Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Long Road To Equality: How The Other Side Has Always Been Wrong

(Judge Leander Perez, Dixiecrat and Segregationist, 1968)

(Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Marriage Equality opponent)

It's safe to say that not everybody in or outside of New York was elated by the late-breaking news that the New York State Legislature, with a Republican-controlled Senate, had legalized same-sex marriage after weeks of debate and national attention, becoming the largest state to make marriage equality legal. Many of the voices in opposition were relatively muted, it seems - in one sign of how much progress has been made, most dissenters fell back on legal or technical arguments rather than forecasting the end of society. Even many religious leaders expressed their disappointment in language that steered free of the hate and bigotry that until quite recently had defined the vast majority of the arguments against gay equality in this country.

Except, of course, it's not that simple. If most opponents to marriage equality have learned the need to couch their dissatisfaction in language suitable for the nightly news and acceptable to an increasingly open-minded public, anybody capable of analyzing basic speech patterns should have little trouble uncovering what lies beneath - namely, opinions and beliefs that differ from the segregationists and anti-miscegenation forces of decades past only in their chosen target. To glance back at the views freely and openly expressed by national politicians on television and in print just fifty years ago - to hear a Judge firmly declaim that no society has ever survived racial integration, or another Judge insist God placed different ethnicities on different continents to keep them from mixing, or to hear a Southern senator dare the military to try and enforce racial equality upon his society - is to be struck by two things. One is a sort of shock that such blatantly racist and bigoted statements were unashamedly made in front of cameras or reporters. The other is to caution one's self that we haven't moved very far from those days, and that in another fifty years, the words and actions of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Senator Ruben Diaz, and columnist George Weigel may well shock those looking back at our own struggles for equality.

One of the great things about studying history is that it helps one stay on the right side of it. I offer six examples below - three from the past, three from last week - of individuals very much on the wrong side.


Firing Line transcript, April 15 1968 (video segment here)

Judge Leander Perez

I am not a racist. I might mention I am against the Federal Government using its coercive power to force racial integration upon an unwilling free people. Because never in the history of nations has any government prior to this ever attempted to use its coercive power to force racial integration upon an unwilling free people. I am a fundamental Constitutionalist. I know it is wrong fundamentally, and I know it is strictly rotten politics from Washington, and has motivated enforced integration policies of the national government.

William F. Buckley

Well, Governor, have you been widely misquoted? For instance, you're quoted as having said, 'Yes, the Negro is inherently immoral—yes, I think it's the brain capacity.' Is that a misquotation?"

Judge Leander Perez

It's not a misquotation. It's the truth. Because I know Negroes. We have a number of Negroes in our community, and I know that basically, fundamentally, they are immoral, they are unmoral. I know that to be a fact. Why should I try to hide it? I’d be untrue to myself if I tried to deny it out of cowardice.

William F. Buckley

It’s been said of you…that you can begrudgingly admire his bluntness, he is honest about his bigotry.

Judge Leander Perez

I’m not a bigot, sir. I’m not a bigot at all.

William F. Buckley

But, look, whatever you are, Judge Perez, and I’m sure you’re a good many things, but you don’t have the sovereign power of the English language.

Judge Leander Perez

No, I don’t have any control over hypocrites, over bigots – no. Over those who would deprive American citizens of their Constitutional rights. I have no power over them at all.

William F. Buckley

Do Negroes have Constitutional rights?

Judge Leander Perez

Absolutely. Same as any other people. But the Negroes are certainly not exercising Constitutional rights when they go about burning down cities and crying, “Burn, baby, burn,” and “kill whitey”.

William F. Buckley

Nor are whites exercising Constitutional rights when they deprive the Negroes, as they did for so many years, of the right to vote.

Judge Leander Perez

I wouldn’t say that the Negroes have been deprived of any rights, because the Negroes have had the right to register of their own free will, sir.


Archbishop Timothy Dolan, interview with John Burger, Catholic Register, June 24, 2011 (link here)


They talk about us imposing our values on others. Who’s imposing on what? We have a set definition of marriage that has been part of the human endeavor from time immemorial. They’re imposing a radically new understanding of that upon something that has served as the bulwark of civilization for thousands and thousands of years.
I worry too about government intrusion. On my blog I said this seems to have a lot of traction in places like North Korea and Cuba and China. They’re used to government butting in and telling you, “We’ll tell you what your values are. We’ll tell you what marriage is. We’ll tell you what family is. We’ll tell you what human life is. We’ll tell you what a home means. We’ll tell you where you can live. We’ll tell you where you can work. That’s antithetical to everything the American project stands for. And yet that’s what we’ve got: the government now butting into the most intimate, sacred defined principles of human existence.


The irony is, in a place like China, they would never redefine marriage like this.


Well, they redefine what human life is, see, when you think about it. If you can say the life of the baby in the womb isn’t a human life, where are you going to stop? No wonder you go to marriage. Next thing you know, they’re going to say there’s four outs to every inning of baseball. This is crazy.


Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon Bazile, ordering Mildred and Richard Loving to leave the state of Virginia on charges of miscegenation, 1959. This decision led directly to Supreme Court Case Loving V. Virginia, 1967.

Almighty God created the races, white, black, yellow, Malay, and red and placed them on separate continents, and but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix.


Televangelist Pat Robertson, 700 Club, June 27, 2011 (link here)

I think we need to remember the term sodomy came from a town known as Sodom and Sodom was destroyed by God Almighty and the thing that they practiced was homosexual activity and even they tried to rape angels who came down there, so that's the kind of people they were. But beyond that, Jesus when He spoke of Sodom He didn't say anything about the homosexuality he talked about just the fact that business was as usual until God decided to destroy it. And He sent an angel down there and He said to Lot and his family, ‘get out now because I'm gonna destroy this whole area.' That's where sodomy came from, we use the term sodomy and it means Sodom. What's it like? We're heading that way as a nation. In history there's never been a civilization ever in history that has embraced homosexuality and turned away from traditional fidelity, traditional marriage, traditional child-rearing, and has survived. There isn't one single civilization that has survived that openly embraced homosexuality. So you say, "what's going to happen to America?" Well if history is any guide, the same thing's going to happen to us.


South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, speech during campaign for President, 1948

There's not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.


Columnist George Weigel, National Review Online, June 27 2011 (link here)

“Gay marriage” in fact represents a vast expansion of state power: In this instance, the state of New York is declaring that it has the competence to redefine a basic human institution in order to satisfy the demands of an interest group looking for the kind of social acceptance that putatively comes from legal recognition. But as Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and others argued during the days before the fateful vote on June 24, the state of New York does not have such competence, and the assertion that it does casts an ominous shadow over the future. For if the state in fact has the competence, or authority, to declare that Adam and Steve, or Eve and Evelyn, are married, and has the related authority to compel others to recognize such marriages as the equivalent of what we have known as marriage for millennia, then why stop at marriage between two men or two women? Why not polyamory or polygamy? Why can’t any combination of men and women sharing financial resources and body parts declare itself a marriage, and then demand from the state a redress of its grievances and legal recognition of it as a family? On what principled ground is the New York state legislature, or any other state legislature, going to say “No” to that, once it has declared that Adam and Steve, or Eve and Evelyn, can in fact get married according to the laws of the state?

What the gay lobby proposes in the matter of marriage is precisely the opposite of this. Marriage, as both religious and secular thinkers have acknowledged for millennia, is a social institution that is older than the state and that precedes the state. The task of a just state is to recognize and support this older, prior social institution; it is not to attempt its redefinition. To do the latter involves indulging the totalitarian temptation that lurks within all modern states: the temptation to remanufacture reality. The American civil-rights movement was a call to recognize moral reality; the call for gay marriage is a call to reinvent reality to fit an agenda of personal willfulness. The gay-marriage movement is thus not the heir of the civil-rights movement; it is the heir of Bull Connor and others who tried to impose their false idea of moral reality on others by coercive state power.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Books, 420 Characters (June 20-24)

G.B. Edwards, The Book Of Ebenezer Le Page

Posthumously published, sole completed novel by lifetime civil servant once hoped to be “a new D. H. Lawrence”. Colloquial diary of a brooding man who never left the Isle of Guernsey, Le Page nevertheless sees the world from his small corner of his small island. As 17th century life is dragged into modernity, contempt is heaped upon the arrival of technology, Nazis, and tourists. The latter worries him most.

Elif Batuman, The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books And The People Who Read Them

Part journalism, part essay, part lit crit, part memoir, and all you need to know is that this Turkish-American woman can write most journalists/essayists/critics/ memoirists under the table. And funny – you may not think Isaac Babel conferences promise comedy gold, but you probably never attended one with Elif. Discovering Old Uzbek had 100 different words for crying, she rethinks her summer vacation in Samarkand.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Father's Day Follow Up: Only Believers Love Their Children

Having recently been welcomed into the clergy so as to officiate over the wedding ceremony for two good friends this upcoming September, I was surprised to note that this old non-believer still had enough of the infidel in him to react strongly to a recent article posted by columnist Jeffrey Goldberg over at Bloomberg News. Entitled A Father's Day Lesson About Children And Life, it's a fairly typical remembrance day column in which the essayist finds some notable, heartwarming, or just plain bizarre story to serve as a lead-in to their rather predictable punch line. In Goldberg's case, it was the undeniably heart-rending story of a father who sacrificed his own life to save his son by jumping into a tank of raw sewage. This man's son was twenty years old and had fallen into a septic tank on the family property. His son also had Down's Syndrome, and the father made the decision to lift his son above the sewage until help came, at which point the heroic father had succumbed.

Goldberg chooses to relate this story through the prism of religious faith, especially dwelling on the family's faith when recounting their decision not to undergo an amniocentesis despite the pregnant mother's advanced age and rejecting implicitly the possibility of terminating the pregnancy had the child turned out to be stricken with Down's Syndrome. This is a topic that deserves greater discussion, even though I wish Goldberg wouldn't look down at individuals unwilling or unable to embrace the life-changing challenge of a special needs child.

But what really caught my attention was this paragraph near the end of the article, after several encomiums to the power of faith and parenthood:

I’m reasonably sure an atheist would sacrifice his life for his child. But I also don’t doubt that Thomas Vander Woude’s powerful faith cleared the path into the tank. A person who has an articulated calling, who believes in something larger than himself, could more immediately accept the gravity of the moment.

It's that "reasonably" line that most irks. I wonder if Goldberg's editor would have left in the "reasonably sure" bit if the questionable character being referred to wasn't the much-maligned atheist but a Muslim or a Buddhist. Or if Goldberg was making some kind of comparison of humanity in which Africans or gay men were being compared to another group of some kind. Why make the appalling suggestion that fathers or mothers who don't regularly visit a church or a synagogue would be more likely than the pious Christian to sit back and watch their child drown in raw sewage? Why insert such an obnoxious opinion into an otherwise heartwarming story unless the point of the essay was to castigate and shame non-believers?

A bit of a theologian myself even before I was ordained, I think it would perhaps be helpful to point out to Mr. Goldberg that he is certainly correct in supposing that certain strands of religious thought might indeed presuppose someone towards making sacrifices regarding their children. But he seems to have it slightly backwards. Thumbing through my dog-eared copy of the Bible, I see several notable examples not of parents sacrificing themselves for their children, but literally sacrificing their children. Flipping over to Genesis 22, I read of how Abraham unquestioningly sets forth with his son Isaac to slaughter him like a goat on Mount Moriah after receiving the command from God, only pulling the blade away at the last second when God decides Abraham fears Him "enough". For this act - the act of willingly and unquestioningly setting out to murder one's child - Abraham is shown to be virtuous and properly fearful, although not perhaps the best dad. Flipping forward to the New Testament, or maybe just turning on Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ, I see verse after verse describing how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was sent by his father to earth in order to be sacrificed on a cross, an ordeal that at least Matthew and Mark suggest concluded with the suffering son crying to his father "Why have you forsaken me?"

I know I'm just a non-believing infidel, and therefore Mr. Goldberg would have you believe that it's up for debate whether I would consider risking my own life to save my seven-month-old son (currently sleeping, by the way - I've been watching him doze via baby monitor as I type this up, just to yank this essay out of the theoretical zone). I certainly hope that's not a situation I ever find myself in. But before Mr. Goldberg pulls another sneering, sanctimonious comment out of his treasure box of bile, I'd like to at least put to rest any concern that I might ever slaughter my child on an altar or nail him to a tree. That's the sort of barbarity we atheists had enough of around about the time we walked away from our faiths.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Books, in 420 Characters

The death of a blog rarely means anything more than just another collection of rambling thoughts and blurry photographs mercifully shut down and left to drift into the online ether. Every once in a while, out of either curiosity or boredom, I'll take advantage of the helpful "Next Blog" option at the top of most Blogger-sponsored sites, and will be treated to endless screens of totally unrelated examples of the odd thematic choices people settle upon when launching a blog of their own. Plenty of food blogs, of course, but plenty more mommy, parenting, or "family" blogs that often sprinkle random advice with page after numbing page of family photos and close-ups of the pet dog. A personal favorite remains a quilting blog I stumbled across a few months back after a friend pointed it out to me. The sight of the aging quilter's vacation photos, including one in which somebody joyfully plunges down a mild waterslide, is not something I'll soon forget.

This blog is not dead - yet, as the Pythons said. Not quite willing to inflict baby tips and infant photos on the world, I've found that my free time is best served reading rather than ranting - that as fun as it may be to highlight political nonsense, both my blood pressure and my intellectual health might be better served spending time with people whose minds I respect rather than disdain. In addition, a possible new outlet for writing and critical thought has recently opened up, and while the project may be some weeks or months away from beginning, that material will necessarily be occupying most of my writing time.

So rather than let this space sit vacant for weeks at a time, I'm going to begin filling in the dead space with much shorter bursts of thought. Epigrams, not essays. Thoughts, not screeds.

Being the primary caregiver to a six month child has left me with more time for reading than I'd suspected (yeah, I know, this may change), so I've begun trying to awkwardly force the strict limitations of social media into some sort of critical discourse. Simply put, is it possible to use the 420-character allotment bestowed on Facebook users to try and sum up a recently read book, without falling back on banalities like "this was a good read" or the like? Can 420 characters (spaces included, man!) encompass deeper thoughts than where one is in relation to Friday or how good a cup of coffee sounds right about now? Of course it can - in fact, it often does. But not often enough.

Each Friday, the reviews I've posted over the past week on FB will be dumped here. Those are the rules. We'll see how long this continues. But even dribs and drabs of thought are better than no thoughts at all.


Patti Smith, Just Kids

The only rock poet worth parsing takes her Dylan obsession one step further, and tops his “Chronicles” as rock autobiography, rescuing Robert Mapplethorpe the artist from the culture war pawn he’d been turned into. Tender, smart, funny. Also: reminds us that NY bohemia at one point was so small and self-contained it encompassed The Chelsea Hotel and a few bars. Wish I had been there.

Cathleen Schine, She Is Me

Quick read, with brains. Funny, too. But don’t tell V.S. Naipaul the plot. Three generations of women, two battling cancer, two having affairs, one a late-life lesbian awakening, one a vehicular romp after a mate fails to bond with a stray dog. Also, lusting after the producer for Mrs. B, a Madame Bovary screenplay. “It was as if her entire life had been leading her here,” it says right before the Sapphic plunge.

Aharon Appelfeld, The Retreat

German-speaking Jew, refusing to write “in the language of the murderers,” offers in his eleventh novel an unsettling extended metaphor – a remote alpine retreat outside Austria training Jews to pass as gentiles. The 1937 setting grounds the metaphor in reality, even if the murderers are rarely specified. In the end, the retreat fails, the inhabitants having already been exiled. Holocaust and diaspora, in 164 pages.