Sunday, November 23, 2008

Despite Proposition 8, It's Time for Marriage Equality!

In many respects, Election Day 2008 was a very happy day for me with the election of Barack Obama as President. And yet, the day was bitter sweet. I felt a deep sense of sadness over the results of California’s Proposition 8, which not only banned same sex marriage in the state but also rescinded the marriage rights of countless thousands of gay couples.

Sadly, marriage equality received a major setback nationwide as a result of this constitutional referendum. Hopefully, the California Supreme Court will nullify this measure and recognize that the majority acted in a tyrannical fashion, depriving citizens of their rights without due process of law.

To really understand this issue it is first important to recognize that marriage is not an "unchanging institution" as many Christian conservatives have erroneously alleged. In reality, marriage has been redefined many times before and undergone several important social and legal changes over the years.

For example, marriage used to be completely male-dominated and patriarchal. For centuries, women had no real legal rights in marriage, with property rights often denied them upon the death of their husband or in divorce proceedings. By the way, people often quoted from the Bible to defend such sexist arrangements and laws.

Speaking of divorce, that's another example of how marriage rights have changed over time. No-fault divorce laws are a recent legal innovation that has dramatically altered marriage as an institution; abused spouses (both female and male) are now able to exit their marriage much easier as a result.

Marriage has also changed in laws governing rape. Until the 1970s, most states did not have any laws protecting women (or men for that matter) from rape by their spouses. All of these changes in marriage went up against the conservative status quo, but nonetheless prevailed.

Probably the most important legal precedent in this regard is how black slaves were denied legal recognition of their marriages until after emancipation. But even after Reconstruction, tyrannical majorities often thwarted marriage rights based on racist bigotry. In fact, at least sixteen states had anti-miscegenation laws that prevented people from marrying someone of a different race.

It was not until 1967, in the case of Loving v. Virginia, that the US Supreme Court struck down such laws banning interracial marriage. The Court used the equal protection clause in support of their decision. Public opinion polls taken at the time found that upwards of 90 percent of the general public (not just in the South) disagreed with the Supreme Court and supported bans on interracial marriage. Many so-called "Christians" - especially in the South - quoted from the Bible to defend their stance in opposition to mixed-race marriage. Fortunately, the Supreme Court did not simply affirm what was popular and reputedly "Christian.” Instead the Court took a bold stand to redefine marriage rights to include a broader number of people.

Our current debate is the latest battle in the progressive evolution of marriage as a legal institution. It is not really an issue of gay rights; rather, it is an issue of human rights.

It is important to note that there are over one thousand legal rights and benefits accorded to married couples in the U.S. (e.g., inheritance, joint income tax returns, disability benefits, worker's compensation, spousal or child support, insurance benefits, medical leave, bereavement leave, child custody, Social Security and other retirement benefits, power of attorney, hospital visitation, divorce, etc.)

For this reason, it is high time to grant equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples nationwide. This is an issue that relates directly to the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. Though marriage has religious connotations, it is primarily a legal institution that licenses and codifies relationships and the rights that go with them. To deny same-sex couples equal marital rights is contrary to basic liberty. That's what America is really supposed to be about: liberty for all; rather than some mindless tyrannical conformity based on homophobic bigotry.

For a great argument on this issue, check out Keith Olbermann in the following video:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Top Ten Reasons for Supporting Barack Obama

1. Barack Obama is a visionary leader. He is not only charismatic and inspirational, but also highly intelligent and creative. After having met him twice here in Iowa, I can tell you that he is incredibly responsive and empathetic to other people's needs and concerns. Obama has assembled an incredible grassroots movement that is fighting for real change in Washington. The legions of Obama supporters and the effectiveness of his campaign organization are definitive proof of his phenomenal leadership abilities. During the recent crisis on Wall Street, Obama demonstrated steady leadership and offered sound proposals. In contrast, John McCain has been increasingly erratic, uninformed, and irresponsible in his rhetoric about the economy.

2. Barack Obama is truly an independent thinker. While John McCain was following the neo-conservative Republican agenda and voting in favor of waging war against Iraq in 2002, Obama strongly opposed the war from the very beginning. Obama - who majored in international relations in college - was well aware of the dangers and pitfalls of such a preemptive unwarranted move. He understood that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 and would only distract us from finishing the job in Afghanistan. That's why he clearly and unambiguously declared his opposition to the Iraq invasion months before it began, while running for the U.S. Senate. For all of his heralded Washington experience, McCain exercised very poor judgment by giving President Bush a blank check to invade Iraq. McCain didn’t even seem to understand the region, repeatedly arguing in the run-up to the war that U.S. troops would be greeted as “liberators.” In recent months, McCain’s befuddlement was painfully obvious when he repeatedly confused Iranian support for Shiite militias with Sunnis in Iraq.

3. Barack Obama is the ultimate bridge candidate. He definitely transcends political party labels and ideological camps. In both the Illinois state senate and the U.S. Senate, he has been receptive in working with members of both parties. I can tell you from attending the caucuses here in Iowa, that a wide variety of people support Barack, including many Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Young, middle aged, and older folks were among his supporters, as were men and women, and whites, blacks, and Hispanics. Put simply, he brings Americans together again. In contrast, McCain and Palin are constantly using divisive, highly partisan, language that questions the patriotism of their opponents. Such McCarthy-style tactics (i.e., “guilt through association”) are not only highly erroneous but also potentially dangerous to the foundation of our democracy.

4. Barack Obama is an agent of change. He is not a product of the Washington D.C. political establishment, unlike John McCain. He is an insurrectionary candidate that is leading a nationwide social movement against the corrupt status quo of Washington, D.C. Both parties have entrenched special interests that deeply fear the impending Obama Revolution. It is important to remember that McCain was a member of the Keating Five, which was one of the top financial scandals in modern American history. At the time of the scandal, the Senate as a whole admonished McCain for exercising “poor judgment.” Sarah Palin, too, appears to be highly corrupt and unethical, with her abuse of power in “Troopergate” as a notable example.

5. Unlike Bush and McCain, Barack Obama understands the importance of fiscal discipline. He has repeatedly criticized the budget-busting policies of the current Administration. Though McCain talks a lot about reigning in federal spending, he nonetheless favors extending the budget-busting Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. In contrast, Obama favors a return to the slightly higher tax rates that high-income earners faced in the 1990s. For over ninety percent of Americans and the vast majority of small businesses, Obama will offer tax cuts designed to stimulate the economy and thus generate additional revenue as well.

6. Obama has long supported accountability and transparency in government. As an Illinois State Senator, he helped pass the state's first major ethics reform bill in 25 years. And as a U.S. Senator, he has spearheaded the effort to clean up Washington in the wake of numerous scandals. For example, he co-sponsored a bill in 2006 with Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn to help curb pork barrel spending. The bill, which passed the Senate, established a searchable computer database of federal grants, loans, and "earmarks" or special spending advocated by individual members of Congress. As Obama said: "By helping to lift the veil of secrecy in Washington, this database will make us better legislators, reporters better journalists, and voters more active citizens." Obama also helped lead the U.S. Senate to pass the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act, a comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform bill, by a 96-2 vote that become law in September 2007.

7. Obama smartly chose a vice presidential running mate that is highly qualified and considered to be one of the leading experts on foreign policy in the U.S. Senate, Joe Biden. There is no doubt that Biden is ready and able to become vice president and even president. In contrast, McCain selected a completely unqualified political novice, Sarah Palin, to be his running mate. This woman barely graduated from college and seems to have an aversion to reading news magazines and newspapers. What’s worse, Palin is on the far right fringe of the Republican party and opposes a woman’s right to choose even in cases of rape and incest. She and her husband have both been extremely chummy with Alaskan secessionists, John Birchers, and other nut cases on the far right. The fact that McCain is 72-years old and a three-time cancer survivor means that Palin could very likely become President if McCain wins. But with her total lack of foreign policy expertise, Palin won’t be anywhere near ready to enter the Oval Office for untold months, if ever.

8. Barack Obama has the right kind of experience that we need in a President. There are many ways in which to gain valuable life experience that would prepare one to become President. In contrast to the other major presidential candidates, Obama brings all kinds of new and novel experiences to the table. As a grassroots community organizer, civil rights attorney, and college professor of constitutional law, Obama gained invaluable experience. As a result, he truly understands social problems such as poverty, discrimination, homelessness, crime, etc. Moreover, he has a deep academic understanding of the U.S. Constitution and wants to restore that document's integrity, which has been seriously undermined by the Bush Administration. In contrast, McCain – who has spent decades in Washington – has become indebted to various special interest groups and has a campaign staff filled with former lobbyists.

9. Barack Obama is a strong family man who believes in inclusive family values (not to be confused with the more narrow theocratic version endorsed by McCain/Palin and their friends on the Religious Right). For example, Barack has specific pragmatic proposals designed to bring about universal health care and make college tuition more affordable, which will benefit families directly. Over the past several months here in Iowa, I have talked to many folks – including some fairly conservative supporters of Barack - who found his message of hope, national unity, and strong family ties to be uplifting and a pleasant change from many of the virtue-challenged politicians of both parties.

10. Barack Obama will end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home. He is opposed to the jingoistic neo-conservatism of Bush/McCain. He recognizes that we cannot solve the conflict in Iraq militarily. The current "surge" of U.S. troops may have reduced casualties to some extent, but the violence continues nonetheless. We still have U.S. troops dying or being maimed every few days in Iraq. Besides, the surge would never have been "necessary" if we had not gone to war in Iraq in the first place. That's the fallacy of John McCain's argument when he claims credit for advocating the surge. But McCain should instead be faulted for strongly supporting the invasion of Iraq to begin with. Indeed, McCain is more of a war hawk than even President Bush! At the same time, Obama recognizes that the U.S. must become even more engaged politically and diplomatically in Iraq in order to stabilize the region and safeguard our national security. Even Colin Powell has become convinced that Obama will be a much better commander-in-chief than McCain.