Monday, December 22, 2008

Vatican: Decriminalize Homosexuality, But Don't Grant Gays Equal Civil Rights

The National Catholic Reporter is carrying a report from Religion News Service that the Catholic Church now officially favors the portions of the "Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," currently before the U.N. General Assembly, that call for all nations to remove criminal penalties for homosexual behavior.

This at least pits Catholicism against those nations whose laws make homosexuality a crime, including the the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The article reports that "The non-binding declaration, which was sponsored by France and backed by the 27-member European Union, received 66 votes in the 192-member UN General Assembly on Thursday. Aside from the Holy See, opponents included China, Russia, the United States," as well as the Muslim nations.

However, the Vatican remains opposed to gay people having equal civil rights, especially any move to equate same-sex unions with marriage. It even opposes the declaration's use of the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity," on the grounds that the terms have "no established meaning in international law."

This, of course, ignores several decades of agreement among psychologists that the terms have quite specific meaning as phenomena experienced on several continents. The basic thrust of the declaration is to have international law recognize realities which psychology has recognized already, and to adopt psychology's verdict that homosexual orientation is not a pathology that needs to be cured.

Support for decriminalizing homosexuality is certainly enlightened and welcome. However, by continuing to treat same-sex orientation as a defect that warrants lesser treatment under civil law, the church is sanctioning transferring the bigotry from criminal law to the arena of civil rights.

Meanwhile, the possibility raised here multiple times--of treating all couples equally under civil law and leaving the definition and application of marriage to the churches, for their own members--is still something the Vatican never considers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Pictures Tell the Story: Earliest Snow in Houston and New Orleans for Decades

Snow accumulation in Houston's South Shore Harbour Resort last night.

The snow moved east and greeted New Orleans at daylight.

And our house in New Orleans has never looked cozier.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

“Pastoral Message To Homosexual Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles”

Gay activists at the Vatican December 6, 2008.
Not to be outdone by the Archbishop of San Francisco, his counterpart in Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, and his six auxiliary bishops have issued their own apologia for supporting Proposition 8.

They posted their “Pastoral Message to Homosexual Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles” on the archdiocesan website December 3 and in the online version of The Tidings, the archdiocesan newspaper, on December 5.

The December 3rd posting offers complete .pdf versions in English and Spanish. They are followed by a 19-page appendix in English that tries to support a central argument of the document: that the Hebrew scriptures, the Christian Scriptures and the Muslim Koran have always understood marriage “as the life-long relationship of a man and a woman ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of their children.”

The appendix includes: four pages of “Jewish Scripture References to Marriage,” one page of “Christian References to Marriage,” and 12 pages of “Qur’an References to Marriage” (the last made available in English, Arabic, English transliteration of the Arabic, and listening-reciting versions in three Arabic dialects).

A final page of the appendix tries to document another key theme—that “California affords domestic partnerships most of the same rights and responsibilities as marriages under state law (Cal. Fam. Code §297.5).” It duplicates a Wikipedia list of those rights.

The pastoral message is effusive in repeatedly assuring gay Catholics “that you are cherished members of the Catholic Church;” that “passage of Proposition 8…does not diminish in any way the importance of you, our homosexual brothers and sisters in the Church;” that “Proposition 8 was never intended, directly or indirectly, to lessen the value and importance of gay and lesbian persons;” and that “We are committed to find ways to eliminate discrimination against homosexual persons…”

However, like the apologia from San Francisco, the Los Angeles statement never addresses the California Supreme Court’s finding that refusal to call the state’s domestic partnerships marriages rendered them lesser arrangements, which denied gay partners first-class citizenship with equivalent rights under the state constitution.

Moreover, to claim that the three monotheistic world religions have an identical understanding of marriage today, or that their understanding has been identical in the past, is a canard both inaccurate and dishonest. The most obvious contrast is the historic encouragement of polygamy by Jews and Muslims, and the contemporary belief by at least some Muslim males that their reward in heaven will include endless polygamous bliss.

Compounding that inaccuracy, the document announces that “‘Marriage’ is not merely a religious concept, but is so fundamental to human experience that it cannot be redefined legally." This does violence to several facts, including: (1) that marriage has been redefined legally in numerous times and places over centuries; (2) that the California Supreme Court found that marriage had already been redefined by the California State Constitution as a set of rights to which all couples were entitled; and (3) that Proposition 8 itself was yet another effort to redefine marriage legally.

Those three misrepresentations speak much more loudly than the pastoral commitment the bishops claim to have toward gay people. And, like the Archbishop of San Francisco, the L.A. bishops never considered if the California Supreme Court’s finding could be remedied by some equitable alternative instead of Proposition 8, or how they plan to achieve equity if the Court allows Proposition 8 to remain in the state constitution.

It does not help that Cardinal Mahony, the lead signer of the pastoral message, has also been accused numerous times and in multiple venues of facilitating and failing to stop the activity of hundreds of pedophile priests in Stockton and Los Angeles, and that he and the archdiocese have agreed to a $660 million settlement with 508 victims.

Adding insult to those injuries, Mahony joined Catholic officials in Rome to scapegoat gay priests as the main perpetrators of the pedophilia, when it is well known that the preponderance of male pedophiles are heterosexuals with arrested emotional or psychological development, many of them also abused as children.

Meanwhile, in a timely rejoinder to the religious thinking behind Proposition 8, Newsweek posted on December 6 one of the cover stories of its December 15 edition, which focuses on gay rights. In a link to the article yesterday, MSNBC characterized it aptly as a religious argument for gay marriage.

The authors do an excellent job contrasting what the Hebrew and Christian Bibles say about marriage with the definition of marriage that Catholics, Mormons and other religious-right devotees imposed on California November 4.

After offering several specific examples that do not support the Proposition 8 model, they conclude:

“First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's—to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes.”

They add: “We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future. The Bible offers inspiration and warning on the subjects of love, marriage, family and community. It speaks eloquently of the crucial role of families in a fair society and the risks we incur to ourselves and our children should we cease trying to bind ourselves together in loving pairs.”

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prop 8 - The Musical: Actors Roast Its 'Pick n Choose' Theology--and Its Fiscal Myopia

The Associated Press and MSNBC alert us to a three-minute internet video with a blockbuster cast posted on Stars include Jack Black (as Jesus), John C. Reilly and Allison Janney (as a conservative church leaders), and Neil Patrick Harris (singing that gay marriages can save the economy--and in great voice, by the way). It's enough to make Catholic and Mormon officials smile!

CA Supreme Court Asks Prop 8 Combatants to Address Two Constitutional Questions

Covering an appeal from the Archbishop of San Francisco for mutual respect and tolerance between those who supported Proposition 8 and those who found it offensive, the National Catholic Reporter says that the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases that seek to overturn the state-constitution amendment, approved by a slim margin November 4th:

On Nov. 19 the California Supreme Court agreed to decide constitutional issues stemming from voters' approval of the initiative but has denied requests to suspend enforcement of the initiative until the questions are resolved.

In issuing its order on Proposition 8, the California Supreme Court directed supporters and opponents of the initiative to submit written arguments on three questions:

-- Is it invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?
-- Does it violate the separation-of-powers doctrine under the California Constitution?
-- If it is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?

The court issued its order in three cases protesting Proposition 8 as an unconstitutional override of the high court's ruling in May that same-sex couples have a right to designate their unions as marriage.

The parties in the cases include same-sex couples and a number of cities and counties that want to issue marriage licenses under the ruling. They claim the measure denies same-sex couples equal treatment under the law.

NCR's coverage tries to focus on positive aspects of Archbishop George H. Niederauer's plea, issued in his weekly column in Catholic San Francisco's December 5th issue--including his appeal to churchgoers to "speak and act out on the truth that all people are God's children and are unconditionally loved by God. Whoever they are, and whatever their circumstances, their spiritual and pastoral rights should be respected, together with their membership in the church. In that spirit, with God's grace and much prayer, perhaps we can all move forward together."

NCR also noted Niederauer's call for civility from both sides: "We need to stop hurling names like 'bigot' and 'pervert' at each other. And we need to stop it now." He added that both sides "need to stop talking as if we are experts on the real motives of people with whom we have never even spoken."

The article acknowledged that the column is also an apologia for the role of the California bishops in passing Proposition 8 and specifically for Niederauer's role in drumming up support from the Mormon Church--which reportedly contributed $22 million of the $35 million which backers spent to get it passed.

However, NCR also provides a link to the archdiocese's website. And the complete text of the column makes it clear that he devotes a lot more words to defending the churches' role and his tactics than to reconciliation--and that his stance actually impedes reconciliation.

Although Niederauer denies that the San Francisco Archdiocese or any other California diocese contributed funds directly to the Proposition 8 campaign, the column makes it clear that they did fund the cost of pamphlets printed for it and that he did indeed use Mormon contacts he developed during 11 years as Bishop of Salt Lake to secure LDS political and financial support for Proposition 8.

He devotes the bulk of the column to reiterating religious conservatives' usual boilerplate rationale for making the rights of gay couples less than those of straight couples:

Quite a number of important political issues regularly touch upon the ethical, moral, and religious convictions of citizens: immigration policy, the death penalty, torture of prisoners, abortion, euthanasia, and the right to health care are some such issues.

Members of churches who supported Proposition 8 sincerely believe that defining marriage as only between a man and a woman is one such issue. They see marriage and the family as the basic building blocks of human society, existing before government and not created by it. Marriage is for us the ideal relationship between a man and woman, in which, through their unique sexual complementarity, the spouses offer themselves to God as co-creators of new human persons, a father and mother giving them life and enabling them to thrive in the family setting.

Are there many instances in which this ideal fails to be realized? Of course there are. Single parents, grandparents, foster parents and others deserve praise and support for their courage, sacrifice and devotion in raising the children for whom they are responsible. Still, the proponents of Proposition 8 subscribe to a definition of marriage that recognizes and protects its potential to create and nurture new human life, not merely a contract for the benefit of a relationship between adults.

Whatever others may say, the proponents of Proposition 8 supported it as a defense of the traditional understanding and definition of marriage, not as an attack on any group, or as an attempt to deprive others of their civil rights. The fact remains that, under California law, after the passage of Proposition 8, same sex couples who register as domestic partners will continue to have “the same rights, protections and benefits” as married couples. Proposition 8 simply recognizes that there is a difference between traditional marriage and a same sex partnership.

In its original ruling, of course, the California Supreme Court disagreed that California civil unions afforded gay partners the same rights as straight partners. The issue the court now faces is whether the state's initiative process can validly be used to remove an existing right from the state constitution by a simple popular majority.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop's plea for tolerance rings untrue, because the churches who gave Proposition 8 impassioned support and millions of dollars never considered a better alternative to the court's ruling: the proposal raised elsewhere and supported here, to make civil unions the partnerships which states recognize for ALL couples and leave the definition and recognition of marriage a matter between each church and its adherents.

It is the religious right's single-minded insistence that gay unions must be treated legally as something less than heterosexual unions and its closed-minded refusal to consider this other alternative that make their anti-gay bigotry crystal clear.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Brad Pitt Won't Quit New Orleans: Six Houses Built, Twelve Dozen to Go

The Associated Press and report that Brad Pitt was on hand in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward as families moved into the first six houses built through his Make It Right foundation for their first holidays since Hurricane Katrina. Pitt, who said he was really happy for the families, was still frustrated that the project has 144 more homes to build. But he forecast 100 homes in the area by the end of 2009. Some paragraphs from the article follow:

Pitt said that by December of 2009, the Lower 9th Ward should be one of the nation's largest "green" neighborhoods.

"This place that suffered such injustice and so much death can become one of the primary examples of a high-performance neighborhood. It really is amazing."

While the homes built by Pitt's project are more contemporary than the Creole cottages and shotgun-style homes typical of New Orleans, they incorporate some elements used in the area for generations, such as high ceilings and shaded porches.

The homes also have solar panels and other features that help cut energy bills by at least 75 percent, Pitt said. Other architectural elements address challenges of the area, including ventilation and mold- and termite-resistant materials.

Speaking of architecture, Elizabeth Sneed, a Los Angeles Times blogger, notes that Pitt's efforts will be covered in the January issue of Architectural Digest. She quotes the magazine's entire PR preview of the article. Much of it follows:

In its January ’09 issue, Architectural Digest catches up with Pitt when he returns to welcome Katrina victim Gloria Guy back to her new home built by the actor’s Make It Right Foundation.

A year after the New Orleans storm, Pitt was horrified at the lack of progress in repairing the damage it wreaked, especially in the devastated African-American populated Lower Ninth Ward. “I couldn’t believe nothing was going on. I recalled the pictures of people on roofs, begging for help and I couldn’t believe that this was our America.”

Determined to put his dual passions for architecture and environmentally-sound development to work, he and several partners started the Make It Right Foundation, whose aim is to build 150 homes for residents of the lower Ninth Ward -– one of the hardest hit during the ’05 hurricane. He invited architects from around the globe to New Orleans to submit sustainable -– and affordable housing solutions.

Pitt convened a meeting with the architects, residents and community leaders to establish guidelines for rebuilding the neighborhood. “I never had any idea that so many people would show up for this. The model works and it’s replicable.”

Although many thought the Lower Ninth Ward should be abandoned because its land was below sea level, Pitt argued that other wards -– some populated by white and middle class were on lower ground and nobody suggested abandonment there. “It seems to me that this is about fairness. We may have been designed equal, but we certainly weren’t born equal. I feel great happiness whenever we level the playing field.”

Six of the originally-planned 150 homes have already been built through the Foundation. Looking to the future, Pitt believes Make It Right is a model for projects around the world. “We’ve cracked something here … these houses redefine affordable housing … this is a proving ground for a bigger idea that could work globally. This project is not mine anymore. It’s so beyond me.”

But the day AD talked to Pitt, the day he helped Gloria Guy and her family move back in, crystallized why he put his passions and his celebrity behind the Foundation he created. “You have no idea,” he says, “what a high it is for me to see the delight on people’s faces when they see how these homes work.”