Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bachmann - The Rise Of Christian Theocracy

Today, Republican Representative of Minnesota, Michele Bachmann, won the Iowa straw poll. Though this poll does not have any "official" status (the first primary is not till December), it does indicate how strong a candidate is seen by the Republican electorate. Bachmann won with 29 percent of the over 17,000 ballots cast; with libertarian Ron Paul of Texas right on her heels with 28 percent. 

Though many individuals, on both the right and the left, assert that Bachmann is a "show" candidate, and that serious candidates, such as Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, will most likely be the Republican nominee for President, Bachmann's first place finish at the Ames straw poll is not something to scoff at, and she is certainly a candidate that warrants close scrutiny. 

Though she has attempted to whitewash her previous image of a very conservative Christian with theocratic leanings, it is important that the LGBT community not allow this "whitewashing" to take place, for under a Bachmann administration LGBT people would be thrown under the bus in favor of a "Christian Inquisition" in the U.S. 

Though this might seem an extreme statement to make, the ideology of those in the Bachmann camp make such a statement very accurate. For example, at the Bachmann tent in Ames, Iowa earlier today, Rick Green of the right-wing revisionist history group Wallbuilders gave a speech on the dangers of moral relativism, saying, "We're not just gonna say, 'oooh everybody's equal and moral relativism for all!"

Wallbuilders, a Christian publishing and "history"  organization headquartered in Texas, is not a fringe organization in conservative christian circles. This organization, which advocates for the submission of political authority to the doctrines of the Bible (or at least their interpretation of the Bible), is praised by organizations and individuals such as Focus On The Family and Glenn Beck. Their website, for example, explicitly states this mission,
WallBuilders' goal is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.
Any research on the organizations founder and main spokesperson, David Barton, also reveals a disturbing pattern of purposeful historical misinformation and error. From slavery to immigration, Barton has put a right-wing Christian spin on history; all in an attempt to show how the Founding Fathers of the United States were all  "Christian" men who wanted the United States to be a puritan "City On A Hill". 

Bachmanns alliance with an organization like Wallbuilders is not coincidental; for she has been a staunch advocate for the Religious Right since her tenure in the Minnesota Senate. From anti-marriage equality propaganda to her husbands participation in "gay-to-straight" therapy, she has proven herself an advocate for the complete submission of reason and science to a preconceived religious ideology. 

Why does her husband (and her) advocate for "changing" homosexuals? Because their religion tells them too. Why does she oppose even civil unions for gay and lesbian couples? Because her religious beliefs assert that she cannot validate same-sex couples. Why does she advocate for a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution? Because the Founders - as brilliant Christian men - knew best. 

Bachmanns rise into the upper echelons of the Republican Party (and her rise as a serious presidential candidate) should give all moderates, independents, and liberals great pause. Though she might attempt to style herself as a viable and mainstream candidate, her version of government is anything but moderate. Instead, it screams the elevation of one groups religious beliefs above all else, and that groups beliefs codified into law; and this, my friends, is what is known as a theocracy. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rick Santorum - Marriage Equality Is Equal To Slavery

Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum is on a role. Not only has he used the lackluster comparison of napkins and paper towels as a justification to denying gay couples marriage rights, but he is now comparing the 10th amendments guarantee that a state can enact marriage equality if it wants too, to states having the authority to legalize slavery. 

In an op-ed on his website, Santorum draws attention to the Lincoln-Douglas debates of the late 1850's. These debates centered around the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a bill introduced into the U.S. Senate by  Illinois Senator Steven Douglas, which would repeal the Missouri Compromise - which banned slavery in any newly acquired territory north of the 36°30' parallel - and instead allow the residents of the territories to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted legal slavery in their jurisdiction. 

Quoting Lincolns response to Douglas' bill, Santorum states,
"In Lincoln's time the political debate was over the foundationally immoral institution of slavery. Lincoln rightly criticized Stephen Douglas' "don't care" attitude about that great moral issue this way: "When Judge Douglas says that whoever or whatever community wants slaves, they have a right to have them, he is perfectly logical, if there is nothing wrong in the institution; but if you admit that it is wrong, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong."
Unsurprisingly, Santorum is giving us a false moral equivalency. Though he might feel that  slavery and marriage equality are both moral wrongs, it is absurd (as well as downright offensive) to assert that the two issues are equal in their moral scope. To do so devalues the very real pain that those who were kept in bondage felt, as well as ties down marriage equality with one of the great moral stains upon this great nation. 

Why was slavery a moral wrong? Though there are many reasons why it was a terrible institution, one of the key reasons was because slavery is predicated on denying recognition of the humanity of  a certain class of human beings. The  inherent rights of man; that is, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, were being denied by the institution to a certain segment of the population because of their skin color. The institution of slavery was used to take rights away and keep them away, rather than extend them. 

Marriage equality on the other hand, as many know, is not about denying anyone rights (even thought the Religious Right might whine about that) but is instead about extending rights. It is about recognizing the social/legal validity and inherent dignity of gay and lesbian relationships, rather than placing such relationships in an inferior legal and social status. The inherent rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not being "trampled on" by marriage equality; in fact, they are being realized by extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

But Santorum does not see this false equivalency. To him, granting someone a fundamental right - that is, the right to marry - is equal to allowing an African-American's fundamental rights to be stripped by being owned by a white man. To Santorum, even though the Republican party is predicated upon getting government out of the personal lives of its citizens and a deep seated respect for the 10th Amendment, his form of Republicanism asserts that some things MUST be legislated by the Government. And to him,  "Conservatives simply concede too much when they communicate that there exists some "right" to commit a great moral and civil wrong, and then leave it at that.  We must not give up our moral authority and say it is "fine" for a state legislature, or a court, or an executive, to redefine marriage in the name of states' rights or say it is none of our business.  As Thomas Jefferson said the people are free, and "inherently independent of all but moral law.""

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The American Values Of Exclusion and Discrimination

The former Secretary of State of Ohio, Ken Blackwell, (now a research fellow at the certified hate group the Family Research Council) wrote at Townhall on Monday regarding marriage equality and the diverse nature of those who are supposedly protecting traditional marriage. To Blackwell, it seems as though "protecting" heterosexual marriage is not a liberal or conservative issue, but instead brings Americans from all political walks of life together - thus making exclusion and discrimination an "American Value". 

Throughout the entire article (you can read it here), Blackwell gives us nothing new, and reiterates how vague notions of "the people" are the best ones to make decisions like "protecting traditional marriage". He echos the popular refrain that when a legislature or a judge extends marriage rights to same-sex couples, that elites are "forcing" acceptance of marriage equality upon society. To Blackwell, the issue of gay marriage can only be decided by "the people", because they have a stake in protecting their "civil marriage rights". Though I won't go into the stupidity of this "let the people vote" mantra, as I have already addressed it on this blog time and time again, it is a powerful rhetorical device that our opposition has been using quite effectively. Most people would rather make an important decision themselves than allow a representative to make that decision for them. Funny thing is, our system of government is not a pure democracy, which is what the "let the people vote" crowd seems to want, but is instead a representative republic, where the people elect representatives to... shockingly...represent them. 

Blackwell then starts his discussion on the power of the electorate, and how the vast majority in one particular section of the country has voted to protect their "civil right of marriage". This region would be, unsurprisingly, the South. From Texas and Tennessee, to Virginia and Florida, the entire South (save North Carolina) has enshrined the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage into their state Constitutions. To Blackwell, this is important, because,
Marriage is not a wedge issue. It’s a bridge issue. That’s why liberals fear it on the ballot. They know that the people do not want marriage abolished. They know it creates a formidable grassroots coalition.
Oh yes, the gays are "abolishing marriage". Those evil evil gays!! Who knew that when my husband and I got married, that the heterosexual married couple down the street magically became "unmarried".

All kidding aside, to assert that we are "abolishing" marriage is quite juvenile. What we are actually doing is we are extending CIVIL marriage rights to individuals regardless of their sexual orientation. We are allowing individuals, no matter if they are gay or straight, to be treated by their government the same. Maybe Blackwells particular religious "version" of marriage is being abolished; but then again, if my Jewish marriage affected his "Christian" version of marriage, then his marriage was having problems to begin with. 

To Blackwell, "Marriage wins in liberal states, conservative states, and moderate states. It’s not a red state/blue state issue. It’s a red-white-and-blue issue and it wins all over." And maybe that is true. Maybe to Blackwell, American values ARE exclusion and discrimination. Maybe telling individuals that their relationships are inferior and not worthy of respect IS a facet of the American dream. Maybe ensuring that "all individuals are NOT created equal" was really what Jefferson meant when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. But that is not my America, and that is not what I believe that it stands for...and I will fight tooth and nail against those who want to make it so. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Seventh Circuit Court Strikes Down Transphobic Wisconsin Law

A panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Wisconsin's ban on hormone treatments for transgender prisoners. The Wisconsin law, named the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act, was passed in 2005, and was challenged in 2006 by three transgender inmates, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal. 

The Courts decision was based upon the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution' and its guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. In its decision, the Court looked at the science behind what is known as "gender identity disorder" (GID), a medical term used to describe the condition where ones physical gender does not match ones gender identity. In its ruling, the Court determined that by refusing the inmates access to hormone treatments, the state was increasing the psychological stress and harm that may come to those inmates that have GID. To the Court, this meant that the state was deliberately inflicting a cruel and unusual punishment on its transgender inmates.

Wisconsin, in its defense of the law, did not disagree that gender identity disorder was a medical condition that needed to be treated. Instead, they asserted that the law was constitutional because hormone treatments were not the only way that GID could be dealt with. Wisconsin's basis for this logic was two Court cases, from 1987 and 1997 respectively which stated that the State does not need to provide hormone treatments to inmates because of the prohibitive cost of the drugs and the other treatment options available to transgender individuals. 

In the judges decision, they rejected this prior precedent and asserted that not only has the cost of hormone treatments for transgender inmates become significantly less expensive, but that the long term costs to the system (such as increased security, psychological expenses, etc.) far outweigh the costs of the hormone treatments. A portion of the Courts decision reads, 
At trial, defendants stipulated that the cost of providing hormone therapy is between $300 and $1,000 per inmate per year. The district court compared this cost to the cost of a common antipsychotic drug used to treat many DOC inmates. In 2004, DOC paid a  total of $2,300 for hormones for two inmates. That same year, DOC paid $2.5 million to provide inmates with quetiapine, an antipsychotic drug which costs more than $2,500 per inmate per year. Sex reassignment surgery is significantly more expensive, costing approximately $20,000. However, other significant surgeries may be more expensive. In 2005, DOC paid $37,244 for one coronary bypass surgery and $32,897 for one kidney transplant surgery. The district court concluded  that DOC might actually incur greater costs by refusing to provide hormones, since inmates with GID might require other expensive treatments or enhanced monitoring by prison security.
ACLU attorney John Knight, hailed the ruling as a significant victory, saying,
 “This was a discriminatory law that cruelly singled out transgender people by denying them — and only them — the medical care they need...too often the medical needs of transgender persons are not treated as the serious health issues that they are. We are glad that the appeals court has found that medical professionals, not the Wisconsin legislature, should make medical decisions for inmates.”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

To Bachmann, Gay Rights Are "Frivolous"

According to Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, social issues such as gay marriage are now "light and frivolous". In a personal profile with the Concord Monitor; a profile in which she admits that she should do whatever her husband wants her to do even if she feels differently, because God says that wives should submit to their husbands, she asserts that instead of being focused on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, she is a candidate that is focused on "serious issues" like the economy and healthcare reform.
Bachmann cut off an interview last week as she was being asked a question about gay marriage and emphasized that she is focused on rebuilding the economy and repealing federal health care reform. 
"I'm not involved in light, frivolous matters," she said. "I'm not involved in fringe or side issues. I'm involved in serious issues."
Alexander Burns over at Politico seems to think that this new "serious issue" focus by Bachmann could be because there might now be a "de facto truce" in the culture wars.

Though it would be politically expedient for Bachmann to attempt to distance herself from social issues, she does not seem to be declaring a "truce" on the issue and even focusing on more "serious issues" (though LGBT people would disagree that marriage equality is not serious), and instead seems to be going in the opposite direction.

Not only has she, along with her primary contenders Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Tim Pawlenty ,all signed onto the National Organization for Marriage's new "marriage pledge", but she also signed The Family Leaders "Marriage Vow" last month; a pledge that was widely criticized by politicians and organizations on both sides of the political spectrum.

Additionally, Representative Bachmann is also slated to appear at the National Organization for Marriage's "Values Voter" bus tour, a tour also being organized by the Family Research Council and Susan B. Anthony List. This tour will be traveling over 1,300 miles in the state of Iowa, energizing Republican voters to support a socially conservative presidential candidate; all the while demeaning LGBT people and their contributions to the decline of America's "moral fabric".

The profile of Bachmann by the Concord Monitor sums up her perspective quite clearly, when, quoting Christian evangelist and writer Jan Markell regarding Rep. Bachmann, said,
"I don't think I've seen a politician motivated by her conservative beliefs like her...she's not just speaking her political convictions, she's speaking her biblical conviction."
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