Saturday, January 23, 2010

Separation of Church and State?

I received two pieces of news recently that were a fascinating glimpse into the relationship between church and state in the United States and Canada.

•The first was news that the documentary film, "8: The Mormon Proposition," will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend.  According to the Washington Post, "The film contends that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built on decades of anti-gay teachings to justify its political activism and tried to hide its role as the driving force behind the coalition of conservatives that helped pass Proposition 8."

The Mormon Church has responded to the trailer of the film by saying that, "Clearly, anyone looking for balance and thoughtful discussion of a serious topic will need to look elsewhere."

The film uses the investigative work of California political activist Fred Karger.  He claims that the Mormon Church provided some 25,000 campaign workers weekly as well as 71% of the individual contributions to the Prop 8 campaign.

You can take a look at the trailer below this post. 

•The second piece of news was that the Canadian government revoked the tax exempt status of a church because of its anti-abortion and anti-gay work, which the government considers political.  According to The National Post:
A Calgary church has lost its charitable status in part because it spends too much of its time advocating on social issues such as abortion and marriage.
In October, the Kings Glory Fellowship Association, a non-denominational Protestant group, was told by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) that for several reasons, including a lack of clarity on how it spends it money, they could no longer issue charitable receipts.
But the letter highlighted that the group spent more than 10% of its time on non-partisan political activities and therefore strayed into activities “outside its stated purpose.”
The CRA allows charitable organizations to spend some time on “political activities,” but the cutoff is 10%. A spokesman for the CRA was not immediately available to explain how the percentage of time a group spends on non-charitable works is determined.
Artur Pawlowski, the head of the Kings Glory Fellowship, said his group “has nothing to do with politics and we do not advertise for a party or a candidate. The only political activity you can connect us to is defending our right to speak.”
This is a fascinating contrast in the way two governments deal with the separation of church and state.  I can only imagine the backlash in our country if the government defined tax-exempt status as the Canadian government does.  I also find response of the head of Kings Glory Fellowship misleading, at best.  No one is taking away the group's right to free speech.  What the government is doing is taking away the ability to speak on the taxpayers' dime.

8: The Momon Proposition (a documentary film trailer)

Update from Hawaii

According to The Honolulu Advertiser, the Hawaii State Senate passed a civil unions bill with a veto-proof majority, 18-7.  The bill now returns to the house where it is certain to pass, although passing with a veto-proof majority (2/3 of the vote) is less certain.  The house needs 34 votes for their passage t be veto proof.  They have previously passed the civil unions bill with 33 votes, but one representative was absent from the vote.

The Lt. Governor of Hawaii has come out clearly against civil unions.  Governor Linda Lingle has been less vocal about her thinking.

The Supreme Court Decision

I'm no law expert, by any means, and I haven't read Thursday's ruling from the US Supreme Court.  (I have read parts of it.)  But this is what I understand:

      1. Originally, court was asked to rule on a very narrow question: whether some networks not willing to run an anti-Hillary Clinton movie by Citizens United was a violation of free speech.

      2. The court then decided to rule on a much larger issue: whether it is constitutional to limit the contributions from corporations to political candidates

      3. The vote was 5-4, with the most conservative judges being in the majority.  Clarence Thomas, although siding with the majority, wrote a separate opinion.

Here is what I think (as opposed to the facts as I understand them):

      1. Why do we continue to call "activists judges" those whose rulings are considered to be more left of center?  Thursday's decision seems to me to be a very activist decision, basically gutting a century of constitutional precedent.

      2.  What does this mean for Roe v. Wade?  Will it only take a narrow question concerning abortion to gut over three decades of precedents?

      3. And, finally, more to the topic of this blog, just what was going on in Clarence Thomas' mind in his separate opinion?  While agreeing with the majority that corporations have the right to use their funds to support candidates with few if no restrictions, he added a caveat.  The government does not have the right to require disclosure of the names of corporate donors to the public. 

     Here's what Clarence Thomas used as an example of the danger of requiring public disclosure: The Proposition 8 Question.  According to Thomas, supporters of Prop 8 whose names were made public were subject to threats, harassment, and in some cases physical violence.  He cites a number of specific incidents against Prop 8 supporters, while citing not one example of anti-gay violence or harassment.  One has to wonder why Thomas chose gay people and their fight for civil rights as the basis for his separate opinion.  One probably doesn't have to wonder how he will vote if the Prop 8 trial ever makes it to the US Supreme Court.

This decision goes far beyond equal marriage rights, so I don't want to give the impression that this is my only concern.  It isn't, by a long shot.  But it's disturbing that it ended up being part of the ruling in this way.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hawaii legislators to vote on civil unions

The Associated Press is reporting that Hawaii legislators will vote on civil unions, most likely today.  Hawaii was where the same-sex marriage battles began back in the 1990's.

While the measure is expected to pass, it is still unclear if Republican Governor Linda Lingle will sign or veto the bill.  She has urged the legislature to drop the measure, arguing that time should be spent on economic issues.  (I love it when politicians say that, as if equality weren't an economic issue.  It is, of course.  It's just an economic issue  for people they don't care about.)

AP also writes:

Elswehere, at least one other state, New Mexico, appears poised to seriously consider a civil union measure. Bills in Illinois and Minnesota also may surface. Colorado, Wisconsin, Maryland and Maine have limited laws allowing same-gender civil unions. Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut permit same-sex marriage.
 Slowly but surely.

Prop 8 News

According to The Washington Post, "Cindy McCain, the wife of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and their daughter Meghan have posed for photos endorsing pro-gay marriage forces in California. Mrs. McCain appears with silver duct tape across her mouth and "NOH8" written on one cheek in a photo posted Wednesday to the Web site of NOH8, a gay rights group opposed to Proposition 8. The ballot measure passed by California voters in 2008 bans same-sex marriage."

Cindy McCain approached NOH8 and volunteered her services to the cause.  Of course, John McCain had to immediately issue a statement saying he didn't agree with his wife with the highly original words,
"Sen. McCain believes the sanctity of marriage is only defined as between one man and one woman."

The McCain's daughter, Meghan, had previously come out in support of same-sex marriage.  Said she of her mother's new activism, "I couldn't be more proud of my mother for posing for the NOH8 campaign. I think more Republicans need to start taking a stand for equality."

Meanwhile, the Prop 8 trial, now in its second week, began hearing from supporters of the ban on gay marriage.  In one exchange, Mr. (Bill) Tam, a leader in the Prop 8 movement, was asked if marriage between a mother and a father helps children.  Of course he said yes.  When asked if the marriage of a gay couple helps their children, he said no.  He also reiterated his claims that part of the gay agenda was to have sex with children, even suggesting that the age of consent had been lowered in Canada shortly after same-sex marriage was legal.  (In fact, the legal age in Canada is higher than it was before same sex marriage.)

On and on we go.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Liza and Company

 Stick with this until the end, when a pre-teen boy does a spot on solo impersonation of Liza.  He's the son of Liza's voice coach. 

H/T Towelroad

Not quite what we need to hear

I am in Ed Markey's congressional district and have voted for him in every election.  As long as he is the Democratic nominee, I certainly can't imagine voting for anyone else.  But I am also wondering  whether he understands one of the reasons the Democrats lost on Tuesday.

A Boston Globe article today described the enthusiasm that Scott Brown has inspired in the Republican Party.  As a result, many of our Democratic members of Congress who didn't expect stiff competition may now find themselves running against formidable opponents.  For example, Joe Malone, the former treasurer of the state, is seriously considering a run against Bill Delahunt.

Ed Markey is the member of congress from Massachusetts with the longest tenure.  I would have assumed that this tenure came with some wisdom about politics.  Unfortunately, a quote attributed him about potential Republican opponents gave me serious doubts:

But Representative Edward J. Markey, who has represented the Seventh District since 1977, said national Republicans will waste their money if they try to unseat Massachusetts Democrats.
“If that is their strategy,’’ he said, “who am I to stop them?’’

If the leaders of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts haven't learned that arrogance and hubris are not the road to victory, I fear that the voters will provide for them yet another lesson.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Night After in Massachusetts

For those of us who are proud progressives, the last few days have been hard.  Very hard.  There is no silver lining.  (I joked to a friend that there is only a Brown lining.)  But we also shouldn't wildly project into the future a disaster for progressives that isn't based in reality.  A few things:

1. Nothing is permanent in politics.  After the last presidential election, I remember listening to pundit after pundit talking about the demise of the Republican party.  One of my favorite progressives, Rachel Maddow, had a recurring piece on her show called "Republicans in Exile."  I didn't buy it.  A month is a lifetime in politics.  The Massachusetts race went from sure thing to upset in a matter of two weeks.  It is just as silly to predict that the Obama presidency and the Democratic rule in Congress is over.  The one thing we can bank on in politics is change.

2. The Democrats ran a lousy campaign in Massachusetts. We took voters for granted.  We assumed that the Democratic nominee was the de facto winner of the election.  The media did as well, and not just liberal sources.  Lesson here: never, ever do that again.  Voters want to be courted. They want to be asked for their vote.  And they want to know why they should vote for you. Quite simply, we did none of the above.

3. Scott Brown's victory is not at odds with Massachusetts history Every once in a while -- about once a decade -- a conservative candidate taps into voter anger.  Ed King, a conservative Democrat, defeated Michael Dukakis in his bid for reelection for governor in the primary in the late 1970's, then won the election. The state went for Reagan in the 1980's, in part because of anger.  In the 1990's, John Silber -- certainly one of the angriest candidates I've ever seen -- beat the popular Democratic Atty General, Frank Belotti, for the nomination for Governor.  What do these conservatives who tapped into voter anger have in common?  Their victories were short-lived. Dukakis came back and beat King four years later.  After Reagan, Massachusetts never voted for a  Republican president again.  The races weren't even close. John Silber lost the election for governor to an arguably more liberal Bill Weld, the Republican.

4. Independent voters won the election for Brown.  These are the same voters who not long ago supported Obama and Deval Patrick, two very fine campaigners, like Scott Brown, although these two campaigners have next to nothing in common with Brown.  The lesson?  Many independents are swayed by the personal narrative and the clarity of message of the candidate.  Scott Brown, like President Obama and Governor Patrick, provided both superbly.  Massachusetts independents have always been open to a progressive message.  We just have to provide one that is clear.

5. On the same day Scott Brown was celebrating his victory, Cindy McCain, John McCain's wife, announced her support of same-sex marriage.  Scott Brown may be anti-marriage equality (and anti- gay pretty much everything else) but the strident anti-gay voices in the Republican party are becoming fewer, or, at the very least, they are being balanced by important folks in the party. Rudy Giuliani recently told The New York Times that as far as same-sex marriage goes, it did not make much sense "to be harping on the issue if the party had any serious interest in returning to power."  Even Dick Cheney has recently come out in support of states that allow same-sex marriage.  The momentum is in our direction.

6. Scott Brown still represents a progressive state.  If Texas elected one progressive senator in a special election with an angry electorate, would we actually believe the state had permanently become left-wing?  One special election does not change the psyche of a state.  If Scott Brown wants to be reelected, he can only tow the conservative line so far.  I simply refuse to believe that voters will reelect a senator who significantly restricts a woman's right to choose, treats LGBT people as second-class citizens, and does nothing about health care but maintain the status quo.

7. The Democrats are neglecting their base.  I listened to interview after interview of reluctant progressives coming out to vote for Martha Coakley.  Who knows how many stayed home?  The Obama administration will have to do something to shore us up before the midterms if it wants to avoid disaster.

All for now. I know there are more issues than same-sex marriage, but this is the focus of this blog.  I'll get to those soon. Sure, I've been extremely blue about the red state behavior of Massachusetts.  But I'm coming out of my funk.  And it's not silver lining thinking.  There's some reality here to keep us on a steady course.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Ted Kennedy, 1980 Democratic National Convention 
That's all for now,  folks.  Need to take a break from politics until Thursday.  Remember Ted's words.  We need his voice now more than ever.   Ken

One final (I promise) post until the polls close

I've been reading a few blogs and opinion pages that seem to take offense if one considers Scott Brown anti-gay. Just a few questions, all starting with "What else would you call a politician who...

• Does not support repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?
• Is supported by an anti-gay hate group (as determined by the Southern Poverty Law Center)?
• Has not renounced the support of this group?
• Does not support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, thus keeping same sex couples at a financial and legal risk?
• Has voted against domestic partnerships?
• Has voted at least six times against same-sex marriage?
• Has called a family with two mothers "not normal" and a "supposed" family?

I know. I know. Democrats have all done the above, even enacted the above. But most of those folks (including Clinton) now support repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell as well as the Defense of Marriage Act. This is 2010.

If this doesn't define anti-gay, I'm not sure what does.

Coming next at a courthouse near you?

H/T gayamericablog

The basset hound concerto...a tune we know so well in our house

Vote for Martha Coakley for Senator of Massachusetts today.

It's going to be all about the turnout.  Do everything you can to get to the polls.

It's Election Day, everyone! I'm urging my readers in Massachusetts to vote for Coakley. On so many issues -- choice, health care, regulating big business, same-sex marriage, opposing torture -- I believe she is right. Let's win this thing with grace -- not because we want to defeat our fellow citizens, but because we honestly support these causes. Let's be the class act here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Senate Race

The polls of the Mass senate race are all over the place.  Some put Brown in the lead, both by small and large margins, others have a virtual tie, while some internal polls have Coakley in a slight lead.  Here's a good analysis from David Dayen of Fire Dog Lake:
Research 2000, which did a poll commissioned by Blue Mass Group last week showing an 8-point Martha Coakley lead, returns with a new poll, commissioned by Daily Kos, showing a 48-48 tie. The drop comes from Brown picking up independents, even while Coakley slightly solidifies support among Democrats. The polls are very difficult to read in any special election with a late surge, and MA-Sen is no different. Some are seeing a slight bounce for Coakley, in line with internal daily tracking polls showing her back in the lead. There may be a bounce-back that the pollsters in the field late last week are not yet seeing. And the polls with the eye-popping numbers today, showing Brown with big leads, may be undercounting President Obama’s support in Massachusetts among likely voters, perhaps due to a non-response bias, with one candidate’s side more likely to take the surveys.
 I don't believe this election is a referendum about gay marriage.  But other groups, like MassResistance (a group labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) and the  Organization for Marriage do.  Just look at their websites.   And just because this election may not be a referendum on marriage, doesn't mean I as a voter can't vote on the marriage issue.  I will vote for Coakley for many reasons, and marriage is one of them.  And other reasons are Scott Brown's opposition to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and his opposition to repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.  Those issues count, too.  And his presence in the senate will make it less likely that we'll see any change in these areas.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Obama speaks for Coakley

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’’

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How would you answer these two questions?

Tomorrow we drive ten hours in a snowstorm to get back in time to vote in Tuesday's election.  I've never missed an election, even at the local level.  I consider it a great privilege and responsibility to vote.  When I taught history, I spent endless classes on the American system of government.  I hoped that all my students -- liberal, conservative, and in between -- would get the message: VOTE.  I think they did; I've heard from a number of them -- including many who don't share my political views -- that they remain interested in politics.

The purpose of this post isn't to change hearts and minds before Tuesday's election.  It's probably too late for that.  What I'd like to do is to explain why this election -- more than others -- feels big to me.  The best way to do this is to ask two questions:

      Would you vote for a candidate who called your family "not normal" and a "supposed" family?

Because that's what I've been asked to do by those folks supporting Scott Brown.

Let me add another question:

       Would you vote for a candidate who did everything he could to stop you and your spouse from marrying?

I think I can imagine the response.  I'm not asking you to think about whether you believe in same-sex marriage.  I'm just asking you to answer those two questions.  Because those are the questions that face me and my family as we approach election day.  If you answer them honestly, I hope you can understand why our family couldn't possibly support Scott Brown.


The Huffington Post is reporting the following:

A new flier being distributed in the final days of the Massachusetts Senate race portrays Attorney General Martha Coakley as a threat to unborn children and thrusts the issue of abortion even deeper into the electoral fire.
Paid for by Mass Citizens for Life Political Action Committee, the piece urges voters to "Save The Babies!" and "Vote Scott Brown" on January 19. Coakley, the anti-abortion group alleges, "supports using your tax money to pay for abortions," "supports minor girls getting abortions without their parents knowing," and "supports Partial Birth Abortion."

Isn't this all rather odd if Scott Brown is pro-choice?  How puzzling!  Oh, I forgot.  Mitt Romney was pro-choice as well before he burst onto the national stage.

National Organization for Marriage Robocalls in Massachusetts

Although Scott Brown has kept the same-sex marriage issue on the back burner in this campaign, the National Organization for Marriage has been working behind the scenes for him.   According to MetroWeekly in Washington:

The National Organization for Marriage appears to be making automated telephone calls today in support of U.S. Senate candidate and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (R) and attacking his opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), for her strong pro-marriage equality position. Coakley is running an unexpectedly close race for the seat held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D), the election for which will be held Tuesday.
Longtime LGBT activist Mary Breslauer, a volunteer member of Coakley for Senate cabinet, this afternoon relayed a report received by the campaign
"Our household just got an automated call from the 'National Organization for Marriage,' with a 202 area code. The auto call features a male voice, which is clearly a recording, asking if you support marriage as being only between a man and a woman. If you say 'yes,' then the voice urges you to vote for Scott Brown as the only candidate with a proven record of supporting marriage as between a man and a woman. The call says that his opponent is a 'radical' supporter of same-sex marriage who has opposed letting the people decide and has used taxpayer dollars to support the agenda of same-sex marriage. The call ends by asking if 'we can count on you to vote for Scott Brown.' The quality of the recording is mediocre at best."
Although a call seeking comment from NOM this afternoon was not returned, NOM referenced the race in the group's most recent marriage news update, which focused mainly on the Proposition 8 trial. As to the Massachusetts race, NOM's executive director, Brian Brown, wrote on Friday that he was "excited by the Senate race in Massachusetts."
In the letter, he wrote that Scott Brown "was one of the stalwart legislators who resisted efforts to bribe and intimidate them, and supported the people's right to vote for marriage in Massachusetts." He went on to note that Coakley, as Attorney General, "spearheaded a lawsuit that is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act" and urged NOM supporters to "be sure to get out and vote.

Some thoughts on....what else? The Mass senate race

I've been watching the Mass senate race from my perch in Toronto, although I'm not sure this has provided me with any significant emotional distance.  But I have been asking myself over and over again: why are you so wrapped up in this race?  I think I've come up with a few answers.

1. This race is not about gay marriage. Scott Brown has dumped the issue, and poll after poll show that this is not an issue Mass voters care about anymore.  It's settled in Massachusetts.  The National Organization for Marriage has been spinning this otherwise, despite the fact that their candidate has accepted Massachusetts law as allowing same-sex marriage.  So why do I bring the issue to the election?  One simple reason.  I do not want people to forget history. I do not want politicians who were on the wrong side of history to get away with minimizing the issue that they exploited when emotions were high. This is what Scott Brown did.  He was the elected official who publicly labeled a gay couple's family "not normal."

2. When I think of it -- really think of it -- my life won't change significantly if Brown wins.  I have health coverage.  I'm married in Massachusetts.  We have had to cut back because of the economy, but nothing like others have had to do.  But there's more than direct change that weighs on my mind.  There's emotional change.  I'm now in Canada, where health care for all and marriage for all is a given.  It's really not up for debate.  I find a deep and abiding peace knowing that everyone I meet on the street can get health care if they need it.  Call me a bleeding heart.  I take that as a compliment.  But I am happier in a place that I know cares for those who need it most.

3. I'm from Massachusetts!  I've always been proud of my state.  As a kid, I remember putting an anti-Nixon bumper sticker up on my bedroom wall: don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts.  It pains me to see the mere possibility of my state being the state that kills health care.  That kills much of the Obama agenda, despite the problems I have had -- and have written about on this blog -- with the President.

4. Massachusetts Republicans have always been a special breed of Republican, a breed that many Democrats like myself might not support, but could live with.  We could honestly say that our Republicans would be left wing Democrats in many states!  These Republicans have always been social liberals: William Weld, Paul Celucci, Frank Sargeant, and, our last Republican Senator, Ed Brooke.  Mitt Romney ran as a moderate Republican but did an about face once he smelled the White House coffee. Scott Brown is not a moderate Republican. He is not the sort of Republican we have typically elected in Massachusetts.  He may be moderate by national standards, but not by Massachusetts standards.

So there you have it.  There's not much I can do but to drive back from Toronto on Monday, wake up early on Tuesday, vote, and then close my eyes and wait, hoping that when I open my eyes I'll realize I worried far too much about this election than I needed to.