Discussion Point #1: Gay Rights

I am going to take a HUGE risk.  I am going to discuss some of the most divisive issues of our time.  I am going to share my thinking on the issues, historically and currently.  I am going to share with you what I currently believe and why.  This blog has an extremely varied readership, kind of like the global citizenry it represents, and there is bound to be significant disagreement amongst many of you relative to my comments and points of view. I invite your comments and  criticism.  I even welcome them.  There is only one rule, but it is non-negotiable:  Keep it civil.  I monitor all comments, and will delete any comment that violates this rule.  I will not delete for content, I will only delete for tone.  There will be no personal attacks or rants against my readership or commenters.  Make your argument, state your case, but be civil and respectful in tone.  I know that I risk alienating and losing some of my readerhip, but I trust you my friends.  I want to demonstrate that people with significantly differing points of view can still come together and dialogue successfully, an art our elected officials seem to have forgotten.  To my friends in other countries:  This is how the United States of America is supposed to work.

Today might very well prove to be a landmark day for Gay Rights in the United States of America.  The Supreme Court, the high court of of the land, in a narrow 5/4 split overturned DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) as unconstitutional and dismissed the case on Proposition 8 as being without merit.  This opens up the possibility of Gay (or same sex) marriage in California.  Let the reverberations and recriminations begin.  The talking heads will have a field day and reap the monetary rewards of fueling the ongoing divisiveness and debate among the citizens of the United States.

I have turned around 180-degrees on this issue over a lifetime.  My dad, for all of his good traits, was homophobic.  Why?  Because he suffered from dwarfism, and his masculinity was continually being questioned.  He wasn’t a man’s man in the classic sense, therefore he must be something other.  If you weren’t a man, and you were obviously not a woman, what did that leave?  This was the dark ages:  he was born in 1920, and came into young adulthood in the 1940’s.  That he became an Architect, a brilliant thinker, a pilot, a tennis player, bowler and golfer, and finally married a beautiful (so-called normal) woman, helped to dispel those notions later in life—but what of his childhood?  I don’t know, he would never talk about it.

I was born in 1947, the eldest of three brothers, one of whom was also a dwarf.  We led an insulated sequestered kind of life.  To go out in public invited ridicule and humiliation. Obviously we did venture out, but usually at times and at places where crowds were minimal.  For instance, if we went out to dinner, we would arrive right as the restaurant would open and before the peak dining hours commenced.  I could tell you hundreds of stories about the leers, snickers, jokes and rude comments directed our way, but I won’t bore you with them now.  Suffice it to say, I also grew up homophobic.  But I didn’t really know anything about homosexuals at the time—I was very naive.  I thought they were out to get all of us young heterosexual boys, and do something awful to us.  I wasn’t quite sure what that was, but I knew it must be awful.  They were a threat, and I didn’t want to be one.  I joined my male friends in telling lewd and crude jokes; using slurs like queer, pansy and faggot behind other friends backs.  Usually against friends I liked better than my lewd and crude friends.  Looking back, in hindsight, I now know I had friends and acquaintances (male and female alike) who were gay (whether they had come to the realization yet I don’t know).  They were usually quieter, more intelligent, more sensitive, more artistic and just plain nicer than my regular friends.

I can remember the first time I suspected the difference between me and those nicer friends of mine.  It was in the Seventh grade, and I was dropping a math class.  I approached the teacher with my transfer slip, and he—Mr. Rogers by name—went on a tirade against me.  He said he was glad I was dropping his class, that he had no time for my kind, that we were an abomination against God, and that we would go to hell.  He was very angry, and I was very confused.  I was 13-years old.  What he was referring to was my association with a young friend named John.  We used to hangout in the quad and eat lunch together.  We were both artists of some talent and we had many shared interests.  He was a good friend.  As I realized many years later John was Gay.  But I’m not sure he even realized it at the time, because we used to talk about the girls all the time.  Somehow this teacher had picked up a vibe I wasn’t to see for years to come.  I wasn’t Gay, but because I was sensitive and introverted for different reasons, and John was my friend, I got tagged unknowingly with the same label.  And the same anger.  My dad didn’t like John either, but again it took me years to figure out why.  He was a threat to his masculine son.  Whatever became of John?  I don’t know, because I’ve not been able to find a trace of him.  I suspect he might have been a victim of the AIDS war of the 1980’s.

I joined the Marine Corps out of high school and headed to Vietnam.  Yes, we had Gays in the military.  But, again, I was pretty naive and uneducated.  And still I used  Gay slurs and told Gay jokes to be funny around my macho friends.  And I discovered women, and I liked them.  A lot.  And when I entered the civilian workforce, and worked my way up the management ladder, I encountered more and more Gays.  As a group they were usually some of my best employees and co-workers.  My attitudes started to change, even as my behaviors remained (publicly at least) the same.  Inappropriate jokes and slurs remained part of my repertoire.  I am glad that I never openly Gay-bashed, but I am ashamed of my behind-the-scenes behavior for most of my life.  But a person can change.  I have many friends here in Yucatan who are Gay.  Mexico is surprisingly tolerant relative to personal sexuality.  Given its code of machismo and its Catholic history I thought quite the opposite would be true.  I learned a great deal from these new friends, and they are not a threat to anyone (including me … they’ve made it abundantly clear that they do not find me the least bit attractive … who knew).  Some of their personal stories are heartrending:  being disowned by family, friends and churches when they finally ‘came out.’  Gays permeate our species throughout the world, some estimates speculate that 10 to 15% of our global population is Gay.  They’ve always been part of who we are as a species, and they always will be.  They are not a threat.  Being Gay is just another data-dot on the spectrum of humanity.  Every human being contains within them varying degrees of masculinity and femininity—there isn’t a fixed ratio for either.  Gays have finally found their voice (and political clout), and it scares people because it disrupts the status quo.  Women have fought this battle.  Blacks and Hispanics have fought this battle.  People around the world continue to fight this battle for basic Human Rights.  Disrupting the status quo is scary because it involves change, and we as a species prefer routine to change.  But often times change is change for the good.

My position:  I support equal rights (all rights including same-sex marriage) for those that choose to call themselves Gay.  Regardless of title or designation they are us:  Human beings and United States Citizens.  They differ from us in no way:  They are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.  Instead of being disowned and ostracized and discriminated against, they should be apologized to and welcomed home.  That is the American way.

The legal argument:  I think the Supreme Court has made it pretty clear, by today’s rulings, that it will be a tough battle going forward to prohibit Gays from enjoying the full range of freedoms and rights we have all enjoyed in this country.  The polls  conducted throughout the United States also point to overwhelming support by the majority of our citizens.

The religious argument:  Freedom of Religion.  Possibly the most important building-block of our Constitution.  The legal extension of universal human rights to all of our citizens does not infringe upon upon our freedom of religion or personal beliefs.  It just guarantees that no ‘one particular religion’ or personal belief system trumps another one.  We are a secular government for a reason.  For a government to operate with a religious mandate it would have to pick a religion.  In the United States of America what religion would that be? In our country we are allowed to worship as we please, without mandating that others worship as we do.  Few countries can say the same.  Is homosexuality a sin in your religion?  Fine.  The government won’t (cannot) prevent you from prohibiting Gays into your church.  You do not have to recognize Gay relationships or marriage.  You do not have to condone, in anyway, Gay behavior or beliefs.  You can speak openly and honestly about your beliefs, and your views about Gays and their lifestyles.  You can send your kids to religious faith-based schools to circumvent a secular education.  You can DO all of these things, because there isn’t another religion running the country saying you can’t.  This is freedom of religion in practice.

A personal note:  I am not a formally religious person myself, but religion interests me a great deal.  Like most of you, I have been on a spiritual quest for many years looking for answers.  I was confirmed into the Lutheran Church while in High School (against my wishes), and later followed a Taoist and Buddhist path for over 20-years.  That is still my spiritual touchstone, but I no longer study with a priest or attend  formal practice at a temple.  I don’t know of any spiritual teacher who taught or created a religion, and that includes:  Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Mohamed or the hundreds of other enlightened ones.  It’s the disciples who built the religions after the teacher’s death.  And they often got it wrong.  Enlightenment gives way to ritual; teaching become dogma, language slips into incoherent antiquity and leadership devolves into unbridled political power.  The Buddha (always the pragmatist) said:  Don’t believe me, prove it to yourself.  He valued healthy skepticism.

I am not an intellectual; my formal education does not extend much beyond High School.  I am not a theologian.  But I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover 3 or 4 times, I’ve read the Koran and the Tao Te Ching and many, many other religious and spiritual writings from all over the world.  The Great Teachers shared many commonalities:  First amongst them was compassion.  If you want a real surprise study the teachings of The Prophet Mohamed in the Koran.  The real teachings, and not the rantings of the Islamophobes.  Don’t confuse Islam with radical muslims.  “Radical muslims are to Islam, what the KKK is to Christianity” – paraphrased from West Wing.    

So that’s my spiritual quest to date, and why I feel the way I do about Gay Rights in the United States and around the world.  We’ve lost our claim of moral superiority in the world (if it ever really existed).  We used to lead by example.  The world’s peoples still look to us for guidance and inspiration, but we are looking increasingly hypocritical, ridiculous and irrelevant.  We need to be able to talk about import issues like Gay Rights in an intelligent and civilized manner, without hyperbole and rancor.  And we must insist that our elected officials do the same.  Do you know that approximately 80% of the country thinks of themselves as moderates, and agree on more things than they disagree on?  Surprised? Why are we letting the 20% extremists on the left and right cause such chaos amongst us? Why do we tolerate the divisive politicians, reelecting them year after year?  Why do we listen to the talk show rabble-rousers?  Why do we allow Op-ed pieces to dominate hard news venues?  Why do we believe everything we hear or read?  Why do we argue with our family, friends and neighbors instead of discussing?  Why are we no longer civil with one another?  Because we are afraid.  Things are changing beyond our control (but its always been like that).  But with today’s technology these changes reach us in seconds, not in weeks like a century ago.  The world is moving fast, and we aren’t taking the proper amount of time to take notice.  Make a difference.

Discussion Point #2:  Pro Life vs Pro Choice


6 responses to “Discussion Point #1: Gay Rights

    • Thank you Cata. If you’re back in town we ought to get together for coffee some morning. I always enjoy good conversation with intelligent people. Steve

      P.S. Mom would be welcome too. 🙂

  1. Steve,
    Not sure I agree with your denial of being an intellectual, but very certain that your modest! That was one of the most eloquent and thought out pieces, I’ve ever read. Very articulate, impressive and most importantly, “spot on”! Couldn’t agree with you more on all points. Truly elegant.

  2. Steve, if you’re open to disagreement, I’d like to weigh in. If not, feel free to delete.

    First, a couple of clarifications that may or may not be important:
    1. Most of DOMA was struck down, but not all. Basically, the decision permits gay marriage on a federal level, including benefits, tax breaks, etc. States may still deny recognition of same-sex marriages from other states/territories.
    2. Prop 8 was not thrown out – the appeal was. The SCOTUS essentially decided not to decide. This is where it gets ugly, because they have in essence said that states can overturn the will of the people, and that is a dangerously slippery slope. (Technically, Prop 8 is still law)(a).

    I have a real problem with the de facto comparison of LGBT struggles to women’s suffrage and civil rights for blacks. First and foremost, it is an appalling insult to black Americans and the injustices they suffered (segregation, lynchings, murders, treatment as less than human, etc.). While there have been gay people who have been persecuted and even killed for being gay (equally wrong), by and large these are isolated incidents – very UNLIKE the widespread LEGALIZED persecution of black Americans. To compare the two… ‘insulting’ is not a strong enough word.

    This is not a civil/equal rights issue. Gay people have not been denied the right to speak, to congregate, to bear arms, to vote, etc. Discriminatory laws are based not on WHO/WHAT they are, but on what they CHOOSE to do. They may not have a choice in BEING gay, but they do have a CHOICE to engage in homosexual relations.

    Here I disagree on several fronts. First, do not mistake me for a homophobe. I will not elaborate here, other than to say NO ONE should be persecuted, and ANYONE should be able to have whoever they choose make medical decisions for them (among other things). Here’s where I beg to differ on the arguments.

    “You can speak openly and honestly…”
    Technically, yes. It is not illegal to criticize (yet). But you cannot do so without being thoroughly excoriated and harassed(b), intimidated and attacked(c) or run out of business(d).

    “They are not a threat.”
    Individually, no. In fact, I will grant that there are likely many who quietly want to just enjoy the company of their partner. However, that is NOT the view of the activists or the mouthpieces of the LGBT community(e). In fact, a prominent lesbian author/activist has said that the end goal is not equal rights, but the end of marriage altogether(f). I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and say that this is an extremist viewpoint. However, the raucous cheering and applause that follows her comment would seem to indicate there is support for this idea, and that it’s not just the ramblings of one insane woman.
    If you wish to compare ‘gay rights’ to the civil rights movement, the LGBT community (in general) has taken the path of Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan – change by force. Where are the MLKs of this movement? Where are the ones decrying the violence and hatred coming from their fellow gays?

    “The government will not (cannot) force a religious institution…”
    Five years ago, I would have agreed with you 100%. Unfortunately, there are a few reasons I am now highly skeptical. 1) The current administration has shown, through word and deed, a pattern of contempt and animosity towards Christian institutions (too many instances to cite; a topic for another discussion). 2) Several governments (federal, state and local) ALREADY HAVE pressured, coerced and discriminated against religious institutions for their stance(g). Furthermore, the IRS has ALREADY revoked tax-exemptions for religious institutions it deems are “practicing discrimination”(h). Considering the IRS’ penchant for targeting conservative groups, it’s only a matter of time before they target religious institutions that discriminate against gays. True, they cannot FORCE them to concede, but they sure can punish them for not doing so.

    As you said, much of the discourse has turned caustic and abusive (on both sides). Yes, people are afraid, for a variety of reasons – some irrational, some legitimate. What am I afraid of? Here are my concerns:

    1. My concern is the punishment for refusing to comply.
    Our government was intentionally designed to run slowly, to give us time to debate contentious matters, and to make sure that we, as a nation, made permanent changes only when we could agree to do so, and not on the whim of a vocal, influential minority. For thousands of years, marriage has been (popularly) established as one man and one woman. It’s been the foundation of stable societies and families. If we, as a society, are going to fundamentally alter an age-old institution, it ought to be done cautiously, thoughtfully and deliberately, with full consideration of the ramifications. What’s happening now is not that. The majority of Americans have voiced their opinion, and are being overruled – by the courts, the legislature, and the executive branch. These decisions are being forced down the throats of the unwilling. Those that disagree or do not comply face legal penalties and are cast as social pariah.

    2. My concern is the legal ramifications.
    This is being rushed through, without regard for the consequences. We can debate the finer points of what may or may not come out of the proverbial Pandora’s box, but the fact remains that you open the door to further scrutiny. How can you now discriminate against incest (two consenting adults)? Health reasons? Perhaps. What about polygamy? What basis do you have for arguing it should only be TWO consenting adults? And if you allow that, where do you stop? Why? On what moral authority do you propose to limit it?

    3. My concern is the societal ramifications.
    Again, I have no ill will to anyone that is gay. I know a few gay people, and for the most part, they are nice people. My problem is the celebration of it, and the insistence on establishing it as a positive “alternative”. Historically, societies that have celebrated and encouraged homosexual lifestyles have fallen. I’m not saying there’s necessarily a direct correlation, but here’s the point. The main reason (heterosexual) married couples have received tax breaks was to encourage the building of families and the strengthening of the country. Families create and maintain a stable society. They help sustain and grow a society through procreation. They give men something to fight for, to protect, and subsequently a reason to protect their society (or country). Can gay people be good parents? Sure. Will gay marriage be the downfall of America? Probably not. But I worry about the aftermath. What kind of mess are we going to go through as we try to sort through all the complications and unanswered questions? Will we survive as a nation, or will we tear ourselves apart, simply because we were too impatient to reach a peaceable solution? (On a related side note, with all the power currently being hoarded in the executive branch, what’s to stop a Karl Rove or a Jeb Bush from taking control and outlawing gay marriage outright? All the more reason to stop the power grab now!)

    I don’t expect you to change your mind, but I do thank you for the opportunity to debate. Though we differ widely on some things, you are one of the few people with an opposing viewpoint I enjoy talking with. Your arguments are well laid out, respectful, and thought-provoking. In turn, I know I can speak openly and honestly with you, without being demeaned or demonized. For that, you have my admiration, appreciation and respect. Keep up the good work!

    a. http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/06/26/Not-So-Fast-Prop-8-Still-California-Law

    b. http://www.eonline.com/news/122198/miss-california-denounces-racy-photo-leak

    c. 1) http://www.charismamag.com/site-archives/570-news/featured-news/3415- ;

    d. 1) http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/02/02/baker-under-investigation-after-declining-to-make-gay-couples-wedding-cake-if-i-have-to-be-penalized-for-my-beliefs-so-be-it/ ;
    2) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/jack-phillips-denver-bakery-gay-couple-wedding-cake_n_1721093.html

    e. http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/27/us/gay-rights-whats-next/index.html

    f. http://news.yahoo.com/lesbian-activist-surprisingly-candid-speech-gay-marriage-fight-144222847.html

    g. 1) http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidwhelan/2012/09/17/obamacare-could-cause-nonprofit-hospitals-to-lose-their-tax-exempt-status-heres-how/
    2) http://theweek.com/article/index/223860/the-catholic-church-vs-obamacare#
    3) http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/01/obama-rejects-contraception-exemption-for-catholic-hospitals-schools/
    4) http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2010/05/13/students_exclusion_draws_denial/

    h. http://www.phschool.com/atschool/ss_web_codes/supreme_court_cases/bob_jones_university.html

    • Excellent rebuttal nephew. Well researched and well written. And I share some of your concerns actually. Specifically the overreaching of government (both parties). The fear you express of government suppressing religious freedom could be well founded and needs to be guarded against. However, on the other side of the isle, there are many of us that believe in a secular government and we fear the intrusion of religious dogma into our private lives. The United States is a pluralist society, which presents major problems in reaching a consensus. Many fear that the agenda of the religious right is to establish Shiria-type law within a secular State. I have no problem with my neighbors religious views, I just don’t want him to impose them on me. So we keep coming back to fear, and it’s usually fear of the unknown. Now if we could eliminate the talking heads with their fire & brimstone rhetoric (the left has them too believe me), maybe intelligent people could come to together and discuss these fears in a rational manner. Thank you for your polite, respectful and intelligent input.

      • I guess I can understand the fear of a Church-run State (like the Church of England), but (and maybe it’s me) I don’t see any evidence of us doing that here. Not even with the gay marriage debate. At most, it’s a denial of benefits; there’s no criminal punishment involved. Like I said, maybe I don’t see it. If you have, I would like to know (honestly). Not trying to be argumentative, I’m just at a loss as to what that concern is founded on.

        We used to have Judeo-Christian laws that most everybody agreed with (don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, etc.). I’m not sure when they became a problem or why they’re an issue. There seems to be a concerted effort to push ALL semblences of religion out of government. Is it really a problem to have religious guiding principles for a society? I’m really trying to understand, but I’m having a hard time doing so. I would welcome your experiences and insight.

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