Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Retired and wounded Marine defends country but not the DADT policy


Jose Antonio Vargas has a story “Defending His Country, but Not Its ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy”, at this link, in The Washington Post, Feb. 28, 2007, Style Section, p. C1. The story concerns former Marine, now retired, Marine Sgt. Eric Alva, who lost a leg in Iraq after an encounter with a land mine in March 2003. He woke up in the hospital without the leg. He was visited by President Bush (according to ABC, below). The newspaper story includes a photograph. The story has a Q&A section, which indicates that the Marine Corps did “ask” his sexual orientation when he joined in 1990.

SLDN’s link about the likely 2007 reintroduction of Marty Meehan’s bill to repeal DADT is here. Alva is testifying before the House of Representatives today Feb 28, 2007, according to an ABC Good Morning America story aired at around 8:32 AM. The ABC story, by Jake Tipper, is "'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Revisited, Injured Iraqi Vet Joins Fight to End Ban on Openly Gay Service Members, here."

The SLDN link for Cook v. Rumsfeld is here. The organization's link for other pending litigation is here. This includes challenges to Article 125 in the UCMJ, the military “sodomy law.”

Update: Rep. Meehan reintroduced the bill today. Here is the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network press release: Link

Another posting claims that a debate on the ban would complicate the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is the link. Pentagon official David Chu claimed that even a "debate" or public battle would harm the defense of the country against terror. What kind of comment is this about free speech? Pretty scary. I guess I am one of the bad guys for keeping it alive. Bring it on!

Update: 3/11/2007

Issue with reservists: A Marine Corps reservist has issues for having appeared in public gay explicit photos before enlisting, and the Marine Corps admits that it is not sure how to apply the DADT policy here. Reference on blogger (external).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

ERISA negates many state laws protecting gays from discrimination in employee benefits


A recent case in Washington State shows that many state laws, aimed at prohibiting private employers from discriminating against domestic partners in granting benefits based on gender or sexual orientation, are essentially vacated if the benefits are legally driven by the federal ERISA, the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

In that case there was a twist: a female employee of Honeywell in Redmond, WA could not keep benefits for her unmarried male partner (under the Washington state law) because they were not a same-sex couple.

This seems to be an example of where "federalism," allowing states to experiment with socially controversial problems on their own, doesn't work -- just as with attempts to ban gay marriage in the federal constitution.

The Washington Blade story from Feb 23, 2007, is here. My blog on retirement income (affected by ERISA) is here.

MA - gay marriage -- federal judge dismisses suit by parents against school


On February 23 te AP reported at a federal judge in Massachusetts had dismissed a lawsuit brought by parents against a school district when a kindergarten student took home a book depicting a gay family. The judge ruled that instruction in school districts about controversial topics is not presumed to usurp a parent's rights to enforce the parents' own private moral views at home within the family (the libertarian concept).

Here is The Washington Blade blog entry.

The presence of the Internet and search engines is making this kind of effort by parents a red herring. Kids can find legitimate information, even developed in a professional manner in university environments, on the Internet. Presumably ordinary filters are unlikely to remove such information if academic in nature (and such information "in the open" would probably remain legal even if COPA were upheld). The development of content labels might make it easier for determined parents to keep such subjects away from their kids.

My main blog on COPA and content filters is here.

Vermont: Parents oppose anti-bullying workshop proposed by gay group

A related story on Feb 23 depicted parents at a rural Vermont high school (Mississquoi Valley High School at Swanton, VT) objecting to a school board plan to include workshops (partially sponsored by Outright Vermont) on anti-gay bullying. Conservative talk show hosts called such programs "recruitment." The story is here.

In northern Virginia, which is more liberal than the rest of the state, reaction to Gay-Straight Alliances varies from one high school to the next, as different neighorboods or communities and school administrators can vary on this issue quite a bit. In a large school district, like Fairfax County, administrators have some discretion to handle issues like this as they see fit. Generally, compared to other parts of the country, there is not a track record of many serious incidents (at least as reported in the media, which tends to be very diligent) targeting gay students.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Let's restate what the social conservatives "want"


I know it's painful, and I chased a perfect storm in the previous blog entry. But let's walk through once again the way the typical "religious" socially conservative family person sees things. Again, some of what follows is supposition, not fact, and would fit what many foreign languages call "the subjunctive mood."

Reproduction and lineage is a natural part of being human. If a person grows up with good character and "realistic" social interactions with other people (without too much distraction demanded by external media culture) the person should become socialized into wanting a marital partner for life, abstaining from sex or even erotic thoughs until marriage, remaining faithful for life, and raising children who carry on the family as a collective experience. Anyone who doesn't get socialized to want this is too selfish, doesn't "like people," doesn't love God or Allah, etc. Therefore any such person is not fully human, and it is OK to expect those people to take a subordinate position in order to meet the needs of families first. Yup, that's how a lot of people think, still. Mandatory "socialization" is a necessary step to making someone a properly developed human.

What about the competitive world among families? (The soap operas give those a pretty good workout.) Once an adult has a family, the family still has to compete with other families in order that the standard of living raises for everybody. This is where most religions (especially the Vatican) try to come up with theories as to how to have a "kinder and gentler" form of capitalism and take care of the poor. Theories of virtue abound but it is hard to reconcile any of them with personal competitiveness or competitiveness among families. The prevailing concept to enforce this virtue is called "public morality."

Libertarianism comes along, buttressed by ideas like individual sovereignty and personal autonomy. The first moral principle is the harm principle, which is coupled with property rights and freedom to contract (and enforcement of contracts). Equality is achieved by apply the law in a consistent fashion. This is supposed to guarantee equality for lesbians and gays.

Admittedly, even in a libertarian society (or at least liberal society) we deal with how to protect the vulnerable or dependent, and how to carry out the principle of respect for life. One idea is that enlightened self-interest will lead to volunteerism and public service.

With all the debates about marriage and social resistance to same-sex marriage, one thing is clear: many traditional people want the legal institutions associated with marriage to mediate the extreme attitude of self-reliance and accept that emotional and practical complementarity as we usually find in traditional marriage is a good and necessary thing for most adults and especially to facilitate raising children and taking care of the elderly or really disabled. By logic, this puts people who do not legally at a disadvantage, and leaves the vulnerable to being forced to make more "sacrifices" to meet the needs of others. This can get more serious as all these "inconvenient truths" (global warming, pandemics, national security) keep on growing on us. However, no political system has even been successful in getting individuals to become "socialized" to meet "common good" without becoming corrupted in the process. That's one of the strongest arguments for libertarianism and the idea that "freedom works."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Special rights? Equal rights?


I just wanted to journal a note today about the whole "special rights" problem.

If one accepts the idea of "equal responsibilities" to go along with "equal rights", then I see how I can have a problem. "Equal responsibilities" would mean sharing of common burdens, such as defending freedom, adapting to external threats, and particularly raising the next generation and caring for the previous one.

On raising the next generation, in some sense I am not an equal because I have not provided it with any members. In an individualistic society, the moral workout would logically be to prove that one can take care of or provide for others (in a competitive climate) besides oneself. Gay marriage and gay adoption, for example would provide the opportunities to do that.

From a personal point of view, however, my problem in being an "equal" is that I never demonstrated an ability to do that in any competitive sense. That is one reason why I am turned off by appeals for "political correctness" and "solidarity" in proving that I can perform some sort of sham of the real thing (like, in one case, when I was asked to get into a swimming pool in front of special ed kids; I refused).

The flip side of this, however, comes up with the speech. Many culturally or religiously conservative people with families are made very uncomfortable even by my mention of my concerns in a public space. Maybe they should be squeamish. For their whole world of marriage and family is built upon social recognition and approbation and pampering that is not supposed to be challenged. The truth is, for most people, the whole paradigm of marriage and family is what makes most people cope with what is expected of them, in the sharing of burdens. An individualist would see over-dependence on coercive social approbation as an admission of personal inadequacy (and therefore undermining of the integrity of marriage), but most married couples don't have the practical luxury of looking at things that way. In fact, many men conditioned themselves to perceive fathering children by a dedicate (and previously virgin) wife as an immutable part of manhood, apart from normal ideas of self-concept and above any question or distraction. Men like this do not like to cogitate on their actions or values as moral tradeoffs; they just come naturally. Indeed, a reproductive identity and lineage (with the protective behavior that accompanies it) is so connected to life than questioning it seems to deny the point of living, to these people. And it is so easy for others to exploit these men, and they don't even see it.

Conventional American and western society still places a lot of psychological value on blood and biological kinship relationships. This value is built into social custom and legal practice, even the IRS tax code (the concept of "personal use"). Since these are not chosen, they contradict concepts of individualism. Homosexuality (in men particularly) tends to emphasize the value of choosing significant others (as a "fundamental right") apart from these kinds of relationshios. Many people would feel threatened by the expression of values that would undermine the importance of these relationships.

Some heterosexuals believe that their personal expression, based on shared values, personalizes the value of all human life (because one's own procreated life could be anything), and that homosexuals are dedicated to responding only to life that they perceive as "good" or "beautiful", a moral problem of knowing "good and evil." What happens in practice is another matter.

I have to admit that when I was growing up, I saw the straight world as a competitive one in which I would wind up poorly if I "played" by "their" rules. But there is a lot more to it that that; the straight world also demanded gratuitous emotion and role playing (and reverence for the supposedly special needs of women as they were perceived in earlier generations) that simply turned off my own power switch.

Part of the old-fashioned "straight world" would look at someone like me as less than fully human, since I do not carry out all of the expected biological functions -- and then available for demand being made for deferential sacrifice to those with more family responsibilities -- but necessary, like any animal or servant. This sounds shocking, but I think that is how some people feel, even if it's not acceptable to say this in public anymore. (Second class citizens? The f-word? The n-word? Pseudo-slaves? At least "they" realize that we ought to be given chances to pull ourselves up according to "their" values -- so I found out in the school systems.) It is a way of "thinking" that puts ongoing experience and socialization ahead of rational thinking and culture. And that kind of "thinking" reaches its own contradictions when it tries to defend the "right to life" in absolute moral terms. Gay and pro-life (or libertarian and pro-life) could some day become strange bedfellows.

Friday, February 09, 2007

MD: 6 Montgomery County schools selected to present sexual orientation to students in high school and middle school


Daniel de Vise has a story in the Metro section of The Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2007, here, that six middle and high schools have been selected in Montgomery County, MD, NW of Washington DC, to present increased sex education including topics on sexual orientation and homosexuality to students. Parents have the right to opt out. The earlier program had been set aside in court.

Last year, I participated in a face-off debate in an "Opposing Viewpoints" series on the controversy about presenting homosexuality in high schools only, review here. My blogger entry is here (look for Sept. 19). My "opponent" in that book views homosexuality as an existential character disorder that precludes the idea that gay male teachers, in particular, can ever act as authority figures or "role models" in a school system, where it is understood that some kids need some continual in loco parentis supervision.

One underlying issue is that students will be able to find information anyway on their own, especially on the Internet. Teachers may well have a First Amendment right to publish materials on their own under their own name on the Internet or blogs, and students may well find it with search engines. This possibility would certainly lead to potential legal controversies.

Other news:
Here is a new blog "Gay Equality and the Law"

Update:

On March 7, 2007, The Washington Post, Daniel de Vise had an article, "Montgomery Starts Sex-Ed Pilot Program," at this link. It started with a health teacher at Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring, MD. It was not immediately clear whether the class was separated by gender (health often is, as it is often taught with physical education).

Saturday, February 03, 2007

More complications for domestic partner benefits


The IRS has apparently ruled that decisions on rolling over employee 401K accounts to designated non-spousal beneficiaries is to be determined by each individual company. A new federal law dealing with this has been criticized for making the tax code more complicated, when the desire is to simplify.

The is a Marriage Protection Act of 2007 introduced by Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, to prevent constitutional challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.

A state court of appeals in Michigan has ruled that the recent constitutional amendment in Michigan probibiting gay marriage and (apparently) civil unions precludes the allowing of domestic partner benefits for state employees.