Thursday, 8 January 2009

Rick Warren, Proposition 8, and Some Hard Thinking

So after mulling for a very long time about the rights and wrongs, the content and symbolism, the facts and the emotions of Rick Warren's invitation to speak at the inauguration ceremony, I thought it was about time I put my varied thoughts on the blog.

Firstly, I have to talk about the emotional aspects of this.

On November 4, Obama won a historic victory. But on the same night, the LGBT community suffered a huge disappointment with the passage in California of Proposition 8 - removing the right to marry from gay people in that state. Rick Warren, though considered relatively moderate in the context of evangelical preahcers, had some pretty foolish things to say on the subject.

I am particulary annoyed and baffled by his statement that the existence of gay marriage would deny first amendment rights to those who do not support gay marriage. Huh? The existence of hate crimes hasn't prevented those who oppose hate crimes from saying so. The existence of a Federal Income tax hasn't taken away the free speech of tax opponents. The existence of affirmative action hasn't prevented opponents of affirmative action from saying so.. etc. etc.

Reading between the lines, the only sense that I can make of this is that he fears 1) some people with violently anti-gay views might behave violently and that 2) anti-gay preachers might hypothetically be prosecuted for incitement? Or something? I don't know. In any case, this strikes me as an oddly un-Christian set of concerns as well as being irrational. I suspect even Warren doesn't really find his own argument all that convincing.

So, Rick Warren is, in my firmly held opinion, on the wrong side of this issue. What's more, his holding of this view has done real and meaningful harm - taking away legal rights that in themselves did not harm anyone and did a lot of good for a lot of folks.

I get why so many on the left are angry that Rick Warren will be speaking at Barack Obama's inaugural. I REALLY get it - I'm angry about the Proposition 8 result and disagree with Warren's views... strongly.

But I think it was the right decision to invite him.

Why? Simple. Because, painful as it is to realise, I must remember that my belief that Warren's views are doing real harm to real people is exactly matched by the beliefs of many Warren supporters (and Warren himself) that, for instance, Barack Obama's support for abortion rights is doing great harm. In fact, a couple of years ago Rick Warren got in a lot of trouble with his own constituents for inviting Barack to speak at his church. These individuals, who sincerely believe that abortion takes the life of a living person, were appalled that Warren would in any way conspire with an individual who in their view is personally contributing to this great harm.

Now, I don't happen to agree with that point of view. But I accept that for those who do, their position is no less sincerely held - and in fact, no less morally reasoned than my own strong support for civil rights for gay americans.

But at the time and ever since I have admired Rick Warren for inviting Barack to his church, even though he disagrees with him on some important issues, and I praised him at the time for getting past the left-right logjam and working pragmatically to move forward on key issues.

It would be hypocritical for me to now be offended that Warren has been welcomed at the Obama Inauguration. Especially, since I also think the invitation could ultimately be an important step towards WINNING the batter for equal rights.

Rick Warren is not our enemy - he just disagrees with us. And even in California, 52 percent of the electorate still disagreed with us on this issue. Logically, therefore, if we hope to ultimately win this battle (and I do) we must either change the minds of 2.1% of the population, or find a compromise that works for both of us.

Allowing Rick Warren a prominent place in Obama's inauguration (although NOT, by the way, in his administration) is a courteous and a symbolic gesture that suggests we are open to allowing either of these things to happen.

For instance, instead of attacking him, why not ask him to live up to his own words? Warren has indicated that he has no problem with providing legal rights and benefits to gay couples, but he wants to preserve "marriage" for heterosexual couples. I disagree, but if we could guarantee every federal legal right - including essential such as immigration, social security benefits and survivor rights - I'd be willing to call the institution in question a "civil union". So long as my gay friends could still have, ya know.. the cake. And champagne. And lifelong commitment. And legal rights.

Your move, Rick.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

End of the Line for the Bushes?

I know you probably thought we'd be finished with the Bush family once and for all when George Junior steps down on January 20th. And it turns out that might really be so...

Jeb Bush has announced that he will not be running for a Floriday Senate seat. Since the political pox that seems to have been put on the Bush name nationally seems not to include Jeb in Florida, it's good news for Democrats that we will not, in fact, have another Bush to kick around.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Justice for Lilly!

The New York Times is reporting that Barack Obama may quickly take action to implement the Lilly Ledbetter act early in his Presidency. I am really hoping that is true, for a number of reasons.

For those of you not familiar with the case, Lilly Ledbetter worked for decades for lower pay than her male colleagues with identical jobs. One day she received an anonymous tip about the disparity in pay, at which point she sued for discrimination. The case went as far as the Supreme Court, which agreed that she had been subject to discrimination, but argued that she would have had to file suit within 180 days of the first instance of discrimination - i.e., her very first paycheck decades before. This would make it virtually impossible for any woman, or any employee who is unfairly discriminated against, to seek redress for this wrong doing - since employees rarely know the salaries of their colleagues.

It was a silly ruling (surely each subsequent paycheck was a continuing instance of discrimination?) which could have been easily overturned by a congressional clarification of the discrimination laws. In fact, Congress came very close to passing a law that would reopen the right to claim discrimination, but they couldn't get past the obstructionist Republicans in the Senate and their filibuster threat.

We've got more Senators now. And a sympathetic President. Lilly's time may have come.