Tuesday, February 03, 2009


When Bad Catholics leave the Catholic Church, they become Episcopalians. When Bad Methodists leave the Methodist Church... they join the United Church of Christ. Or, at least, this Bad Methodist did.

It isn't even because of the UM policies on same-sex relationships. I would have stayed with the denomination and fought for change from within for as long as my beloved local church was there to give me reason to fight. Sadly, our church's last Sunday was January 25, 2009. Because of actions taken by our Bishop and District Superintendent that, at the very least, contributed to its demise, I no longer felt I could support the Methodist Church with my presence, gifts, and services. It will always have my prayers, however.

And long before that, I kinda let this blog die. The 2006 election wiped me out, even though we won, and during the 2008 election, I put my energy into other ways of communicating. I'm not going to delete this blog because I'd like to keep it as an archive of what I wrote when I was updating regularly. But I will probably not be updating it.

Thank you to everyone who read and commented. I appreciated hearing your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mistaking Spite for Patriotism

I've sort of put this blog on hiatus, mostly because I was really burnt out after last year's election and lost a lot of energy for talking about political issues. But sometimes, something just makes me so mad, I have to post.

Case in point:

The Mexican flag flies no more over the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum — and the U.S. flag is gone, too.

The museum's board of trustees voted to remove the flags — which had flown side-by-side since 1954 — after receiving complaints and threats about flying the Mexican flag.

Questions from visitors about why the Mexican flag was being flown on U.S. soil escalated in the past couple of years, said board chairwoman Sophia Kaluzniacki.

An anonymous death threat against the museum's animals made earlier this year by a phone caller also factored into the board's decision, but to a lesser degree, she said. The desire to avoid controversy on border-related issues was the main thrust, she said.

A death threat. Against animals. Over flying a flag. Kinda makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

I really find it hard to believe people can be this hateful. Or ignorant. It's called the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Because it features animals and vegetation native to the Sonoran Desert, the majority of which is found in Sonora, Mexico. It strikes me as highly appropriate and respectful to both countries that this beautiful and unique desert calls home to fly both flags equally.

But, no. People have to mistake ethno-centrism and spite against any country that isn't America for patriotism. It really makes me want to weep.

On the other hand, I really respect how the museum board handled the situation. While I'd prefer they continue to fly both flags, since people seem bent on interpreting that in a political, border-issue light, and since the museum is not and should not be a political institution, the decision to fly neither flag strikes me as a good compromise. I predict it won't satisfy the patriotism-means-hating-everybody-else crowd, who will decry the removal of the Stars and Stripes, but if we can't honor both countries that the Sonoran Desert spans, then we should honor neither. Good for you, Desert Museum.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Big Lie

I have a friend who teaches at Virginia Tech, so naturally the news of Monday morning's shootings came as quite a shock. This being the information age, we knew fairly early into the morning that she was fine because she posted on her Live Journal from her office and then again when she was home. By the time my three 9-year-olds got home from school, I had turned off CNN and we were on to the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon like any other day, so it wasn't until Wednesday when the news filtered down to them. They asked about it, I gave them the bare-bones basics, and then one of my daughters asked the Million Dollar Question: "That couldn't happen at our school, right?"

Now, I'm the world's worst liar. I can't pull off a convincing fib to save my life. My friends joke that I have no brain-to-mouth filter--if it pops into my head, it pops out my mouth. If I were a man and had a wife, I'd probably spend most nights on the couch for saying things like, "Actually, that dress does kinda make your hips look a little wide." And yet, when my daughter asked that question, without even blinking, I looked her in the eye, and I lied.

"No, honey, that could never happen at your school."

Fortunately, she didn't ask the follow-up Billion Dollar Question: "Why couldn't it happen to us?" Because I would have had no answer. Being a bad liar, I could not have sold any reason why this could not happen at her school because it could. And the lie would have fallen apart.

I've made sort of an uneasy peace with lying to the kids about this because, unlike "Stranger Danger," where I need to let them know there are people in the world who might hurt them so that they're less likely to be tricked, in this case, them knowing the truth serves no useful purpose. Knowing that it is, in fact, possible that some crazed gunman might one day decide that the students of their K-8 school are somehow to blame for all his problems and walk onto their campus and start shooting would do nothing to help prevent this from happening. All this knowledge would do is scare them needlessly. And so I accept that in this case, the lie was for the best.

But my logical reason for accepting the lie isn't the reason it came so easily to my lips in the first place. Like I said, I pretty much lack a decent brain-to-mouth filter. If someone asks me a question, I will automatically answer with what I believe to be true without taking a moment to consider whether that's the best thing to say. So for that answer to have popped out so effortlessly, it would have to mean that on some level I believe it. My head knows that it's a lie, but my heart puts its fingers in its ears and says "La la la, I can't hear you!"

This kind of willful naivety is nothing new to me. It's what allowed me to get on a plane less than two months after 9/11 without thinking twice about it beyond planning ahead for the longer security lines. It's what made me able to leave the hospital to go home and take care of two of my little toddlers when their brother was in ICU after he stopped breathing during a routine tonsillectomy. I was sure everything was going to be fine. Willful naivety--I know it's a lie, but I believe the lie anyway.

To be honest, I'm okay with believing the lie for the same reason I'm okay with telling the lie to my children. Because in these cases, the truth serves no useful purpose. Knowing that bad things can and do happen to anyone will not keep bad things from happening to me. And like my children, I choose to believe the lie without asking "Why not?" because I already know there is no answer. And that's where I'm not willfully naive. I get that I'm powerless, that nothing I do can prevent me from being the victim of the next act of random violence.

But what I see a lot of in the media is the desire to believe that lie, to believe that there is an answer to the question my daughter refused to ask: "Why couldn't it happen to us?" There's blame and finger-pointing and inquiries and a lot of smug assertions that if Campus Police/school officials/fill-in-the-blank hadn't screwed up, then everything would have been fine. The tragedy could have been prevented. It strikes me as similar to blaming a rape victim for wearing provocative clothes. It's not that she deserved what she got, oh no, of course not! It's just the comfort of knowing that it only happened because of something she did. And me, why, I'd do it differently, so that's why it couldn't happen to me.

Now I'm not arguing that we shouldn't look into what happened with an eye towards improvement or that we shouldn't learn whatever lessons history has to offer, but I am arguing against doing it with the kind of smug 20/20 hindsight that only serves to make us feel superior (and therefore safer) while heaping coals on the heads of those who most likely did the very best they could with the information they had at the time.

The truth is, tragedies happen and they can't always be prevented. The only person who could have stopped the Virginia Tech tragedy from happening is the young man who pulled the trigger. Not school authorities, not campus police, not anyone else. And that scares the hell out of us, because we have no control over the gunman. We want to believe that other factors, factors we can control are to blame, but they're not. Bad things happen to good people. This time, it happened to my friend's school. Eight years ago, it happened to another friend--from the same circle of friends--whose sister was a student at Columbine. Lightning struck not once but twice just within one group of people I know, and there is absolutely nothing that makes their schools any more likely targets than mine. Even the saying "There but for the grace of God go I" is a sort of blame game, as if I have God's grace but the students of Virginia Tech do not.

The problem with the blame game is that it inevitably results in cures that are worse than the disease. It's what makes us put up higher and higher walls around our houses and our schools and our country. It's what makes us justify getting the couple two rows up from us kicked off the plane for committing the unthinkable crime of daring to be Arab. It's what lets us wiretap and spy on each other and give up our freedoms little by little, sacrificing them on the altar of Security. Better safe than sorry, the adage goes, but in the name of security, we have only managed to make ourselves a lot sorrier without making ourselves actually safer because we can't. Even my 9-year-old knew better than to ask the question, "Why couldn't it be us?" because there is no answer, and we need to stop pretending there is.

We all have to believe some form of the lie or we wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning. But we need to choose which lie we believe very carefully, or we will find that our need to make the world a perfectly secure place will only succeed in making it one that isn't worth living in to begin with.

Monday, February 26, 2007

No Reasonable Chance of Pregnancy

I got a comment to this post that I found curious. Someone else wrote an excellent, succinct response to it, but since I'm never one to let a brief word suffice when I can turn it into a tome, I wanted to write my own thoughts. They're lengthy enough that I'm going to make it a separate post instead of a comment.

Dr. Don wrote re: the Washington state initiative to make marriage only valid between couples who produce children:

The problem with this argument is that it confuses the reasons for limiting marriage to a single man and woman with the legal arguments that must be made in court.

The reasons why one might support these amendments are primarily philosophical; based on beliefs that have little to do with legal theories and governance. It is these issues that ought to be debated when such amendments are proposed.

However, once the law is passed, our legal system cares nothing for philosophical arguments. The question is simply whether or not the government has the power to enact and enforce such a law. In this case, the state need only show that it has some interest in this area. While "furthering procreation" may not be the best reason, it is certainly a reason.

The law is ridiculous, because it takes a legal position and attempts to build a philosophical position from it. The argument presented by the pro-gay marriage group is a red herring. It says nothing about the core debate. It is clever, but ultimately an irrelevant distraction.

This argument made me think of a battle I once had with my insurance company. Ten years ago, my husband and I underwent several infertility treatments, some of which were explicitly covered by my health insurance, and some of which were explicitly not covered. We submitted a routine request for one of the procedures they did cover, and were denied because we'd "reached our limit of 6 cycles." Except that nowhere in my policy did they state there was a 6-cycle limit and they even had some factual errors in listing my visits to the doctor, including one supposed treatment on a date when I was out of town on a field trip with the school I worked for at the time and most definitely not in the doctor's office. So we decided to challenge the denial and went ahead with the treatment, paying for it ourselves while fighting with the insurance company to reimburse us.

I'm sure they had many philosophical reasons for wanting to deny our claim, the most likely one being, "we like our money and we don't really want to give it to you." But none of the reasons they claimed on their several denials were ones that were valid based on my policy—their "constitution," if you will. Eventually realizing that we weren't going to accept invalid reasons, they gave us a denial based on the one thing their policy did state: there's no reasonable chance of pregnancy. Now this is all well and good except for one small issue--by the time we received this denial, I was four months pregnant. With triplets. As a direct result of the procedure they were trying to claim could not reasonably be expected to get me pregnant.

When my husband informed them that I was, in fact, four months pregnant with triplets, their response was that my pregnancy was "irrelevant." Okaaaaaaay. Since I'm not the Virgin Mary, I would have to argue that the indisputable fact of my pregnancy was actually fairly compelling evidence that I had done something that could be reasonably expected to result in pregnancy and was therefore very relevant.*

It strikes me that the argument against same-sex marriage is very similar. There are lots of philosophical reasons for not wanting people to be able to marry someone of the same gender, but as far as I can tell, they boil down to "because I think gay sex is icky" and "because I believe my God is against it." The problem with these beliefs, important as they might be to the individual who holds them, is that they are not valid legal reasons. I think the idea of my parents having sex is icky, but I'm pretty sure that's not a good enough reason to legally bar them from doing so. And the First Amendment guarantees our right to not have the government promote one religious viewpoint to the exclusion of others, so "because I believe my God is against it" doesn't work either. Therefore, just as Dr. Don states, those who oppose same-sex marriage have to come up with a reason that will hold up in court. Like my insurance company, they latched onto the one thing they could think of that would work: no reasonable chance of pregnancy. Only they had to take it a step further because, hey, look, Mary Cheney! Proof that lesbians are, in fact, able to get pregnant. And I'm sure there are many examples of gay men successfully impregnating women, so it isn't just that gay people can't have children, it's that same-sex couples can't create children with each other. Mary Cheney was not impregnated by her partner, Heather Poe, and no gay man to date has managed to impregnate his male partner. Pretty much a given. So the argument is that the state has a compelling interest in "furthering procreation" between married couples, so much so that this is reason enough to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses because clearly they cannot procreate with each other.

If this is true, if the state really has a compelling interest in "furthering procreation," then the initiative to annul any marriage that does not produce children within three years is no more irrelevant than my pregnancy was to the issue of whether or not I could reasonably be expected to get pregnant. If that's the reason that Washington's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was upheld, then it is only logical to conclude that all marriages that do not produce children to which both partners are biological parents are contrary to the state's "compelling interest." If Joe and Bob shouldn't be married because they can't produce children without the help of a third party, then by God, Joanne and Bob should have the same rules applied to them.

Obviously, everyone agrees this is ridiculous. As one supporter of Washington's DOMA argues, they "have never said that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation." Then what are its other purposes, and why can't they be applied to same-sex couples? You'd think that in the three years I've been actively involved in marriage rights—not to mention the fact that I come from a family of intelligent, articulate people who are all against same-sex marriage—that I would have heard some of these great arguments as to why the state has a compelling interest in restricting the rights and responsibilities of marriage to opposite-sex couples. And yet I haven't heard a single one. Not one reason that doesn't boil down to "it's icky and I believe my God is against it." In fact, my father—adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage—doesn't even try to argue that there's a good reason for the state to decide who can get married and who can't. He proposes that the state should get out of the marriage business all together and leave it to the religious institutions. The state can then grant the legal rights and responsibilities of "unions" to couples separately from their status as "married" in the eyes of their church. This plan, which is basically how the U.K. handles marriage, makes a lot of sense to me. Then arguments about whether a given couple should be married or not would happen within individual places of worship, where the argument "because I believe my God is against it" rightly belongs.

But given the fact that our society blurs the boundaries between the religious sacrament of marriage and the legal rights and responsibilities of couples who are committed to one another, there is no good legal reason for the state to deny benefits to some that it confers on others. And Dr. Don's argument that it's okay to claim one reason in the legal briefs just because your underlying philosophical beliefs won't hold up there strikes me as disingenuous.

Kinda like telling a woman who's four months pregnant with triplets that you really don't think there's a reasonable chance that she could get pregnant.

*The insurance company eventually decided (after our lawyer threatened to involve the media) that perhaps the fact that I was four months pregnant with triplets was relevant after all and they reimbursed us for the procedure.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Slactivist on Scripture and Reason

Would that I could put it this well. There's not even any quotes I can pull because the whole thing resonates so exactly with how I read scripture and experience the world. What do you do when the map and what you see in the real world with your own eyes conflicts? Personally, I can't choose the map just because it's The Map.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Calling the bluff

Here's an interesting take on marriage law in Washington State: legally limit marriage to one man and one woman who are able to have children.

Couples would be required to prove they can have children to get a marriage license. If they did not have children within three years, their marriages would be subject to annulment.

All other marriages would be defined as "unrecognized" and people in them would be ineligible to receive marriage benefits.

Clearly this is a ridiculous proposal. I don't think even the most conservative of groups that use language like "children are better off in homes with their married, biological parents" really think couples should not be allowed to be married if they can't or choose not to have children. But it does underscore a significant problem with some of the arguments used to support laws against same-sex marriage. Courts, like the Washington State Supreme Court, have been upholding the constitutionality of Defense Against Marriage Acts (DOMAs) by citing the state's interest in "furthering procreation."

If this is true, if this is really a solid reason why keeping same-sex marriage illegal is in the public interest, then the above initiative makes perfect sense. If procreation is the main reason for marriage, then marriage should only be granted to couples who procreate.

But if this law really is ridiculous, then that means the procreation argument itself is ridiculous. You can't have it both ways.

Good for the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance for calling their bluff.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Distorting Research

I often hear from those arguing against same-sex marriage statements like "countless studies show that children do better when raised by a married mother and father." Usually these statements are made without citing even one of the "countless" studies, but in a December 12 Time magazine Column, James Dobson of Focus on the Family actually did quote two studies, one by Dr. Kyle Pruett, and the other by Carol Gilligan. So yay, finally actual real studies cited.

The only problem? He misinterpreted the research.

According to both Gilligan and Pruett, Dobson took phrases from their research out of context and quoted them to support his views even though the research in question does not address the issue of gender and parenting at all.

It's like proof-texting from the Bible. Anyone can take a single verse or even several verses and quote them out of context to support any conclusion they like. Same with science. Pull a single phrase out of any given research, and you can probably support any argument you care to make. But Dobson specifically argues:

With all due respect to Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father.

He then goes on to cite two specific works that don't address the issue at all. If that isn't bearing false witness, I don't know what is.

(On a side note, I found the comments following the Inside Higher Ed article really interesting. I'm not an academic, so reading about academics debating the issue was interesting to me.)