Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, March 05, 2004  

Law: Backlash against gay unions begins in Oregon

I anticipated a backlash when officials in Multnomah Country, Oregon, which encompasses Portland, began marrying same sex couples this week. Broadcast media had the late-breaking story first.

. . .Oregon's marriage law states that marriage is a civil contract entered between males who are at least 17 years old and females who are at least 17 years old.

The law does not specify whether the marriage has to be between a man and a woman.

Hundreds of couples in Oregon are expected to take advantage of the county's plan to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

The form of attack most likely to occur is on the language in the statute.

If the controversy continues, it is likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court of Oregon. A decision explicitly affirming the right of gays to marry would be binding absent a contrary federal constitutional amendment or United States Supreme Court ruling.

Lawyers opposing gay marriage will argue that language saying marriage is between a man and a woman is not present because it doesn't need to be. In the vernacular, 'everyone knows marriage is between two people of the two genders, so the drafters did not need to say so.' To resolve this issue, the courts will look at the legislative history of the statute to determine whether legislators considered the law as limiting matrimony to a man and a woman. A finding that the statute is meant to include only male-female unions will not be the end of the inquiry, however. Courts could find that limiting marriages to heterosexuals violates the state's equal protection guarantee in its constitution. That is the result reached in Massachusetts.

Maneuvering to prevent licenses beyond the reported 786 Thursday from being issued is the plate du jour.

Kelly Clark, an attorney representing the Defense of Marriage Coalition, said he planned to file for an injunction to stop the issuance of licenses.

Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, said he also planned to file a lawsuit today.

Clark said his suit will seek a reversal of the county's decision to allow same-sex marriages and will ask the court to define marriage as a union "between a man and a woman."

The suit will claim that four members of the county Board of Commissioners violated open meetings laws by approving the new policy without notifying the fifth member of the board or holding public hearings.

Multnomah County denies that its commissioners violated the open meetings law. It also rejects the defenders' of heterosexual marriage claim that Chairperson Diane Linn lacks the authority to grant marriage licenses to gays.

At least one person is annoyed by how Wednesday's decision was made.

The run on marriage licenses in Multnomah County came after County Commissioners Lisa Naito and Serena Cruz requested a legal opinion from County Attorney Agnes Sowle, who said that not granting licenses would be a violation of the Oregon Constitution. Naito said that as soon as they received that opinion, they had to allow the licenses to be issued.

The decision to go forward was the result of closed-door meetings involving Naito, Cruz, Linn and Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey and representatives of Basic Rights Oregon, a gay-rights group. The group first contacted the four commissioners in late January, asking that the county take steps to acknowledge gay and lesbian couples as married couples.

Commissioner Lonnie Roberts, who represents east Multnomah County and is opposed to gay marriage, was left out of the discussions. He has criticized the "clandestine decision," and his spokesman, Chuck Martin, said Roberts supports "equal but separate" rights for gays.

To get injunctive relief, the defenders of traditional unions will have to establish that harm will occur if the county continues to issue marriage licenses to gays. The only tangible 'harm' I can think of is that, eventually, costs will accrue to the polity as a result of extending benefits to homosexual married couples. That does not strike me as sufficient to pass the test for an injunction.

The legal battles occurring in Oregon are likely the vanguard of similar fights that will occur accross the nation.

posted by J. | 4:32 PM

Wednesday, March 03, 2004  

The blogosphere: That old double standard

Sometimes, people of color are treated as if they exist only to be criticized. I happened across an example of that tendency at Michael F. Totten's weblog recently. He posted this entry about a legislator from Florida.

Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Florida) dug one heckuva hole.

She ripped into [George W.] Bush’s policy on Haiti and called it “racist” (for some inexplicable reason) and said his administration is “a bunch of white men.”

Last I checked, Colin Powell was not a white man. Condoleeza Rice isn’t even a man, let alone a white one.

Oh, but it’s plenty worse than that.

Her outburst was directed at Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. Noriega, a Mexican-American, is the State Department's top official for Latin America.

Now. Anyone who has visited Latin America knows it isn’t a racially homogenous place. Argentina, for example, is more caucasian than the United States. Mexico is much less so, but still there are white Mexicans, just as there are white Mexican-Americans.

But it doesn’t look as though Mr. Noriega is one of them.

Noriega later told Brown: "As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man," according to three participants.

It’s always a good idea to remember the First Rule of Holes. When you’re in one, stop digging.

Brown then told him "you all look alike to me," the participants said.

Rep. Brown hasn’t studied that rule. Someone ought to help her out after she apologizes.

And perhaps while she’s at it she could spend a few minutes brushing up on foreign policy so she doesn’t drag the Democratic Party further into the hole it dug for itself. The First Rule of Holes applies to political parties as well as to people.

So, in a nutshell. Brown, apparently distracted by strong feelings, undermined the point she intended to make during that meeting. What point, you ask. True, you would never guess it from Totten's entry, but the representative did have something substantive to say.

During the meeting, Brown criticized the administration's response to the escalating violence in Haiti, where rebels opposing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government have seized control of large parts of the country.

. . .Brown has criticized the detention of Haitian migrants fleeing their country and the freezing of millions of dollars in aid over flawed 2000 legislative elections in the impoverished Caribbean nation. In a statement Wednesday, she made parallels to the disputed 2000 election in Florida.

"It simply mystifies me how President Bush, a president who was selected by the Supreme Court under more than questionable circumstances (in my district alone 27,000 votes were thrown out), is telling another country that their elections were not fair and that they are therefore undeserving of aid or international recognition," Brown said.

In light of current crisis in Haiti, Brown's observation is prescient. But for the Bush administration's withholding of much needed aid, there would be fewer starving people there and political change might have occurred without bloodshed.

How and why did Totten miss the point of this story? I believe he did so because like many white people, he simply doesn't see African-Americans as having anything to say unless they are echoing whites. Brown did not bow to Bush or preface her remarks with approval from some other white authority figure, so the substance of what she had to say simply did not register with Totten.

On the other hand, the remarks of Noriega, who is echoing a white authority figure, are treated as if they are manna fallen from Heaven. But, if one actually examines his comments, there is nothing substantive there. Furthermore, he is just as guilty of dragging race into the discussion as Brown.

After her comments about white men, Noriega said he would "relay that to (Secretary of State) Colin Powell and (national security adviser) Condoleezza Rice theonly next time I run into them," participants said. Powell and Rice are black.

Neither Rice nor Powell serve in capacities that have any impact on foreign aid to Haiti, so why bring them up at all? Do all African-Americans 'look alike' to him?

Commenters at Totten's blog called for removal of Brown from office. Based on the tenor of their remarks, I suspect many of them would support repealing the Voting Rights Act, too. Whatever it takes not to be reminded there are people of color who don't know their place, I guess.

I haven't examined Totten's weblog closely enough to have a grasp of where he is coming from in a broad sense. My first impression of it was influenced by the fact his picture is facing the wrong direction. I thought: Did this guy flunk Layout 101 or something? Not wanting to be like Totten, I will not jump to conclusions about his blogging until I have read more of it. However, from where I sit, Michael J. Totten has dug himself into a hole by being so eager to criticize an African-American leader he missed the substantive part of what she was saying. I wonder if he has enough decency to try to dig himself out.

posted by J. | 9:30 PM

Sunday, February 29, 2004  

Religion: "The Passion" appeals to the unwary

Spirited discusssion of Mel Gibson's new movie, The Passion of the Christ, is increasing in the blogosphere. The loudest and most uncompromising voices tend to be those of those on the Right, who, while not necessarily members of the reactionary arm of Catholicism, are sympathetic to its embrace of "traditional values." Another type of defender hails from the 'it is just a movie' school of thought. The following are typical are of the comments I've read by them.

In any case, while I understand people being a little concerned about Catholic attitudes when it comes to Jews, I think you should have a little, er, faith. No one's walking out of this movie a Jew-hater who wasn't already a Jew-hater walking in. I wouldn't worry unduly, then, about anger and revenge: At the very least, it's hard for me to imagine sitting through two hours of seeing a guy flayed alive and nailed to a piece of wood, and then coming out of theater like, "You know what I could really go for right now? More violence."

Dear "ALL" I have yet to see this film, but I have read masses upon masses of reviews, insults, praise about it, and one thing has come to mind. You cannot blame a film for enciting jew hating maniacs, you either are one or you are not. I find it a total insult to any human being on this planet to suggest a film can be responsible for hatred of the jews or any other belief system. I myself will go to see the film on it's release in Britain and no matter what I may think of it I WILL NOT come away with the feeling that somehow the jewish people are responsible for jesus death, this is probably because I have my own beliefs in spiritual matters and no one will change that, as I am sure most people on this planet who has any sanity will not be turned into pyschopathic religious haters. So my message being, all you subjective bigots out there "GET A LIFE ITS ONLY A FILM", if we all had this reaction to the horrors that actually do go on in this world we could eradicate it over night.

I do not expect anti-Jewish riots in Pasadena and Des Moines as a result of The Passion, but I think the film could be harmful. The reason is: Art can reflect and exacerbate preexisting social problems in a society.

Before scoffing at the idea, I recommend considering two films that reflected and exacerbated bigotry toward African-Americans, Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. Obviously, neither movie, nor the books they were based on, can be held responsible for the our nation's 400-year-old romance with racism. But, what they did was support the notion that slavery, segregation and dehumanization of human beings in general is a romance, not an evil. Along with other cultural encouragement, they gave both the developing bigot and the confirmed bigot confirmation of his beliefs. I believe a movie that revives the myth of the Jews being solely, or mainly, responsible for the death of Christ could have the same impact.

For me, the genesis of The Passion of the Christ in adherents to the reactionary wing of Catholicism makes the intent behind the movie dubious. The Catholic Traditionalist Movement and Opus Dei both wish to return us to a time when issues of social justice were ignored and a rigid adherence to authoritarian doctrine was demanded. The movement also wishes to grow. The easiest way to do that is to attract like-minded persons from Protestant denominations to Catholicism. Since the reactionaries believe the Reformation should never have occurred, there is additional grounds for seeking out 'lost' Catholics. The Passion could easily become a method of recruitment for CTM and OD, as well as a way to reassure anti-Semites they have been right all along.

posted by J. | 9:30 PM