Saturday, January 29, 2005

Hate speech vs. free speech

Thanks to Bad Catholic for pointing out this article in the Washington post about the Swedish pastor who was arrested for hate speech.

"Our country is facing a disaster of great proportions," he told the 75 parishioners at the service. "Sexually twisted people will rape animals," Green declared, and homosexuals "open the door to forbidden areas," such as pedophilia.

In Sweden, like much of Europe, this kind of speech is illegal. In the U.S., speech like this is protected under the First Amendment.

Where do we draw the line? Are statements like these violent in and of themselves? Do they incite people like Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson, who murdered Matthew Shepard? Or more recently, David A. Higdon, a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi "Skinhead" just convicted of first degree murder for beating Philip Walsted to death because Walsted was gay? Speeches like Rev. Green's may well be exactly the kind of thing that people the McKinneys, Hendersos, and Higdons use to justify their lethal violence. Then again, I doubt people like this need a whole lot to justify violence. They were violent to begin with and didn't need someone else's hate speech to push them over the edge. The Bible itself, when read literally, can be used to justify all sorts of insidious violence, including genocide. Should the Bible be banned as hate speech?

Personally, I come down on the side of free speech. Most intelligent people, even those who think homosexuality is a sin, can make the distinction between two consenting adults of the same gender in a mutally loving relationship and pedophiles and people who would "rape animals." Speeches like this tend to show the speakers for the idiots they are and do a lot more harm to the anti-gay agenda than rational conservatives who don't use ludicrous non-sequitors to state their case. Take a look at Fred Phelps, who creates gay rights supporters every time he opens his mouth. No offense to Sweden, but I'll take free speech because I think it does the job better than any statute can.

Actually, there's an irony here, since Phelps claims "God hates Sweden." I think he and Rev. Green would probably get along fabulously.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Skittles Theology

Okay, I'm probably opening up a can of worms here, but what the heck, it's my blog.

Recently on TV I've been seeing a lot of a particular ad for Skittles candies. It has three teenagers eating Skittles while sitting on a rainbow high in the air over farmland. One teen turns to the other two and says, "What if this rainbow doesn't really exist and it's just in our imagin—" Before he finishes his thought, a trap door opens in the rainbow beneath him and he plunges down while the other two look on and shrug, still eating their Skittles. The voice over says "Skittles. Believe the Rainbow. Taste the Rainbow."

Frankly, I find all the Skittles ads irritating, but this one actually disturbs me, despite the fact that gallows humor doesn't usually bother me much. I think I finally realized why. This Skittles commercial sums up a common view of Christian theology. Believe in Jesus and all is well. Question? Doubt? Struggle? Don't believe? Get hit by a bus while in the middle of these struggles, before you've discovered all the answers? You're summarily dropped. Amusing enough for a rainbow in a candy commercial, less so when you're talking about a loving and perfect God.

I had a similar reaction reading the first Left Behind book, which upset me so much I never bothered to read the rest. There was a scene toward the end of the book when one of the main characters, a reporter named Buck, was invited to a special meeting with the Anti-Christ. At the time, Buck had already been introduced to the other protagonists, new converts who had missed the Rapture but had come to be True Believers since then. (We know they're True Believers because they all said The Prayer. Conversion experiences have remarkably little variety in this book.) As Buck is about to go into the meeting, he is struggling with all they told him. Has there really been a Rapture? Should he Believe in Jesus? He goes into the bathroom and prays The Prayer. Now, he too is a True Believer! He walks into the meeting where the Anti-Christ pulls out a gun and shoots someone in the head. Buck, naturally, is appalled, but even worse is the reaction of everyone else in the room. They all remember the shooting as a suicide! Buck realizes that he was protected from the false memory of the event because of his conversion in the bathroom. Had he not converted on the spot, had he still been struggling with whether or not it was true, whether or not what had happened was really the Rapture, whether or not Jesus was the Christ, he would not have had God's protection.

This is a view of God that horrifies me. It reduces God to a deal-maker, someone who hands out rewards to the good pupils who get the right answers, while slapping with rulers those who don't understand, who don't have all the pieces, or whose life experiences don't match up with how others describe Christ. This doesn't paint a picture of a God of grace who saves us because we can't save ourselves. It paints the picture of a God who requires us to be right first. Where's the grace in that?

Now the Skittles ad is significantly less troubling because it is, after all, a television ad for candy while Left Behind is marketed as the Truth about God. However, the message is the same: get it right or you're damned. Personally, that just isn't the God whom I worship nor with whom I have a relationship. I don't think any of us could have a relationship with a God like that because it's impossible for finite humans to have even a flicker of a concept of what an infinite God is like, let alone believe in him so correctly that we can be "saved" by our own beliefs. Even as I type this, I imagine God's laughing his ass off at how simplistic I am and how wrong I've got it. But that's okay, because the God I worship doesn't expect me to get it right, to not question, to not doubt. He doesn't live in a box defined by a set of things we must believe or get right lest we fall through a trap door into the abyss. Rather, he's the God who blessed Jacob for wrestling with him then changed his name to Israel, "he struggles with God."

For me, belief and faith aren't Skittles Theology. I find God in the questions, not in the answers.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Off-topic: Parents needed for academic survey

A friend of mine works with the professor listed below and is looking for parents to take part in a study. If you're interested, follow the link below.


We are seeking parents over the age of 18 to participate in a survey which is being conducted as part of an academic study examining the relationship between children's literature and ideas about appropriate behaviour.

The survey should take no more than ten minutes to complete. It will consist of reading a short children’s story with three variations, and then selecting the version you would prefer to read to your child(ren).

Your participation is voluntary and you may stop participating at any time. Also, you do not have to answer any questions that may be asked.

Your participation will be kept confidential and no additional information about you will be collected.

No unusual risks or discomforts are anticipated for participants of this survey.

If you should have any questions about this research project, please feel free to contact:

Dr. Craig Palmer
Department of Anthropology
University of Missouri at Columbia
(573) 882 0910

If you are interested in participating, the survey can be found here.

Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I find myself at odds with myself over proposed legislation that would "allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control pills and emergency contraception without fear of being fired."

Very dicey stuff. On the one hand, women should absolutely have access to these medications. On the other hand, pharmacists absolutely should not be forced to violate their consciences. I don't know how to reconcile these two rights.

One suggestions, which is not part of the proposed legislation and is therefore a concern to the pro-choice camp, is to require conscientious objectors to refer to another pharmacist.

The proposal has alarmed Kathy Boyle, executive director of the Arizona Pharmacy Alliance. She said she's less concerned with provisions that allow employees to refuse to dispense these pills than with the refusal of sponsors to include a provision that requires the pharmacist to at least refer customers somewhere they can get their prescriptions filled.

One pro-life pharmacist agreed this is how she would handle it, while another felt he could not do so as that would still be assisting in abortion, which he cannot do in good conscience.

Again, I see both sides of this disagreement and don't know how to resolve them. But we do need to find a way to not force people to violate their beliefs without denying access to medication for women who need it.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Much Ado about SpongeBob

He lives in a pineapple under the sea. And, apparently, he is teaching kids to be gay. Or at least that's what the media is saying Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is saying.

To be fair to Dr. Dobson, that isn't really what he said.

From the outset, let's be clear that this issue is not about objections to any specific cartoon characters. Instead, Dr. Dobson is concerned that these popular animated personalities are being exploited by an organization that's determined to promote the acceptance of homosexuality among our nation's youth.

The flap is over a video produced by the We Are Family Foundation, which features many children's characters from a wide spectrum of shows and distributors, including Sesame Street, Barney, Bear in the Big Blue House, Arthur, Rugrats, Kim Possible, Lilo & Stitch, and many, many, more, including Mr. Squarepants. According to the We Are Family Foundation, the purpose of the video is:

to promote tolerance and diversity to America's children. The video, which demonstrates to children the importance of togetherness embodied in the word “family”, will be distributed to 61,000 public and private elementary schools in the United States on March 11, 2005, in celebration of the proposed National We Are Family Day.

The problem Dr. Dobson has with the video?

While some of the goals associated with this organization are noble in nature, their inclusion of the reference to "sexual identity" within their "tolerance pledge" is not only unnecessary, but it crosses a moral line.

Okay, so let's take a look at the Tolerance Pledge in question. In part, it says:

To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.

With all due respect to Dr. Dobson, what's the problem here? This isn't promoting a "homosexual agenda" and it isn't saying you have to agree with gay people or accept their lifestyle as moral. It simply says you will treat people who are different with respect. Why is that a bad thing?

In looking into this a little deeper, the real problem is that this all started over a mistake. It seems that there is another organization called We Are Family that is specifically a gay/lesbian advocacy group. World Net Daily posted an article that originally stated, "While the video is not specifically about homosexuality, it's producer, the We Are Family Foundation, has the primary purpose of 'fighting homophobia,' according to its website." Clearly this refers to the wrong organization! World Net Daily has since updated the article with a reference to the correct organization, but still, you have to wonder if the mistake hadn't been made in the first place, would the "Tolerance Pledge" be enough to bring out the wrath of Focus on the Family? Is it all just a mistake for which they refuse to apologize, or is that "Tolerance Pledge" something they really see as an insidious threat to children? Since when did respect, even with people we don't agree with, become such a bad thing to teach children?

As for the video itself? It's completely innocuous. Lots of favorites from children's shows singing about being family. Not a hint of anything remotely connected to sexual orientation. You can view the actual video here, but you do have to wade through a biased commentary from MSNBC first.

Then again, maybe Dr. Dobson is right. SpongeBob is pretty scary. That whole "living in a pineapple under the sea" lifestyle? It's just so... wrong.

Strange isn't always bad

Another busy week has prevented me from updating regularly. Last weekend I flew to Kentucky to be the Matron of Honor in a wedding of two good friends. In most ways, it was a typical wedding. Upon my arrival, the bride was haranguing her intended about packing for their honeymoon... they already sounded like an old married couple! The family was warm and hospitable and full of good spirits. There was the usual pre-wedding crises: the hairdresser showed up a half an hour before schedule and we weren't ready. The bride's brother was late. The ceremony and reception were in a historic home and as we arrived to get ready, the bride's mom discovered a light fixture by the fireplace in front of which the ceremony was to occur had been removed, leaving wires dangling. Flowers were quickly arranged to cover the gaping hole and wires. All the usual stuff that doesn't matter in the end when two people stand before God and vow their eternal commitment to one another. Just your typical wedding.

Except this one happened to have two brides.

Before I left for Kentucky, my seven-year-old daughter asked me, "What does it look like when there are two brides?" I had to admit I didn't know because I'd never been to a same-sex wedding before, but I told her I'd show her pictures when I got back. This satisfied her, but she went on to observe, "I think it would look strange, two women getting married. But not as strange as two men getting married."

I had to laugh at her complete honesty, and then it gave me pause. Here this young child was able to express that something was strange and different to her, without attaching anything negative to that. It was something she'd never seen before and couldn't imagine, but that didn't make it something bad or even uncomfortable. She was okay with the fact that it was different.

Adults could learn a lesson here. For most of us who are straight, two men or two women getting married is strange and different and something we've not seen before. But why does it have to be wrong just because it's strange? Can't we admit it's strange and still see the beauty? This ceremony, as strange as it was for me to see two women in beautiful gowns (not a tux in sight!) exchange vows, was one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies I'd ever been to. The minister read from Romans 8:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Then she pronounced them bound in Holy Matrimony. It was very, very moving.

Yes, I know all the Biblical arguments against homosexuality, but what does that have to do with the government? Why should that Biblical interpretation prevail in the law of the land over mine? Why should it prevail over those who don't believe in the Bible at all? Why can't churches that don't allow gay marriages simply not perform them, while letting those that do perform them legally? Why can't we be like my seven-year-old daughter, admit that we find the whole thing strange, but not turn our own discomfort with that strangeness into a crusade to stop it?

Strange isn't always bad. Strange can be beautiful.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

AZ Legislature fails to pass constitutional amendment

Looks like even with the ultra-conservatives controlling the state legislature, they still couldn't get enough votes to defeat the proposal to amend the Arizona Constitution to ban gay marriage and civil unions of any sort. Of course, that doesn't mean the issue is dead; far from it, as there is sure to be a drive to put it on the 2006 ballot by petition. Nevertheless, it's good to know that it couldn't get enough votes in the legislature. It gives me hope.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Fred Phelps never materialized, but even the suggestion that he might come was enough to really galvanize the community. Wingspan released a wonderful thank you note to both Tucson and Fred Phelps himself, reinforcing my long-standing belief that hate mongers damage their own cause more than what they hate and that God really can use anything and anyone for good.

And finally, thank you Fred Phelps.

Thank you for not coming to Tucson, though we were ready for you and will be ready for you the next time you threaten to come.

Thank you for helping Wingspan and Rincon University High mobilize our community against hate. Because of you, hundreds of people who never had heard of Wingspan before have come through our doors and been added to our Enews list. Because of you, the students know they live in an engaged, caring community. Because of you, members of the LGBT community, school administrators, law enforcement, students and clergy—groups that have not historically worked together, were partnered in support of one another. No doubt these newly-forged relationships will continue and strengthen because of you.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Just Say No to mucking with the Geneva Conventions

It seems that while Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales now rejects his 2002 memo stating that the "Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War does not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda," he and the Bush administration have discussed amending the Geneva Conventions POW protections.

If "[t]his administration does not engage in torture and will not condone torture," as Gonzales asserts, it begs the question, what parts of the Geneva Conventions POW protections need amending? The definitions of POWs? Why? If someone isn't a POW, it's okay to deny them human rights? That certainly is what the 2002 memo implies, and it certainly is what has been going on in Guantanamo Bay. The treatment of POWs? Why? Because al Qaeda and other terrorists ignore the Geneva Conventions and behead and otherwise torture prisoners? Sure they do. They're terrorists. It concerns me greatly that we are trying to lower ourselves to fight like terrorists. No battle or war is worth selling our souls.

Since 1949, the Geneva Conventions have stood as a hallmark of human rights for prisoners. The fact that our enemies may not choose to follow them should not nullify our responsibility to do so. If we start justifying things like torture or even "lesser" offenses like denying due process and legal representation, then those who died on 9/11 have died in vain. The terrorists won't have stolen our freedom; we'll have thrown it away.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Letter to my state legislature

To the Republican Majority in the Arizona State Legislature:

I am writing to you regarding the Arizona legislature's proposal to send an amendment to the Arizona Constitution before voters in 2006 banning gay marriage. I strongly urge you to vote NO.

As your constituent and a fellow Republican, I am greatly concerned about the fact that this amendment as proposed would usurp the rights of local communities to decide for themselves how to handle benefits for domestic partners. The GOP is supposed to be about less government interference, not mandates from on high. I am also concerned about what seems like a blatant attempt by our party to draw more ultra-conservatives to the polls in a gubernatorial election year. It's, as the Arizona Republic noted, political chicanery unworthy of our great party. This state has a Republican majority. Surely a worthy GOP candidate can win out over Governor Napolitano without such a ridiculous ploy.

As a married mother of three, I am concerned about any law that prevents people from forming lifetime commitments to each other. Commitments strengthen families, whether they be between a man and a woman, two men, or two women. That is good for individuals, good for children, and good for the state. Same sex marriage is not a threat to traditional marriage; individuals making lifetime, legally binding commitments to each other can only strengthen the institution of marriage as a whole.

As an Arizonan, I strongly believe this amendment is a horrible idea for our state. We already have a law banning gay marriage. Why should we add language--into the constitution no less!--that could even take away the rights of couples to form legal contracts with each other. I don't understand how going this far could be anything other than mean-spirited and vindictive.

Please stand against this horrible amendment. Please don't let the state play politics with people's lives. To quote Barry Goldwater, arguably one of the greatest Republican politicians to come out of this state:

The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they're gay. You don't have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. (Washington Post, July 28, 1994).

Thank you for your consideration.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Fred Phelps comes to Tucson

Yes, that Fred Phelps. As you might note in my bio, I credit him with being a big part of my decision to get involved in gay rights. And he's coming to my home town on Monday.

Usually, this means good things for gay rights causes because this guy infuriates pretty much everybody. Heck, his list of churches he's considering picketing includes a Southern Baptist church that last year held a seminar on converting gays. I can't imagine why they're not anti-gay enough, but apparently they are. Thanks to the blessings of freedom of speech, he has brought more attention to gay rights than probably anybody alive and counter protests along the lines of donating $1 to the organization he's protesting for every minute he's there have raised both money and awareness.

Wingspan, the local gay community center, will be holding an off-site gathering. If you live in or near Tucson, consider going or donating to them or the Laramie Project.

Mean Spirited

It's the only words I can think to describe this Arizona Constitution amendment initiative the state legislature is planning to put on the 2006 ballot against gay marriage. Yeah, we knew it was coming. Yeah, it's no different than the other measures that passed in places like Kentucky and Ohio. But still, seeing it in my state, my home that I love, in print, makes my blood boil. It's hard for me to find words to express my outrage.

Arizona's measure is being modeled on the Ohio amendment, which says state and local governments "shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

Why? Why go to such lengths? How can this be anything short of vindictive? It's one thing if you think marriage should be limited to a certain definition. I don't agree, but fine, whatever. But to make it illegal for towns to pass their own laws that confer benefits on domestic partners? To take away rights already hard won? And the language could go much further. If the state can't "recognize a legal status" for relationships, does that mean that couples can't even draw up contracts to protect themselves in case one is hospitalized? For community property after death? It's unfair enough that they should have to go to those lengths at all when all I had to do was sign my marriage license and all the other stuff like hospital visitation, the right to make health care decisions for my husband if he's incapacitated, etc. came automatically, but at least now same-sex couples have this option. If this amendment passes in 2006? I shudder to think the devastation this will inflict on people's lives. Actually, I already know because I have friends in Kentucky affected by the new laws there.

To my fellow Arizonans, particularly my fellow Christians, I urge you to really think about this between now and November 2006. Do you really want to be in the business of deciding for others how to live their lives? Do you really want to be in the business of putting up legal barriers between people who love each other? Is that really what Jesus would do? The same Jesus who stopped the legal execution of an adulteress by reminding us we are all sinners and who told his followers to separate their obligations to God and state by giving to Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's? Can you really envision Jesus campaigning to impose laws instead of changing hearts?

Monday, January 03, 2005

A step toward equality in California

The expansion of domestic partnership rights for gays in California takes effect today, which "makes domestic partnership in California equivalent to marriage in almost all but name."

The key word being "almost."

The law can't confer any federal benefits or obligations; not even Massachusetts' gay marriages have done that. Neither does California's law permit couples to file state income tax jointly. But it does provide that registered domestic partners receive "the same [state] rights, protections and benefits and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations and duties" as married spouses.

That's the reason gay rights advocates are fighting so hard for marriage rights. The legal benefits gay couples will receive in Vermont, Massachusetts, and California go a long way toward protecting gay families, but until all the rights and responsibilities--state andfederal--are the same, we're not being fair to gay couples and neither are we expecting enough of them. Remember, responsibilities go hand-in-hand with rights.

Meanwhile, twelve same-sex couples in San Francisco continue their lawsuit to get those rights and responsibilities. On December 23, arguments were made by both sides before Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer. Particularly disturbing were the arguments by Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Glen Lavy:

The state has a legitimate interest, he said, in "encouraging procreation to occur within the marital relationship so that those children can grow up with their own mom and dad.''

He goes on further to say:

[T]he state is entitled to favor opposite-sex parents, who can raise their own biological children, over same-sex parents, one of whom has to adopt the other's child.

Okay. So where does that leave infertile couples and couples who adopt and couples who choose not to have children? Are these no longer legitimate marriages? I know he's not arguing against these arrangements in heterosexual marriages, but the implications of his language are exactly that: only couples who have their own biological children should be "favored" by the state.

And they don't see discrimination inherent in that. Wow.