one woman was hardly the historical norm, and in many parts of the world (particularly in Islamic countries) polygamy is as common as monogamy. At least one study suggests that same sex lesbian couples are proving to be better parents than heterosexual parents. In Canada, a study suggests that same sex couples are at least as good as heterosexual parents.

Other studies suggest just how weak other arguments are. Gay-friendly Massachusetts also has the nation’s lowest divorce rate. Divorce rates have not budged since gay marriage became law, as Charles Colson asserted they would in 2004. In fact, being evangelical is apparently more dangerous to your marriage than marrying a same sex partner. Divorce.com notes a study that evangelicals have a 43% divorce rate, which is greater than the national average.

President Obama says his views on gay marriage are “evolving”, but at a news conference yesterday he still could not come out and say he was in favor of gay marriage. He is in favor of equal rights for gays, including civil unions as long as “marriage” is reserved for heterosexual couples. One strongly gets the feeling that Obama is all for gay marriage, but he just does not have the courage to “come out of the closet” on the issue. I expect it will happen after elections next year, whether or not he wins.

It is easiest to manipulate people when you give them something to fear, but it’s clear that the more Americans encounter gays the less they are bothered by them and the more they are in favor of their equal rights, including the right to marry. Saying gay marriage should be illegal because it is immoral is not working too well either, as plenty of activities are immoral, but are not necessarily criminal (adultery and drunkenness comes to mind). Gay marriage seems to have no effect on society whatsoever, either for good or bad. The only thing that is clear is that more people who were denied certain freedoms based purely on their sexual orientation no longer have legalized discrimination working against them. They are freer to enjoy the blessings of liberty.

As a man married to the same woman for a quarter century, I want to give gays and lesbians the same chance at an enduring relationship that I have. Gay marriage clearly says that society wants to encourage serial monogamy between same sex couples, which seems moral to most people as well as inhibits the spread of social diseases. I suspect gay spouses will soon realize that a marriage is no panacea; it is not for us heterosexuals either. Any intimate relationship comes full of landmines as well as benefits.

Wise conservatives are realizing there is little traction on the issue anymore, so they best move on and find new bogeymen instead. Eventually all states will allow gay marriage, not because they necessarily agree it is moral, but because the costs of discriminating against gays will become too high. Over time, gays and lesbians will find incentives to move to gay-friendly states, and they will take their talents (and income) with them. In fact, it is easy to predict that states and cities will highlight their gay-friendliness as a marketing tool. In the end, it will be good old capitalism, not liberal values that are likely to give gays the right to marriage from sea to shining sea. When it happens, it is unlikely to be a moment for celebration. We will simply shrug our shoulders.

New Hampshire’s civil unions decision is good for business

The Thinker by Rodin

New Hampshire’s decision yesterday to allow its gay and lesbian residents to have legal rights equivalent to marriage is not only a just and equitable thing to do. It is also a smart way for the state to keep its economic edge.

Mind you, I think it is terrific that New Hampshire is giving equal rights and privileges to gays and lesbians through progressive acts like legally recognizing civil unions. The religious community will doubtless argue to death the morality of the issue, but it is not arguable from the standpoint of American values. While it took the United States a while to extend equal rights to women and minorities, we eventually did the right thing. It was hard to get past our own Declaration of Independence that declared all people equal in the eyes of the law. Those who dismiss the declaration as a historical but not a legal document need only look at the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the federal government or any state from giving preference to one individual or group over another. Slowly states and courts are wakening up to the fact that it may be unconstitutional if gays and lesbians are not given equivalent rights of heterosexuals, because otherwise they do not really have equal protection under the law.

It can be taken for granted that New Hampshire’s decision is going to ruffle feathers. It takes a generation or two for both minds and hearts to change. Yet change they will. Much of our latest generation is growing up in a multicultural America. In my generation (the Baby Boomers), homosexuality was rarely acknowledged openly. In fact, I was a teen before I had much of an inkling of just how prevalent homosexuality actually was. Certainly, no one I knew admitted to being gay.

While unfortunately many Americans still treat homosexual behavior as immoral, even the most homophobic of us realize that homosexuals are still human beings. Being homosexual has no bearing on intelligence or your capability to perform any kind of work, except possibly in the narrow career of heterosexual sex surrogate. The homosexuals that I know are among the most gifted and creative members of society. If I ran a business, I would not want to limit my talent pool. States that discriminate against homosexuals are essentially giving homosexuals a reason to move to more gay friendly states. If I were a gay person, I would seek to live in states where the laws respected my human dignity. I would avoid states like Virginia, where I live. In Virginia, homosexuals can be legally discriminated against in employment and can be kept away from their spouses at hospitals. Unfortunately, these are not the only Virginia state laws that discriminate against homosexuals.

When I moved to Virginia in 1984, I gave no thought to such laws. I was simply interested in living in Reston, a planned community that I fell in love with. I am settled here and gainfully employed in a job that I will probably stay in until retirement. When my wife and I do retire though, we will feel freer to live anywhere we choose wish. Certainly how comfortable we feel in our community will have a bearing on our choice. Although we are years from retirement, we have already discussed states where we might retire. Off the list is Florida, not just because it is gay unfriendly, but because we hate its climate. However, since we are both tolerant people states like Oregon, which is becoming more and more progressive, is on our list, in spite of its rainy seasons.

The effect of New Hampshire’s decision is not only that gay people have incentive to move to the state. It also means that people like me who, if they have a choice of where to move to, can choose a state based on our values. Through its laws, Virginia is telling gays they do not want them as citizens. Yet even in Virginia, things are changing. Northern Virginia, perhaps because of its proximity to the nation’s capital, is trending toward being both more tolerant and Democratic. For example, in the 2004 elections the county where I live, Fairfax County, was one of a handful of counties whose presidential vote moved from the Republican to the Democratic Party.

Businesses everywhere are discovering that being gay friendly is good for their bottom line. Not only does it give them a richer talent pool to choose from, but catering to the needs of the gay community can be profitable too. You have to wonder, for example, what Walt Disney would think of its gay friendly policies. While he might be upset by the morality of Disney’s 1995 decision to allow health coverage for live in partners of gay and lesbian employees, the other part of him would be glad. The Disney management chain demonstrated that it was serious about ensuring that Disney was attracting the best talent. Disney has also figured out that making homosexuals feel included in the Disney experience was good for its profits too. While laws in Florida and California prohibit gay marriage, both theme parks allow gay couples to schedule commitment ceremonies at their parks. In addition, both parks schedule special days during the year for gays, their friends and their families. Doubtless Disney stockholders have benefited from their progressive approach.

What is true for Disney is doubtless true for most companies. Companies that have a choice of where they will relocate will give New Hampshire a special look. Not only is the state known for a business friendly attitude and low taxes, now it is also offering equal rights for gays and lesbians. Most companies already have gays or lesbians working for them. Having them live in a progressive state like New Hampshire will be seen as a bonus.

As for backwards states like Virginia, give it a decade or two. It may decide that to stay competitive it too needs to loosen its discriminatory laws against gays and lesbians. Otherwise, its economy may be left behind while gay friendly states like New Hampshire’s are likelier to soar.

Hypocrisy is, after all, only human

The Thinker by Rodin

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”

That is what the Rev. Ted Haggard would be saying in confession today, were he were a Catholic. Alas, he is not a Catholic, just a prominent evangelical minister. You might say that until yesterday he was the nation’s No. 3 evangelical preacher, right after Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Before yesterday, Haggard held the lofty title of the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Now, as you have likely read, Haggard appears to be the latest casualty among prominent Christian hypocrites. Specifically he is accused of buying methamphetamine and paying for sex once a month over a three years period with a gay Denver masseur. Both are vices far removed from those he has consistently preached.

It should be time for a full confession from Rev. Haggard. What we got today was a qualified confession: while sorely tempted, he never really succumbed. So what he did was okay, sort of, except for the hypocrisy thing and the small fact that buying methamphetamine, even if you never use it, is a serious crime. He is like Bill Clinton claiming that he never had sex with Monica Lewinski because intercourse never occurred.

Needless to say, I do not believe that Haggard passed on either the meth or the gay sex. Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. He too was tormented by the Devil. Reputedly, he succeeded in keeping Lucifer at arm’s length. Haggard may want to emulate his Lord but Jesus did have the tiny advantage of being God. Haggard, however, is not God. He is a human being like the rest of us. Therefore, his assertions are not plausible. They fail the Occam’s Razor test, to say the least.

I am sure the 14,000 members of his New Life Church are very loving and forgiving people. Yet somehow, I doubt many will accept his explanation. Evangelicals may be passionate in their faith, but they still inhabit the real world. Likely, many of them are struggling with their demons too. Their demons may not be gay sex nor getting high. Yet it is clear that they do not go to church because they are saints. They may want to become saints, but, like their minister, they remain fallible human beings. They are searching for a permanent way to act contrary to their innate and fallible humanity. Like their minister, they are likely searching for Godot.

Likely, the full scandalous details of his relationship and drug use will soon come out. Perhaps he can join former Florida congressional representative Mark Foley in rehab. The parishioners of the New Life Church will be left scratching their heads wondering why they had such faith in this charlatan. Maybe the devil led them astray.

Haggard preached against homosexuality, although curiously not as forcefully as other prominent evangelical ministers. It is unlikely he found the masseur Mike Jones by thumbing through the Yellow Pages. Moreover, I doubt he was complaining to his wife about lower back pains before making those many trips to Denver for “massages”. Finding vice is now very convenient. My bet is that he simply used his local web browser and searched through the Denver Craigslist erotic services for men looking for men. To find the meth, perhaps he browsed the Craiglist casual encounters page and looked for homosexual men who wanted to go “skiing”.

There is no question that I do not like hypocrisy. I have railed against it with politicians, and it would be inconsistent of me not to decry preachers who are also charlatans. While we should be used to it by now, we should not be surprised when it happens. For none of us are perfect: we are all human beings.

Yes, we are all sinners, and that includes prominent evangelicals. We are all driven by itches that we need to scratch, but we know we should not. Therefore, while I castigate Haggard for his predictable hypocrisy, I also feel a small sliver of compassion for the man. For I know, like everyone on this planet, I have a few demonic itches lurking inside of me too. While a prominent part of me does not like having these itches, in one sense they give me comfort. They tell me that, thank goodness, I am no saint. I am a human being. Moreover, as a human being, I have free will. I can choose to “sin” if I want to. Having these itches means that I am free. It tells me that I am alive. It tells me that at least someone else cannot control some part of me. Perhaps these sins are tickets to our own personal destruction. Nevertheless, these sins might also be something else: messages asserting that there is an authentic human being inside of us. It is not necessarily God-like, but it is genuine 100% authentic fallible humanity.

Since we are human beings, sinning is in our nature. We can no more purge sin from our lives as we can change our eye color. However, sinning is not the only thing in which we can excel. We can also excel in loving. And in taking pleasure in food. And in drink. And in enjoying a good joke. And in swearing. And in having good, dirty sex. And in the pleasure of hearing an opera. And in feeling some vicarious satisfaction when a hypocrite like Haggard gets his just deserts. By accepting my humanity, I even have the freedom to feel defiled and loathsome about myself if I want to. All this freedom may not bring me happiness, which by its nature is elusive, but it at least it demonstrates that I have free will, and that I am someone entirely unique. I am not just alive, it means I feel alive.

So welcome to the human gene pool, Reverend Haggard. I am sure you genetically were programmed to excel in informing the rest of us on how we are sinners and how we can move from sin toward holiness. Still, you remain a sinner just like me. I take both pleasure and comfort in this fact. I do not want you to be the upright and moral man that, until a few days ago, you appeared to be to your congregation. I want you to be a human being with failings just like me.

I am a human. You are a human. We are sinners. We are brothers too. Perhaps instead of drowning yourself in a predictable orgy of repentance and confession by parroting someone else’s words and ideals, you should say some things that perhaps are authentically you instead. My guess is they would go something like this:

“I am a human being. Like the rest of you, I make mistakes. While I try to learn from my mistakes and become a better person, some part of me will always be a sinner. I accept that this is part of the human experience. It is part of who I am and always will be. I will do my best to live my life by being faithful to the person I really am, rather than the one I want you to perceive. While I have hurt many people, including my family, and myself I have also learned some important things about myself. I have learned what it means to be a human being. In some mysterious way, perhaps God wants me to embrace both my good and my bad sides, and be humbled by the complex, fallible, mysterious but embracing mystery that makes me a human being.”

I wish he would say this. I would chime in “Amen, brother!” That is what I would like him to say. Somehow, I doubt this will be forthcoming.

Will the real Christians please stand up?

The Thinker by Rodin

I had a brief flirtation with the Methodist Church in the 1990s. We were shopping around for a Sunday school for our daughter, who needed some religious education. Terri had taught Sunday school for a Methodist Church in her single days and thought the religion was pretty benign. There was a church close by so off we went. It wasn’t a bad experience. This particular church had a female minister, which seemed cool to someone raised in the Catholic faith. The church was bright, the classrooms clean and well run and it had a very wholesome feel to it. Yet it was a bit too Christian for my tastes. That’s why my daughter eventually ended up at the religious education program at a Unitarian Universalist church.

I can’t claim to know much about their theology but I know enough now not to ever go back. Why? Because yesterday a Methodist Philadelphia minister was defrocked for violating a church law that requires ministers not be practicing homosexuals. The minister, Irene Elizabeth Stroud, was found guilty of being “a self avowed practicing homosexual.” Oh, the horror! Imagine what would happen if more Methodist ministers were homosexuals. Why, Methodists might get comfortable with the idea that homosexuality by itself has no more bearing on someone’s ability to minister than the color of their hair!

I have to wonder why is this an issue in the first place. Don’t Methodists read their Bibles? In the Bible that I read Jesus is a wholly nondiscriminatory human being. He hung out with prostitutes and lepers. In Jesus’ time the Jews treated Samaritans with contempt. Jews would even walk around areas of Palestine where they lived. Yet the clear message from the Parable of the Good Samaritan was that no one should be scorned simply for being different. We are all the same.

It is way past time to give homosexuals equal opportunities in all professions. But forces would much rather keep us stuck in the past. The major networks, for example, recently refused to air ads from the United Church of Christ. The ads emphasized that their denomination accepts gays and minorities while many other churches do not.

The ad features two bouncers standing outside a symbolic church selecting people to be permitted to pass the velvet rope to attend Sunday services. The bouncers reject two men and an African-American boy and girl, while letting a white heterosexual couple through.

What was the Church of Christ’s real sin here? It’s not that it welcomes homosexuals and minorities in its membership. The real sin was that it emphasized that other churches — lots of other churches — are quite comfortable with the practice. And it points out quite correctly that Jesus did not turn away people who came to listen to him. Not only do virtually all mainstream churches refuse to ordain homosexual ministers, but lots of mainstream churches also are openly hostile to gays in general. The Mormon Church’s wholly unenlightened interpretation and almost sneering attitude toward gays comes immediately to my mind. Want to see the Samaritans in contemporary Christendom? Talk to a Gay Mormon. They can tell you how the Samaritans felt.

No, we must not hear the truth about rampant, ignorant and prejudicial intolerance in mainstream Christian denominations. Instead we must project a false image of Jesus and real Christianity. We must ignore that much modern Christianity is about as Christ-like as Ghengis Khan. For example, is there any doubt what a 21st century Jesus would have said about the United States invading Iraq? Just in case you forgot, turn to Luke 6:29:

If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either.

But what are we getting from so called “mainstream” ministers about homosexuality? From Jerry Falwell we get vitriol like:

“These perverted homosexuals … absolutely hate everything that you and I and most decent, God-fearing citizens stand for. Make no mistake. These deviants seek no less than total control and influence in society, politics, our schools and in our exercise of free speech and religious freedom.”

From Pat Robertson:

What kind of craziness is it in our society which will put a cloak of secrecy around a group of people whose lifestyle is at best abominable. Homosexuality is an abomination. The practices of those people is appalling. It is a pathology. It is a sickness, and instead of thinking of giving these people a preferred status and privacy, we should treat AIDS exactly the same way as any other communicable disease.

Were I a Christian I would be seeking out churches that not only have read the words of Jesus but also actually try to live by them. So congratulations to the Church of Christ for getting the real message of Jesus. They must have read Matthew 7:

Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

Why current marriage laws are immoral

The Thinker by Rodin

The gods must be highly amused.

News items: At a press conference yesterday President Bush said in one breath “I am mindful that we’re all sinners, and I caution those who may try to take the speck out of the neighbor’s eye when they got a log in their own”. Then in the next breath he said, “I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that one way or the other.” He and his aides are working hard to figure out a way to figure out a way to make sure those pesky, immoral homosexuals stay deep in the closet by outlawing gay marriages permanently through a constitutional amendment.

Not to be outdone, the Catholic Church, an institution rife with homosexual priests, significant numbers of whom are apparently also pedophiles, and whose leadership has spent the last 2000 years detached from anything resembling reality, had the gall to state on the very same day: “Homosexual relationships are immoral and deviant, and only traditional marriages can fulfill God’s plan for the reproduction of the human race.” As if, of course, the point of marriage is to make babies only. If that were the case my wife and I, who are both sterilized, should now be divorced. Clearly our marriage is now a moot point in the eyes of the Catholic Church, not that we were married there. (God forbid!)

Metaphorically I’d like to do the Monty Python fish slapping dance on both the President and the Pope. What can I say? When it comes to government or religion, apparently you have to abandon all common sense or you can’t get in the game.

Let’s examine our constitution which promises equal rights and justice for all. Just in case we didn’t get it from first reading, we subsequently ratified the 14th amendment to the constitution in 1868 known as the “equal protection” amendment which states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In short the intent of our constitution is to treat all citizens equally. It obviously hasn’t always worked out that way, but that was the intent. Gradually though, as was clear from the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on state sodomy laws, states trying to discriminate against one class of people are finding they have no constitutional grounds to do so. And this just freaks our politicians out. That’s apparently their mission in life: to provide favors to one class of people at the expense of another class.

I’m trying real hard to understand what is so immoral about homosexuality. In particular I am trying to figure out why the government should care. I can understand why a backward, xenophobic religion like the Catholic Church would be up in arms against gay marriage. This is an institution which sees refusing to evolve as a virtue. No matter how wacky its thinking was 2,000 years ago, it needs to be faithful to it, is what passes for reasoning in this institution. But the government? Why wouldn’t it want to encourage gay marriages or gay unions?

What are the consequences if we have no civil unions or marriages for gays? One might be the myopic belief that by scorning gays for their sexual orientation they will see the light, the good fairy will come down, fill them with some sort of grace, and they will magically convert into happy, healthy heterosexuals. Soon they are living in the burbs like Ward and June Cleaver and raising little Wallies and Beaves. Fortunately, not one in a hundred homophobes believe this crap anymore.

So law by itself apparently can’t make homosexuals become heterosexuals. So homosexuals are going to keep being homosexuals even though it ticks off the anally repressed majority. We “moral” people can pray that all homosexuals will lead lives of celibacy and quiet contemplation instead of acting on their completely natural urges. This is one way for them not to be immoral and thus give us no offense. One could look at the Catholic priesthood as a positive example but apparently all that repression just makes the longing worse and encourages the sorts of deviations we seem to fear the most. Eventually human nature wins out and people couple with the gender or genders that turn them on.

By not allowing gay marriages and civil unions society in effect encourages homosexuals to sleep around. From a public health standpoint that encourages the spread of disease. One would think it would be intuitive that government would want to encourage people to have long term, monogamous and healthy relationships instead of lots of short term, sexual relationships. So I would think gay marriages or gay unions would be seen as a logical and moral response by society to encourage everyone to live in peace and respect the rule of law.

If we are hung up on the word “marriage” let’s purge it from the law. Traditionally marriage has been a religious ritual, not a governmental function. In a way by the government sanctioning marriage, it is violating the separation of church and state. In medieval times you didn’t need the government’s permission to get married, just your local cleric’s permission. Let’s have civil unions if people want the legal protections of marriage. Let religions sanctify these relationships in marriage ceremonies for those with religious inclinations.

Clearly I will never be a politician because this is plain common sense.

Will my daughter be gay? And does it matter?

The Thinker by Rodin

My daughter Rosie is a very unique child. I guess parents could say that about every child; every person has a unique set of chromosomes. But she is still very unique and to some extent I plead guilty (as does her mother) for encouraging these influences. Neither of us are homophobes even though I can’t claim to have known a whole lot of openly gay and lesbian people. Since age 7 or so she’s been going to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston and met a number of gay and bisexual people there, including our last minister, Gretchen Woods, who is lesbian and has a life partner. Some of her girlfriends appear to be bisexual or lesbians, although at age 13-14 one must take such assertions with a grain of salt. She often seems more comfortable around the GLBTG (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) crowd than the future mothers and fathers of America crowd, which is most of her middle school. She isn’t in high school yet but she has already joined the Westfield High School Gay-Straight Alliance. That’s my girl!

Rosie is 13 and claims she doesn’t know if she is heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian. That is a sensible approach I guess: keeping her options open. Her mother seems heterosexual enough, although over the last few years Terri has hung out rather heavily among a crowd of women who are largely gay or bisexual as part of her adventures into the Slash Fan Fiction universe. Through her Rosie has come in contact with many an adult role model, and many a dysfunctional adult from this community.

It must be tough to sort it out but I image by the time she is off to college she’ll have figured out exactly where she fits on the Kinsey scale. I have never believed that one can become gay through environmental influences. It is possible that environmental influences are stimulating thoughts in that area that might not be stimulated, or might occur later in life.

Lately though I’ve been wondering if I might have a gay or bisexual child on my hands and if so how I would react to it.

Unquestionably I love Rosie and would support any healthy relationships she forms. Most likely at her age she is likely to have a healthier relationship with her own gender than with a boy anyhow. I’m not that anxious to have her start dating boys and she seems to be in no hurry either. Her one “boy” friend that I have met is a geeky, awkward young lad about her age who seems as much in a club of one as Rosie. I am completely comfortable around Eric, perhaps because he reminds me so much of myself at that age: a bit brazen and unorthodox but generally not the most popular guy on campus.

Intellectually if she were to announce tomorrow “Mom and Dad, I’m a lesbian” I don’t think I would have a problem with it. I would know that there is nothing I can do about it; I might as well argue that her hair color isn’t brown. I know and respect the person she is and sexual orientation is such a minor part of the whole person.

Emotionally though I would have some issues to work through. Trying to understand myself, I think it has something to do with genetics. The notion of someday having a grandchild bouncing on my lap seems appealing. But also there is the notion of dynasty: I’d like some part of me to be passed on to future generations. I realize of course that in a genetic sense Rosie is only half me, so the whole notion is somewhat fallacious and outdated. Some of my siblings have chosen not to have children, and they seem comfortable with it. I would probably grow comfortable with never being a grandparent in time too.

It may be pointless and selfish to wish for things like this. Having gone through the child rearing experience I know it is a difficult road in the best of circumstances. Rosie might well turn out to be heterosexual, choose to get married and still choose not to have children. It might also be possible, given the rapid advances in human reproductive technologies, that she could have a genetic offspring even if she married another woman.

I’m not sure where these phantom worries come from. Frankly I didn’t give them hardly any thought at all until a few weeks ago. And I’d like to put them way into the background where they belong. But they have come out of the closet, so to speak. And it appears I will have to wrestle with them even though really there is nothing I can do to change Rosie from the person she will be. I will have to deal with my feelings regardless.

And regardless I will always love Rosie from the depth of my soul and appreciate the full human being she is, and the unique adult she will soon become. If I’m enjoying her this much as a teenager I will enjoy her even more as an independent adult.