AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:00:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Pope demotes anti-gay cardinal as Vatican refuses to codify watered-down gay statment Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:00:42 +0000 Hey, it’s fascinating that the Vatican is in any turmoil at all over its position on gays. That’s progress in and of itself.

I wrote last week about a new Vatican report, written by cardinals hand-picked by the Pope, which included a section on “welcoming” gays.

Well, conservative Catholic leaders were having none of it, and they got the Pope’s men to pull back the welcome-wagon.

Okay, maybe just a little.

Okay, maybe just a little.

But even that wasn’t enough, as the now-weak-tea language still got voted down.

At the same time, news comes that the Pope himself has demoted a conservative Catholic cardinal working in the Vatican. That cardinal then tattles to Buzzfeed, giving them some awfully nasty quotes about the Pope, including the claim that the Pope is “weakening” the church.

More from Buzzfeed:

If Pope Francis had selected certain cardinals to steer the meeting to advance his personal views on matters like divorce and the treatment of LGBT people, Burke said, he would not be observing his mandate as the leader of the Catholic Church.

“According to my understanding of the church’s teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn’t be correct,” Burke said, saying the pope had “done a lot of harm” by not stating “openly what his position is.”

The Pope isn’t observing his mandate, and has “done a lot of harm” to the church?

So much for papal infallibility.

The thing is, we seem to be witnessed actual turmoil at the highest levels of the Catholic church, over us. And that ain’t nothing.

It would seem, by the reactions of conservatives, that this Pope was serious about forging a kinder and gentler Rome.

And judging by a new PEW poll, we can see one of the reasons why: A majority of young American Catholics support gays. (The old ones aren’t so bad, either.) It appears the Catholic church is facing the same problem as our own Republican party — demographics.


Judging by the backlash and all the intrigue, it almost makes you wonder about those “far-fetched” rumors about John Paul I.

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NYC is like a huge movie theater with ridiculously expensive candy Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:00:39 +0000 New York City is like a huge movie theater with ridiculously expensive candy that you just gotta have anyway.

That’s the epiphany I had this evening on my umpteenth visit to New York (though my first in over four years): This city is insanely expensive.


Now, I know we’ve all heard about the cost of buying a place in NYC. (Want a one bedroom? For you, very special price of only $1 million.) But I never fully realized how much it costs just to live day-to-day here.

I’m staying at my friend Kevin’s place in Chelsea. He’s out of town until tomorrow, so I went downstairs to the Gristedes grocery store (supposedly not nearly as expensive as the local Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods), and holy cow.

Gallon of milk: $5.50
Half dozen eggs: $1.99
Brownie mix: $3.50 to $5.00

And I thought DC was expensive. (A gallon of milk in DC costs me around $3.90; while mom pays $1.75 – $2.25 back in Chicago. And the “good” brownie mix is like $2.25.)

sasha-redIn other news, Sasha (my 10 pound Yorkie-Bichon) was none-too-thrilled at my departure. She’s in the able hands of her Uncle Damian, who, unbeknownst to him, is about to be visited in bed around 2am by a cute little black button nose that’s going to demand he pet her a few moments, then arrange her blanket for her just so.

But she’ll survive. I’m only here until Tuesday, then back to the land of “only” $4 milk.

Let’s hope Damian survives 48 hours of insistent and utter adorableness.



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GOP using increasingly racist arguments against gay marriage Fri, 17 Oct 2014 20:04:37 +0000 Republicans really need to come out with a consistent position on inter-racial marriage.

Because the way the GOP talks, it seems they’re a dead-set against the Supreme Court’s famous decision in Loving v. Virginia, where the court ordered the state of the Virginia to recognize the marriage between a black woman and a white man.

At the time, the late 1960s, 17 states (all southern) had laws banning marriages between blacks and whites.

The Supreme Court in Loving ruled that such “anti-miscegenation” laws were unconstitutional, overruling the racist will of the Southern people.

So I find it troubling, and have for a long while now, that Republicans keep explaining their opposition to pro-gay-marriage court decisions in language that would have prevented the Supreme Court from ruling as it did in Loving. Republicans are, in essence, making arguments in favor of banning the mixing of the races. And that’s rather messed up.

Here’s the latest example from Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who is upset that a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages:

“In 2008, Arizona voters approved a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Now, with their rulings, the federal courts have again thwarted the will of the people and further eroded the authority of states to regulate and uphold our laws.

The Lovings, of Virginia,

The “deeply troubling” Lovings, of Virginia. A marriage that “would have been unrecognizable to those who wrote and ratified our national charter.”

“It is not only disappointing, but also deeply troubling, that unelected federal judges can dictate the laws of individual states, create rights based on their personal policy preferences and supplant the will of the people in an area traditionally left to the states for more than two hundred years. As Justice Scalia opined, such action is tantamount to ‘an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’ and is an image of the judiciary ‘that would have been unrecognizable to those who wrote and ratified our national charter.’

“Simply put, courts should not be in the business of making and changing laws based on their personal agendas. It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that same-sex marriages should be allowed. Historically and traditionally, that power belongs to the states, and to the people. If society wants to recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, that decision should be made through our elected representatives or at the ballot – not the courts.”

Now let’s edit Brewer’s statement, as it would have read in 1967:

“In 1924, Virginia voters, through their duly-elected legislators, approved legislation to define marriage as a union of one white man and one white woman. Now, with their rulings, the federal courts have again thwarted the will of the people and further eroded the authority of states to regulate and uphold our laws.

“It is not only disappointing, but also deeply troubling, that unelected federal judges can dictate the laws of individual states, create rights based on their personal policy preferences and supplant the will of the people in an area traditionally left to the states for more than two hundred years. As Justice Scalia opined, such action is tantamount to ‘an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’ and is an image of the judiciary ‘that would have been unrecognizable to those who wrote and ratified our national charter.’

“Simply put, courts should not be in the business of making and changing laws based on their personal agendas. It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that inter-racial marriages should be allowed. Historically and traditionally, that power belongs to the states, and to the people. If society wants to recognize inter-racial marriage, that decision should be made through our elected representatives or at the ballot – not the courts.”

Kinda racist, no?

There is no way to argue that “the will of the people” is what sets the agenda for marriage laws in the states without opposing the court’s decision in Loving.

And the entire notion of “unelected judges dictating laws of the individual states” in an “area traditionally left to the states for more than two hundred years” is exactly what the court did in both Loving and Brown v Board of Education as well.

It is a supremely racist argument for Republicans to be making. Per se civil rights decisions are counter to the will of the people. So if the Republican party has a problem with courts ruling on civil rights, then the Republican party has a problem with the most important advancements in the history of American civil rights.

Now, Brewer and Republicans generally like to trot out the “it’s not the same thing being back and being gay!” argument whenever people point out that their party’s latent intolerance is showing. But the question at hand is not whether being black is the same thing as being gay. The question is whether a federal court ever has the right to tell a state how to run its marriages; and Jan Brewer, and much of the Republican party, say “no.”

That means that if the Republican party had its druthers, blacks and whites would still not be permitted to marry in America today.

Keep that in mind when you vote in November.

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Ted Cruz using gay-bashing to win White House in 2016 Fri, 17 Oct 2014 15:59:01 +0000 The Republican party reminds me a lot of the Vatican.

Every time it claims to be trying to change, trying to let go of its inner-anger, the far right steps in, tut-tuts its finger, and things go back to the hateful, intolerant way they’ve always been.

Case in point: Ted “Government Shutdown” Cruz, who has majorly embraced gay-bashing as his ticket to the White House in 2016.

Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, is in the middle of the GOP primary pack for 2016. If you look at the Huffington Post’s summary of the polling among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, you’ll see Cruz weighing in with 8.5% support, versus pack leader Jeb Bush with 13.2%

by default 2014-10-17 at 11.33.08 AM

Still, Cruz worries me. The man singlehandedly led the Republican shutdown of the government a while back, and when it comes to the Republican primaries, Jeb Bush may have the name, but he might not have the crazy, to become the Republican nominee in a primary process controlled by the craziest of the GOP crazy.

Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz (bottom right) lead "veterans" in protesting the Republicans own shutdown of the government.

Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz (bottom right) lead “veterans” in protesting the Republicans own shutdown of the government.

Thus the reason Ted Cruz is embracing the nuttiest, most extreme policies he can, including shutting down the government, and now gay-bashing.

Luke Brinker over at Salon has a good list of Cruz’s anti-gay hysteria of late, you can head over there to check it out. But what worries me is that while gays have finally won the culture wars in America, the Republican party still hasn’t given up trying to cause as much damage to gay families as possible. And Ted Cruz is exhibit A.

And while it’s all well and good to say (correctly) that angry, intolerant Republicans like Ted Cruz are only going to alienate even more youth, women, and independent voters (and the GOP also has a pretty serious problem with all of its victims finally coming home to roost), at some point crazy’s gonna win.

Look at the Tea Party problem the Republicans have been having. On the left, we all thought it was hysterical that the GOP was being taken over by a bunch of radical racists. That was until they actually started winning elections, and ultimately ended up being instrumental in shutting down the government.

And the thing is, the Republicans might win congressional seats by pandering to anger and intolerance, but the demographics suggest that it’s a lousy way to win the White House. (So, granted, from the Democratic perspective, there is a benefit, in terms of holding the presidency, to having the haters running the GOP).

Still, I’ve been waiting a few decades now for Republicans to stand up the nutjobs in their own party. And sadly, I’m still waiting.

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On Islam, liberals actually agree on what’s important Fri, 17 Oct 2014 12:00:17 +0000 It took me a little while to figure out how I felt about Ben Affleck and Bill Maher’s recent competition to see who understands Islam the least.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s below.

Among other things, Sam Harris drew a distinction between criticism of Islamic dogma, and racism towards all Muslims. Bill Maher agreed. While Ben Affleck called them both racists.

Since the episode aired, many in the liberal community have piled on Maher and Harris for painting Islam with too broad of a brush. The religion is not a monolith, they argue, and the problems over there are our fault anyway.

Other liberals have pointed out that in a proverbial “Maslow’s hierarchy of social needs,” basic human rights are more important than multiculturalism, which makes criticism of Islam’s role in consistently violating human freedoms necessary.

So while the debate on Real Time devolved into a painfully boring round of Ben Affleck yelling at the room, with everyone else trying and failing to say something worthwhile, their exchange sparked another round in a debate the liberal community has been having with itself since 9/11:

 To what extent can or should religion — Islam in particular — be criticized for promoting violence and oppression at home and abroad?

I’m glad I waited to put my thoughts together, because the most cogent argument I’ve read on the subject was published on Saturday. Even better, it’s a critique of the New Atheist figures who I frequently identify with. It comes from Andrew O’Hehir, writing for Salon, and you should hop over there and read it.

As O’Hehir points out, the intra-ideological debates that self-described liberals are having with themselves over how to approach fundamentalist Islamic movements such as the Islamic State (now called Daesh, in deference to its Arabic acronym) are generally unproductive. And they’re unproductive because the same information is being filtered through the lens of the hard sciences (think Sam Harris) on the one hand and the humanities (Reza Aslan) on the other. This results in, as O’Hehir writes, a debate between “the overly literal and the hopelessly vague.”

the flag of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or simply the Islamic State (IS). Via Shutterstock.

the flag of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or simply the Islamic State (IS). Via Shutterstock.

But the two camps betray a discomfort at the same notion: As O’Hehir puts it, “[Daesh] may be a stateless desert army of bloodthirsty nutjobs, but they have something we lost a long time ago and can’t get back.”

Namely, a set of virtue-based values that go along with a state somewhat informed by something other than pure individual freedom. He continues:

Despite all its remarkable accomplishments, Western culture feels guilty and ill at ease. It traded in God for Snooki, swapped transcendent meaning and social cohesion for a vision of Enlightenment that started out bubbly and gradually went flat, like a can of week-old Mountain Dew. It’s not the kind of trade you can undo.

O’Hehir is straightforward in stating that he writes from the “humanities majors” camp. I want to take a stab at the same set of propositions from the “science majors” camp — even if I’m only an honorary science major for the sake of this article — to highlight where we disagree and, more importantly, where we agree.

Islam is differently different

For starters, we have to be able to think and chew at the same time when we talk about religions’ institutions and their followers. It’s unfortunate at best and misleading at worst to hear someone say that Islam is being used to promote large-scale violence and oppression, but to respond as if that person said that all Muslims are violent and oppressive.

Despite Ben Affleck’s jittery ignorance of what Sam Harris was saying on Real Time, Harris has consistently advocated endorsing and empowering the millions of Muslims who reject religious violence. We all have.

// //


However, while it’s well on its way to moderating itself, Islam is a religion that has yet to have a liberalizing reformation. This is what sets it apart from the other major monotheisms, not the ridiculous violence and insanity that its text shares with numerous other holy books.

O’Hehir jumps on Sam Harris’ statement that Islam is “the mother lode of bad ideas” for unfairly singling out Islam. Fine, “a” mother lode of bad ideas would be more correct. But while you can (and we do) critique Christianity and Judaism for containing as many if not more appalling passages in their respective texts, you have to concede in the same sentence that practically no Christians or Jews still advocate taking verses like 1 Samuel 15:18 seriously. And when anyone does, they face an immediate social cost.

This isn’t true (yet) in Islam.

Man praying via Shutterstock

Man praying via Shutterstock

As one of the scholars at the forefront of moderate Islam, Tariq Ramadan, has himself conceded, the recent backlash against Daesh from Islamic scholars and leaders has been, to an uncomfortable degree, limited to Daesh. Similar critiques apply to many of the other countries in which Islam is the state religion, but they have not been extended.

Not even by Nicholas Kristof, who cited Indonesia during the Real Time segment as a counterexample to Harris’ critique, despite the Muslim-majority country being rife with religious persecution — both informal and government-endorsed. To be sure, Indonesia’s recent presidential election is a sign of progress, but I’m not sure that it constitutes a counterexample.

So while no one is suggesting that being a Muslim disqualifies you from Western culture, writers such as Sam Harris and myself are suggesting that when holy books are taken too seriously they grant legitimacy to those who — for all of the cultural, economic and political reasons the humanities majors love to cite — are already primed for violence and oppression. At this particular moment in history, nowhere is this more true than in political Islam’s relationship with the Quran.

So I am 100% in agreement with all of the multicultural claims of the humanities majors. Islam is no monolith and its people exhibit the same nuances and complexities as everyone else — complexities that usually provide more explanatory power than religion alone when we look at violent social movements. However, I should hope that the humanities majors agree with me (and O’Hehir, to his credit, does) in saying that religion only amplifies the problems that arise from secular forces. We do ourselves no favors when we insist on ignoring it or, worse, call those who refuse to ignore it racists.

Religion’s double-edged sword

All that being said, I do break with the science majors over what O’Hehir calls, “Harris’ belief that reason and science can (or someday will) supply a transcendent, religion-like experience that satisfies the human yearning for spirituality, while relinquishing all claims to metaphysical truth.” O’Hehir cites Saint Augustine to point out the “misguided faith in the perfectibility of man in this fallen world;” I’d cite Socrates to point out that not everyone is suited for philosophy.

O’Hehir doesn’t even make clear how right he is: It is entirely possible that religion is evolutionarily advantageous, which would likely mean that humans are predisposed to have a certain degree of faith. (Maybe it takes a science major to point that out.) The Sam Harrises and Richard Dawkinses of the world have to grapple with this evidence before they describe a world without religious influence.

That being said, the unbeliever’s problem with respect for religious tradition is that all too often “respect” becomes “codification.” Whether or not religion is an evolutionary adaptation, Sam Harris’ critique of organized religion as a collection of “failed sciences” absolutely holds up when faith becomes public policy, as it has been for millennia and continues to be in much of the world — most disturbingly with Daesh. So while I acknowledge that religion has the potential to be a social good, it’d be a much bolder statement to say that religion is in any way a political good.

Neil deGrasse Tyson makes these two parallel points most eloquently:

Where we agree

In the end, this all boils down to the same “Jihad vs. McWorld” dichotomy that anyone who writes seriously about Daesh has to reference. The short version: We’re decadently free, they’re oppressively virtuous and the grass is green-ish on the other side.

As I wrote a few weeks ago:

[M]ovements based in Islamic fundamentalism are in many ways reacting to the steady encroachment of Western globalization. However, their alternative to that globalization is a totally different way of life — one based in rigorous, literal and absolutely appalling interpretations of holy books.

Contrast that with O’Hehir:

In both major religions, the rise of ultra-orthodox revival movements – and within them a tendency toward apocalyptic violence – represents a rearguard action, an attempt to regain the ground lost to science, pop culture, consumerism and other irreligious influences.

I’m pointing outward to a criticism of Islam and he’s pointing inward to a criticism of the West, but we’re both pointing to the same tradeoff between freedom and virtue. The West is slowly realizing that the liberal ideology of letting people do what they want comes with the nasty side effect of people doing whatever they want. It’s given us massive advances in social justice, but it’s also given us Miley Cyrus, and it’s nearly impossible to keep the former and jettison the latter.


Islam via Shutterstock

Brutality aside, this is one of the reasons why religious fundamentalist movements — Islamic or otherwise — can hit us where it hurts: We reject ideas in the strongest emotional terms when we feel that the argument we’re rejecting might have a point.

I think O’Hehir is absolutely correct in suggesting that part of the visceral reaction we have to Daesh is the notion that, once you strip away all of the violence and hatred, we have no idea what it’s like to believe anything as strongly as the members of Daesh believe in their interpretation of the Quran. This scares the bejeezus out of us, but it’s also somewhat intriguing. It is in every way our opposite, highlighting our strengths and prodding at our weaknesses.

In the end, I share O’Hehir’s frustration that the science majors and the humanities majors within the liberal umbrella can’t seem to get on the same page with respect to the challenges posed by fundamentalist Islam. We agree on all of the big questions — the rejection of religious violence, social justice and the reformation of the world’s second-largest religion. And where we disagree, there’s room for reconciliation: We science majors can concede that while we’re great at rejecting unfounded truth claims, we haven’t yet found a way to replace the truth claims we reject. In turn, the humanities majors should concede that it’s wholly unproductive to vote those who criticize religion’s influence on violent social movements off of Liberal Island.

Both camps are essential in pushing back against religious oppression and elevating interpretations of faith that conform to multicultural civilization. The sooner we get our infighting out of the way, the sooner we can make progress.

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Facing conservative backlash, Pope no longer “welcomes” gays Thu, 16 Oct 2014 17:38:35 +0000 Who knew the word of God was subject to lobbying?

I’d reported yesterday on the “preliminary” draft of a new Vatican document that was downright surprising in its conciliatory tone towards gays, including some rather friendly comments about civil unions and cohabitation.

Under a section of the document titled “welcoming homosexual persons,” the gathering of bishops, hand-selected by Pope Francis, had this to say:

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?

The answer to their question is: No.

Under pressure from conservatives, the Vatican has now deleted any reference to “welcoming” gay people, and now simply asks whether we should “provide” for gays — whatever that means.


Pope Francis. neneo /

Pope Francis. neneo /

I’m not Catholic, but I am Greek Orthodox, and aside from the Catholics’s evangelism in politics, the religions aren’t that far off. But one thing that’s always intrigued me is the Catholics’ insistence that the Pope is infallible; i.e., he can never make a mistake.

Such claims may come as a surprise to Galileo, who was found guilty of heresy in 1633 for suggesting that maybe — just maybe — the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around.

The Catholic church eventually concluded in 1992, after a 13-year investigation into the matter, that Galileo was right. God, apparently, was never terribly good at astronomy.

So, it’s not like the Pope hasn’t made mistakes. Still, it is intriguing to find that the word of God is subject to political pressure, and that ecclesiastical “Welcome” mat can be summarily pulled out from under your feet, simply because some underlings disagree with God’s infallible mouthpiece.

One would think that God would hold the upper hand in such — well, any — such discussions or negotiations. But in fact, the Vatican, and this Pope, are subject to the prevailing political winds. Which I suppose isn’t surprising, but it is disappointing.

Apparently, God’s will, like sausage, is something you really don’t want to see made.

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A GOP Congress? Let’s not do the Time Warp again (video) Thu, 16 Oct 2014 12:00:22 +0000 I’ve been having far too much fun with a new (?) service JibJab has, whereby you can insert anyone’s face into a ready-to-watch music video.

WAY too much fun.


So here are a few I made, below, regarding getting out the vote in November.

As you know, the congressional elections are coming up on November 4. And while the Democrats may not always be all that, they’re far better than these jokers, any day.


A Republican Senate will destroy Obamacare, which, again, wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but it was a heck of a lot better than what the GOP Congress is going to give us.

As for gay rights, in fact the Democrats have been all that and more. It took some work on all of our part, but we got sexual orientation added to the Hate Crimes law, we got “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed, and we got the administration to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. At the same time, Obama judges on the Supreme Court gave us the margin for victory that we needed to strike down DOMA, which has led to a flood of pro-gay-marriage decisions in courts nationwide. If you’re gay, or care about gay rights, the Democrats in Congress and President Obama came through for us. And now it’s time for us to come through for them.

So, yeah, I’m going to vote Democratic on November 4. Our country paid a dear price the last time we gave Republicans control of the Congress (George Bush’s rubber-stamp lemmings come to mind). Let’s not do the Time Warp again.

Here are the videos, if you like them, please share them. Thanks, JOHN

House Version:

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In case it wasn’t obvious, the players in the House video are Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Michele Bachmann (soon to be gone, but never forgotten), Aaron Schock, and directing the happy lemmings, David H. Koch (of the Koch Brothers). You can share the House version with friends via this page.

Senate Version:

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As for the Senate, in order of appearance: John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and their ringmaster, Ted Cruz. You can share the Senate version with friends via this page.

And here’s a fun third version, apropos of nothing:

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And finally, appearing in this video are Aaron Schock, Larry Craig, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, and Marcus Bachmman (beloved husband of Michele). You can share the apropos-of-nothing version with friends here.

Here’s one more that I liked. It might even be my favorite. (You can share it here.)

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Because I can’t help myself, here’s another focusing on the overall GOP Congress:

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The Catholic church hates you a wee bit less Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:19:03 +0000 A group of Catholic bishops hand-picked by Pope Francis has produced a new report that apparently hates gays (and unwed cohabiting straight people) just a wee bit less than before.

The preliminary report, while not change any church rules, is surprisingly sympathetic towards both gays and unwed couples who live in sin.

UPDDATE: Pope changed his mind under pressure from conservative Catholics. They still hate you. Good to know the word of God is subject to lobbying, and that the Pope is now apparently fallible.

Here’s the part dealing with the-gay:

Welcoming homosexual persons

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

A homosexual gift, via Shutterstock.

A homosexual gift, via Shutterstock.

51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

“Welcoming homosexual persons?” Sounds like the title of a 1950s etiquette book for what to do when a gay comes for dinner.

As for that last part that I italicized, the first portion is clear enough: Sometimes the gay gets the AIDS, and the other gay takes care of him, which means they must not be entirely evil. And I guess, considering the source, this counts as a step in the right direction.

The second part, however…

Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

Yeah, I got nothing. Is that recognizing that gays are parents too? Or is it suggesting that the church is keeping a watchful eye on those gays who are cavorting with children?

Here’s the part of the report dealing with cohabitation:

Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation

36. A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, of cohabitation. It is necessary that in the ecclesial proposal, while clearly presenting the ideal, we also indicate the constructive elements in those situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to that ideal.

37. It was also noted that in many countries an “an increasing number live together ad experimentum, in unions which have not been religiously or civilly recognized” (Instrumentum Laboris, 81). In Africa this occurs especially in traditional marriages, agreed between families and often celebrated in different stages. Faced by these situations, the Church is called on to be “the house of the Father, with doors always wide open […] where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (Evangelii Gaudium, 47) and to move towards those who feel the need to take up again their path of faith, even if it is not possible to celebrate a religious marriage.

38. In the West as well there is an increasingly large number of those who, having lived together for a long period of time, ask to be married in the Church. Simple cohabitation is often a choice inspired by a general attitude, which is opposed to institutions and definitive undertakings, but also while waiting for a secure existence (a steady job and income). In other countries common-law marriages are very numerous, not because of a rejection of Christian values as regards the family and matrimony, but, above all, because getting married is a luxury, so that material poverty encourages people to live in common-law marriages. Furthermore in such unions it is possible to grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them. Pastoral accompaniment should always start from these positive aspects.

39. All these situations have to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk towards the fullness of marriage and the family in the light of the Gospel. They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy. With a view to this, the attractive testimony of authentic Christian families is important, as subjects for the evangelization of the family.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things this is a step in the right direction. And for the Vatican, this counts as downright conciliatory.

Hey, we’ve got gifts!

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Reagan-judge Posner for Supreme Court? Wed, 15 Oct 2014 12:00:44 +0000 On Friday, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Richard Posner released yet another dominating smackdown of a popular conservative meme.

First, he systematically demolished conservative arguments against marriage equality — both in oral arguments and in writing — and now he’s turned his sights to the photo ID requirements central to the GOP’s keep-in-the-vote program.

From his dissent in the recent decision by the court not to review a ruling that, until the Supreme Court stepped in, would have allowed Wisconsin’s racist, unnecessary and cravenly political photo ID law to go into effect.

Here are few of my favorite passages from his ruling (emphasis mine; embedded hyperlinks from the text of the ruling).

On the motivation behind the laws:

Judge Richard Posner, by chensiyuan.

Judge Richard Posner, by chensiyuan.

Voter-impersonation fraud may be a subset of “Misinformation.” If so, it is by all accounts a tiny subset, a tiny problem, and a mere fig leaf for efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote for the political party that does not control the state government. Those of us who live in Illinois are familiar with a variety of voting frauds, and no one would deny the propriety of the law’s trying to stamp out such frauds. The one form of voter fraud known to be too rare to justify limiting voters’ ability to vote by requiring them to present a photo ID at the polling place is in-person voter impersonation.

Calling out conservative groups who propagate the nonsensical evidence behind the laws:

Some of the “evidence” of voter-impersonation fraud is downright goofy, if not paranoid, such as the nonexistent buses that according to the “True the Vote” movement transport foreigners and reservation Indians to polling places….Even Fox News, whose passion for conservative causes has never been questioned, acknowledges that “Voter ID Laws Target Rarely Occurring Voter Fraud.”

On the statistics of voter impersonation fraud (quoting Richard Sobel’s report for Harvard Law School’s Institute for Race and Justice):

Out of 146 million registered voters, this is a ratio of one case of voter fraud for every 14.6 million eligible voters — more than a dozen times less likely than being struck by lightning.

And, finally, on proponents of photo ID not having a leg to stand on more generally:

The panel is not troubled by the absence of evidence. It deems the supposed beneficial effect of photo ID requirements on public confidence in the electoral system “‘a legislative fact’ — a proposition about the state of the world,” and asserts that “on matters of legislative fact, courts accept the findings of legislatures and judges of the lower courts must accept findings by the Supreme Court.” In so saying, the panel conjures up a fact-free cocoon in which to lodge the federal judiciary. As there is no evidence that voter impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that a legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one? If the Wisconsin legislature says that witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?

And to think he was a Reagan appointee.

In light of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s very fair question to those who think she should retire before a prospective Republican Senate makes appointing a suitable replacement nearly impossible, “Who do you think the president could nominate and get through the current Senate that you would rather see on the court than me?” I think we may have a tentative answer.

Not that I think Posner would make a better justice than Notorious R.B.G., but I do think that if a suitable replacement is to be appointed, he’s our best bet.

Aside from being appointed by Reagan, Posner is the most qualified candidate for the job. According to the Journal of Legal Studies, he’s the most-cited legal scholar in the country — and it isn’t even close.

As Salon has noted, he’s also come down — in brilliant fashion — in line with Ginsburg in a number of high-profile cases on some of the issues most likely to reach the court in the coming years. These include abortion access, marriage equality and religious objections to Obamacare.

Oh, and he shares Ginsburg’s affinity for going after Antonin Scalia for being the hypocritical GOP shill that he is.

If Ginsburg is confident (and she is) that she can do the job well through the 2016 elections, which will presumably produce a Democratic President and Senate, then I’m all for her staying on. However, if she chooses to step aside, I’d like to see the GOP try to filibuster a Reagan-appointed, academically unimpeachable member of a Circuit Court that sits directly below the Supreme Court.

It’s at least good to know we have options.

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The GOP concept of marriage: Any uterus will do Tue, 14 Oct 2014 22:16:14 +0000 If marriage is only about kids, then any woman with a uterus will do.

And, traditionally, that is the way the law and society looked at marriage.

You didn’t get to choose who you married — mom and dad did that for you, possibly long before you were born.

Your marriage was not about love. It was about money. And power. And prestige. Of your parents, and maybe your husband. If you were a woman, your marriage most definitely had little to do with you.

The most interesting class I took at Georgetown Law was a property class taught by a Professor Chused. Chused was an odd duck. A bit quiet and squirrely, with big hair and a big beard you could hide an actual squirrel inside. The guy was also brilliant, and fascinating. And considering all the classes I hated at Georgetown — and Lord, there were many — Chused’s was one of my all-time favorite classes, anywhere.

Prof. Chused was to the left (I suspect), and had a theoretical approach to the law. He was big on ever-changing scenarios that actually delved into the nature of existence, and states of being — which, at its base, property is all about.

I remember his final exam — I am getting to my point, so hang in there. The class was a year long, and there was one exam at the end. The case study for the exam was handed out the first day of class — it was hundreds of pages long, single-spaced as I recall. And it was the tale of a family going back a couple of centuries. And one of the things the case study highlighted was how raw a deal women got in marriage, up until only recently.

You see, “traditionally” women were property; they pretty much belonged to their husband. And as property, they couldn’t inherit a dime. In the old days it was all about the kids. If you had a farm, or an empire, you needed a son to take over some day (to hell with the daughters). The wife was important as an incubator, and your daughters were relatively useless, unless you could sell one off and get a decent dowry in return.

So when you hear conservatives, like the National Review’s Mona Charen, talk about the traditional reason behind marriage — the children — she’s half speaking the truth. The traditional purpose of marriage was “male children.” Wives were tolerated as necessary, and little girls were mistakes.

Charen, you see, is upset that the leader of an officially-designated hate group, the ever-fey Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, got beaten up the other day on Fox News by Fox’s own Chris Wallace and by GOP super-lawyer Ted Olson, who recently, and successfully, fought to overturn Proposition 8 in California (Prop 8 repealed the right of gay couples to marry in that state).

Charen takes issue with Olson’s appearance, as she believes that people don’t get married because they love each other. They only get married to have kids.

And she wonders why no one sends her roses on Valentine’s Day.

According to Charen, marriage is the state’s grand effort at social engineering. A concept that ought to set conservative blood a-boiling, but when presented with the option of bashing a minority, the far-right running today’s GOP is sadly all-too-willing to set aside principle for the daily Two-Minutes-Hate.

It’s a bit of a screed, but here’s Charen’s main point:

Families began disintegrating and failing to form long before gay marriage became a cause célèbre. But the movement for same-sex marriage pushes our culture in exactly the wrong direction because it forwards a damaging conception of marriage. Marriage, Olson says, “is about being with the person you love.”

Not so. Marriage is about the welfare of children. The state confers benefits on opposite-sex couples because they conceive and raise children, and it believes that strong families are the foundation of strong polities. Libertarian claims that the state should remain aloof from family matters overlook the fact that when couples divorce or part ways, the state becomes involved in property division and custody, so it’s unrealistic to keep the state out.

The problem with endorsing same-sex marriage is that it conveys to heterosexuals that mothers and fathers don’t really matter. If two men who love each other or two women who love each other are equally good for children’s welfare, then the argument that men and women should marry and remain faithful to the partner with whom they conceived children loses its force.

The “being with someone you love” case fits nicely on a greeting card, but it also contributes to the divorce culture, because the implicit message is that when you no longer love someone, the purpose of the marriage is over. Adults’ feelings will trump all, as they too often do already.

Where to begin.

First off, marriage was about the welfare of children, back when women were chattel, but not any more. People get married today because they love each other. And Charen’s negation of that fact only shows how out of the mainstream the Republican party has become.

The “child” argument, while cute and cuddly to the point of deflection, doesn’t really explain why we permit the marriage of women and men who are barren, or who clearly have no intention of having biological children (most people who get married after, say, 50 — or certainly 60 — for example). It’s clearly not just about “the children.” (Having said that, lots of gay couples have children, and Charen-esque conservatives have been trying to put a stop to that too.)

As for mothers and fathers not marrying, what message does divorce send? Why does the state let people divorce at all? And how about single moms — why do we let them have babies at all, if the lack of a man makes the entire process an abomination?

This line was particularly brazen, and nonsensical, of Charen:

If two men who love each other or two women who love each other are equally good for children’s welfare, then the argument that men and women should marry and remain faithful to the partner with whom they conceived children loses its force.

Huh? Straight couples are now going to get divorced because Chuck and Dave tied the knot down the block? (“Sorry, hon, love you to death, but the gays got married, so I’m outta here.”)

Why would a gay couple getting married somehow send a message that your current husband is no longer necessary — because you could marry the lesbian across the street instead? (Though, let’s face it, a lot of women would be far better off marrying their gay best friend, but that’s a topic for another day.) It sounds like Charen is saying men are no longer necessary, but today’s culture already makes spouses unnecessary in that you can already get divorced and find another spouse any time you like. That happened long before the gays came around.

As an aside, Charen forgot to mention the new conservative argument against gay marriage — that gays will make straight people take up hobbies, which will destroy their marriages. Seriously. That’s the argument Idaho’s Republican governor made to the appeals court recently, which got shot down summarily by a 3-judge panel:


At its core, Charen’s argument doesn’t make sense, unless you come to terms with the fact that conservatives, at least the ones running the GOP, are simply mean. They don’t like gays, they don’t like change, and they see their world, in which women, and blacks, and gays, and immigrants, “knew their place,” receding fast. So, understandably, they’re grasping at whatever last straws they can. (It’s for the children! Who we’d rather leave in an orphanage, or on the street, than let a gay couple adopt!)

Charon, you may recall, was the ancient Greek ferryman who transported the souls of the dead to Hades. The GOP’s modern-day Charen is ferrying the soul of the Republican party to a similar demise. At some point, Republicans need to clean out their political closet and jettison the haters. The gays have already won this battle. The only question remaining is how long the GOP hemorrhages votes until it recognizes that fact, and moves on.

A 19th-century interpretation of Charon's crossing by Alexander Litovchenko. Alexander Dmitrievich Litovchenko( 1835 - 1890) "Charon carries souls across the river Styx."

A 19th-century interpretation of Charon’s crossing by Alexander Litovchenko.
Alexander Dmitrievich Litovchenko( 1835 – 1890) “Charon carries souls across the river Styx.”

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Why gay marriage opponents lost: The social angle Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:13:11 +0000 John just posted a piece about the legal and logical reasons why gay marriage opponents have essentially lost the fight against marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.

I figured I’d chime in with the other angle, the social one, as to why we went from support for gay marriage being a very small minority to majority support in a rather short period of time.

First, a rather interesting graphic from the always entertaining and insightful xkcd:

Marriage, by xkcd, included via Creative Commons permission

In truth, we have one man to thank for much of it: Harvey Milk.

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

One of Milk’s campaign slogans was “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Many don’t remember, but another cornerstone of his campaign for mayor of San Francisco in 1978 was Proposition 6, also known as the Briggs Initiative, so named after John Briggs, state legislator from Orange County.

The proposition also had the backing of Anita Bryant of the oxymoronically named “Save Our Children.”

Prop 6 would have banned gay people from working in public schools, at any level. The language of the proposition would have also banned anybody known publicly to be in favor of gay rights. That’s right: If you were a school teacher and publicly made any pro-gay remark, you could be summarily fired.

The proposition lost, fortunately, 58-42.

To their credit, opposition to Prop 6 is what led to the founding of the Log Cabin Republicans in 1977. And the chances of defeating the proposition did not look good in September 1978 when it was ahead in the polls, with 66% of Californians in favor of it.

In one of his moments of non-evilness, Governor Ronald Reagan declared that he was opposed to the measure, and even penned an editorial in the LA Herald-Examiner. If you want to hear some real leadership though, check out this video-illustrated audio recording of Mayor Harvey Milk:

That was the start. When the homophobes would have had gay people remain invisible, in the closet, leaders like Harvey Milk were saying it would take the courage of being out, proud, and visible to change how straight people saw gay people. To hide, to be invisible gave unwarranted legitimacy to the position there was something wrong with being gay, something deserving of shame.

This was also the genesis and necessity of Gay Pride parades.

It was a long, long struggle just for ‘tolerance,’ much less the real goal: acceptance. For many years, it didn’t look good. Homophobes like Bryant were successful in repealing anti-discrimination measures.  States like Oklahoma and Arkansas did pass laws banning gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Many states passed laws banning gay people from adopting.

And of course, we shouldn’t forget how when Governor Reagan became President Reagan, he completely ignored the AIDS/HIV epidemic for nearly six years, well into his second term. Reagan’s press secretary, Larry Speakes, actually laughed in 1982 about the fact that an estimated 1 in 3 of those infected were dying. Speakes found it particularly funny that the sick and dying were gay:

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement–the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don’t.
MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President–
MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.
Q: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
MR. SPEAKES: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any–
Q: Nobody knows?
MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.
Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping–
MR. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he’s had no–(laughter)–no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.
Q: The President doesn’t have gay plague, is that what you’re saying or what?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I didn’t say that.
Q: Didn’t say that?
MR. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn’t you stay there? (Laughter.)
Q: Because I love you, Larry, that’s why. (Laughter.)
MR. SPEAKES: Oh, I see. Just don’t put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: Oh, I retract that.
MR. SPEAKES: I hope so.
Q: It’s too late.

Whenever it seemed like there might be progress — whether it was gays being permitted to serve openly in the military, or the first serious proposals that maybe gay and lesbian couples should have some partnership rights — the door was slammed in our faces. First “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” then the “Defense of Marriage Act.” Sadly, both of these measures had strong bipartisan and popular support.

Something began to shift with the turn of the millennium, however, and most of it was because of what had been happening over the previous 20-25 years. (Not coincidentally, 20-25 years is considered roughly a ‘generation.’)

Back in the 1960s and 70s, you probably would have found only a few people who would say they knew someone gay. The truth is, they probably did, but weren’t aware.  Remember, the whole point of the closet was to be invisible. It would be “oh, just those two ladies who’ve lived with each other for decades.” Or the “confirmed bachelor neighbor” who always seemed to have a handsome friend with him.

By the time we got to the late 1990s, there weren’t nearly as many people who would or could say the same. It seems like everybody knew someone who was gay, and increasing numbers were gay family members.

So along comes 2003 and the marriage cases in Massachusetts. Where the question simply was:

“We know these people are gay. We know they’ve been committed to each other for years and even decades in some cases. Some are raising children together. In every aspect but one — the physical gender of the two adults involved — they meet the traditional definition of ‘family.’ Many have even solemnized their relationships within accepting religions. Who is harmed in any way if we extend the legal definition of civil marriage to include them?”

The answer, of course, is no one. No one is harmed.

The cover of the Arkansas Times.

The cover of the Arkansas Times.

Indeed, it’s been ridiculously easy for gay and lesbian couples, and their families, to point out exactly how they are harmed by the withholding of legal recognition. Including some 1138 rights, privileges, and responsibilities at the Federal level alone.

As for the objective science, as opposed by the lies and misrepresentations of the anti-gay side, children actually do best in stable, loving families, regardless of the gender of their parents. And one of the ways stability is encouraged is when the adults raising those kids are allowed to marry each other.

The operative word in the repeal of DADT, as championed by OutServe and SDLN and other activist groups, was “fairness.” It was not fair to let gays and lesbians serve, only to be exploited and kicked out whenever a commander felt like it. It wasn’t fair for women to be raped and coerced into silence lest they be accused of being lesbian. It was not fair to ask someone to sacrifice for their country, then discard them because of who they loved.

It’s been the same with marriage equality. I also do firmly believe one day we’ll have ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it bars job discrimination against gay and trans people under federal law). But I believe here’s why we’ve been winning over the last decade, with a veritable dam breaking in the last year after DOMA’s Section 3 was overturned by the Supreme Court.

It happened because of people like this:


And this:


And this:

indiana gay marriage

A gay couple gets married in Indiana.

And this:

A gay marriage proposal at a Home Depot.

A gay marriage proposal at a Home Depot.

And this:

Pediatrician Paul Melchert holds son Emmett, left, while his husband, James Zimmerman, holds their son Gabriel, at a press conference in Minnesota in favor of gay marriage.

Pediatrician Paul Melchert holds son Emmett, left, while his husband, James Zimmerman, holds their son Gabriel, at a press conference in Minnesota in favor of gay marriage.

And this:


And this:


What do they all have in common? They’re extraordinary in being ordinary.

It’s easy to fear something unknown and unfamiliar. But when your next door neighbors are a lesbian couple raising a couple of kids, or two gay men who, say, throw terrific beer and BBQ parties, it’s hard to keep that irrational fear going. Which is probably why homophobes like Tony Perkins (head of the SPLC-identified hate group, Family Research Council) is desperate to keep his children from learning such people exist. Because his lies and his irrational bigotry would be exposed.

And so this circles back around — because Harvey Milk was right. He has been vindicated. Step 1 in winning civil rights for gays and lesbians (and also hopefully B’s and T’s) is coming out of the closet. When we come out, people eventually learn that there isn’t anything to be afraid of. And gradually, the haters and homophobes become reduced to objects of ridicule and derision, as they should’ve been all along.

Anybody remember this guy? Even the gay-hating far-right distances itself from him now.

Fred Phelps Westboro Baptist Church gay

From GodHatesFags(dot)com

As soon as the courts began to say, “You can’t invoke your religion, or some nebulous concept of ‘tradition’ to justify anti-gay animus” — it was over for them. In case after case, they’re reduced to promoting bogus and easily disproved claims about the purposes of, and state interests in, civil marriage.

Take, for example, this argument put forth by the Republican Governor of Idaho, Butch Otter (yes, that’s his real name). The 9th Circuit decision last week had a field day with this one. (“He,” below, is Gov. Otter):


I leave you with the dyspeptic and forehead-vein-throbbing dissent of Justice Antonin Scalia in the DOMA overturn during the summer of 2013:

When the Court declared a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, we were assured that the case had nothing, nothing at all to do with ‘whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. Now we are told that DOMA is invalid because it ‘demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects,’ ante, at 23 — with an accompanying citation of Lawrence.

“It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here — when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will ‘confine’ the Court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with. (…)

“As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion, whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow, is that DOMA is motivated by ‘bare . . . desire to harm’ couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.”

Argle-bargle indeed, Mr. Justice.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

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God is pro-choice Tue, 14 Oct 2014 12:00:38 +0000 They say you can go through the Bible and find pretty much whatever you want.

Self-contradictory, vague and anachronistic as it is, which verses one takes literally, and which allegorically, determine the character of one’s faith.

But what should we make of a Bible that, time and time again, plainly rejects a prevailing notion among its most adherent followers — that life begins at the moment of conception?

And what to make of the logical extension of that belief — recently posited by National Review columnist Kevin Williamson, and accepted by far fewer in the ranks of the religious — that those who participate in the act of an abortion should be prosecuted as if it were an act of murder?

When exactly life begins, and how the symbiotic relationship between fetus and mother should be handled, are tricky questions. At some point “potential life” crosses a line and becomes actual “life.” And at some other point it becomes “personhood.” But reasonable people disagree as to where exactly those lines are.

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA, USA - August 5, 2013 - People hold Femcare signs in front of a banner protesting abortion at the Moral Monday rally on August 5, 2013 in Asheville, North Carolina. J. Bicking /

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA, USA – August 5, 2013 – People hold Femcare signs in front of a banner protesting abortion at the Moral Monday rally. J. Bicking /

And even if those lines are crossed, how do we apportion rights between a fetus and its mother when they, at times, conflict?

To its credit, the Bible displays a great deal of nuance in addressing these questions — nuance that is too often overlooked by the people who claim to take its text more seriously than thou. Sometimes the nuance in the verses makes a great deal of sense; other times it’s appalling. But anyone who wants to wave the Bible in our faces when legislating public health had better be prepared to cite passage and verse to defend their “deeply held religious beliefs.”

Because I’ve got news for them: The Bible is Pro-Choice.

Multiple verses: Life begins and ends with breath

The Bible has a surprisingly straightforward definition of life, one outlined at length by Will McLeod on DailyKos back in March. From Genesis 2:7, where God literally breathes life into Adam in what can only be described as omnipotent CPR, to Isaiah 42:5, where God is referred to as the Creator who “gives breath to [the Earth's] people,” the Bible is fairly consistent in defining things that are breathing as alive, and things that are not breathing as not-alive.

As feminist writer Joyce Arthur has pointed out, Jeremiah 1:4-5 is often cited to argue against this definition, as it states that “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

But the verse only refers to one person: Jeremiah. And even then, God is only referring to the knowledge that Jeremiah is destined for greatness, not a living and (ahem) breathing person.

Exodus 21:22-25: A fetus isn’t as alive as its mother

But let’s say for a moment that life begins some undetermined amount of time before the fetus takes its first breath. The Bible still credits the mother with being more-alive than the fetus she is carrying. As Exodus 21:22-25 reads:

If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely or has a miscarriage but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Setting aside the suggestion that a beating-induced miscarriage doesn’t constitute “serious injury,” the logic is fairly straightforward: “Life for life” applies to a woman, but not to the fetus she’s carrying. In other words, the fetus is definitively placed in the ranks of not-alive.

Numbers 5:11-31: Abortion is preferable to bastardization

My Bar Mitzvah Torah portion was one of many that outlines oddly-specific regulations concerning reproductive abilities. Specifically, my portion contained Deuteronomy 23:1, which matter-of-factly states that no man “who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting” is allowed to enter the temple and partake in religious services.

It’s verses like these that made what Jewish faith I had untenable: The Torah is supposed to be the most important document ever assembled, and that made the editorial cut? Apparently, enough men were being violently emasculated while the Israelites were wandering through the desert that God felt the need to officially address the issue (and come down on the wrong side of it, as kicking emasculated men out of the congregation is one of the least compassionate things one could do in that situation). To me, the idea that I should still have to take a verse like that seriously meant that the Torah was both petty to the point of cruelty and woefully out of date.

Failing that, it shows how time-specific and man-made (emphasis on the “man”) the document must be.

But Deuteronomy 23:1 has nothing on Numbers 5:11-31, which outlines the trial by ordeal that women must go through if their husband suspects that the baby she’s carrying may not be his.

benny-hill-televangelistXAs the verses outline, if a husband thinks that his wife has been unfaithful he is to take her to the priest, who then performs a ritual that would make a shaman in an Indiana Jones movie do a double-take. The priest is to take holy water; mix it with dirt from the temple floor and the ink from a curse he has just written down; and make the woman drink the mixture. If she hasn’t committed adultery, nothing will happen; if she cheated, “her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry” — the pregnancy will literally be terminated on the spot.

Depending on whether or not you attribute the magic and mysticism behind the trial-by-ordeal to the intrinsic sin behind adultery, or to God’s own intervention, you’re left with one of two conclusions. Either God mandates abortion in cases of adultery or God is performing the abortion themselves. Whichever is the case, the teaching is clear: It’s better to abort a fetus conceived out of wedlock than to carry that fetus to term.

Ecclesiastes 6:1-6: Content and quality of life matter in conjunction with mere life

This is one of the more interesting philosophical questions surrounding whether it is acceptable to prevent potential life from becoming actual life.

If bringing a new life into the world will be a net-negative in terms of humanity’s happiness and overall wellbeing, is it acceptable to end the process by which that new life would begin?

This is one of the more thorny and nuanced cases for the pro-choice position, and it’s also one that the Bible endorses (in its own dogmatic way, of course) in Ecclesiastes 6:1-6:

I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?

The Bible’s rejection of nihilism in this passage entails an assertion that some life isn’t worth living. In particular, the Christian extension of this train of thought contends that a life devoid of Christ leads to cognitive torment that precludes contentment, let alone self-actualization. Better, then, to not be born at all, as this kind of life carries a net-negative value for the one who lives it.

PARIS - FEBRUARY 1, 2014: Thousands of protesters marched in Paris against the new abortion law in Spain and against legislation restricting access to abortion in Europe and around the world. HUANG Zheng /

PARIS – FEBRUARY 1, 2014: Thousands of protesters march in Paris against the new abortion law in Spain, and against legislation restricting access to abortion in Europe and around the world. HUANG Zheng /

Either way, though, this speaks to the notion that life for mere life’s sake isn’t enough. It matters whether or not the new life set to come into the world will be lived well. This isn’t to say that anyone other than the mother is competent in making that decision — forced sterilizations and state-mandated abortions are in no way, shape or form an acceptable outcome — but this is to say that the question is a serious one that needs to be answered on a case-by-case basis.

The above are but a mere sample of the many verses in which God condones, endorses and practices abortion throughout the Old and New Testaments. For a more comprehensive list, check out the Joyce Arthur post I mentioned above.

There are more productive ways to have this debate

It’s telling that the Bible makes a genuine attempt to navigate the complicated issues surrounding when life begins, and it’s almost as telling that some of its conclusions make a great deal of sense and some absolutely do not.

It’s also telling that the American Evangelical community considered the issue of abortion far from settled prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade.

As theologian Albert Mohler has pointed out, the Southern Baptist Church displayed a degree of thoughtfulness concerning the quality of life and rights of the mother pre-1973:

Two years before Roe, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for “legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such circumstances as rape, incest, clear evidence of fetal abnormality, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

…The November 8, 1968 edition of Christianity Today, the flagship evangelical magazine, featured numerous articles dealing with reproduction, including abortion and contraception. The issue contained what was called “A Protestant Affirmation” that stated: “Whether or not the performance of an induced abortion is sinful we are not agreed, but about the necessity of it and permissibility for it under certain circumstances we are in accord.”

But before atheists such as myself do our usual “Ha! Look at that; you’re wrong on your own terms!” routine in situations such as this (thought it normally satisfies and suffices), it’s important to point out that Americans — both religious and irreligious — have impressively nuanced views on abortion, regardless of whether those views are derived from Scripture.

Support for the practice varies drastically depending on context and framing, suggesting that we perceive gray areas regarding when it is and isn’t okay to terminate a pregnancy. Additionally, 25 percent of the religiously unaffiliated oppose abortion in broad terms, suggesting that we don’t need religious guidance to have moral qualms with the idea.

This means that just because Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are theologically and scientifically illiterate when they cite the Bible to support unrelenting anti-choice ideology, doesn’t mean that liberals and atheists are off the hook when it comes to having a productive conversation as to when (if ever) abortion is just. In other words, this is a conversation that starts with a rejection of Biblical absolutism, not a debate that ends with one.

Many of us — regardless of religious affiliation — understand that there are instances in which abortion is morally questionable. Even if those instances are far outweighed by the need for safe and legal access, “none of your damn business” doesn’t make those objections go away.

When it comes to regulating activity, it’s nearly impossible to come up with a law that perfectly addresses these gray areas and accurately place the lines delineating when abortion is and is not okay. But it is absolutely possible to have a conversation that takes them into account. However, that conversation can’t happen when smart people like Kevin Williamson misread their own foundational text to take positions that any morally serious person would find absurd.

And it is necessary to come up with laws that make these gray areas as rare as possible — laws that anti-abortion advocates should be all for. Getting rid of abstinence-only sexual education and expanding access to contraception would be a good start.

There are a number of intelligent, legitimate and useful ways to talk about the legal and moral issues surrounding reproductive health, but relying on faux-Biblical justifications is probably one of the worst (and least helpful). The justification that Williamson is looking for isn’t in the Bible, and even if he actually took the time to read the Good Book, it’s no guarantee that he’d be any farther along in reaching a moral position that made any amount of sense.

No one likes abortions, whether or not we recognize that access to them is necessary. We can have a moral conversation about the balance between privacy and responsibility — in the context of accepted scientific observation and public health — without getting bogged down in religious dogma.

If those who are most uncomfortable with abortion access want to have our attention, they’ll have to figure out how to join in that conversation.

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Why gay marriage opponents have lost Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:22:41 +0000 The Washington Post’s conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, has an interesting theory as to why opponents of gay marriage have lost the debate: They’re arguing religion.

[G]ay marriage opponents have lost the argument with the public and the courts because what was once a matter of defending social consensus has evolved into a plea for enforcement of one set of religious norms in a diverse society. Without evidence of harm to others, there is no constitutionally acceptable reason to preserve the distinction.

Now, to some degree, the argument also boils down to “majority rule.”

marriage-oregon-largeThe majority didn’t like gay marriage, so it was easy to argue against. When the public finds something icky, you don’t need a terribly good argument to beat it back.

But now that a majority of the public supports the right of gays to marry, the vaunted Republican hate groups, like the Family Research Council, are forced to come up with actual arguments that can pass legal, political and social muster, and they can’t.

All they have left is their religion, and their religion says gays are icky. Yet some religions don’t say that. And regardless of there being a disagreement among religions on the matter, courts aren’t really big on making religion into law (unless it’s religion we all agree on, then get a bit flaky at times). But we all don’t agree on this one, and a majority of us no longer agree with religion on it either.

So yet again, changing social mores are leading to changing legal and political mores.

In the end, prejudice loses because the over-judgemental emperor has no clothes. And while no one cared about that fact when the majority thought gays were abnormal, now that society has finally come around, gay marriage opponents simply look small-minded, backwards and mean.

At the beginning they had no real arguments, in part because they didn’t need them. And now, they don’t exist.

And that’s why they lost.

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Sarah Palin can see gay marriage from her house Mon, 13 Oct 2014 12:00:52 +0000 With last night’s news that a federal judge had struck down Alaska’s ban on gay marriage, it looks like Sarah Palin will soon be seeing gay marriages from her house.

Alaska is the latest state in a virtual tsunami of (pro) gay marriage court decisions since the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in the US v. Windsor decision less than a year and a half ago.

That decision was written in a way that almost appeared somewhat narrow at first. One could argue that the Windsor decision simply said that “if” a state wants to recognize gay marriage, the federal government should not refuse to recognize that marriage for the purposes of federal benefits (and federal programs more generally).

Alaska state flag, via Shutterstock.

Alaska state flag, via Shutterstock.

In fact, Windsor was a gay marriage time bomb set to explode in teeny tiny increments over the coming years.

The court recognized that it didn’t want another Roe v. Wade on its hands. Meaning, a decision which caused so much social strife that it risked dividing the country, and undermining the legitimacy of the court. But how to rule in favor of gay marriage without overtly ruling in favor of gay marriage?

The answer was to write Windsor in such a way that no lower court could ever rule against gay marriage in the future. So rather than the Supreme Court ruling that gay couples had a nationwide right to marry, the court issued a ruling that would force lower courts, on a state-by-state basis, to give gays a nationwide right to marry.

Gay couples could only win the right to marry by suing in each state (or each federal appellate region), citing Windsor, and waiting for each court, on its own timeline, to rule in their favor. This guaranteed victory, but it guaranteed it would be slow, and piecemeal: that individual state victories would happen on different dates, so as to give the American people time to get used to the idea, and sense its inevitability.

And that’s what happened. Since Windsor, we’ve had 43 wins and only 2 losses in state and federal courts. Before Windsor, 12 states (plus DC) permitted gay couples to marry. Now, including Alaska, the number is going to be 30.

In the last week alone, we saw pro-gay rulings affecting more than a dozen states. Rulings that pretty much guarantee that marriage equality (as we like to call gay marriage, which is really just “marriage,” but if you write just “marriage,” it’s confusing, not to mention it makes for a lousy Google search) will become the law of the land in each state soon.

I’m still amazed at what the Supreme Court did, and how it handled all of this. It’s really quite brilliant.

I’m also rather amazed that I’ll have the right to marry, nationwide, in my lifetime. That was something most gays never imagined. We grew up “knowing” that our love would never be legally sanctioned. And now, it pretty much has.

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Gay sex scandal hits GOP congressional candidate Carl DeMaio Sat, 11 Oct 2014 00:48:41 +0000 CNN dropped a bombshell tonight on the campaign of gay Republican congressional candidate Carl DeMaio.

DeMaio, running against San Diego’s first-term Democrat Scott Peters, stands accused of sexually harassing, sexually accosting, and then attempting to bribe into silence, his former campaign policy director, Todd Bosnich.

While the story had already been public for a while, it was a bit of a he-said-he-said until CNN weighed in tonight.

Now, in a very long story, CNN breaks down the facts, and DeMaio is beginning to look very bad. Including CNN’s revelation that the former aide took a lie detector, and passed.

And in one of the best examples of “poor timing” in recent memory, GOP House Speaker John Boehner will be headlining a fundraiser for DeMaio at the embattled candidate’s home in San Diego tomorrow (Saturday).

Go read through CNN’s exceptional reporting by Chris Frates and Scott Zamost, and watch the video report below, but in a nutshell, here’s why this just became a huge story.

Carl DeMaio

Carl DeMaio

DeMaio now faces his third accusation of public masturbation

The former staffer, who was 28 at the time, is alleging, in some detail, that DeMaio, 40, not only groped him, but masturbated in front of the young(ish) man.

One morning last April, Bosnich said he arrived early at campaign headquarters and DeMaio called him back to his office.

“I came over to his office, door was open. And he was masturbating,” Bosnich said. “I saw his hand, his penis in his hand and he had a smile on his face. And as soon as I came over he was looking at me.”

There was no mistaking what was happening, he said.

DeMaio was already under the pall of another public masturbation scandal from last year, when a fellow city councilman claimed that he twice caught DeMaio masturbating in a city hall restroom.

Now, what’s particularly interesting about this first public masturbation incident is that the alleged witness ran into another councilwoman moments after, and recounted the story while quite emotional about it. And while that does not prove the story, it adds much more credence to the belief that “something” happened:

The Democrat declined an interview request, but councilwoman Marti Emerald said she learned about the 2009 incident immediately after Hueso witnessed it. On the way to the women’s room, she said she literally bumped into Huseo as he exited the men’s room across the hall.

“He was furious; he looked like something serious had just happened,” Emerald said. “He said DeMaio was in there (masturbating). And I said do you want to grab a police officer and have him arrested? Because this is a violation of the (city) code. He said no, but he was pretty upset.”

CNN goes on to note that DeMaio denies the allegation, and claims he passed a lie detector test to prove it. But now DeMaio is refusing to provide the results of the “I didn’t publicly masturbate” test to CNN. (“It’s a claim DeMaio denied — even saying he took a polygraph test to support his denial, but he declined to provide the results to CNN.”)

You know who did provide the results of a masturbation lie detector test to CNN? DeMaio’s accuser Bosnich, who, CNN says, passed the test.

Bosnich also took an independent lie detector test to support his allegations, a copy of which Bosnich’s attorney provided to CNN. The report said Bosnich’s answers were “truthful” and found “no deception.”

DeMaio allegedly had his accuser fired, then offered to bribe him

Bosnich says he eventually complained to the campaign director, Tommy Knepper, who allegedly told Bosnich “that’s just the way Carl is.” Then, according to Bosnich, Knepper suggested that it was Bosnich’s fault for telling DeMaio that he (Bosnich) was gay.

Bosnich says that after he eventually confronted DeMaio about the masturbation incident, he was fired the next day, but given the option to take another job, and $50,000, if he signed a non-disclosure.

The DeMaio campaign, on the other hand, claims that Bosnich was fired for plagiarism, and they’ve been claiming for a while now that Bosnich was not only the prime suspect, but the guilty party, who got “caught” after someone broke in to their campaign headquarters earlier this year.

In fact, CNN reveals, no one has been charged with the break-in, nor have the police named any suspects.

DeMaio then claimed that he had “evidence” that would prove Bosnich was behind the break-in, but would only show it to CNN if they promised not to report on it. So CNN took a look, and had this to say: “On its own, the material did not appear to refute Bosnich’s claims.”

Then there’s the recent (over) reaction of DeMaio’s campaign to CNN’s questions about the story. Not only did the campaign hire veteran GOP political consultant, and Fox News commentator, Rick Grenell, who accused CNN of leading a “partisan witch hunt,” but the campaign has now apparently retained high-powered DC Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg.

I mean, wow.

DeMaio has never been loved by the local or national gay community. He’s a gay man who isn’t terribly interested in supporting gay rights. DeMaio reportedly even refused to speak out against California’s hateful repeal of gay marriage in that state, Proposition 8.

So there’s not much love lost between DeMaio and the community.

Still, can’t gay Republicans do any better than this?

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US map showing bed time by county (actually kind of cool) Fri, 10 Oct 2014 14:00:31 +0000 Jawbone has done a series of really interesting studies looking at how sleep in various cities and countries around the world.

A few months ago they compared how much people slept in three dozen citizens worldwide.

Among their findings:

Least Sleep: Tokyo, Japan – 5hr 44min
Most Sleep: Melbourne, Australia – 6hr 58min
Earliest to Bed: Brisbane, Australia – 10:57pm
Latest to Bed: Moscow, Russia – 12:46am
Earliest to Rise: Brisbane, Australia – 6:29am
Latest to Rise: Moscow, Russia – 8:08am

Now they’re looking at average bedtime per county in the US. And they’ve created a neat map:


Here’s a zoom of part of the Midwest, including Chicago:


Now what’s really fascinating is analyzing the color differences. Jawbone does this nicely, but I think they missed something. First, they note how strong demarcation along time zones. They note, correctly, that part of that is simply the time change itself. If two people, one on each side of the time zone border, go to bed at the same time, one person’s watch will show the time as 1030pm, the other’s will show 1130pm. Thus the strong demarcation.

They also note that people on the west side of a particular time zone go to bed later than those on the eastern side of the same time zone. Why? Because the sun sets in the west, so it stays lighter longer in the western side of the same time zone. And people’s circadian rhythms kick in when the sun sets.

But what I find fascinating as well is how much darker the East is from the midwest overall. Being from Chicago, I’ve always suspected that Eastern time made me go to bed later, because prime time television starts one hour later in the east than it does back home in the midwest. Back home mom and dad used to go bed after the 10 o’clock news. Out east, that’s often the 11 o’clock news. And the prime time shows are done by 10pm in Chicago, out east it’s 11pm. At least for me, the night feels done when prime time ends. And it feels done sooner in Chicago than it does DC.

And here’s their map showing number of hours slept per night — this one doesn’t tell me as much:


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Air passenger thought it’d be funny to say he had Ebola. Then this happened… Fri, 10 Oct 2014 12:00:54 +0000 A US Airways passenger thought it would be funny to claim that he was just in Africa and had Ebola, on Wednesday.

So, this happened.


I have zero tolerance for people like that.

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We are now LGBTQ (depending who you ask) Thu, 09 Oct 2014 14:00:04 +0000 Just when Americans were starting to understand what the term “LGBT” meant — it’s the new term for the gay community — the organization formerly known as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) has now changed its name to “The National LGBTQ Task Force.”

According to a piece written by NLGBTQTF (I guess?) executive director Rea Carey, this is part of a larger move by the Task Force to focus on other progressive issues that aren’t necessarily L, G, B or T.

Carey doesn’t explain in the piece what the Q actually means. Traditionally it has meant either “queer” (an umbrella term for gay and other things) or “questioning.”

Queer bothers some gay people, as it was (still is) used as a slur against us. Still, the term doesn’t really bother me, personally.

Questioning is an interesting one. It’s become popular in the past several years on college campuses in the US. The way it’s been explained to me is that Q is an effort to include people who aren’t sure if they’re gay, or bi, or trans. So we call them “questioning,” and add the Q to make them feel welcome.

For example, Oregon State University uses LGBTQ.


But check out the university’s full definition of who the LGBTQ office caters to:

Welcome, our office serves to meet the needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, and Allied communities, as well as those who identify as Same Gender Loving, Two Spirit, Asexual, Pansexual, and Poly-Amorous.


Actor John de Lancie playing the character “Q” on Star Trek – The Next Generation. (Q always struck me a bit gay.)

Same gender loving,” you ask?

SGL was adapted as an Afrocentric alternative to what are deemed Eurocentric homosexual identities (e.g. gay and lesbian) which do not culturally affirm or engage the history and cultures of people of African descent. Specifically, the term SGL affirms Black homosexual and bisexual men and women through its African American conceptual origins, African inspired iconography, philosophy, symbols, principles, and values[2][not in citation given] The term SGL usually has broad, important and positive personal, social, and political purposes and consequences. SGL is anti-hate and anti-anti-Black.

Back to “questioning.” I’m not sure I entirely understand the argument, as I was definitely queer in college — though I wasn’t out, I knew by then that this gay thing wasn’t going away — and I’d have not been caught dead at the local gay group meetings, Q or no Q.

I also don’t particularly understand how gay, or bi, or trans groups need to add a Q, but no other group out there does. You don’t, for example, see women’s groups adding a Q to their name, to welcome men who are questioning whether they might in fact be trans women. And, I’d be curious if bisexual and trans groups (not LGBT, but groups particularly devoted to those communities) are adding Q to their names as well. I’ve not seen it.

I get the intent, to be welcoming. I’m not however sure that the name-change is effective, particularly after the American public has yet to fully comprehend the last name change, when we became LGBT.

And it’s more problematic than that. The Task Force now uses LGBTQ. Whereas our largest national gay group, the Human Rights Campaign, uses LGBT.

And guess what foreigners use? Typically, LGBTI (I for “interex“), or LGBTIA (the A often means asexual, but I just googled it and sometimes it means “ally”). Then why don’t other progressive groups have allies too? I’m an environmental ally. And I care about women’s issues, and race. Why is it always the gay groups that keep adding letters?

And it’s not just abroad. Here’s a conference last year in San Diego, devoted to “LGBTQIA youth.”

Star Trek star George Takei speaks at a conference devoted to "LGBTQIA" youth in San Diego in 2013.

Star Trek star George Takei speaks at a conference devoted to “LGBTQIA” youth in San Diego in 2013.

And ILGA, “the” international gay group, uses LGBTI, but not Q or A.

Now, one could argue that the ever-expanding abbreviation is a sign of our forward-looking-ness. That gays add it because we “get it,” and perhaps other groups don’t as of yet. And I suspect that’s exactly the intent. And as gays are on the cusp of getting everything they/we want, it’s perhaps understandable why gay rights groups want to reorganize themselves, lest they be put out to pasture by their own success.

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Red states give more to churches, not charities Thu, 09 Oct 2014 12:00:28 +0000 On Tuesday, The Washington Post’s political blog The Fix declared, “Red states give more to charity. It’s because of religion.”

Take that, all you agnostics and atheists.

If you were more like the people of faith in Republican states, you wouldn’t be such tightwads. You would do more to help the needy in your communities, at least more than the socialist big government programs that you are always pushing down real Americans’ throats.

Or something like that.

Writer Philip Bump cites data from The Chronicle of Philanthropy that shows the 17 states that gave the most money to charities in 2012 all voted for Mitt Romney that year. Those also happen to be the most religious states in the country, so Bump sees a religious divide.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The old warning that correlation is not causation comes to mind, but Bump is right, religion almost certainly plays some role in this. It’s just not the role he thinks. People don’t give more because of religion, at least not that way.

Religious people give a lot of money to charity because churches, synagogues and mosques count as charities in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. When they drop $1 or $20 on the collection plate on Sunday, it is a charitable donation.

To the IRS, a dollar given to the Thomas Road Baptist Church used to build an even grander palace for the Falwell clan in Virginia is the same as a dollar given to Meals on Wheels, the Red Cross or any number of charities that actually do some good in the world.

// //


People in red states, then, give a lot of money to “charities” that do not do a whole lot of charitable work, unless you count convincing people to believe in fairy tales and to vote against their self-interest as charity.

Sure, some churches put donations to good work, but a lot more of that money goes to proselytizing and keeping preachers in the sort of lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed in an age of prosperity gospel.

If The Fix had just looked in the Washington Post’s archives, it would have found a report from 2013 that reported about one-third of all charitable giving goes to churches, etc. That doesn’t even include religious schools that indoctrinate students and charitable organizations that happen to be aligned with a faith; it’s just the houses of worship.

Like so many things in the tax code, the biggest beneficiaries of tax breaks for charitable giving are the wealthy. A one-percenter who gives $1,000 to charity gets to shave that off his income at the highest marginal rate, and hence gets more bang for his buck than a middle-income family that might have little to no tax burden once all of the other deductions are accounted, if they itemize at all rather than take the standard deduction.

An excellent case can be made that the federal government should eliminate deductions for charitable donations, especially donations to churches – that whole First Amendment separation of church and state thing to start. Eliminating just the church-charity deduction would save the federal government about $12.5 billion per year.

But with a House of Representatives that is solidly in Republican hands, and a Senate that at best will be closely divide come January, the odds of repealing that handout are about as likely as Congress voting “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance.

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Astronauts give tour of the globe from space (video) Wed, 08 Oct 2014 22:00:40 +0000 Astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio give a tour of the globe from on board the International Space Station.

I’d have a hard time identifying anything other than Italy. A lot of it is upside down!

Which is a funny thing when you think about it. If Argentines had been the lead power in the 1400s, would the map of the earth be totally different, with Europe and North America “south” and Africa and Latin America “north”?





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