Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gay Marriage: Should It Be Legal?

Did hear the comedian Wanda Sykes was gay? Well, it’s been all over the entertainment news sites recently, but frankly I don’t care. Don’t get me wrong. I like Wanda Sykes. She’s a hilarious comedian, but I really don’t think I need to know who she or anyone else for that matter likes to sleep with. And as for folks like Rosie O’Donnell (remember when she was considered sooo sweat and nice? She even had her own doll. Now we have “mean” Rosie), Ellen Degeneres (a friend of mine calls her “Ellen Degenerate”), Clay Aiken, and all the rest. Who cares? Get over it.

Sexual preference is about as personal and private as it gets. What you like is your business and no one else’s as long as it involves consenting adults right? However, children are another matter, and one that should never ever be tolerated. Punishment of pedophiles should be swift and severe. I couldn’t care less if it’s “humane” or not---that’s my opinion at least. You don’t abuse kids. Period). So, where am I going with this? The answer is gay marriage. Should a couple of the same sex, who happen to be in love, be allowed to marry just like everyone else?

Certainly gay relationships have been around since the beginning. Remember Xerxes of Persia and his Immortals? How about King Phillip of Macedon and his Companions? Of course, there was his son, Alexander the Great. In fact, Socrates, Plato, and most of the Greek philosophers were believed to be gay, or at least bisexual. It wasn’t out of the norm at all in ancient Greece. The great Homer wrote about it in his epics. In Rome, it wasn’t unusual, though a bit more frowned upon in certain circles. Gay relationships were all but unheard of in the more “barbaric” lands occupied by the Germans and Celts, and later, among the Vikings and Huns (for that matter, in the Mongol East either).

Throughout the Middle Ages, gay relationships existed, though (ironically) hided from view from the Catholic Church (where it ran amok or is that a monk?). In fact, it continued down through the Victorian and Edwardian Periods where it was slightly vogue and risqué (does Oscar Wilde rang a bell?), down to the modern period. But throughout, it almost always in the shadows. Many an actor and actress was rumored to be gay, but “forced” to marry as “cover” by the Hollywood studio moguls eager to cash in on their stars. The point I’m trying to make is that gay relationships have and continued to exist, but never, to my knowledge, did gay marriages ever take root. Why?

Marriage has always been seen as a fundamental building block of civilization. It provided the safety net for creating, nurturing, and protecting a family. But many of those aspects have gone. No longer is it necessary for a male to provide for or protect a female. No longer is necessary for a female to even be married when deciding to have children. A doner is all that is required. Women today are quite capable of taking care of themselves in every way, and men are just as adapt as roles traditionally set aside for women. So, does marriage, therefore, carry the same weight that it did originally? For that matter, does it carry the same weight it did just 50 years or 25 years ago?

From the gay perspective, they are just like anyone else in love, and should be allowed to marry…just like everyone else. Recent ballot initiatives seem to indicate that voters disagree. While there are sporadic exceptions, voters have come out in huge numbers to reaffirm that marriage is between one man and one woman. In California for example, where you would expect the gay marriage initiative to pass, voters defeated Proposition 8 by 52%. In 2004, Kentuckians voted 74% against gay marriage, along with 10 other states (Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah). Why?

Frankly, I don’t know. I think political scientists and all those talking heads on the various news programs will be analyzing the results for months and perhaps years to come in some cases. I don’t think the vote was meant to be “anti-gay”, but it may be that people still believe in the institution of marriage as it was originally intended. It could be a reflection of their parent’s morals or dogma taught by their churches or synagogues, either of their youth or where they currently attend (especially among mainstream and conservative religious institutions). Those on the Religious Right would say that G-d (or Allah, Buddha, etc) abhors homosexuality and by extension, the concept of gay marriage.

However, those who support gay marriage would argue that they shouldn’t be held to the criteria of someone else’s religion. Besides, what if there was a church willing to marry them? After all, should the government be allowed to impose restrictions on religion? What about the concept of separation of Church and State? I think that until the US Supreme Court finally rules on the issue, we will see other states open marriage to those of the same sex, only to be reversed later. What will prove to be interesting to watch is if whether a gay marriage from one state will be recognized in another state where it’s still illegal.

While we’re on the topic, what about private businesses who want to offer insurance to same sex couple like they do to heterosexual couples? Should a company be allowed to provide the same health or survivor benefits to a couple regardless of gender? After all, we’re talking about an estimated 1.2 million gays in the US according to the 2000 Census. Should this be strictly an internal corporate decision? What about gays teaching in public schools? Is it appropriate, and if so, should there be any restriction on who or what grades or subjects they teach? How about adopting children? Of course, there is the question of whether gays should be allowed in the military.

Personally, I could care less about someone’s sexual orientation. I believe in treating someone as I want to be treated (as a disclaimer before proceeding further, I’m strictly uber-hetro). I believe in the traditional roles of marriage between a man and woman. I think a male and female role model is critical to the well rounded upbringing of a child. Two daddies or two mommies just aren’t going to get it from my point of view. The law already provides for survivorship. Caretaker or “next of kin” issues are up to the individuals in involved (or should be). If a board of directors decides to provide insurance that cover same sex couples or live-in hetro couples that‘s their decision. Of course, that also means that you or I don’t have to frequent these same institutions if we disagree. When I was in the military, all I cared about was whether the person next to me did their job. What they do on their on their own time and off base was none of my business so long as it doesn’t affect unit cohesion and efficiency. Teachers are there to teach. In short, my main focus is keeping government and other groups out of my personal life as much as possible. Of course, I’m the first to acknowledge there are exceptions to most everything I’ve said. So, now, I’d like to hear from you. Do gays have an inherent “right” to marriage? If not, what about civil unions? How did you arrive at your decision?

Fluency: Leading in the Midst of Change
By Phoebe Eng, keynote speaker at Linkage’s 10th Annual Summit on Leading Diversity in Atlanta, GA, March 16-18, 2009

Some of you may remember the 1985 hit song, "We are the World," produced by Quincy Jones and an inspiring cast of musicians who sang about working together, past our differences. Or perhaps you remember the tremendously successful United Colors of Benetton ad campaign back in the 1980s, celebrating young faces of every color, signaling the look and feel of a world without borders. Media images like these showed us the world and nation, as we wanted ourselves to be -- pictures and soundbites of many races cooperating, communicating, and sharing opportunity and fortune.

If only it were that simple. Almost 25 years later, we are still struggling to make that vision real -- in our business practices, in the running of our cities, and, now, in the context of great cultural, demographic, and economic changes brought on by globalization.

As 21st century leaders, you know that building, guiding, and sustaining truly diverse communities is tremendously difficult work. Over the last decade, city populations and workforces have changed faster than at any point in history -- job relocation, mobile commerce and ease of travel have changed our cities' demographics quickly and often. Immigrant and new communities continue to influence and change the culture of our cities. Young families and children supplant the aging baby boomer generation, again, changing the character and priorities of a community.

At the same time as we become a more diverse, more prosperous nation, our cities have also become more segregated. In fact, studies from SUNY Albany, UCLA, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education have reported that segregation of our children has worsened over the last decade, even as we live in more integrated areas. As newcomer groups grow in critical mass, so does the tendency to organize along racial, ethnic, or other group-affiliated lines. Changing demographics and the growth of ethnic enclaves have made race awareness and identity politics an effective means of voicing the needs of some of our cities' otherwise marginalized groups.

Amid all of this, civic and corporate leaders are confronted with difficult choices every day. Worthy projects from different community sectors must compete for limited resources. Appointments and commissions must be assigned in ways that satisfy all the interests represented in our constituency groups, assuring each of them adequate representation. From time to time, leaders also face crisis-fueled change, forcing them to guide their communities quickly through controversies.

Does this sound stressful? Indeed, scenes of a diverse community can be those of chaos, fiefdoms, even balkanizing, as some futurists and scholars predict. Alternatively, some see these times as momentous, opening the door to the grandest and most inspiring of challenges.

How does one lead a community, whether local or global team, in the midst of huge demographic and economic shifts? How do leaders create communities where all constituents feel included, counted and equally receiving of the opportunities offered by a community? And how do we have difficult conversations that turn our best intentions into action and accountability, not only from our leaders, but from ourselves?

The answers to these questions are certainly many and varied, depending on a community's specific composition and the issues it faces. Nevertheless, one of the most important skills of a leader through changing times will be a skill set of cultural fluency. This is not necessarily language fluency, as that term is usually used. Fluency is the skill set of understanding and being understood past apparent borders. To know one's constituents and address their needs effectively, 21st century leaders must practice and hone their fluency skills.

Over the past few years, I've talked to many fluent leaders: opinion shapers, thought leaders in business and communities, artists, teachers, media creatives, all who understand that their ultimate success depends on how deeply and quickly they can identify common ground and transcend boundaries between their constituents. Fluent leaders are servant leaders who willingly assume the place of liaison, the diplomatic negotiator, the arbiter of compromise.

What are some of the qualities of a fluent leader? They understand the value of nuance. They readily deal with complexity, knowing that solutions to real problems require many levels of information and analysis. Every one of the fluent leaders I've interviewed is also insatiably curious. They are lifelong learners who have honed their vision and their life's purpose through constant exposure to different experiences.

Perhaps most importantly, these leaders also understand that the practice of fluency is not a Pollyanna-esque, naive vision of the world, where a handshake, a kind word, or a dabble into a diversity program will suffice. It is quite the opposite. Fluency work is hard "detail" work that requires courage. To be a fluent leader means having some enemies, crossing boundaries, and entering into the necessary struggles to challenge leaders and systems that benefit from closemindedness, fear, and simple formulae.

As we work toward uniting our communities, we have shown that we want to trade together, learn about one another, work side by side, make money together, and even build our families -- across cultures and across our differences. Yet without knowing how to bridge what are often daunting chasms across race, religion, class, and culture, creating workable diverse alliances can often be impossible. Basic misunderstandings can thwart our earnest attempts at generating commerce and a vibrant exchange of ideas. Communications break down. Relationships fail.

In our quickly changing communities, the art of fluency becomes a crucial leadership approach for anyone wishing to become an aware global citizen and an effective global leader. And it is the only way forward if we are truly committed to creating a world, and a nation, where all can flourish to their fullest potential.

Author Bio
Phoebe Eng is the Director of Creative Counsel and the 1000 Voices Archive, a national collection of leadership stories from cities across America. As a strategist, she has presented to and advised a wide range of groups from the US Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, many Fortune 500 companies, chambers of commerce, and universities. Eng has worked with the Ford Foundation and the Ms. Foundation for Women and on several UN World Conferences. Eng will be presenting a keynote address at Linkage’s 10th Annual Summit on Leading Diversity in Atlanta on March 16-18, 2009.

Linkage’s 10th Annual Summit on Leading Diversity in Atlanta, GA, March 16-18, 2009, is the nation's premier event on best practices in diversity and inclusion. For more information or to register call 781.402.5555 or visit

Breaking the Cycle of Violence:

Survivor Corps is a global network of people helping each other to overcome the effects of war and conflict and give back to their communities.

In 2008, Survivor Corps grew from Landmine Survivors Network. The organization has expanded its mission to help all survivors of war. Landmine Survivors Network was co-founded in 1997 by two landmines survivors, Jerry White and Ken Rutherford. From the late Princess Diana of Wales to Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan the organization received support, praise and partnerships at the highest levels.

Survivor Corps focuses on the unique contribution and leadership of conflict survivors because we believe no one is better equipped and motivated to break cycles of violence than those who have survived war.

Our programs currently help survivors in: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Colombia, Croatia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Jordan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Uganda, Rwanda, United States and Vietnam.

Our signature peer support program connects survivors with survivor role models to offer encouragement and motivation. This is crucial to helping new survivors find hope, get jobs, and get on with their lives.

Through our community building programs, survivors rebuild communities broken by war by connecting diverse survivor groups and former enemies through collective action.

By training and organizing survivor advocates to campaign for their rights, survivors change the world by raising their voices together and addressing the challenges they face in life after war and conflict.

Our Campaigns Make History:

• The Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines. (The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty survivors helped negotiate what was the first arms control agreement in history to include provisions to help victims of the weapon.)

• The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to end discrimination and bring equal opportunity to 650 million people with disabilities around the world.

• The Convention to Ban Cluster Munitions being negotiated in 2008 to end the use of cluster bombs and help victims of this indiscriminate weapon.

Survivor Corps
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