Sexual Liberation, Desire, and Queer Equality

Note: I’m going to at least allude to aspects of sex and my own sexuality in this post, so if you’re the kind of person who might judge me for that, please do us both a favor and skip this post.

Creating Change offers a huge variety of workshops, academies, and day-long institutes to choose from, which is one of the many reasons it continues to be a rich experience every year. This year, I decided to take a risk by committing to a day-long institute that would be a personal learning opportunity as opposed to just a professional skill-building one.

Geographies of Sex: Mapping our Desire: An Institute for Sexual Liberation

Any time a title has two colons in it, you know it will be intense, and it was, but in really poignant ways.

The goal of the institute was “discovering and reclaiming pivotal experiences that have forged our sexual paths” so that we can map our desire and “move toward a more vibrant, empowered daily expression of our sexualities.” So yes, that meant lots of people talking about their sex lives, and then each of us taking time to reflect on our own sex lives and examine them for themes and understandings of how we think about sex today and make decisions about how to move forward. But no, I’m not going to blog my entire desire map.

Let me start by saying this: sex needs to be demystified. I thought before I attended this institute I had a pretty forward-thinking view on sex (and I certainly haven’t shied away from talking openly about it in positive ways). I was wrong.

Sex is so taboo, and it’s bizarre! We are all sexual beings. We all have sex lives (even abstinent ones). We all have fantasies. We all have desires and our bodies are all capable of experiencing pleasure. And yet conversations about sex have really diminished in our movement.

What’s the one thing that sets apart queer people from the heterosexual/cisgender homogeneity? Our bodies and what we do with them. And as we’ve pushed forward for acceptance, we’ve often done so at the expense of covering up the very things that make us unique.

The problem is that all thoughts related to sex reside in the primal part of our brain. It’s the place where anger and fear are first-responses and it’s quite far removed from our much more evolved intuition and critical thinking skills. So when people are faced with conversations about sex, people go to that very protective place, which makes it difficult to move forward. We’ve moved  toward equality by sacrificing our understanding of our own sexuality.

But honestly… if there is consent and mutual benefit, everything should be fair game.

So let me take my own little step towards a liberated queer community. My name is Zack. I have kinks and fetishes. I am also a romantic and love connecting with sexual partners on deeper levels. And after spending a day examining my sexual history, I realized that I’ve been tentative and insecure with sex in the past. I’ve been afraid of sex, I’ve been afraid of not being desired, and I’ve been afraid to let myself feel pleasure. Moving forward, I am going to try to overcome these insecurities and take a greater ownership of my desires. I’m not ashamed to be a sexual being and I’m not going to let anyone suggest I should be. In fact, I’m going to do my best to encourage others in embracing their own desires as well.

What’s hot for someone is hot for someone.

If shame is in charge, we avoid opportunities for pleasure for ourselves.

If you don’t play out sexual desires, they could take over in other ways.

Those are three quotes from the day. I can’t wait to see how someone tries to use this personal disclosure against me at some point in my life.

Honestly, what I just shared is nothing compared to the kinds of conversations we had at the institute. Here are a few examples of some of the discussions that came up…

It’s not uncommon to have rape fantasies, but what if you’re a rape victim? What kind of sexual paradox is it to still find pleasure in a fantasy that has such a traumatic imprint in your life? I can’t even begin to imagine that conflict, but how liberating it was to have several people in the room who could speak to it. Once you’ve healed, you can play with it. Without undermining the severity of rape, these powerful survivors spoke to reclaiming their sexuality and their desire. How profound to focus on being the survivor instead of always being the victim!

What about consensual incest? I’m talking about two people who have a familial connection but are both capable and willing of giving consent to the other for sexual pleasure. It’s a thought that really racks the brain and makes us think it’s such a horrible thing. What about even just the fantasy of it? What about having a crush on a sibling or a cousin? Given that we’re all sexual beings, don’t we owe it to ourselves to at least consider the question before dismissing it outright for the ick factor it evokes?

Are fantasies in our head meant to stay there or be realized? Sometimes our desires have consequences. Sometimes we spend our whole lives “performing” instead of just “being,” letting go. How do sex workers rediscover what their own sexual desires actually are? How do racial dynamics impact power exchange play? How do we distinguish between our personal sexual feelings and the feelings we have for our partners? How do we ensure that we aren’t just catering to our partner’s desires at the sacrifice of our own?

What is it about monogamy that motivates us to hold it up as an ideal? Is it because we’re just so insecure about expressing our own sexual desires that once we’ve found a single person who pleases us that we aren’t able to trust in an emotional commitment without strict sexual monogamy? I’m asking these questions as someone who identifies quite strongly with monogamy!

One of the panelists discussed a time when he and his partner of then-5 years were having a fight. It had come to light that both of them had had sexual encounters outside of their relationship. But the fight wasn’t working. It was a conditioned response; they weren’t fighting because they actually wanted to fight, but merely because they felt they were supposed to. They soon realized that they were actually both okay with the other’s “indiscretion.” In fact, it kind of made them hot to hear about what each did with the outside person. Eventually their relationship evolved to the point where they could be open and cruise together, and occasionally even welcome a third home with them. They sit on the subway and play the “who would you bang?” game. They are still a committed couple (now 11+ years as I recall), and they are confidently committed enough that they recognize they don’t (and never will) complement each other’s desires perfectly.

I still don’t know if I could ever do that… but how great is that? When we choose to value individuals’ sexuality and desires, it’s not difficult to arrive at a place where his experience with his partner actually sounds quite healthy and vibrant. Still, we have these constructs about what is “right” and “wrong” with sex that are hard to shake. Ultimately, what do we gain from these schemas except limitations to our own sexuality and relationships?

I want to share one more moment of personal learning for me. At one point, I made a comment to the group about how young people (like myself) have absorbed a lot of messages about safe sex that are motivated by fear of HIV and STIs. Later in the day, several different folks in the room disclosed they were HIV+ and that my comment reminded them of the stigma they often face and the way it can really stifle their sexuality. It caused them to shut down a little bit. I had really forgotten about the privilege I have as someone HIV-, and I had indirectly reinforced the stigma against people with HIV. I approached these individuals later to express my regret for the microaggression, and it’s an awareness about creating inclusive spaces that I will carry with me.

So, I hope I’ve given you all something to think about. Much thanks to all the presenters and panelists who helped give me something to think about! Sexual liberation is something I think we all deserve. I know I am nowhere close to being liberated, but engaging in these kinds of ideas has had a profound impact on my thinking. As we move forward in achieving LGBT equality, we have to continue creating space for our sexuality and acknowledge that sex can be a very positive thing. I welcome your thoughts about these important ideas as we all challenge the taboo around sexuality and desire together.

At the end of the intense and emotionally draining day, we were invited to share a next step we were going to take upon leaving the workshop. One young man shared simply, “I intend to fuck soon.” He received a boisterous round of applause.

Something to Read and Something to Watch

Hey ZFb readers!

I’m traveling the rest of this week, so blog updates will be limited. Shannon might have something up soon though!

In the interim, here’s some content you should definitely check out.

First, read this article on The American Prospect called “Giving Bullies a Pass.” It speaks to the way the mainstream media has lost sight of the importance of addressing LGBT issues when talking about bullying. Here’s an excerpt:

The “It Gets Better” project started off as a community response to growing up gay in a society where that’s not accepted. The gay teen in me — exiled to some remote corner of my consciousness — feels a little less isolated when I see Fort Worth City Council Member Joel Burns talk about his fear of being rejected by his father and his happiness the day he got engaged. It would have been nice for the public at large to join the conversation, but instead, they changed the subject.

After you read that, watch this beautiful new video from friend of the blog, Tom Goss. The song is called “Lover” and speaks to the pain of losing a same-sex partner at war under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Then, if you still need more content in your life, catch up on Queer and Queerer! This week’s episode is a doozy, but an important listen about recovering from a local teen suicide.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Will Catholics Ever Admit The Church Has a Problem?

Last week, I was going to write about this story, where a woman at Benedictine University lost her job, but not for being gay or getting married. She lost it because she had the gall to publish a wedding announcement. followed up with a statement from the university defending the decision, running the appropriate headline, “Benedictine University: It’s Moral for Catholics to Fire Gay People.”

But as you might recall, when I last wrote about Catholicism two weeks ago, I pointed out that people complain I “bash” Catholicism too much. So rather than just add one to the pile, I thought I’d compile the posts I’d written here about Catholicism. I want to really put it to all my Catholic readers out there… is there ever enough evidence of Church shenanigans that will make you question your loyalty? And more importantly, do you recognize that by putting money in the offering at Mass, you are endorsing all of the following behavior?

Take a look and just the few examples I’ve written about, a list that is hardly exhaustive.

November 1 – Cardinal-Designate Raymond L. Burke said that discrimination against gays is okay, because they “suffer” and are “wrong.”

October 28 – Materials I was handed at a summer street fair show that Catholics guilt teenage girls out of abortion with twisted facts, gender police dating rituals, and condemn homosexuals as “disordered” using bunk Paul Cameron research.

September 17 – The Pope told the Queen of England that “atheist extremism” was responsible for the holocaust, ignoring the fact Hitler had been Catholic.

August 24 – The group Catholics for Equality creates an opportunity for LGBT advocates to defend their Church at the same time (thus maintaining the very cognitive dissonance this post is meant to challenge).

July 13 – Chicago’s Reverend Robert Barron used atheist Christopher Hitchens’ terminal illness as a petty opportunity to promote prayer.

June 7 – The New York Times celebrated “A Gay Catholic Voice Against Same-Sex Marriage,” a profile of Eve Tushnet, who promotes harmful ex-gay therapies or condemns gay people to chastity.

April 12 – The Pope’s #2, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, promoted the (completely wrong) idea that homosexuality and pedophilia are related.

April 3 – A senior Vatican priest speaking before the Pope compared the backlash against the Church for sexual abuse scandals to the persecution of the Jews.

March 16 – A lesbian couple cared enough about their children being Catholic that they didn’t care if their kids learned that they were actually going to Hell for their relationship.

March 12 – Bill O’Reilly actually defended the aforementioned lesbian couple when their kids were kicked out of their Catholic preschool; Father Jonathan Morris, not so much.

March 5 – A number of highlights! The DC Archdiocese ended their foster care program and all spousal benefits rather than subscribe to marriage equality. An Italian cardinal made it clear that if you support same-sex marriage, you can’t be Catholic. Distributing condoms to help fight AIDS in the Philippines is also anti-Catholic, according to bishops there. That was also the week we heard about the gay prostitution scandal inside the Vatican.

November 20 – Many Catholic leaders signed the very anti-gay Manhattan Declaration, just a week after threatening to pull out of DC charity serves should marriage pass there (as we saw above the ended up doing).


So there are my posts about Catholicism from the past year (aside from reminders here or there about Catholic positions on LGBT issues). That completely ignores the huge sums of money they gave both in 2009 (Maine) and 2008 (California and elsewhere) to fight marriage equality, as well as all scandals of sexual abuse, which continue to come to light.

So… you all okay with all of that? How many cracks will it take to break your diplomacy dike and cause you to raise some concern about your Church? If you disagree with the above actions and statements, why do you still support them both financially and in name? And if all of these things are so wrong, how is it that your beliefs are still so right?

Are you still proud to be Catholic? How did Catholicism get to be so important in your life? Can the values Catholicism represents for you ever be separated out from support of the Church?

Let me hear from you all.

Is “Gender Confusion” a Trans Parallel of “Sexual Lifestyle”?

I’ll keep this post short, because I really would love to see some discussion about it.

Last week, I posted on Facebook a link to a blog post by a mom whose son wore a crossdressing costume for Halloween. She wrote how happy she was for him, and how disappointed she was about the other moms at the preschool who bullied her about it. Her post has been incredibly widely read, so much so that she appeared on the Today show this morning to discuss it.

The conversation was mostly positive, but I found myself really struck by the use of the phrase “gender confusion.” Dr. Harold Koplewicz of the Child Mind Institute talks about how if a child refuses to wear clothing that matches the child’s sex beyond the age of 5 (i.e. when it’s no longer play), it could mean “something significant for a child’s sexuality later on or gender confusion.” His message is positive, so I’m not too worked up about it, but that language seems troublesome.

Wouldn’t gender confusion refer to people who are unsure of their gender? He uses it in the context of children who very clearly decide they are a different gender, not that they are confused. Confused people need to be guided, reoriented. To refer to a gender identity or gender presentation that is moving from cis to trans as confusion seems both inappropriate, inaccurate, and subtly demonizing.

I’m not a member of the trans community, so I don’t want to pretend I fully understand the personal impact of this language, but this just strikes me as wrong. Gender exploration, gender variance, transgender… these terms I think would be more appropriate.

Any thoughts?

How CNN’s Excuse for “Journalism” is Hurting the LGBTQ Community

Have you heard this “new” nonsense from Focus on the Family? Using the same old fear-mongering about “teaching children homophobia,” they have a new bullying campaign called “True Tolerance.” The gist of this program is that they oppose all bullying, but don’t think anything should ever be said about sexual orientation/homophobia. In other words, their beliefs (and paranoid fear) are so important as to preclude schools even acknowledging that gay people exist.

Sound familiar? That’s because a federal judge recently stated as a finding of fact that the very tactics FOTF is using are motivated by discrimination and animus. (See the Prop 8 Findings of Fact 44, 46, 58, 62, 67, 71, 76, and 77.) Autumn Sandeen has a great rundown of all the holes in Focus on the Family’s approach that you should definitely read in addition to this post.

As a result of this new campaign, CNN covered the “controversy” last week in the 11-minute segment below. I think this report from Anderson Cooper is demonstrative of the weak state of mainstream media coverage and the real damage that CNN’s “equal time” philosophy does to our community. In fact, I’m going to make the case to you in this post that Cooper is actually enabling FOTF throughout the whole interview. This is a sad reminder of how little support we get from having a gay man as one of the mainstream media’s most popular anchors. Get it buffering and I’ll walk you through this disaster of fact-finding.

The opening of the segment is deceptive. AC is talking to us about kids who commit suicide because they were harassed for acting gay. We also get to see Carl Walker-Hoover’s mother testifying before Congress. This is powerful because 1) it shows us how serious a concern anti-gay bullying is and 2) it reminds us that lots of straight kids are hurt by this kind of bullying. It’s a great opening to the segment, but you can forget about it, because it never comes up in the conversation. Not once.

In fact, the whole point of this segment is to put Focus on the Family’s point of view on a pedestal. It’s not really a controversy; it’s just an extremist group voicing their same-old dissent based on their same-old beliefs. And no journalism is taking place here, because there is no scrutiny. It’s just sensationalism. It’s 11 minutes of television that amplify the dissenting voice without offering any critical analysis. Focus on the Family is not held to any accountability for what they say or believe.

In addition to being poor journalism, it’s also an upholding of religious privilege. It’s the respect meme, the foundation of all religious belief. We have to respect the beliefs and that’s that. Why? If we ever find out, it sure won’t be from CNN. I’m going to give you a blow-by-blow, because I want you to see how much Anderson Cooper protects Focus on the Family throughout the discussion. I’ll sum it up at the end so you can see how bad it is.

AC segues to the discussion (1:26) by saying (paraphrased for effect), Here’s what the Safe Schools Improvement Act would do, but Focus on the Family objects, so let’s hear them out! So we meet the players. Candi Cushman is FOTF’s talking head, while Eliza Byard speaks for GLSEN, and Rosalind Wiseman, who wrote the book that inspired Mean Girls, is there for color commentary. You’ll note that Cooper stumbles over both of the latter two ladies’ names. Then, AC gives Cushman the first word (1:54). This sets up Focus on the Family to take the offense and make their case first, meaning the other two will be stuck playing defense most of the interview.

Cooper sets up his first question by paraphrasing FOTF’s policy in his own words (thus validating it with his authority as a respected reporter) and then asking the following about anti-gay bullying (2:13):

How do you suggest stopping that if you can’t mention anything about gays and lesbians?

This question is terribly weak, and kind of stupid when you think about it. It gives FOTF’s point of view the benefit of the doubt, when there is actually plenty to be doubtful about! It doesn’t really scrutinize their stance at all, though Autumn will be the first to show you there is plenty to scrutinize.

After Cushman spews her nonsense about wanting “to protect any child for any reason” as a cover for just not talking about gays, Cooper pushes her, but not in any way that challenges what she has said, merely to help her further clarify her point of view. It’s not so hard to watch it and perceive it as if he’s actually helping her get it all out. It’s odd to see it in that light, but that’s the effect of his “pushing.” This is most evident around 3:20 when Cushman gets out her other talking point about “not focusing on the characteristics of the person victim because it doesn’t matter why the victim was targeted. “

Now (at 3:30), Cooper puts this on Byard of GLSEN. He says that FOTF has challenged GLSEN of “promoting the gay agenda” as if 1) FOTF is a respectable authority on gay issues (though the Southern Poverty Law Center says otherwise) and 2) the “gay agenda” is a real thing, a legitimate threat, and something GLSEN has to answer for. This is quite different from a moment ago when he uncritically reiterating FOTF’s stance. What gives?

Byard is great, though. She points out that the Safe Schools bill does everything Cushman wants plus pays special attention to specific characteristics because the data shows it makes a difference. This frames the argument well, because it shows that FOTF wants to do less than is possible and that there is data to show why they’re wrong in wanting that.

What does Cooper do? He ignores this point with another weak question for Cushman (4:20), designed to be perceived as a challenge without echoing the legitimate points Byard just made. He asks if FOTF would be opposed to talk about race, disability, or other traits that kids might get bullied for. This isn’t an awful question, but it protects Cushman from having to respond to Byard (and Byard’s data).

What’s most pathetic here is that Cushman dodges the question anyway. She says she’s worried if you start specifying kinds of bullying, you might end up leaving some kids out. I’m sure she prefers not talking about any of the Presidents specifically in U.S. History because if you spend too much time on Washington and Jefferson you might leave out Millard Fillmore.

Then, after plugging the True Tolerance website, she whips out the old parents-who-are-concerned-about-“homosexuality lessons presented to their kindergartners” nonsense, playing on age-old stereotypes of fear. The implication here is that kids will be taught to be gay and that that’s a bad thing. It’s exactly what Dr. Chauncey testified about in the Prop 8 trial. It’s bunk. But hey, FOTF doesn’t “think it’s necessary,” so that’s enough for a controversy.

Cooper almost doesn’t challenge Cushman, but let’s Byard jump in (5:26) and reiterate the data-driven facts about the importance of mentioning sexual orientation in anti-bullying education. She is calm and eloquent in her presentation of GLSEN’s work. Does Cooper follow-up on the facts? No, he jumps over to get Wiseman in the conversation (6:06).

Again, he shows favor with FOTF by asking “Do you see an agenda being spread?” as if Byard hadn’t just clarified what GLSEN does and has found through multiple studies. Wiseman kind of throws the whole mess under the bus by claiming you’ll only get a 45-minute assembly out of the initiative, and then oddly echoes Cushman’s talking points (about all students) to agree with Byard’s points (naming the behavior). I think she actually says something worthwhile at some point about homophobia and masculinity that could’ve been brilliant, but it’s generally lost in her meanderings.

So what does Cooper do? Invite Cushman to talk freely again about what Focus on the Family believes, of course (7:30)! Cushman goes on again about wanting to defend the gay kid without actually defending him for being gay. Her “they’re all God’s children” is just a repackaging of color-blindness for sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter that the kid’s gay, just protect him for being a kid. (Of course, by not validating the kid’s identity, the teacher would essentially be validating the anti-gay bullying. That couldn’t possibly be what FOTF wants, could it? Oh wait, yes it could.)

Now, kudos to Wiseman for jumping in here and calling out Cushman (8:08) that her perspective “does not in any way reflect the reality of what schools are like.” She makes up for her earlier incoherence with a very coherent smackdown, suggesting Cushman is oblivious to “concrete reality.”

How does AC respond to this outburst? He challenges Wiseman by reiterating FOTF’s language and saying, “What’s wrong with just that?” Now, some might say he’s just facilitating the discussion without personally taking a point of view, but he is taking a point of view. He’s offering a defense of what Focus on the Family is trying to say! Wiseman (8:50) offers a weak explanation for respecting victims at their word but is about as ambiguous in her words as the ambiguity she’s trying to describe.

Cooper then comes back to challenge GLSEN’s Byard again! (9:30):

There are certainly a lot of parents who don’t believe that being gay or being lesbian is okay and don’t want their kids—especially very young kids—exposed to that. Do you think this should be mandatory for everybody?

He’s essentially agreeing that teaching kids that some of their friends might have two mommies or two daddies might be an awful thing. He’s also validating their scare tactics—you know, the ones that demonize gay people… like Anderson Cooper.

Byard gives another eloquent response (9:43). She talks about data, findings, evidence, and facts. After she’s finished, Cooper ignores what she has said (again) to give Cushman the final word (10:25). Cushman talks about scared parents and sexual content again, but is again left unchallenged with her foundationless, stereotype-driven, fear-baiting tactics. Cooper thanks them and ends the discussion.

Now, let’s review everything Anderson Cooper, star gay journalist, did in this segment:

» He opens the segment by talking about bully-driven suicides (which he never refers to again).
» 1:26 – He introduces Focus on the Family’s concern about the Safe Schools Improvement Act as reason enough to talk about it for a full segment.
» 1:36 – He welcomes the guests, happening to stumble over the names of the two guests who will disagree with Focus on the Family.
» 1:54 – He reiterates FOTF’s position and then lets their spokesperson, Candi Cushman, speak first.
» 2:41 – He pushes Cushman to further clarify her position.
» 3:30 – He challenges GLSEN’s spokesperson, Eliza Byard, to refute the “gay agenda.”
» 4:20 – He ignores Byard’s points to throw another easy question at Cushman.
» 5:26 – He almost lets Cushman go unchallenged but lets Byard jump in.
» 6:06 – He again ignores Byard’s points, bringing author Rosalind Wiseman into the conversation by also challenging her about the “gay agenda.”
» 7:30 – He throws another easy question to Cushman.
» 8:27 – He responds to Wiseman’s retort of Cushman by reiterating FOTF’s points and challenging her to refute them.
» 9:30 – He reiterates another FOTF talking point to Byard, challenging her to defend them.
» 10:25 – He gives Cushman the last word, again without challenging her on anything.

Essentially, he protects Focus on the Family the entire segment. The segment, itself, exists solely to amplify and validate their message. They are held to no scrutiny. In just 11 minutes, two completely unequal points of view are conflated through “equal time” to having equal footing. It’s a massacre of knowledge, and a complete journalistic failing.

Now, you might have read all that and said, “Yeah, but he was just facilitating, and this is just one segment, and Zack, you’re just making a big deal out of nothing.”

No. You’re wrong. CNN does this all the time. Tony Perkins is an AC360 contributor and Maggie Gallagher is also on there all the time. They make news about Bryan Fischer’s extremist statements then give him airtime. They refer to ex-gay therapists like Richard Cohen and Exodus International. And every time, they pull this “equal time” crap that ends up validating the side that has no footing. There is no scrutiny. There is no journalistic integrity.

I’ll stop just short of calling Anderson Cooper a quisling. It’s a shame he cares more about how CNN wants him to do his job than his own community. But CNN has a neutrality suppository so far up its butt that it doesn’t know right from wrong. We need to start holding them to a higher standard. This talk show sensationalism is hurting our community. Let’s not let them call it journalism any more.

The Prop 8 Decision: A Victory for Science and Education

Way back in January, I wrote a post about why atheists should care about the Prop 8 Trial, pointing out that science was on trial. I was not alone in pointing out that Perry v. Schwarzenegger is the Scopes Monkey Trial of our day, merely challenging psychology instead of biology. I think it is important to now look at Judge Walker’s decision and see that not only was this a victory for gay rights, but a victory for science (the APA agrees) and the dismantling of religious privilege in our nation.

I don’t think anything in the decision is as powerful as the Findings of Fact I compiled yesterday. Another important aspect was the determination of expertise for the witnesses that were offered as “experts.” As I pointed out back in January, there were some compelling face-value distinctions between the plaintiffs’ witnesses and the proponents’ witnesses. It seems that Judge Walker thought so too.

He takes a fair amount of time in the decision to outline the credentials of the expert witnesses and the criteria used to evaluate them. This was surely necessary given that he did not accept them all. Starting on p. 28, he affirms the testimony of all the plaintiffs’ experts. Scroll over each to see the brief summary of their testimony and then check out the decision to see all the credentials: Nancy Cott, George Chauncey, Lee Badgett, Edmund A Egan, Letitia Anne Peplau, Ilan Meyer, Gregory Herek, Michael Lamb, and Gary Segura.

Those Religious Studies Professors

Then (starting on p. 35), Judge Walker gets to the matter of the proponents’ witnesses. First he describes Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson, “experts” the proponents’ withdrew, but whose taped depositions were still submitted as evidence by the plaintiffs. What is remarkable is how—perhaps because they were withdrawn—their expertise and their testimony have little to do with each other (p. 36-37 citations omitted):

Young has been a professor of religious studies at McGill University since 1978. She received her PhD in history of religions and comparative religions from McGill in 1978. Young testified at her deposition that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality and that same-sex couples possess the same desire for love and commitment as opposite-sex couples. Young also explained that several cultures around the world and across centuries have had variations of marital relationships for same-sex couples.

Nathanson has a PhD in religious studies from McGill University and is a researcher at McGill’s Faculty for Religious Studies. Nathanson CV. Nathanson is also a frequent lecturer on consequences of marriage for same-sex couples and on gender and parenting. Nathanson testified at his deposition that religion lies at the heart of the hostility and violence directed at gays and lesbians and that there is no evidence that children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than children raised by opposite-sex couples.

Proponents made no effort to call Young or Nathanson to explain the deposition testimony that plaintiffs had entered into the record or to call any of the withdrawn witnesses after potential for contemporaneous broadcast of the trial proceedings had been eliminated.

This seemed an incredibly useful tactic by the plaintiffs’ legal team. It demonstrated that even if Young and Nathanson had testified at trial, their expertise on religioun would have been irrelevant to what we actually know about gays and lesbians.

Kenneth P Miller

I’m going to save David Blankenhorn for last, because he makes for a grander finale. Skipping down to p. 49, we see where Judge Walker considers the testimony of Kenneth P Miller, who plaintiffs contended did not have sufficient expertise to testify on the subject of the political power of gays and lesbians.

Miller received a PhD from the University of California (Berkeley) in 2002 in political science and is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. Plaintiffs contend that Miller lacks sufficient expertise to offer an opinion on the relative political power of gay men and lesbians. Having considered Miller’s background, experience and testimony, the court concludes that, while Miller has significant experience with politics generally, he is not sufficiently familiar with gay and lesbian politics specifically to offer opinions on gay and lesbian political power.

It seems that the proponents found a witness who was willing to say what they wanted him to say, but really had nothing to back it up. There are several pages where Judge Walker showed how Miller could not explain how his conclusions contradicted studies and reports submitted by the plaintiffs. My favorite was this one (p. 52):

Plaintiffs questioned Miller on data showing 84 percent of those who attend church weekly voted yes on Proposition 8, 54 percent of those who attend church occasionally voted no on Proposition 8 and 83 percent of those who never attend church voted no on Proposition 8. Plaintiffs also asked about polling data showing 56 percent of those with a union member in the household voted yes on Proposition 8. Miller stated he had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the polling data. Miller did not explain how the data in PX2853 are consistent with his conclusion that many religious groups and labor unions are allies of gays and lesbians.

It was also revealed that Miller was fed most of the documents he cited by the defense. I’ll let Judge Walker take us home on Miller’s testimony (p. 53-54):

The credibility of Miller’s opinions relating to gay and lesbian political power is undermined by his admissions that he: (1) has not focused on lesbian and gay issues in his research or study; (2) has not read many of the sources that would be relevant to forming an opinion regarding the political power of gays and lesbians; (3) has no basis to compare the political power of gays and lesbians to the power of other groups, including African-Americans and women; and (4) could not confirm that he personally identified the vast majority of the sources that he cited in his expert report. Furthermore, Miller undermined the credibility of his opinions by conceding that gays and lesbians currently face discrimination and that current discrimination is relevant to a group’s political power.

Miller’s credibility was further undermined because the opinions he offered at trial were inconsistent with the opinions he expressed before he was retained as an expert. Specifically, Miller previously wrote that gays and lesbians, like other minorities, are vulnerable and powerless in the initiative process, contradicting his trial testimony that gays and lesbians are not politically vulnerable with respect to the initiative process. Miller admitted that at least some voters supported Proposition 8 based on anti-gay sentiment.

For the foregoing reasons, the court finds that Miller’s opinions on gay and lesbian political power are entitled to little weight and only to the extent they are amply supported by reliable evidence.

I think Judge Walker ought be applauded for his critical observations here.

Determining Expertise

Now, you might read all that and wonder, “So what exactly qualifies an expert?” Judge Walker will happily walk you through it.

First, we have Federal Rule of Evidence 702 (p. 39-40):

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides that a witness may be qualified as an expert “by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” The testimony may only be admitted if it “is based upon sufficient facts or data” and “is the product of reliable principles and methods.” Expert testimony must be both relevant and reliable, with a “basis in the knowledge and experience of [the relevant] discipline.”

This is key language. The information provided has to, essentially, be scientifically valid and reliable. Scientific literacy is so vital to our society and we are fortunate that Judge Walker understands that. He goes on to say that formal training and peer-reviewed publications are not necessary, but speak to the intellectual rigor expected of an “expert.” However, the court is not required to admit opinion evidence that is connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert. So peer review is an effective way for the court to ensure that an expert’s methodology is sound.

Several factors are relevant to an expert’s reliability:

(1) “whether [a method] can be (and has been) tested”;

(2) “whether the [method] has been subjected to peer review and publication”;

(3) “the known or potential rate of error”;

(4) “the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the [method’s] operation”;

(5) “a * * * degree of acceptance” of the method within “a relevant * * * community”;

(6) whether the expert is “proposing to testify about matters growing naturally and directly out of research they have conducted independent of the litigation”;

(7) whether the expert has unjustifiably extrapolated from an accepted premise to an unfounded conclusion;

(8) whether the expert has adequately accounted for obvious alternative explanations;

(9) whether the expert “employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field”; and

(10) whether the field of expertise claimed by the expert is known to reach reliable results for the type of opinion the expert would give.

I know that kind of reads like gobbledygook, but each of those is a significant point in which the court upholds scientific thinking.

Essentially, the court holds (or should hold and has precedent to hold) experts accountable to their testimony. If their research isn’t accepted by their field or their conclusions don’t match their claims, they are violating the expertise they claim to have. This is so important, and I think we have to appreciate the way Judge Walker carefully meted out and considered all the facts in this case.

And why did he have to write this all out in the decision? Because of David Blankenhorn.

David Blankenhorn

You might think I’ve already beaten up on David Blankenhorn a bit too much. It’s not without irony that I was chastising his pity party yesterday just hours before the decision came down. But you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen the way Judge Walker eviscerated Blankenhorn’s testimony (p. 39):

Plaintiffs challenge Blankenhorn’s qualifications as an expert because none of his relevant publications has been subject to a traditional peer-review process, he has no degree in sociology, psychology or anthropology despite the importance of those fields to the subjects of marriage, fatherhood and family structure, and his study of the effects of same-sex marriage involved “read[ing] articles and ha[ving] conversations with people, and tr[ying] to be an informed person about it.” Plaintiffs argue that Blankenhorn’s conclusions are not based on “objective data or discernible methodology,” and that Blankenhorn’s conclusions are instead based on his interpretation of selected quotations from articles and reports.

The court permitted Blankenhorn to testify but reserved the question of the appropriate weight to give to Blankenhorn’s opinions. The court now determines that Blankenhorn’s testimony constitutes inadmissible opinion testimony that should be given essentially no weight.

Ouch. That’s gotta hurt. And Walker says it a few more times, too. You see, Walker didn’t just dismiss Blankenhorn’s testimony; he took the time to dismantle it. (And there is a lot more detail in the decision than what I’ve excerpted here!)

In regards to Blankenhorn’s opinions on the definition of marriage (p. 43-44):

Blankenhorn’s interest and study on the subjects of marriage, fatherhood and family structure are evident from the record, but nothing in the record other than the “bald assurance” of Blankenhorn suggests that Blankenhorn’s investigation into marriage has  been conducted to the “same level of intellectual rigor” characterizing the practice of anthropologists, sociologists or psychologists. Blankenhorn gave no explanation of the methodology that led him to his definition of marriage other than his review of others’ work.  The court concludes that Blankenhorn’s proposed definition of marriage is “connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit” of Blankenhorn and accordingly rejects it.

Strike One!

In regards to Blankenhorn’s opinions on the ideal family structure and children (p. 44-45):

Blankenhorn’s conclusion that married biological parents provide a better family form than married non-biological parents is not supported by the evidence on which he relied because the evidence does not, and does not claim to, compare biological to non-biological parents. Blankenhorn did not in his testimony consider any study comparing children raised by their married biological parents to children raised by their married adoptive parents. Blankenhorn did not testify about a study comparing children raised by their married biological parents to children raised by their married parents who conceived using an egg or sperm donor. The studies Blankenhorn relied on compare various family structures and do not emphasize biology. The studies may well support a conclusion that parents’ marital status may affect child outcomes. The studies do not, however, support a conclusion that the biological connection between a parent and his or her child is a significant variable for child outcomes. The court concludes that “there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered.” Blankenhorn’s reliance on biology is unsupported by evidence, and the court therefore rejects his conclusion that a biological link between parents and children influences children’s outcomes.

Strike Two!

In regards to Blankenhorn’s opinions that same-sex marriage will lead to the “deinstitutionalization of marriage” (p. 48-49):

Blankenhorn stated he opposes marriage for same-sex couples because it will weaken the institution of marriage, despite his recognition that at least thirteen positive consequences would flow from state recognition of marriage for same-sex couples, including: (1) by increasing the number of married couples who might be interested in adoption and foster care, same-sex marriage
might well lead to fewer children growing up in state institutions and more children growing up in loving adoptive and foster families; and (2) same-sex marriage would signify greater social acceptance of homosexual love and the worth and validity of same-sex intimate relationships.

Blankenhorn’s opinions are not supported by reliable evidence or methodology and Blankenhorn failed to consider evidence contrary to his view in presenting his testimony. The court therefore finds the opinions of Blankenhorn to be unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight.

Strike Three! You’re Out!

The problem with Blankenhorn isn’t just that he speaks out against the rights of gays and lesbians. It’s that he’s wrong. Like so many believers, he puts the cart before the horse, and thus looks for studies that support his opinion instead of drawing opinions from studies.

I hope he sees this decision as an important check on his credibility as well as the authenticity of the work coming out of his so-called Institute for American Values.

Ultimately, science won this case. There is no getting around the solid facts about sexual orientation that make it quite clear that Proposition 8 was discriminatory and wrong. Anyone who disagrees needs a lesson in science.

The Prop 8 Decision: The Findings of Fact (Everything We Should Learn From This Trial)

I want to begin my coverage of the Prop 8 decision (Read it on Scribd) with the Findings of Fact. This is the series of 80 points Judge Walker used to organize the multitudes of information in the case. Note that these are not all the ideas that were presented in the case; these are the facts used in the decision.

These concise points address the information presented in trial amazingly. They are straight-forward and compelling. Here is, essentially, what everyone should learn from this trial. The facts stack up nicely, but get particularly interesting—I think—starting down at #38.

All emphasis in green is my own and I have omitted citations for ease of reading,  but page numbers are provided. I have included the whole list, but I think people ought to pay particular attention to the following: 38, 39, 41, 43, 44, 46, 48, 50, 54, 55, 56, 58, 62, 66, 67, 70, 71, 72, 76, and 77; I have highlighted those numbers as facts I think are particularly compelling and noteworthy.

Let’s dig in (p. 54).

The Players

The first 13 or so facts simply outline the players in the case (many of whom are players in name only). Scroll over each for a description: Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, San Francisco, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Edmund G Brown, Jr, Mark B Horton, Linette Scott, Patrick O’Connell, Dean C Logan, and the Defendant-Intervenors.

Now we learn a little bit more about who these folks are who promoted Proposition 8:

14. Proponents dedicated substantial time, effort, reputation and personal resources in campaigning for Proposition 8. (p. 57)

15. Proponents established —— Yes on 8, a Project of California Renewal (“Protect Marriage”) as a “primarily formed ballot measure committee” under California law. (p. 57)

16. The Protect Marriage Executive Committee includes Ron Prentice, Edward Dolejsi, Mark A Jansson and Doug Swardstrom. Andrew Pugno acts as General Counsel. David Bauer is the Treasurer and officer of record for Protect Marriage. (p. 57)

17. Protect Marriage was responsible for all aspects of the campaign to qualify Proposition 8 for the ballot and enact it into law. (p. 58)

18. Protect Marriage is a “broad coalition” of individuals and organizations, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the “LDS Church”), the California Catholic Conference and a large number of evangelical churches. (p. 59)

This description of Protect Marriage is important. It recognizes who was involved, what they tried to do, and how they were financially supported.

Should California Refuse to Recognize A Couple’s Marriage Because Of Their Sex?

19. Marriage in the United States has always been a civil matter. Civil authorities may permit religious leaders to solemnize marriages but not to determine who may enter or leave a civil marriage. Religious leaders may determine independently whether to recognize a civil marriage or divorce but that recognition or lack thereof has no effect on the relationship under state law. (p. 60)

20. A person may not marry unless he or she has the legal capacity to consent to marriage. (p. 60)

21. California, like every other state, has never required that individuals entering a marriage be willing or able to procreate. (p. 60)

Given that the entire case is about the right to marry, Walker walks us through the way that marriage is defined and has been defined throughout history.

22. When California became a state in 1850, marriage was understood to require a husband and a wife. (p. 61)

23. The states have always required the parties to give their free consent to a marriage. Because slaves were considered property of others at the time, they lacked the legal capacity to consent and were thus unable to marry. After emancipation, former slaves viewed their ability to marry as one of the most important new rights they had gained. (p. 61)

24. Many states, including California, had laws restricting the race of marital partners so that whites and non-whites could not marry each other. (p. 61)

25. Racial restrictions on an individual’s choice of marriage partner were deemed unconstitutional under the California Constitution in 1948 and under the United States Constitution in 1967. An individual’s exercise of his or her right to marry no longer depends on his or her race nor on the race of his or her chosen partner. (p. 62)

26. Under coverture, a woman’s legal and economic identity was subsumed by her husband’s upon marriage. The husband was the legal head of household. Coverture is no longer part of the marital bargain. (p. 62)

27. Marriage between a man and a woman was traditionally organized based on presumptions of a division of labor along gender lines. Men were seen as suited for certain types of work and women for others. Women were seen as suited to raise children and men were seen as suited to provide for the family. (p. 63)

28. The development of no-fault divorce laws made it simpler for spouses to end marriages and allowed spouses to define their own roles within a marriage. (p. 64)

We can see how other forms of identity were used in defining marriage in the past.

29. In 1971, California amended Cal Civ Code § 4101, which had previously set the age of consent to marriage at twenty-one years for males and eighteen years for females, to read “[a]ny unmarried person of the age of 18 years or upwards, and not otherwise disqualified, is capable of consenting to and consummating marriage.” (p. 65)

30. In the 1970s, several same-sex couples sought marriage licenses in California, relying on the amended language in Cal
Civ Code § 4101. In response, the legislature in 1977 amended the marriage statute, former Cal Civ Code § 4100, to read “[m]arriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman * * *.”  That provision became Cal Fam Code § 300. The legislative history of the enactment supports a conclusion that unique roles of a man and a woman in marriage motivated legislators to enact the amendment. (p. 65)

The “tradition” of one-man/one-woman marriages is very much founded upon not just gender roles, but gender inequality.

31. In 2008, the California Supreme Court held that certain provisions of the Family Code violated the California Constitution to the extent the statutes reserve the designation of marriage to opposite-sex couples.  The language “between a man and a woman” was stricken from section 300, and section 308.5 (Proposition 22) was stricken in its entirety. (p. 66)

32. California has eliminated marital obligations based on the gender of the spouse. Regardless of their sex or gender, marital partners share the same obligations to one another and to their dependants. As a result of Proposition 8, California nevertheless requires that a marriage consist of one man and one woman. (p. 66)

This is an important question. If all the other changes to marriage have removed gender imbalances, why does California still require a man and a woman?

33. Eliminating gender and race restrictions in marriage has not deprived the institution of marriage of its vitality. (p. 66)

34. Marriage is the state recognition and approval of a couple’s choice to live with each other, to remain committed to one another and to form a household based on their own feelings about one another and to join in an economic partnership and support one another and any dependents. (p. 67)

35. The state has many purposes in licensing and fostering marriage. Some of the state’s purposes benefit the persons married while some benefit the state: (p. 67-68)

Here Judge Walker offers six benefits: a) cohesive family units, b) liberty, intimacy, and free decision-making for spouses, c) stable households, d) legitimating children, e) assigning care-providers, and f) facilitating property ownership.

36. States and the federal government channel benefits, rights and responsibilities through marital status. Marital status affects immigration and citizenship, tax policy, property and inheritance rules and social benefit programs. (p. 68)

37. Marriage creates economic support obligations between consenting adults and for their dependents. (p. 68)

38. Marriage benefits both spouses by promoting physical and psychological health. Married individuals are less likely to engage in behaviors detrimental to health, like smoking or drinking heavily. Married individuals live longer on average than unmarried individuals. (p. 69)

Number 38 is important, because it’s the first (of many to come) that establishes psychological and sociological research as facts in the case. Here are a few more:

39. Material benefits, legal protections and social support resulting from marriage can increase wealth and improve psychological well-being for married spouses. (p. 70)

40. The long-term nature of marriage allows spouses to specialize their labor and encourages spouses to increase household efficiency by dividing labor to increase productivity. (p. 70)

41. The tangible and intangible benefits of marriage flow to a married couple’s children. (p. 71)

I think it’s pivotal that the decision recognizes the intangible benefits of marriage.

Should California Differentiate Between Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Unions?

This section outlines a lot of important history about the gay community as well as information about same-sex couples. Important definitions are entered into the record as fact regarding the nature of sexual orientation.

42. Same-sex love and intimacy are well-documented in human history. The concept of an identity based on object desire; that is, whether an individual desires a relationship with someone of the opposite sex (heterosexual), same sex (homosexual) or either sex (bisexual), developed in the late nineteenth century. (p. 71)

43. Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of sexual, affectional or romantic desires for and attractions to men, women or both sexes. An individual’s sexual orientation can be expressed through self-identification, behavior or attraction. The vast majority of people are consistent in self-identification, behavior and attraction throughout their adult lives. (p. 71-72)

YES! Sexual orientation refers to which sex a person is attracted to, not which sex a person is attracted to in reference to their own.

44. Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as a characteristic of the individual. Sexual orientation is fundamental to a person’s identity and is a distinguishing characteristic that defines gays and lesbians as a discrete group. Proponents’ assertion that sexual orientation cannot be defined is contrary to the weight of the evidence. (p. 72)

45. Proponents’ campaign for Proposition 8 assumed voters understood the existence of homosexuals as individuals distinct from heterosexuals. (p. 73)

46. Individuals do not generally choose their sexual orientation. No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or any other method, change his or her sexual orientation. (p. 74)

I think there is incredible power in the stipulation of these qualities as facts. This essentially puts the legal kibosh (for the sake of at least this particular ruling) on any debate about whether sexual orientation is a choice.

47. California has no interest in asking gays and lesbians to change their sexual orientation or in reducing the number of gays and lesbians in California. (p. 76)

48. Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions. Like opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples have happy, satisfying relationships and form deep emotional bonds and strong commitments to their partners. Standardized measures of relationship satisfaction, relationship adjustment and love do not differ depending on whether a couple is same-sex or opposite-sex. (p. 77)

49. California law permits and encourages gays and lesbians to become parents through adoption, foster parenting or assistive reproductive technology. Approximately eighteen percent of same-sex couples in California are raising children. (p. 78)

50. Same-sex couples receive the same tangible and intangible benefits from marriage that opposite-sex couples receive. (p. 79)

51. Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals. (p. 79)

This kind of makes me laugh, but also makes me sad for all the sham marriages out there motivated by internalized homophobia.

Domestic Partnerships

One could easily insert “civil union” for DP in each of these statements and the same would be true. But, California has never had civil unions.

52. Domestic partnerships lack the social meaning associated with marriage, and marriage is widely regarded as the definitive expression of love and commitment in the United States. (p. 80)

53. Domestic partners are not married under California law. California domestic partnerships may not be recognized in other states and are not recognized by the federal government. (p. 81)

54. The availability of domestic partnership does not provide gays and lesbians with a status equivalent to marriage because the cultural meaning of marriage and its associated benefits are intentionally withheld from same-sex couples in domestic partnerships. (p. 82)

55. Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages. (p.83)

56. The children of same-sex couples benefit when their parents can marry. (p. 84)

Did Prop 8 Enact a Private Moral View Without Advancing a Legitimate Government Interest?

57. Under Proposition 8, whether a couple can obtain a marriage license and enter into marriage depends on the genders of the two parties relative to one another. A man is permitted to marry a woman but not another man. A woman is permitted to marry a man but not another woman. Proposition 8 bars state and county officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It has no other legal effect. (p. 85)

58. Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society. (p. 85)

59. Proposition 8 requires California to treat same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples. (p. 86)

60. Proposition 8 reserves the most socially valued form of relationship (marriage) for opposite-sex couples. (p. 86)

61. Proposition 8 amends the California Constitution to codify distinct and unique roles for men and women in marriage. (p. 87)

62. Proposition 8 does not affect the First Amendment rights of those opposed to marriage for same-sex couples. Prior to Proposition 8, no religious group was required to recognize marriage for same-sex couples. (p. 89)

63.  Proposition 8 eliminates the right to marry for gays and lesbians but does not affect any other substantive right under the California Constitution. (p. 90)

64. Proposition 8 has had a negative fiscal impact on California and local governments. (p. 90)

65. [The City and County of San Francisco] would benefit economically if Proposition 8 were not in effect. (p. 91)

66. Proposition 8 increases costs and decreases wealth for same-sex couples because of increased tax burdens, decreased availability of health insurance and higher transactions costs to secure rights and obligations typically associated with marriage. Domestic partnership reduces but does not eliminate these costs. (p. 91)

67. Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment. Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents. (p. 93)

68. Proposition 8 results in frequent reminders for gays and lesbians in committed long-term relationships that their relationships are not as highly valued as opposite-sex relationships. (p. 94)

Yes, the stigma against same-sex couples is now part of court record.

Same-Sex Couples as Parents

69. The factors that affect whether a child is well-adjusted are: (1) the quality of a child’s relationship with his or her parents; (2) the quality of the relationship between a child’s parents or significant adults in the child’s life; and (3) the availability of economic and social resources. (p. 94-95)

70. The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment. The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent. Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology. (p. 95)

Seriously, read that one again. Not only does the evidence show that same-sex couples make good parents, but the question is not even up for debate.

71. Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted. (p. 95)

72. The genetic relationship between a parent and a child is not related to a child’s adjustment outcomes. (p. 96)

73. Studies comparing outcomes for children raised by married opposite-sex parents to children raised by single or divorced parents do not inform conclusions about outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents in stable, long-term relationships. (p. 96)

Discrimination Against Gays and Lesbians

74. Gays and lesbians have been victims of a long history of discrimination. (p. 96)

75. Public and private discrimination against gays and lesbians occurs in California and in the United States. (p. 97)

76. Well-known stereotypes about gay men and lesbians include a belief that gays and lesbians are affluent, self-absorbed and incapable of forming long-term intimate relationships. Other stereotypes imagine gay men and lesbians as disease vectors or as child molesters who recruit young children into homosexuality. No evidence supports these stereotypes. (p. 98)

77. Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians. (p. 101)

78. Stereotypes and misinformation have resulted in social and legal disadvantages for gays and lesbians. (p. 103)

Can you feel the validation, folks?

79. The Proposition 8 campaign relied on fears that children exposed to the concept of same-sex marriage may become gay or lesbian. The reason children need to be protected from same-sex marriage was never articulated in official campaign advertisements. Nevertheless, the advertisements insinuated that learning about same-sex marriage could make a child gay or lesbian and that  parents should dread having a gay or lesbian child. (p. 105)

80. The campaign to pass Proposition 8 relied on stereotypes to show that same-sex relationships are inferior to opposite-sex relationships. (p. 108)

So there you have it! THOSE ARE THE FACTS. If you have any question as to why this decision is what it is, it should be answerable by those facts. If you don’t like those facts, tough. You cannot disagree with them; they are facts.

If The Free Market Could Uphold Equality, We’d Already Have It

Some days, I have this bad habit of trying to figure out how the minds of conservatives and libertarians work. And then I get a headache. If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.

The theory hypothesis is that if you just let the market go, society will take care of itself. It’s this odd notion that keeps conservatives bedded to big business (in the name of “small government”). But the right is also bedded to Christianity, so when it comes to any social issue, hypocrisy reigns supreme. And lately, they’ve really tried to conflate the two. They argue that we don’t need to do anything related to civil rights because the market will simply insist upon them. It’s a convenient way to hide their bigotry and stifle progress.

The joke here, though, is that the effects of promoting this conflation (including the Democrats pandering to it) disprove it. How many millions (if not billions) of dollars are wasted or lost for reasons like:

» Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell discharges and the recruitment and training to compensate (at least $363 million, actually)

» An incredibly biased survey of currently serving troops ($4.4 million)

» The Department of Justice unnecessarily defending a law the President has already called for the repeal of

Those are just a couple of ideas as related to one of the many injustices against the LGBT community. We learned in the Prop 8 Trial of the huge financial impact of marriage inequality to just one city.

If the market could really control for human prejudice, it would have already. We wouldn’t be wasting all this money on utter nonsense.

This is just your routine reminder that our opponents operate on lies and fear and nothing more. There is no substance and no reason to their arguments, just a need to control and the intimidation to do it.

So You Want To Be a Teabagger: Hiding Prejudice Behind Capitalism

Let’s imagine starting a new society, a whole new humanity. We’re playing SimEarth or Civilization here or something; just imagine it with me. We start it knowing everything we know now. We know there’s nothing to substantiate prejudice based on sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Those identities all present naturally and in no way impact individuals’ ability to contribute to society or live upstanding lives. We remove all such biases from our new society; the idea of such prejudices do not even exist.

Then, we give our new society a free market system in which to function. Does our new society make sure that everyone has what they need to survive?

If they’re human, I doubt it. Humans naturally have a tendency toward greed; it’s just how psychological conditioning works. Even in a society without any context of identity-based prejudice, there would still be people who succeed and who enjoyed their success enough to not care about those less fortunate. A free market doesn’t mean everyone has the same chance of succeeding; it simply means that theoretically, everyone has the same opportunity to try. But even after one generation of our hypothetical new society, there would be people who have more and people who have less. So, even though there is nothing restraining equality based on identity, there is always inherently inequality, because you’re burdened or blessed by the circumstances you’re born into.

Still, we like the idea of a free market. Psychologically, it helps society move forward. There is reward for creativity; there is reward for hard work. People can be individuals and follow their passions. Despite its inherent inequality, there is also an inherent freedom, theoretically. This holds true so long as the divide between the haves and have-nots doesn’t become such that the haves control the have-nots and the have-nots depend on the haves to live their lives.

What should the goal of our society be? I think the freedom is important, but shouldn’t there also be a commitment to all people’s quality of life at a basic level? I don’t think a society is very successful if only a small proportion can prosper. So what happens when that divide widens? A growing portion of the population would not have enough, while a shrinking number would have more than enough. But in our hypothetical society, wouldn’t we want everybody to have enough? Since we’re controlling the dynamics of everything, I think we’d want to say to those rich folks, “Congrats on acquiring so much, but come on, you kind of have more than you need and a lot of folks are struggling. We’re not punishing you for doing well, but we’re going to ask you to sacrifice some of your excess so that everyone in our society can at least have enough to live a life at a certain baseline quality of life.”

The teabaggers say no.

Flashback now to the reality of the United States 2010. Every big problem we’ve dealt with lately has been at least partially the fault of corporate greed. Companies like Halliburton and Lockheed Martin have financial interests in our wars. Our economy collapsed because of the greed of corporate execs like those at Goldman Sachs. Our healthcare needed reformed because of the greed of insurance companies. We have an environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico thanks to corporate mismanagement.

But the teabaggers fervently defend corporate power. They don’t see the inherent inequality in an unregulated system. They actually believe everyone has a fair chance if they just try hard enough. They’re blind to all forms of inequality and don’t care that they perpetuate them. They don’t blame corporations for anything. Iraq’s been liberated. The economy is recovering on its own. Banks don’t need to be regulated. Healthcare doesn’t need regulated. We don’t need environmental regulations; accidents happen.

It’s bloody naïve, I say.

They complain about big government, but the government, for the most part, isn’t responsible for all these problems. Is there government corruption? Sure, and I’m not defending that. But to give corporations a free pass on everything is irresponsible and misguided.

And now, let’s revisit the point I made at the very beginning. In addition to the inherent inequality of a free market system, we live in a society where many other inequalities persist. Male privilege, White privilege, Heterosexual Privilege, and Christian Privilege make it so that not only are we imbalanced, but the imbalance targets certain identities. These privileges are systemic. They cannot simply be erased; they must be overcome from generation to generation. When we recognize forms of discrimination, we have the opportunity to resist these systems of oppression.

Teabaggers are committed to letting inequality persist. They so buy into the myth of the American Dream (which itself is an allegory for promoting greed—we should aspire to be wealthy) that they don’t want any regulation of the economy. There should be no limits on the haves, the have-nots be damned. There should be no hand-outs, no efforts whatsoever to counteract the inherent inequalities in the system.

And this means allowing identity-based inequalities to persist as well. Take a look at these numbers from a University of Washington poll and what they tell us about true teabaggers:

74% of Tea Party supporters agree that “while equal opportunity for blacks and minorities to succeed is important, it’s not really the government’s job to guarantee it.”

78% of Tea Party supporters disagree that “over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.”

Even 46% of Tea Party supporters agree that “if blacks would only try harder, they would be just as well off as whites.”

Ever wonder why you really only see White people at Tea Party events? It’s because they don’t care about resisting white privilege; in fact, they’re more than happy to reap its benefits.

They also don’t want anyone else getting a chance at their American dream:

54% of Tea Party supporters agree that “immigration is changing the culture in the U.S. for the worse.”

88% of Tea Party supporters approve of “the immigration law in Arizona which requires police to question people they suspect are illegal immigrants for proof of legal status.”

63% of Tea Party supporters disagree that “we should not single out Muslims or Middle Easterners for airport security stops.”

They’re also incredibly concerned about keeping this country in the control of breeders:

Only 18% of Tea Party supporters agree that “gay and lesbian couples should have the same legal right to marry as straight couples.”

52% of Tea Party supporters agree that “compared to the size of their group, lesbians and gays have too much political power.”

Some good it’s doing us.

It’s getting harder and harder to separate teabagging from prejudice. And even in the absence of identity-based prejudice, the Tea Party platform is blatantly selfish. Members of the Tea Party are more concerned with their own well-being (or even their own perceived potential well-being) than to worry about anyone else. America is the country where I can succeed, regardless of anyone else who suffers as a result.

The Tea Party is dangerous, and their ideals are ill-founded. The mere fact that their platform has popular traction does not mean they are ideas we should be respectfully considering. They are clearly intent on maintaining as much inequality as they can.

If we want to protect the ideal that we are truly all equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then the Tea Party should be our archnemesis. We need to hold them back or they will literally rewrite our history (and it’ll be rife with spelling errors).

(Kudos to this Tumblr for the photos.)

Atheism vs. Agnosticism in the Context of Religious Privilege

Seeing as how today is the unconstitutional National Day of Prayer and Daniel Florien just hosted an epic discussion about Atheism and Agnosticism over at Unreasonable Faith, I thought I would tap the very roots of my blog and offer my own perspective on the language of nonbelief in the context of religious privilege. I’ve written on some of these before, but like many did in the Unreasonable Faith thread, I will try to offer my personal guide for the language I use and don’t use.

Since this is a conversation about language, the first thing to keep in mind is that all of it is socially constructed. Every word in this discussion is used to describe interpretation and commitment to ideas. I think it’s best if we start there.

What is an idea? Let’s define it simply as a coherent thought. It’s something you can make sense of in your head. It can be totally imaginative and fictional; the only criteria is it has to be mentally graspable.

A belief is a special kind of idea. There are many rhetorical uses for “believe” but let’s be specific about a belief for this discussion. A belief is an idea understood to be truth despite an insufficiency of rational explanation. God is a belief. Ghosts are a belief. Astrology is a belief. A dog is not a belief. A Halloween costume is not a belief. Astronomy is not a belief. (Evolution is not a belief, either.) It only counts as a belief if there is not proof of its merit. Otherwise it’s just an understanding.

Now, here is a question: Is there merit in holding a truth without merit? From a simple, objective, intellectual point of view, the obvious answer is no. There is no point in continuing to divide by 0 when you know you can’t divide by 0. However, from a sociological point of view, the answer throughout history has been clouded. While nothing has changed in regards to the intellectual merit of beliefs, the social merit of beliefs is quite developed.

So what is this privilege? Privilege constitutes any unearned advantages that individuals have in society derived solely from aspects of their identity. It can be considered the opposite of oppression. A man makes more than a woman from male privilege. A white person doesn’t have to carry identification papers around in Arizona thanks to white privilege. When it comes to invisible identities that rely on disclosure, privilege can play out in some complicated ways.

Consider people who are coming out as gay. They know that homosexuality is shunned in society and that they might be expected to conform to heterosexuality, so they might come out as bisexual so that they maintain some of their heterosexual privilege. Someone who is actually bisexual might, conversely, identify as the orientation that matches hir partner so as not to suffer the oppression of biphobia. A trans person might also make efforts to “pass” as hir identified gender so as to benefit from cisgender privilege.

Similarly, religious belief, itself, benefits from privilege. This includes all matters of spirituality and superstition as well, but belief in a higher power takes top priority. To believe is considered a good thing and to not believe is often seen in a negative light.

This leads us to several questions that can help us understand different terms regarding belief and why people might choose to identify with them.

Firstly: Do you believe? (And if so, what?)

Secondly: Are you willing to believe in a higher power? And/or… do you see value in believing in a higher power? (This is the tricky one.)

Thirdly: Are you committed to working against religious privilege?

Let’s start with the first one. If somebody answers “Yes, I do believe,” there are two possible identities I will entertain in this post.

Theist/Believer – Someone who actively believes that there is a higher power.

Contratheist – Someone who actively believes that there is NOT a higher power (i.e. denies the existence of a higher power).

Personally, I reject both forms of belief. Heck, I coined “contratheist” just to distinguish myself from it. There is no evidence for God and there is no evidence against God. Both of these identities require conviction without evidence, and I argue both lack any intellectual merit. I think it’s really important to see the denial of a higher power as a belief, an act of holding truth without evidence, and to separate it from the nonbelief community.

Answering “No” to the first question moves us on to number 2. Another way of asking this question is: “Which do you value more, probability or possibility?” Someone who is willing to believe or who sees value in believing is agnostic (thus valuing possibility), while someone who doesn’t is an atheist (thus valuing probability). (Kudos to commentor Matt M for this distinction.)

Agnostic – Someone who might not actively believe, but still sees value in beliefs and in the most improbable possibilities.

Atheist/Nonbeliever – Someone who does not believe and does not see value in believing or supporting improbable claims.

An atheist is truly without belief and measures things critically through probability assessment. If it’s improbable, then it isn’t worth considering. Someone agnostic might see things a bit more black and white; if something is possible, then it’s worth considering. This translates into a sort of uncommitted belief, a 50/50 conjecture that there is just as good a chance that there is a higher power as the chance that there isn’t.

The problem I see, as many pointed out on the discussion thread, is that there is no distinction between these possibilities. The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Santa Claus, and leprechauns are all just as probable as the Christian God, but agnostics tend not to be as agnostic about those other things. They are more interested in showing support for popular deities.

This reflects a sense among many atheists that agnostics are cowards afraid to come the whole way out as atheists. As someone who once identified as agnostic for specifically that reason, I can tell you there there is at least some truth to it. One of the Cectic comics that Francesc linked to illustrates this well:

If you’re not convinced that there is privilege for religion, all you have to do is look at President Obama’s National Day of Prayer proclamation today:

I call upon the citizens of our nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us.

This is a Presidential endorsement of an unabashedly religious practice.

So, perhaps some agnostics are holding out so they continue to benefit from religious privilege rather than be labeled as an atheist, “the godless other.” Other agnostics might just be completely uncommitted in their thinking about these kinds of ideas. Still, they wouldn’t be lost in that uncommitted territory if they had not been influenced by religious privilege in society. Whatever a person’s reason to identify as agnostic, I think they ought to continue to be challenged so that they do not continue to reinforce the privilege they benefit from.

The third question is sort of a bonus for atheists. Once you’re an atheist, do you work toward dismantling religious privilege? Christopher Hitchens does, which is how we got this term:

Antitheist – Someone who actively works against religious belief.

I identify as an antitheist, because I speak openly about atheism, I challenge religious beliefs, and I work against the power that religious organizations have developed over thousands of years.

Others might not identify as an athitheist. They might instead identify as an apatheist (apathy toward religion), a nontheist, or simply an atheist without further title.

While it’s nice to argue philosophically about “knowing” vs. “believing,” this doesn’t seem to be helpful in moving forward as a nonbelieving community. Recognizing the impact of religious privilege is crucial to understanding why we even have debates over language like this.

Some may strongly disagree with my interpretation of this language, and that’s fine. Language is fluid. I think, though, that these identities are best understood in this context. I hope this post has been helpful and enlightening!

For more on how I think about language and use it on this blog, check out the ZFb Terminology page.