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Monday, August 18, 2014

Five Judges Have Stopped All Further Progress on Gay Civil Rights Legislation



[The three women on the Court dissented]
 
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, decided by the United States Supreme Court a few months ago, the Court’s five conservative—and Republican—justices (over the vigorous dissent of the four liberals) decided that a corporation like Hobby Lobby (the stock of which is owned by a very religious family) is protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause and thus could use religious beliefs to object to funding family-planning coverage for its employees.  Corporations are now “people” too and religious corporations can go to church just like other U.S. citizens! This was a natural enough extension of the Court’s infamous decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which declared that corporations were “persons,” thus entitling them to the full protection of the U.S. Constitution (with freedom of speech permitting them to spend as much money as they like: influencing elections, flooding us with billions of dollars to promote campaigns and drowning out the speech of ordinary individuals).  Whew!



The swing vote, of course, in both decisions was that of the most powerful judge in the world, Justice Anthony Kennedy (second from the right in the picture above), who sometimes votes with the liberals and sometimes with the conservatives, allowing him to decide all the important controversial cases.  He’s been terrific on gay issues while on the bench and authored last year’s groundbreaking Windsor decision which forbade the federal government from discriminating against gay people when it came to the recognition of their marriages.  That case said nothing about whether the states are required by the constitution to recognize the rights of gays to marry, an issue the Court will have to decide by the end of next June.  I’ve predicted in the past (and stand by the prediction) that the Court will come out in favor of gay marriages nationwide, a wonderful result and a big moment in gay history.  [See “Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015),” February 14, 2014, http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2014/02/gays-will-be-able-to-marry-in-all.html ]

It would doubtless surprise Justice Kennedy and, indeed, all of the four other conservative Justices who joined in the Hobby Lobby majority that one probably unintended result of the decision is that no more gay rights legislation protecting the LGBT community from discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations is ever likely to pass in the future.

As I’ve also noted before it’s perfectly legal in many states to discriminate against gays.  [See “Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 17, 2014; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2014/03/is-it-legal-to-discriminate-against-gay.html ].  Recently in Pennsylvania, where it has recently become legal for gays to marry, lesbian couples have been turned away from a bakery that refused to make them a wedding cake and a bridal shop that refused to sell them gowns in both cases based on the owner’s religious beliefs that serving gays would cause the owners to be denied entry into heaven; see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/pennsylvania-cake-pros-gay-wedding-_n_5678410.html   Those actions are perfectly legal because Pennsylvania has no state law granting civil rights protection to gays from such discrimination (some of the cities in the state have enacted such protection as municipal ordinances).
 
Ah, but you might ask, with the mood of the country now heavily favoring the rights of gays isn’t Pennsylvania and many other states likely to enact such protection?  No, they aren’t, as I’ll explain in a moment.  Nor is the federal government likely to change existing civil rights laws to add protection for gays.  Those happy days are over, and as an old gay activist this depresses me.  We worked so hard in Columbus to get a civil rights ordinance on point and swore that the State of Ohio would someday follow, but that latter part is wrong. [See “The History of Gay Rights in Columbus,” June 4, 2012, http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2012/06/history-of-gay-rights-in-columbus.html ] Here’s why:

The current federal Civil Rights Act prohibits (among other things) discrimination in hiring based on various characteristics such as gender, race, religion, etc.  Since 1974 there’ve been efforts in Congress to amend the Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list.  The current version of the proposed legislation is called the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act” [ENDA] and, surprisingly, it passed the Senate last fall with bipartisan support, but has no chance of passage in the current Republican-controlled House of Representatives.  No matter, because many LGBT and liberal organizations [The American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center, but, notably, not the Human Rights Campaign] have withdrawn their support of the current version of ENDA because the Hobby Lobby decision sparked the addition of an amendment that would exempt organizations who discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs.  That’s right: any employer who claimed a religious aversion to homosexuality could post signs saying “No Homos Need Apply.”  We all know that a version of ENDA that exempts religious decisions to hire or fire gays would be a toothless tiger, and that’s led liberal groups to strip away their endorsement of ENDA.

The hope is that future versions of ENDA at both the federal and state level will exclude such an exemption (except as to hiring by religious organizations, say a church, themselves), but you might as well kiss that vain wish goodbye.  Every time some version of ENDA is proposed hereafter there will be an immediate amendment offered to adopt a “religious beliefs” exception, and what politician, federal or state, ever hoping to be reelected will be willing to vote against religious beliefs?



So I’ll say it here: attempted gay rights legislation at all levels is dead unless it gives religions a pass and allows them to hire or fire gays at will, forbid them housing, or deny them the right to buy wedding cakes (“public accommodations”).  Indeed in the near future there might be major pushes to add religious exemptions to existing statutes and ordinances protecting gays from just such miserable treatment.



The Hobby Lobby decision has opened the door to the argument that people (including corporate people) have a right to discriminate against anything or anyone that violates their religious beliefs.  I’m no constitutional law scholar (my field is commercial law), but it will be interesting to see if the Court now says, for example, that a Muslim-run organizations may refuse to hire Jews since the Quran entombs hatred of the Jews as a basic tenet.  Surely the Court won’t go that far, but how do we tell the Court’s Hobby Lobby blessing of a religious objection to abortion (a constitutional right since Roe v. Wade) from a religious objection to dealing with groups who are sinners in the texts of various sacred books.  [See “Does the Bible Really Condemn Homosexuality?” June 29, 2014; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2014/06/does-bible-condemn-homosexuality-and.html  ]

When the five conservative Republicans (all Catholics, by the way) sided with Hobby Lobby’s refusal to obtain insurance to protect their employees’ family planning needs, didn’t the Court see that this can of worms includes some very destructive snakes?  One of those serpents— damn it!—will devour the hopes of gays for protection they so dearly need.
 
A Religious Business Belief To Pray For
  
Related Posts:
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Robin Williams Story: The 1983 Bardathon




 
David Ogden Stiers in M*A*S*H
When I was living in San Francisco in 1983 the College of Marin, which is located just north of the city, announced that it was going to hold a “Bardathon” in which the complete works of William Shakespeare, both poems and plays, would be read on its stage without stop starting one Thursday night and finishing early the next Monday morning.  The College asked various community theaters to choose a play to read and also solicited actors in the area to come up with a group of their friends to do the same.  If I recall right, David Ogden Stiers, who played Major Charles Winchester on the TV show M*A*S*H, selected “Hamlet” for himself and friends on the theory that it would be his only chance to ever perform the part in public.


One of the alums of the College of Marin was Robin Williams, who studied theater there.  When he was asked to participate he chose “The Comedy of Errors,” but he had a unique take on the play: he portrayed all 17 characters himself!

 

Since there were no breaks in the performances, some were done in the dead of the night to little or no audience at all, but Robin Williams  was scheduled in prime time, and the play that preceded his had a full house, at least towards its end, as the theater filled up waiting for the great comedian, who received tremendous applause when he finally stepped from the wings.

His only prop for the play was a sock puppet, with whom he conducted the dialogues, and to keep the audience from confusing the characters he not only did crazy mannerisms but used broad and outrageous dialects for the differing parts: some spoke with a German accent, some French, there was a hillbilly, a sassy black woman, etc.  One observer said, “He riffed through it by himself – tangents, improvs, a dozen voices. A fully formed comic whirligig of invention. He was jaw-droppingly dazzling.”  The audience roared and the newspapers reported his triumph the next day. 




I much regret that I didn’t see the performance, but it was the talk of the town.  We are all poorer because there isn’t a YouTube video of it.

And, of course, we’re devastated by the tragic death of this talented actor and comic genius.  He will be sorely missed.

When inexplicable endings come to someone as celebrated as Robin Williams we shake our heads in sorrow and ask ourselves why, with all his talents and advantages, this had to be his fate.  But no one ever really knows what goes on in another person’s head.  Let me close with the famous poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson that makes this point well:

 
Richard Cory
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

 
 
 


------------------------------------------------
Related Posts:
With Tim in San Francisco—1982/1983,” August 6, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Social Grump: No Handshakes, Kissing or Sharing Food For Me


 
 
Okay we all have our own little idiosyncrasies and for the most part we expect the world to deal with them.  I have three (well, perhaps there are many more, maybe even a thundering lot, but these are ones I’m willing to admit here).  These three, alas, make me something of a social grump and doubtless the cause of snide comments behind my back.

Two of them are health related.  As readers of this blog may know, in 2009 I had a heart transplant and while that has put me into excellent physical condition it has left me with a weakened immune system.  Let’s deal with those two first.

1.  Shaking Hands.

 
While I will routinely shake hands when introduced to someone, I never do so in hospitals for obvious reasons.  Hospital personnel are generally pretty good at understanding my reluctance.  A recent USA Today article reported on

studies that have found all sorts of nasty germs on lab coats, sleeves, ties, watches, rings and even shoes worn by health workers. Studies have yet to show that grimy coats and swinging ties play a major role in spreading those germs.

But there have been calls to ban ties on doctors in hospitals and increased emphasis on hospital personnel frequently washing their hands.  Since I spend a lot of time with doctors I wash my hands thoroughly after all such visits (and, frankly, every time I come back to my house from anywhere).




This morning’s Columbus Dispatch had this to say:

NEW YORK — Ditching handshakes in favor of more informal fist bumps could help cut down on the spread of bacteria and illnesses, according to a study released yesterday.

The study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that fist bumps, where two people briefly press the top of their closed fists together, transferred about 90 percent fewer bacteria than handshakes.

“People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands,” Dave Whitworth, a biologist at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

“If the general public could be encouraged to fist bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases,” he said.

The study used participants who wore gloves that had been thoroughly coated in a film of nonpathogenic E. coli bacteria. They then variously shook hands, high-fived and fist-bumped fellow participants in sterile gloves, and the amount of transferred bacteria was examined.

High-five slaps transferred about half the amount of bacteria as shaking hands.

 


 
2.  Kissing in Social Situations. 

Let me be clear: I kiss my husband a good deal and enjoy it a lot. 

But I never kiss anyone else in social situations, not even relatives or close friends.  Kissing can easily spread meningitis, herpes (which, unlike friendship, never goes away), hepatitis B, 100 different respiratory cold and flu viruses, cytomegalovirus (CMV, which for people with weakened immune systems can remain in the body for life), gingivitis, and mononucleosis (commonly called “the kissing disease”). 

A peck on the cheek or forehead is fine in social situations—a nice substitute for a buss on the lips.

 


3.  Sharing Food.

For reasons having nothing to do with health, I’m loath to share food, even food I’ve not yet touched.  I’m very territorial about my dinner plate and resist suggestions that we should split up our meals with others at the table.  To hell with that!  In such situations I have caveman instincts: I killed it and it’s mine so touch my food and die!


 
Asian or Middle Eastern restaurants often seem to bring out in others this urge to share (“Oh, waitress, just put all the meals on a turntable in the middle and we’ll all help ourselves!”).  Awkwardly I dodge such ritualistic food swaps with pitiful excuses (“I have such allergies!”—a palpable lie . . . in reality I have none).

 

4.  Conclusion.

Well now I’ve fessed up and gotten these flaws out there in public.  So when you and I go out to dine we’ll fistbump when we first meet, smile instead of kissing, and happily stick to eating our own food.

You’ll find that other than these minor flaws I’m quite perfect.
 
 


Related Posts:
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?




The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal government’s watchdog for health statistics has just released a 2013 National Health Survey on its gay citizens, which it compiled by having the Census Bureau interview 33,557 adults between the ages of 18 and 64.  The actual report can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr077.pdf.  The government began by asking respondents their sexual orientation.  Only 1.6% of those willing to be interviewed self-identified as gay, with another .7% announcing that they were bisexual.  This is the lowest estimate of the number of gays in the country produced in modern times and it’s caused quite a stir.  Homophobes were thrilled, with one blogger exclaiming, “
The CDC is doing a service, because it has clearly de-bunked the ‘10% of the population’ claim that the gay-rights movement has routinely pushed,” and another stating that even this new number is too high: “This comes from the Obama machine, trying to normalize their perversions. . . . The real number is less than 1/10th of 1%.”  (Some people are never satisfied.)  Many rightwing commentators bloviated that if there are that few gays in the country they're seriously over-affecting the national scene, and have way too much political clout.  One asked, “Does every TV show have to have a gay character if there are so few of them around?”  The American Family Association, proud as always of its homophobia, promptly noted that gays are a
“tiny little minority” and added, “It's almost comical that we have allowed these people to have so much power in our culture where they can force their deviant lifestyle into the public sphere and compel so many sectors of society to recognize this and to celebrate it as some kind of normal lifestyle.” [See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/16/bryan-fischer-gay-population-_n_5592036.html]
I’ve explained before on this blog why the true number of gays and lesbians in the country is at least ten percent [click on these links: “How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World,” November 8, 2010 at http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/11/how-many-homosexuals-are-there-in-world.html and “Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010 at http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/04/homosexuality-iceberg-theory.html].  Must I now retreat from that claim, nibbling humble pie? 

Nope.  Ten percent or higher is still my number and this blog post explains why.

Getting accurate statistics about homosexual desire is an almost impossible task. The reasons are obvious: in most countries homosexuality is so buried that people will not answer questions truthfully about it, or, even if they do, they may not know the truth. I lied to myself until age 32 about whether I was a homosexual, and during that period I would certainly have answered “no” to a questionnaire on point, even though in reality I was always a homosexual. In a 1993 study questionnaires were mailed to thousands of American men asking about their sexual orientation. There was a large no-response rate, and those responding proudly declared they were very heterosexual. As a follow-up to the no-response questionnaires, the study leaders sent women with clipboards to ring doorbells and ask men the questions orally. Of the men willing to talk to the women, almost none said they were gay. So the study’s ultimate conclusion was that homosexuals made up only 1% of the population of the United States. This ridiculous nonsense was much derided by experts in statistical analysis and by gay people themselves.  At the 1993 "March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation" this was a popular button worn by marchers:

 

This new survey suffers from similar problems.  People and households were contacted and asked if they were willing to participate in the study, which was done face-to-face, with follow-up telephone interviews.  I believe that huge numbers of them lied about their sexual orientation, and here is a list of the reasons why:

1.  Married People.  Almost all of the married male/female couples said they were both straight.  Well . . . duh . . . of course they would!  If you’re gay and in a marriage with a person of the opposite sex you don’t suddenly come out to him/her when a government worker with a computer comes a-calling. You lie and avow complete heterosexuality.  But back in the days when I went on gay dating websites looking for love/lust, about half of the men who contacted me were married (at which point I refused to get involved).  I was once married to a woman myself and didn’t admit to her that I was a homosexual until I decided that even though it would break up our marriage it was the honorable thing to do [see “The Aging Gay Activist,” March 24, 2012 at http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/03/aging-gay-rights-activist.html, “I Married a Hippy,” April 14, 2010 at http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-married-hippy.html], and “Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010 at http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/07/marijuana-and-me.html].


 
2.  Kids Under 18.  For the children in the home under 18 the parents revealed their sexual orientation and—wouldn’t you just know it?—there were almost no gay children.  But a fairly recent study of high school students in the Washington area had it that 15.3% of respondents identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.  Hmm. 15.3%?  What will that number be when they get older?  At the magic age of 18 will they suddenly become so heterosexual that it will shrink to 2.3%?


 
3.  It’s the Federal Government at the Door!  In 2014 when everyone is suspicious of the government for overzealous information gathering and invasion of privacy, how many gay people want a federal record of their sexual orientation to go into the national data base?  You’d have to be very, very comfortable with both your sexual orientation and your place in the world before you answered truthfully.


 
4.  Self-Identification Often Comes Late.  Many gay people don’t come out, even to themselves, until fairly late in life.  As I said above, I was 32 before I finally admitted the truth, even though on some level I always knew but—embarrassed and confused—hid the answer deep inside.

Alfred Kinsey
The most reliable statistics on sexual orientation we have came from at time when the issue was so hidden that a private research study on all sexual issues (like masturbation, number of partners, fidelity to spouse, etc.), done anonymously, could get people to tell the truth.  In the late forties and early fifties, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and associates at Indiana University published ground-breaking studies of human sexuality in the male and female: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).  The most shocking chapters gave the world the first statistics on homosexuality, and surprised everyone by coming to the conclusion that more or less ten percent of those interviewed (and many thousands of subjects were interviewed) were predominantly homosexual for at least three years of their adult life.  Kinsey devised a scale by which to measure homosexual orientation; the scale goes from “zero” (totally heterosexual) to “six” (totally homosexual), with the numbers in between reflecting increasing homosexual desires. Someone who is truly bisexual would be a "three" on the Kinsey scale. The fives and sixes on Kinsey’s scale (predominantly and totally homosexual) total to around ten percent, which is where that oft-heard ten percent estimate of the number of homosexuals comes from. [This is only a rough description of Kinsey’s scale, which is actually more complicated than that, particularly for females, but it will do for this discussion.]  The Kinsey statistics have been attacked, but have stood the test of time.  The Kinsey scale:

 
0- Exclusively heterosexual with no homosexual
1- Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2- Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3- Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4- Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5- Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6- Exclusively homosexual
 

I think the Kinsey scale is right in that people have very different attractions to homosexual behavior, but
I also think Kinsey got the percentages wrong. The number of gays is still underestimated.  Kinsey himself recognized the difficulties that bother me.


The first is that Kinsey only interviewed volunteers who were willing to talk about the most intimate aspects of their sex life. Granted that Kinsey found many such people, but they can hardly be representative of the whole population, particularly where the subject is as alarming as is the topic of homosexuality. My father was a student at Indiana University when Kinsey took his survey and was in fact one of the people Kinsey interviewed. Had I been in his place and one of Kinsey's assistants had asked me if I, Douglas Whaley, would be willing to grant an anonymous interview about my most private sexual thoughts, I would have stiff-armed the assistant immediately and fled the scene in absolute terror. In my own college days I was still caught in the throes of societal homophobia, and I was not even talking to myself about homosexual urges. I dare say this is true of many, perhaps most people who later admit the truth and “come out.” Indeed, in the 1940s a large percentage of those aware of their homosexual desires must have been most unwilling to be interviewed by Kinsey and his crew.  The Kinsey statistics have been attacked, but have stood the test of time; see the discussion in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinsey_Reports.  


Another difficulty with the Kinsey percentages lies in the definition of “homosexuality.” Even if Kinsey had a definition for the term (and he did), his subjects were not likely to appreciate it, and their own internalized homophobia would lead them so stretch everything they could into a heterosexual mold. My father, for example, believed that the excited recipient in an oral sexual encounter was not engaged in a homosexual act and could therefore truthfully answer “no” to the question of homosexual attractions. I hold that there are more people in the middle part of the Kinsey scale than anyone (even me) suspects. These people don't think of themselves as “homosexuals,” but they have some homosexual desires, and many of them on occasion act upon them. What they don't do is admit that this is happening. These people are the submerged portion of the iceberg. 
 
 

What we really need is a completely anonymous study where people truly believe that they can tell the truth about their sexual orientation without repercussions. Sociologists should try a large scale use of “clickers” on a representative group; that should prove illuminating [see “Clickers,” March 17, 2012 at http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/03/clickers.html]. Some headway has been made on the internet.  For a website finding that that with anonymous clicking the Kinsey scale increased the categories 5 and 6 to 16% of the population, see http://g0ys.org/skewedchart.htm.

Finally, okay, what if I’m wrong?  Let’s suppose that none of those things mentioned above skewered the results and that every one of the 2013 respondents both answered truthfully and were not wrong in their own self-assessment—and thus only 2.3% of the U.S. population is gay or bisexual. That would still amount to 7,222,000 people (almost 2 million more than the number of Jews in this country).  If these gay/bi folks were all living exclusively in the same state that state would be the thirteenth largest state in the country, bigger than 37 others.  Wouldn’t it be a mistake to discriminate against an entire state that large?  Does it then lessen the harm if the people are disseminated around the country? 

Let’s see if we can’t we agree on the following idea: the reasons for treating any minority the same as the majority shouldn’t depend on the number of people involved, but on the basic decency of granting fair treatment to all U.S. citizens.
 
 


Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013 at http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-guide-to-best-of-my-blog.html.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?


 


In the battle over gay marriage (which I’m pleased to say is going very well, and, as I’ve predicted in Related Posts below, is highly likely to be over by the end of June 2015 when the Supreme Court next addresses the issue), there have been a spate of recent letters to The Columbus Dispatch explaining that the bible condemns homosexuality and calls for marriage to be celebrated solely between one man and one woman.  This post addresses those assertions.

1.  Is Homosexuality Condemned by the Bible?

Alas, yes it is.  There have been valiant attempts through the years to take each of the biblical passages doing this and explain them away, but in my opinion they fail to convince any objective reader, even one who has read these explanations carefully.  The most famous text-by-text discussion of how the biblical passages can be supposedly read not to make homosexuality sinful is the famous book by John Boswell “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” (1980).  It’s a scholarly work, much praised, and the copy I bought when it came out and heavily marked up just as my own adventures in gay activism began still sits on my shelves in an honored position. 




            a.  Sodom and Sin.  God’s destruction of the city of Sodom is often referenced by today’s Christians as demonstrating the sinfulness of homosexuality, but Boswell points out that homosexual acts are never specifically mentioned in the story except as possible threats to the visiting angels.  His major thesis and that of many scholars is that Sodom was destroyed for its inhospitality to visitors, a major sin in early days.  It’s certainly used that way by Jesus when he said to his disciples:

Whosever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.

[Matt. 10:14-15].  Even if Boswell’s reading of the story is right, centuries of misreading have equated Sodom’s fate with homosexuality and an attempt to persuade devout Christians of the wrongness of their interpretation will be dismissed without investigation.




            b.  Other Old Testament Passages.  Leviticus states “Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination” [18:22] and “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” [20:13].  Those look difficult to refute, but Boswell is up to the task, explaining that they only forbid ritual impurities and not moral wrongs (comparing it to the prohibition of eating non-Kosher foods).  Since St. Paul later freed Christians from the necessity of observing Jewish ritual prohibitions, Boswell contends that these precepts fell by the wayside as well.  To bolster his views Boswell points out that the Old Testament praises “intense love relations between persons of the same gender . . . e.g., Saul and David, David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi.”  Once again this will be a hard sell to devout Christians.

            c.  Dumping the Old Testament.  Another common way of getting around Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality is to point out that there are many, many prohibitions of things in the Old Testament that we no longer think of as sinful: eating certain foods, wearing certain colors or garments [Leviticus 19:19 “Neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.”], or bizarre notions of fairness like cutting off a woman’s hand because it touched the genitals of a man fighting with her husband:

When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.

[Deuteronomy 25:11, 12]  If these proscriptions no longer apply in the modern world, the thought goes, neither should supposed condemnations of homosexualty.




   
         d.  The New Testament.  As is often pointed out, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality (as he wandered about with male companions).  But Paul supposedly condemns homosexuality in three passages.  Boswell disposes of two them [1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10] as mistranslations of “licentious” that have nothing to do with gay sex, but Boswell has a more difficult task with this famous passage from Romans 1:

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:  27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Here’s what Boswell has to say about this:

[T]he persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons.  The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on.  It would completely undermine the thrust of the argument if the persons in question were not “naturally” inclined to the opposite sex in the same way they were “naturally” inclined to monotheism.  What caused the Romans to sin was not that they lacked what Paul considered proper inclinations but that they had them: they held the truth, but “in unrighteousness” (v. 18), because “they did not see fit to retain Him in their knowledge” (v. 28).

He finishes by stating that “Paul did not discuss gay persons but only homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons.”

Out to the side of this last passage in the margin, the 1980 version of myself had written “GAK!”—the same gasp I always write on essay exams when the student has said something outrageously stupid.  What?  Boswell thinks it’s okay for the bible to condemn bisexuals?  Or maybe just those who are zeros on the Kinsey scale (completely heterosexual) who somehow go crazy one night and have a wild encounter with someone of the same sex?  Since I was fighting for the right of all people to express their sexual orientation in any responsible way, this was an unacceptable conclusion.  We now know that there are not distinct categories of “heterosexuals” and “homosexuals,” and Boswell should have known that in 1980 since Kinsey had made it perfectly clear back in 1948 [see Related Posts below].

Other writers have offered up different explanations to wish away what Romans 1 very clearly says [see, for example, the heartfelt exposition by a young gay preacher on Huffington Post at http://www.upworthy.com/there-are-6-scriptures-about-homosexuality-in-the-bible-heres-what-they-really-say?c=huf1], but they all ring hollow to me.  If Paul (or for that matter the writers of the Old Testament) had thought his meaning was unclear—that there was any wiggle room so that homosexuality was all right in some circumstances—I’d bet a large amount of money that he’d have written much more on the topic to make it damned certain that he believed homosexuality was a major sin.

 



2.  Does the Bible Condemn Gay Marriage?

Well, the bible doesn’t actually say a word about gay marriage, though one suspects that its authors would have been appalled at the idea of Adam and Steve exchanging rings.  But the best response to the retort that it does condemn such unions comes from this letter to the editor printed in the Dispatch on June 25, 2014:

I must respond to the Friday letter “Gay marriage runs counter to God’s word” from Tom Duncan.  I am not sure what Bible he is reading, but “God’s word” defines marriage in additional ways. For instance, there are several stories of major characters in the Bible who engaged in polygamy (apparently sanctioned by God). There are several instances of such polygamous male figures also including any number of concubines. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 prescribes that a rapist must marry his victim and pay her father to compensate him for his loss. Genesis 38:6-10 spelled out a requirement that a widow who had not borne a son must marry her brother-in-law. These relics of the Old Testament are just as much a part of God’s word as the verses describing what is now being referred to as “traditional marriage.”

Can we stop taking our moral cues from an ancient, politically assembled collection of myths written by and for people far removed from the modern population?

TIM ROHAL II
Blacklick, Ohio

 

 

 3.  Conclusion.  When I say that the bible does condemn homosexuality and certainly has no support for gay marriage in it, I don’t worry a bit about that conclusion.  I’m an atheist, and what ancient writings have to say about a homosexuality that its authors didn’t understand is of no moment to me.  The bible was written by heterosexuals (90 percent of people on the planet are predominantly heterosexual), so of course it’s not going to treat gay people well.  At the time it was written it was “them against us” and procreation (which increased the size of our tribe versus their tribe) was important.  The earth has now been overpopulated so that concern is moot, and indeed a wise policy would promote homosexuality to keep births under control.

Many and perhaps even a majority of homosexuals have religious beliefs, and they very much want their religions and its holy books to support their lifestyle.  If those books don’t do that, they’ll either have to accept that unpleasant fact and move on, or try and torture the meaning of the books so that they say something other than what is plainly meant.  I understand that urge, but I’m a lawyer and I’m interested in facts over yearnings.  What is is. 

The answer is simple.  I say let’s stop constructing modern policy from ancient mistakes and get on with doing what’s right and fair based on what we know to be true.

Related Posts:
“The Aging Gay Rights Activist,” March 24, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
“How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?” November 8, 2010
“An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
“Creating the Bible: Water Into Wine,” April 7, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,”   February 14, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Friday, June 13, 2014

How To Get Rid of Your Student Loans


 
 

The answer is to elect more Democrats to Congress.  The Republicans have made it all but impossible to ever get rid of your student loans, particularly not in bankruptcy proceedings.  If you file for bankruptcy protection from your creditors, no matter how disastrous your financial situation is, you will emerge from the bankruptcy still owing every penny of student debt you incurred, and that debt will follow you to your grave.


 
It wasn’t always so.  I’m a law professor at The Ohio State University, and I’ll be teaching the course on bankruptcy there this coming fall semester.  Prior versions of the federal Bankruptcy Code allowed student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy where it was clear that there was no way the former student was going to be able to pay them off.  But in 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress pushed through major changes in the Bankruptcy Code, most of which were designed to screw consumers and reward banks.  Deceptively named “The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act” (BAPCPA), the statute made it difficult for many debtors to enter the usual bankruptcy proceeding in which the debtor surrenders all his/her nonexempt property and then is forgiven most outstanding debts, thus getting a fresh financial start.  Instead if the debtor shows any ability to repay those debts BAPCPA denies entry into that sort of bankruptcy and instead forces the debtor into a Chapter 13 plan, which consists of five years of debt repayment before there is a reduced discharge of some debts. 

Whichever version of bankruptcy consumer debtors enter, BAPCPA forbids the discharge of student loan debts unless paying those debts would “impose an undue hardship” on the debtor or his/her dependants [Bankruptcy Code §523(a)(8)].  The courts have construed “undue hardship” very strictly so that mere current inability to pay the debts is not enough to qualify.  Instead it must be obvious that the debtor will never be able to repay.  For example, in one case, Barrett v. Educational Credit Management Corp., 487 F.3d 353 (2007), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Mr. Barrett to use “undue hardship” to discharge his student loans because he had Hodgkin’s disease, with lymph nodes in his neck, abdomen, lungs, and liver, and was in pain so great he couldn’t hold up a coffee cup.  This made him unemployable, and there was no hope of recovery.  But it is a rare bankrupt-seeking debtor who is “fortunate” enough to be struck so low as to meet this standard and thus discharge student loans.

Senator Elizabeth Warren
The Federal Reserve reports that unpaid student debt has doubled since 2007 to around $1.3 trillion, with 40 million Americans having student loan debt averaging almost $30,000.  The Democrats keep trying to change things, only to be met with a filibuster in the Senate that kills any hope of relief.  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), herself a former teacher of bankruptcy law (and a friend of mine) for years now has decried the fact that the federal government bailed out the banks with TARP billions of dollars loaned at ALMOST NO INTEREST RATE while projected to make over $127 billion dollars in profit from student loans over the next ten years.  Just two days ago her bill to allow Americans with student debt to refinance at a lower rate was given a favorable vote in the Senate of 58-38 (with some minimum Republican support while all of the negative votes were Republican), but the bill nonetheless failed. Why?  Because 60 votes is needed to cut off a filibuster, and 58 votes won’t do it.  I’ve thundered before against the stupidity of having to have a “supermajority vote” that filibuster rules require (see “Related Posts” below), and here again that stupidity prevented badly needed progress on this issue.  As her recent (and terrific) autobiography, “A Fighting Chance,” demonstrates—the audio book, which she reads herself is particularly fascinating—Senator Warren worked for years to prevent Republicans from pushing through anti-consumer changes in the Bankruptcy Code, only to be overwhelmed finally in 2005 when BAPCPA was enacted.

Congress is now so deadlocked that legislative relief for student loan debt is not coming soon.  The Republicans have control of the House of Representatives and are hoping this fall’s election will give them a majority in the Senate (they need a gain of six seats).  If that happens then Congress will be able to pass legislation (though the filibuster in the Senate will now switch and aid Democrats in creating a roadblock), but that legislation will certainly not be pro-consumer.  It will be pro-banking lobby.

If you’ve not yet taken out any student loans, don’t do so unless you are certain you will be able to repay them.  Instead work part time during college and pay for your degree as you go.  If you must take out loans, get them from your parents, or take out loans that are not earmarked for student educational purposes (i.e., general loans), which would be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

And, if this is an issue you care deeply about, stop voting for Republicans for Congress.
 
 
 
 

Related Posts:
 
Killing the Filibuster and Letting the Majority Rule in the Senate,” December 31, 2013
“Elena Kagan and Me,” March 23, 2010 (about Elizabeth Warren)
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013