Saturday, February 26, 2011

Belmont University Recognizes Gay Student Group

     Things just keep getting better for the LGBT students at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. After last years debacle regarding the firing of softball coach Lisa Howe for being in a relationship with another woman, the University - bowing to public outrage - added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy. Though the former Southern Baptist school added this much needed policy, there was still complaints coming out of the University that it was marginalizing LGBT students by not allowing them to form a LGBT club on campus. 

    But this all changed today, when Belmont Provost Thomas Burns and the LGBT organizations President Robbie Maris announced that the university would formally recognize the Bridge Builders club. They stated,
“Belmont University has accepted and approved the application from Bridge Builders as an official student organization. This outcome represents many months of conversation, collaboration and cooperation between Belmont students, faculty and staff. We are pleased that our ongoing campus dialog about Christian faith and human sexuality has helped us to establish Bridge Builders as an official student organization at Belmont University. What we have accomplished working together represents our community well and is better than what we ever could have accomplished working separately. Our commitment to work together in developing this meaningful and important group on our campus reflects our community’s spirit of collaboration and dialog as we strengthen our diverse Christian community of learning and service through disciplined intelligence and compassion.”
     I am pleased that Belmont has taken this step, for as Christianity - and religion in general - learn more about such issues as human sexuality, most fair-minded individuals will recognize that the prohibitions in their scriptures are not applicable to todays world. Though much work needs to be done for Christianity to mend fences with the LGBT community, Belmont has taken a step in the right direction, and for that I applaud them.

DOMA and the Full Faith and Credit Clause

     With the Obama Administrations recent decision to henceforth not defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Federal Court because of its perceived unconstitutionality, there has been alot of discussion lately in the gay blogosphere about the "Full Faith and Credit Clause" of the Constitution, and how this clause affects DOMA's Section 2. The full faith and credit clause reads as follows...
Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.
    Pretty straightforward, or so it seems. But as with every form of Constitutional Law, this clause has been open to interpretation and has many tests that a public act, record, or judicial proceeding must meet to be declared valid in all 50 states.

    According to binding case law, all judicial proceedings in states must be respected by other states,  yet all states laws are not necessarily given the same level of respect. In fact, if a law is one way in one state, yet contradicts a public policy in another state, the second state is not obligated to honor the first state's law. This is what is known as the "Public Policy Exception".

This doctrine comes from the case Pacific Employers Company v. Industrial Accident Commission (1939), in which the Supreme Court said that...
While the purpose of that provision (full faith and credit clause) was to preserve rights acquired or confirmed under the public acts and judicial proceedings of one state by requiring recognition of their validity in other states, the very nature of the federal union of states, to which are reserved some of the attributes of sovereignty, precludes resort to the full faith and credit clause as the means for compelling a state to substitute the statutes of other states for its own statutes dealing with a subject matter concerning which it is competent to legislate. As was pointed out in Alaska Packers Association v. Industrial Accident Comm., supra, page 547, 55 S.Ct. page 523: 'A rigid and literal enforcement of the full faith and credit clause, without regard to the statute of the forum, would lead to the absurd result that, wherever the conflict arises, the statute of each state must be enforced in the courts of the other, but cannot be in its own'. 
 And in the case of statutes, the extra- state effect of which Congress has not prescribed, as it may under the constitutional provision, we think the conclusion is unavoidable that the full faith and credit clause does not require one state to substitute for its own statute, applicable to persons and events within it, the conflicting statute of another state, even though that statute is of controlling force in the courts of the state of its enactment with respect to the same persons and events.
     In essence what this case is saying is that even though a marriage may be legal in Massachusetts, if the state of Tennessee has a statute that says that marriage is between one man and one woman, if a married gay couple moves to Tenn. from Mass., the state of Tennessee  takes precedence. It is for this reason that I think we have not had a DOMA lawsuit dealing with Section 2, but instead has focused on Section 3's denial of federal benefits for legal marriages performed in approving states. This may also be why the federal cases dealing with gay marriage in the past year have won at the trial court level; for they did not attempt to sway the Court to go against established law, and instead have come at the issue from a 10th and 14th amendment angle.

    So though the argument on the Full Faith and Credit Clause may "seem" to make sense and makes for an easy argument for national marriage equality, the reality of the situation is a little more complex. As it stands now, according to binding case law it seems as though the Mini-DOMA's of the states are Constitutional and do not contravene this clause.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Tennessee Legislators Want Schools To Not "Say the Gay"

    For those readers of mine who do not follow Tennessee politics, State Representative Bill Dunn and State Senator Stacey Campfield have once again introduced the "Don't Say Gay" bill into the Tennessee Legislature. Thanks to the valiant efforts of the Tennessee Equality Project this bill has not got anywhere in the past, but these Republican legislators from Knoxville just cannot stop in their attempt to marginalize LGBT people. 

Here is the text of the proposed bill....

(1) The general assembly recognizes the sensitivity of particular subjects  that are best explained and discussed in the home.  Human sexuality is a complex subject with societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications; those implications are best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp their complexity.   
(2) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.
Senator Campfields Office released the following statement in a press release...
 "It's the family's responsibility and not someone with an agenda - one way or the other. The bill is neutral. We should leave it to families to decide when it is appropriate to talk with children about sexuality - specifically before the eighth grade."
    I for one, would believe in the validity of Sen. Campfields opinion on this issue - that the family should talk with children about sensitive issues of sexuality - if in fact the bill forbade ALL mentions of orientation. This would mean no discussion on mommy's and daddy's, no discussion about marriage, no discussion about having crushes, nothing! But does the bill do this? Of course not, for to do that would be completely ridiculous. Family structures, orientation, and love all are discussed in the classroom at almost all levels of education., maybe not graphic details of sex - but at least teachers talk about what makes a family and how people fall in love.

    But does this bill eliminate any discussion about sexual orientation? No, it only eliminates the discussion when it comes to any orientation OTHER THAN heterosexuality. That alone gives the impression that the government does have the authority to talk about sexual orientation; but only that orientation which is deemed "normal" by society. Thus, this bill ostracizes a large minority of children within Tennessee, telling them that they are not normal.

    What are the ramifications of this bill? Would it bar school counselors from assisting a child who might be bullied because of his sexual orientation? Would this bill, overall, bar schools from implementing anti-bullying programs that deal with sexual orientation? Based upon its wording it sure seems like it.

      Not only will this bill have noticeable effects on LGBT youths and their self-worth by telling them that they are not normal, but it reinforces the idea that Tennessee is a backward portion of the nation. While school districts all across the country are implementing programs to protect their students and their sexual orientation from harassment, Tennessee is going in the opposite direction - sweeping the issue under the rug because some parents may feel uncomfortable with reality. When someones feelings take precedence over someones safety - especially the safety of a child - there is a big problem.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Breaking! Maryland Senate Advances Gay Marriage Bill To Final Vote

       The State Senate in Maryland today conducted a preliminary vote to allow gay marriages in the State. In a vote of 25-22, the measure narrowly squeaked by; but if every member votes as they did today when the bill comes up for the final vote tomorrow, we will almost be assured marriage equality in Maryland! 

    The Annapolis Capitol has the story...

Maryland senators are inching closer to approving gay marriage in the state after tweaking the measure.  
State senators voted 25-22 Wednesday to advance the measure to a final vote, which could come as soon as Thursday. Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis and the only Anne Arundel senator who had not said how he would come down on the issue, voted against the measure.
In the process, lawmakers added further protections for religious groups to exempt them from having to provide educational services or insurance coverage for gay couples. They also changed the official name of the bill — stripping the words "Religious Freedom" from the title — to make it the "Civil Marriage Protection Act."
Supporters of the bill defeated numerous proposals from opponents that would have allowed court clerks to refuse to marry gay couples, kept schools from "promoting same-sex marriage" and renamed the bill "Same-Sex Marriage."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Focus On The Family's "Day of Dialogue" - Bullying In Its Truest Form

     In response to GLSEN's Day of Silence, Focus on the Family is once again encouraging students to participate in a "Day of Dialogue", a day which is supposedly aimed at presenting a Biblical view of human sexuality and God's design for marriage.

    Interestingly, Focus on the Family is taking a different tactic than they have normally done. Instead of just focusing on the homosexual indoctrination that is taking place in public schools across the nation, they are adding an anti-bullying element to their special day. Though I applaud this effort of FOTF, the purpose of their Dialogue is anything but positive. Instead of addressing the hatred and the animosity that LGBT students have to face every single day because they are different from the rest of their heterosexual counterparts, this Day of Dialogue perpetuates this animosity.

       One thing that Focus fails to realize is that when you tell teens that their classmates are sinners and are going to hell because they have not "accepted Christ as their savior", as well as treat their very being as something wrong, these kids will react to their counterparts in the same manner.  Though Focus might like to think that these children will react to their LGBT classmates in the same way that Jesus did, who are we really kidding? Are these children Jesus? Are they going to treat their classmates with the grace that Jesus supposedly showed Mary Magdalene the prostitute? Or instead are they going to treat them like the social outcasts and lepers that many Christians think that they are.

     Not only does Focus overestimate the message of abnormality that its message will have on those delivering the message, it also fails to realize the pain that it will cause those students who do identify as LGBT. Think about it this way; If you were beaten, made fun of, teased, and called horrible things constantly at school - would you not want to stop it any way possible? Would you not attempt to "change" your sexuality - the thing that has been causing you all this trouble? This potential way out will be tried, and has been tried, by many a kid, with disastrous results - such as broken families and ruined lives.

    In the end, Focus on the Family's "Day of Dialogue" will only lead to broken people. By accepting Focus's supposed rejection of bullying, we are instead allowing in an even more pernicious type of bullying - a bullying whose effects cannot be immediately seen, but do have emotional and psychological consequences for years. The Day of Dialogue will only lead children in our schools to even more self-hatred and failed efforts to change, rather than an acceptance and a celebration of who they are as a person.

        Though Focus may have the Constitutional Right to conduct such a day, it does not mean that we have to sit by and allow their failed messages of change and self-hatred to win the day. Do we want an actual discussion of this topic in schools, like Focus supposedly wants to have? I would challenge us all, that during this Day of Discussion, we present these kids the testimonies of our lives and the reason and logic of science to back us up. Though that won't change the presenters minds in any way, our resistance might be what steers a kid from years of self-hatred and despair. That is one thing that is definitely worth our time.
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