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Archive for June, 2013

So we’ve finally come to the end of the debate over marriage equality and our gay friends Imagehave won an unquestionable legal right to marry. Right?

Well, no.

Wednesday’s historic Supreme Court decision invalidating the key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, has likely set the stage for a series of arguments in the state houses over the issue. The majority opinion in the United States v. Windsor, written by Anthony Kennedy, essentially says that the Defense of Marriage Act for no good reason allowed the federal government to stick its nose into a state issue, the affairs of family, to single out one group and injure a class of people that one of those states, New York in this case, sought to protect. As he put it:

“DOMA’s avowed purpose and practical effect are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”

What the decision doesn’t do, however, is make gay marriage the new law of the land. By making this a state issue, the court left open the unhappy idea that it might not strike down gay marriage bans in less liberal states.

Look at the decision on California’s gay marriage ban handed down the same day. In that ruling the court decided not to take up an appeal on California’s law, but this was an issue of standing, not the constitutionality of criminalizing gay nuptials. The state of California had refused to defend the law any longer, and the gay marriage opponents who appealed had no direct stake in that appeal, so legally the Supreme Court didn’t have to argue the substance before it simply passed the hot potato right into the garbage. (The majority opinion in that vote offered an interesting Red Rover game in which Roberts stood alongside justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan against Sam Alito and Sonia Sotomayor, crews as motley as one could imagine.) The decision in Windsor also found an executive branch–Barack Obama’s–unwilling to fight for the DOMA, so a party directed by Congress had to get involved.

Of course, the standing issue is important to this argument for myriad reasons. Standing means that a plaintiff must have been directly harmed or have some connection to the harm caused by a law. In the case of gay marriage opponents, that applies … um … never. As I’ve joked here before, gay marriage does no harm whatsoever to straight people other than directly offend what must be their smutty imaginations. That fallacy was again voiced relentlessly today as religious conservatives again said that allowing gays to freely marry somehow deprived them of freedom. I guess because the act contradicts what they believe, it is a form of mind control. I’m stretching there, but it’s hard to make sense out of such a brutally senseless argument.

But as glib as I’d like to be that questionable legal representation produced a happy effect, Emily Bazelon at Slate, among others, asks a fair question: Is it right that the will of California voters was subverted in this case because their state government refused to fight for a law they passed? Would our joy at seeing gay haters’ asses handed to them on an issue of standing be so funny if this were, say, a water pollution issue that our state refused to fight?

But I don’t wish to be ambiguous. I’m happy for the decision today, that five of the Supreme Court justices called the Defense of Marriage Act what it was–malice against a group of people. A law that disapproved of a class of people one state, New York, was trying to invest with some status and integrity.

You can, of course, read Justice Antonin Scalia’s whining dissent, filigreed with such thumb-sucking lines inveighing against the “black-robed supremacy” of a court gone out of control. It is more tired rhetoric about judicial activism, something Scalia, whose willingness to become activist in defense of conservative causes, ought to be too embarrassed to keep saying out loud by now.  Then there are predictable screeds by National Review editors who try to subvert the logic of tolerance by saying gay marriage proponents are somehow full of contempt. See what pretzel logic man Rich Lowry did there? I’m not the one hating the people I hate. It must be something they are doing. The people I hate must be causing it somehow.

That attitude was institutionalized by the DOMA. That attitude spawned a law of the land. That attitude was why the law came crashing down under its own weight.

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… a lot of personal information if I want to sign a petition asking the government to stop collecting my personal information.

Thanks to a despondent government contractor, we now know that the NSA has been collecting phone records from telecom carriers to find out whom we’ve been calling, if not the actual content of our calls. The Patriot Act, which gave the government this expanded power, once again seems to have, like the One Ring of Sauron, a limitless capacity to corrupt those who wield it. Conservatives who defended that odious law will rightly be enraged to find out what it actually does, which is OK, as long as they are also willing to share some of the shame for it.

We are now faced with imprisoning two government whistle-blowers, Pfc Bradley Manning, and CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden, for bringing abuses to light. But Snowden, now hiding out in a Hong Kong hotel room, was more careful with his leaks than Manning, whose data could have compromised troops and intelligence assets, and whose carelessness might reasonably invite questions of sabotage (even if the answer is also likely no). Snowden’s act ought to be considered legally and morally distinct in that his leaks were selective and focused on the biggest abuses, which earns him more comparisons with Pentagon Papers leaker and hero Daniel Ellsberg.

After suffering several false comparisons with Richard Nixon for the so far banal IRS-Tea Party scandal (Nixon directly used the IRS as a brickbat and ran a ring of thieves out of his office, y’all), Barack Obama has now finally invited a direct comparison with his predecessor–a Daniel Ellsberg all his own, and a rallying figure for protesting government overreach.

I know Edward Snowden is not in custody yet, but what the hell: Free Edward Snowden!

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Eliza-butch the First

Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)Here’s an awful article by the Mail Online, which, as you know, trades in awful articles the same way numismatists trade in cob coins. The paper disingenuously promotes a theory Elizabeth I was a man, mainly to promote what looks like an awful book.

The proof seemingly is that there have been other conspiracy theorists on the subject, namely Bram Stoker, not that any historians were actually consulted. Supposedly, Elizabeth died 470 years ago of plague while still in her teens. Her handlers were so afraid that her father would punish them with slow, painful death that they found a boy to take her place, and they taught him to live life as a princess, then later a queen, all to hide the original lie. She grew into “the Virgin Queen” and was cloistered from society, all to hide her manhood.

Of course, in truth, Elizabeth I had plenty of boyfriends and did want to marry one of them but couldn’t for political reasons. If that’s not enough to persuade you she was a woman, maybe it would be the fact that she lived rather transparently in front of a full court, plenty of whom could have exposed her masculinity but instead focused on the fact that she was kind of slutty, vain and had a filthy mouth. Still not enough? How about you consider that by the date of her supposed “death” in 1543, she wasn’t even really a contender for the throne. She came in last for succession behind her younger brother, her older sister, and any other children they might have had, not to mention any new male children her stepmother might have had with the king. In other words, she wasn’t remotely important enough at that point for a “Weekend At Bernie’s” type fraud.

I’m trying to decide what I find so distasteful about what is obviously a tongue-in-cheek article by a saucy tabloid that only wants to excite my basal ganglia with fun gossip. Is it a feminist reaction to the Mail’s suggestion that no woman could have possibly defeated the Spanish Armada and turned England into a world power? Nah. Is it the fact that conspiracy theorists are so able to supply filigreed detail to their suppositions without creating a plausible basic narrative? Nah. Is it that spreading this shit is a quick way to make friends, and that it has likely been that way for 500 years? Yeah. That’s the one.

Lies are more rugged as memes. They propagate faster than truth because they somehow forge local bonding, a trend that behooves us as primates, to close ranks against interlopers. Truth, meanwhile, is unhelpful. It is complicated. While we sit contemplating truth, we are often paralyzed by the analysis it requires. That makes us helpless to act, and as we are stuck in reflection, introspection and narcissism, meanwhile our group is easily preyed upon by hyenas and tigers and honey badgers.

Still, if I can recommend a highly paralyzing read, I’d point you to Carolly Erickson’s books on this subject, “The Great Harry,” “The First Elizabeth” and “Bloody Mary.” As for the Daily Mail, I recommend that you limit yourself to its Kate Upton pictures. That is, if you can trust that she’s female.

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