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Too Late on 8

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Does the gay rights movement in America lack leadership? Did the opponents of Proposition 8 fumble their campaign? The answer to both questions seems to be ‘yes’.  Prior to the election, then-candidate Barack Obama wrote a letter to a gay rights group stating, “I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states”.

The No on 8 campaign had this letter. They chose not to make any use of it, even as the Yes on 8 campaign claimed that Obama was on their side. The letter showed in no uncertain terms that Barack Obama was opposed to Proposition 8, amd yet nothing was done to draw attention to this. That’s mind-boggling. 

I found the story on Towleroad, but they linked back to Dan Savage, who raised an interesting point that I’ve also wondered about, though more with regard to culture than to politics. The point is this; if you’re gay and brilliant at something, why would you choose to be brilliant for a gay audience, or would you choose to be brilliant for a much bigger straight audience? 

Most brilliant people choose the latter course; to leave the ghetto and try their luck in the world. So, gay cinema is terrible because most gay directors don’t make gay films. Gay fiction is crap because gay writers want to reach a wider audience. And gay politics is leaderless because good gay political strategists avoid the niche of gay issues. No-one wants to be the gay Jesse Jackson, even if it takes a few Jesse Jacksons to get to one Barack Obama.

It’s only a theory, but I worry that there’s some truth to it.

Once A Catholic

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

It hardly seems worth mentioning that the Catholic Church is out of touch with reality on certain issues. While the debate rages on about the US Republican party’s inability to redefine and refocus its message in changing times, there is this other conservative dinosaur lumbering along beside it, and it feels even less compulsion to change. The Catholic Church is ancient and insular and does not need to answer to any human authority, so why even bother challenging its many ignorant and dangerous proclamations? As far as most people are concerned, the solution to the Church’s problems is not to change the Church, but to dismiss the Church as irrelevant.

Yet the Catholic Church can change. It has  already made some changes in the last 50 years, and if it wants to survive it will have to change further. It’s because I believe that the Church will change that I continue to call myself a Catholic, and even if former Cardinal Joseph Ratzenberger (I just can’t seem to get into calling him ‘the Pope’) were to turn up on my doorstep and excommunicate me himself, I would continue to believe myself a Catholic.

I admit, I have a very idiosyncratic view of my Catholicism. I’m a gay man who believes in contraception, euthanasia, and a woman’s right to have an abortion, so if Catholic dogma is a great shining city, I would be living in a box behind a Happy Eater on a motorway exit somewhere beyond the ring road. My Catholicism is one that is proud of its heretics. I am a terrible, terrible Catholic. I cling a Catholic identity not just because I believe the Church can change, but because I want it to change. I also believe that, since the Catholic Church shaped my spiritual identity, it bears some responsibility for the conclusions I’ve come to.

All of which is just preamble to the subject matter I want to discuss. Today I read an extraordinary story about the Church’s decision to excommunicate the mother and doctors of a girl in Brazil who received an abortion. The girl was nine years old, and she had allegedly been raped by her step-father. It was thought that carrying the foetuses to term would have endangered the girl’s life.

In that one story you have all the inexplicable, enraging horror of the Church’s backward and inhumane views on abortion. The people, the government and the medical community of Brazil have all expressed either anger or disappointment at the Church for its decision, and the Church has responded without remorse. And here is where it turns from inhumane to outright diabolical; asked if the step-father would be excommunicated if he had indeed raped his 9-year-old step-daughter, the archbishop of the diocese replied that the abortion “was more serious”. 

It is astonishing to me that a man who believes he acts and speaks with respect to God could so readily make himself a channel for man’s evil. I find it staggering that this Church, or any church based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, could be so insistent on putting judgement and dogma ahead of love and compassion. Above all else, a Church of Christ must be about love. That is what God is, and if that is not evident in a  church’s teachings and actions, then that church is not acting or speaking with respect to God.

That’s my happy-clappy hippy-dippy view of things, but if the Catholic Church doesn’t buy that silly ‘God is love’ stuff, they clearly do buy in to the idea that some sins are, in the archbishop’s words, “more serious” than others. Through a series of ecumenical councils from Nicaea in 325 to the Vatican in the 1960s, the Catholic Church has arrived at a Top Trumps of sin - one in which the abortion of twin foetuses is apparently a graver sin than the rape of a child by her guardian.

This is where the Church has proved itself fatally out-of-touch. In the past two thousand years the Church has changed and adapted with all the haste of a Redwood tree trying to sidestep a continental shift, and it probably believes it did more than enough to stay relevant with the Vactican council of the 1960s. With the speed at which ideas and experiences are propogated today, that clearly isn’t the case, and the Catholic Church is not sophisticated enough for the modern world. The Catholic Church Top Trumps deck still looks distinctly Medieval, and it is in need of a radical update.

I think there is a legitimate place in our society for a moral and spiritual organisation that stands in opposition to issues such as infidelity, promiscuity, divorce and abortion. There is a reasonable argument to be made that these things are not desirable in our society. I also think that such an organisation would speak with more power if it did not complicate matters by staking arbitrary, anachronistic and even socially damaging positions on issues such as contraception and homosexuality.

Even if the church cannot make a volte-face on these issues overnight, if it were to sensibly review its hierarchy of sin and state, for example, that infidelity is more undesirable than contraception, or that promiscuity is more undesirable than homosexuality, it would save or improve millions of lives without eroding anyone’s soul. If the Church spent more time telling people that it is wrong to spread diseases, and less time telling people that it is wrong to enjoy sex, it would become a more powerful force for good in the world.

Abortion is the hardest issue to address. The prohibition against taking life is as grave as any doctrine can be (and that ought to be a good thing - the Church’s positions on war and the death penalty are fairly impeccable). Finessing the church’s position on when life begins is an enormous challenge - even if the Church were to defer to science, science has nothing useful to say about the soul. All that said, I think there is room for the Church to take a more charitable and more loving view of the challenges facing those already born when questions arise about the unborn. At the very least, the Church might exercise discretion when questions of rape or a mother’s health are at issue.

What this really comes down to for me is that neither God nor Christ conferred on any church the authority to pass judgement in God’s name. If there is a God, then that judgement is his right alone. Christ told us so. The role of the Church should be to offer charity and counsel, and to offer encouragement over condemnation. There is nothing irresponsible about a Church that places generosity and love at the centre of all of its teachings. My Catholic Church is strong enough to believe that.

Gaybama

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

johanna-sigurdardottir
Iceland is getting a new prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir. I don’t generally take much interest in Iceland’s leaders, but this new PM is notable because she’s a gay. That makes her one of the first openly gay world leaders of modern times.

So what did it take to get a gay politician into high office? Well, in this instance all it took was a worldwide financial crisis, the collapse of the Icelandic economy and the resignation in disgrace of the sitting prime minister, facilitating the appointment of a gay prime minister without an election. Sigurdardottir is expected to leave office in four months’ time, just as soon as the public gets a chance to vote on their leaders. Truly, the dream of gay acceptance has been made real!

So, I’m not going to get too excited about Prime Minister Sigurdardottir. I already got my hopes raised and dashed by Portland Mayor Sam Adams. I don’t know how well known the Sam Adams scandal is outside the communities of Portland and Gay, but it’s a sorry story.

In November Adams became the first openly gay man to be elected mayor of a major US city. Also, the first cute mayor. Probably.

sam-adams2

During the campaign, Adams was asked about his former relationship with a young intern back in 2005. He said that they had just been friends. Then he got elected, and then he admitted that he had lied about their relationship. The reason he lied? The intern had been 17 when they first met, and sex with a 17-year-old is against the law in Oregon.

Now, Adams insists that they did not have sex until after the intern turned 18, and he says the reason he lied was because he did not think people would believe him. Fair enough. I actually still don’t. I mean, I don’t think 17 should be considered ‘underage’, but that’s not the point; the law’s the law.

Saying ‘yes we had sex but not until it was legal’ is a difficult pitch to sell on the campaign trail, so Sam Adams lied. There are no other issues here; Adams was not unfaithful to anyone (he’s in a relationship now, but wasn’t then). There was no abuse of power - the intern worked at the Oregon House of Representatives; Adams worked on the Portland City Council. No criminal charges have been placed against Adams for sex with a minor (though an investigation is underway). A taste for chicken is not a resigning offence.

Sam Adams is not the gay Bill Clinton. Clinton lied, abused his power and cheated on his partner. Adams has ‘only’ lied.

There have been calls for Adams’ resignation - even from Portland’s gay paper - but Adams has said that he intends to stay in office, and I’m not sure how that will play out - I suspect it all now depends on the results of the criminal investigation. A recall election has been suggested, but that seems unlikely to occur.

I sympathise with Adams. Sleeping with a teenager doesn’t look good for any politician, but even in liberal Portland it probably looks worse for a gay politician, so I can understand why he lied. He expected a gay witch hunt, and I’m sure he would have got one. I’m not sure he isn’t getting one now. It was still bloody stupid, both to get involved with someone that young when you harbour those ambitions, and to lie about it when questioned. It would have been better if he had stonewalled the question (no pun intended) and taken his chances.

It has become very clear on the back of this story that if you’re gay and you want to run for public office, you need to be as squeaky clean as Jesus. (Actually, squeakier and cleaner; Jesus would never get elected. He palled around with terrorists.)

On balance, I’m glad Adams did not resign. I think that was the right decision. Even so, it’s devastating that one of America’s most prominent gay politicians will now serve with a tarnish hanging over his entire career.

Incidentally, the intern in question does have a name, and I’ve studiously avoided using it. His name is Beau Breedlove. And that is why I avoided using it.

Speaking of good-looking politicians, I am disgusted - disgusted - that Huffington Post is running a ‘Who’s the Hottest Congressional Freshman‘ poll. Is this what serious leftie political blogging has come to? I’m doubly disgusted that most of the contendors aren’t even remotely hot! In fact, the only one who passes muster is Aaron Schock.

aaron-schock

And here’s what makes this especially digusting; Aaron Schock is a Republican! (And a somewhat swishy ‘bachelor’ Republican at that. A ‘friend of Haggard’?) And - and - he’s only 27. That makes him the first congressman born in the 1980s! No wonder he’s in the anti-abortion party - he’s probably still at risk!

While we’re talking about politics, bachelors and suchlike, one final note. Advice columnist Dan Savage recently ran a contest to come up with a definition of the word ‘saddlebacking‘, in reference to Rick Warren’s inauspiciously named Saddleback Church. Here’s the winning entry:

saddlebacking1

Keep squeaky, chums.

At Last

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Huffington Post gives us the first dance at the wednauguration of Barack and Michelle. What was she thinking, wearing that dress? Too bridal, and yes, her bum does look big in that.

I find this dance interesting. Is this really a tradition? Demonstrations of intimacy in front of thousands, for the public’s approval? I don’t remember the great Bush hoe-down of 2001, and it seems undignified that one of the first duties of a new president is to dance for the people’s entertainment. We should be grateful that no-one started chiming on a wine glass with a knife and chanting ‘kiss, kiss, kiss’.

The soundtrack to the dance was Etta James’ ‘At Last’, as sung by Beyoncé, who recently played Etta James in the movie Cadillac Records. A brazen coup for the movie’s publicity department, there. At the next inauguration I’ll expect to see Coca-Cola glasses on the podium.

Beyoncé sung the song better than I’d thought she might - hey, I might even go rent the DVD - and the choice of song did fit the occasion, despite drawing still further parallels with the first dance at a wedding. It was not just ‘At Last’; it was also ‘Free At Last’. Beyoncé got that message across. It was a wonderful moment, despite all my cynical reservations.

44

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Selected thoughts on the inauguration of President Barack Obama:

Aretha still has a beautiful tone to her voice, but that was a shaky rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’. Barack Obama is the son of a British citizen and therefore America’s first British president (apart from all those Founding Fathers, who were basically British as well), so it’s apt that he had God Save the Queen at his inauguration, though I think Aretha messed up just about all of the lyrics.

Dick Cheney was wearing an exquisite Zac Posen wheelchair. The official story is that he strained himself while moving the coffin filled with the earth of his homeland, but I think that’s a cover. Now he’s no longer veep, he’s been unplugged from the giant black battery of boiling baby blood that pumps yellow bile through his canker heart. I’m told the Bidens intend to use that room as a parlour.

barry-and-rick

Pastor Rick Warren’s prayer was an extraordinary piece of hypocritical garbage marring an otherwise wonderful event. It was rather bare-faced of the fat ginger God-weasel to choose the fulfilment of the promise of the struggle for civil rights as his theme. “When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us”, he said. You have to repent your sins before seeking forgiveness, Pastor Rick. Revered Joseph Lowery’s benediction showed Warren how these things should be done.

(Oh, if you’re wondering how Obama intends to make up for the dreadful error in judgement that was Rick Warren, Towleroad reports that the White House website posted a series of pledges to the LGBT community today, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, support for hate crime legislation, and opposition to a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Well, that’s a start, Mr President.)

Joseph Robinette Biden? Really?

I was a little worried that the John Williams quartet was going to sound like Williams’ usual shallow metronomic movie bombast - he is truly the Michael Bay of composers - but thankfully it was an arrangement of Simple Gifts, an apt and elegant Shaker melody better known in some quarters as Lord of the Dance. If Williams had ruined that, he’d have been thrown out of the secretive Composers’ Circle.

Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts both fluffed their lines at the inauguration proper, so I suspect Obama still isn’t actually president. In fact, when we look back over the tape in slow motion, I think we’ll discover that Aretha Franklin is the 44th president of the United States.

aretha

As for the big speech; is, “These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics” the new, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”? Is Barack Obama the first president to include qualifying footnotes in his inaugural address? I’m surprised he didn’t end on the bibliography.

Not quite the great speech I was hoping for, but he found his rhythm at the halfway mark, and  I did like his preliminary sketch for the Obama Doctrine; “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”. Does this mean the end of the terrorist fist jab?

Finally, Elizabeth Alexander read from her LiveJournal entry for the day. “Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes, or not, … Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum…”. I’m told she also writes poetry. I’d love to hear some of that.