17 May 2009

Notre Dame Commencement, Abortion and GLBT Equality

O gave the commencement address at notre dame today. it was controversial, in that the pro-lifers from the right felt he was an unacceptable choice and protested in what I would consider (surprisingly) a “christian” manner.

unfortunately, one need look no further than alan keyes pushing a baby carriage with a mutilated doll covered in fake blood to see the outrageous, immoral lengths being gone to in order to demonize the issue of choice. all it took was the announcement to send keyes to notre dame. the polar opposite of the behavior and dignity of those predominately elderly catholics.

(tip o' the hat to tengrain over at Mock, Paper, Scissors for this image)

but i digress.

in reading the text of O’s speech, i couldn’t help but feel anger turning to sadness. God knows, i want to believe that he really believes the things he says…especially when he starts talking about grand ideas about humanity and equality. unfortunately, his actions don’t allow me to view his words without a feeling of constriction in my chest…a reflexive clenching of the jaw.

this rhetoric isn’t just meant to be applied to some issues. it must, in fairness, be applied to all issues of equality. yes, i’m talking about O’s lack of spine and conviction on issues of import to the LGBT community…from dadt, to an all-inclusive enda, to marriage equality to the full repeal of doma.

following are portions of the speech. i’ve taken the liberty of adding emphasis to things i think are particularly germane to this posting.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

It is this last challenge that I'd like to talk about today. For the major threats we face in the 21st century - whether it's global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease - do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.

O, you just made a great point! cooperation and understanding is what the glbt community would like from those who oppose marriage equality. the glbt community is in almost complete agreement that no religious organization should be “forced” to recognize, or even codify, or desire to “marry”. we have readily conceded this. most glbt people understand the religious right’s strong feelings about the cultural/religious aspects of the “institution” of marriage in a faith-based context. Isn’t it time that the right also concede that what we are working towards is civil marriage equality? i don’t know a single glbt person that wants to infringe on the rights of anyone to believe as they choose, so long as they don’t try to impose their belief system on others.

Unfortunately, finding that common ground - recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a "single garment of destiny" - is not easy. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times.

We know these things; and hopefully one of the benefits of the wonderful education you have received is that you have had time to consider these wrongs in the world, and grown determined, each in your own way, to right them. And yet, one of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people is the discovery that even bringing together persons of good will, men and women of principle and purpose, can be difficult.

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

try replacing “ravages of HIV/AIDS” with something like…oh, let’s say “equality and civil rights”. a completely different picture emerges when placed in my frame.

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that's not what was preventing him from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website - an entry that said I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words.

“fair minded words”, indeed, O. as a professor of constitutional law and president of the united states, i would assume that you realize that you’re being blatantly hypocritical. you’re advocating “separate but equal” when you espouse “civil unions” for glbt people and yet allow “civil marriage” to remain the exclusive right of heterosexuals. an acceptable compromise from the glbt community would be “civil unions” for all couples and eliminate the word “marriage” from civil discourse…but the religious/political right are hung up on the word to the extent that they can’t negotiate in good faith. “negotiation” requires both give AND take. at this point, the only group being asked to give anything are those on the side of marriage equality.

i only wish O would be emotionally and intellectually honest with those of us in the glbt community. O harbors at least a glimmer of bigotry towards those of us in the glbt community. if not, why does he continue to insist upon straddling the moral fence of civil equality?

the glbt community is under attack from the apologist wing of progressivism, as well. the glbt community is the last remaining group to not have full civil rights, and yet, the mantra from the left is “the time isn’t right” or “he has more important things to focus on right now, just be patient and wait your turn!”. this is an incredibly convenient excuse coming from the same group of people (including the administration) that, on every other issue has said, “but don’t you see that we can work on more than one problem at a time?”

sure. sure you can. just don’t expect anything glbt to be in that mix.

it’s truly heart wrenching that we have to convince those that should agree with us philosophically, that equal civil rights for every american should be at the top of the priority list...otherwise, we are as morally bereft as the right.

this isn’t a “state’s rights” issue any more than racial equality was an issue that could be decided state by state, either. too many of the benefits that come complete with a marriage license are conferred at the federal level. at this point in time, the victories in new hampshire, iowa, etc., are nothing more than symbolic. sure, you can go to city hall and get “married” but it will ring really hollow when you have to pay 50% of your property’s value if your spouse dies and leaves you the home you’ve built together. what about the social security “death benefit” paid to surviving spouses? do we get that with state-mandated “marriage”? no. hey, iowa glbt married people, good luck filing a joint federal income tax return next year.

After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

i’m firmly convinced that this is O’s achille’s heel…his inability to accept responsibility for anything controversial. changing words have consequences, O. remember the still unresolved kerfuffle regarding the whitehouse.gov’s language on the repeal of dadt going from unequivocally repealing the policy to the more “fuzzy words “committed to changing dadt”.

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."

Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

pot, meet kettle.

seriously, O, you can’t be so naïve as to think that the same can’t be said of glbt equal rights.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.

“…unless you are glbt”, O conspicuously did not say.

After all, I stand here today, as President and as an African-American, on the 55th anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. Brown was of course the first major step in dismantling the "separate but equal" doctrine, but it would take a number of years and a nationwide movement to fully realize the dream of civil rights for all of God's children. There were freedom rides and lunch counters and Billy clubs, and there was also a Civil Rights Commission appointed by President Eisenhower. It was the twelve resolutions recommended by this commission that would ultimately become law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

the glbt community is just asking for equality. full equality. equal, and not separate, civil rights. just like your parents were allowed to marry and racial minority children received the right to equal (and not separate) educations.

for the apologists on the left, the civil rights act of 1964 was FORTY FIVE years ago. i think the next bold civil rights action/legislation's time has come. not in the next 100 days. not next year. not by the end of the first or second administration. NOW. if i can support O's agenda on the rest of his platform, won't someone please be willing to unclench the fist that holds my full civil rights equality?

again, O, please remove the log from your eye so that you can help remove the splinter from mine and millions of other glbt Americans.

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