Saturday, January 01, 2011

After Don't Ask Don't Tell: Gay Marriage?

The Conservative Right may have dug themselves into a very deep hole. As I last reported, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, which was first enacted by Democrat President Bill Clinton, has been repealed. Although technically “illegal” until the appropriate bureaucratic steps are completed, it’s now essentially legal to be openly gay in the US military (there are already 23 other countries where gays openly serve in the military. So much for that ole “first in freedom” line I suppose).

So, here’s the next quandary for the Republicans and the Conservative Right (especially for the socially Conservative). If it’s now ok to volunteer to fight, and possibly die or become disabled in the defense of this country, why isn’t ok to marry the person they love regardless of their gender? Now I can just see some finger wagging Conservative hyperventilating and accusing me of not being “pure enough” to be a Conservative and that’s ok. It’s a “relatively’ free country at the moment, but it also doesn’t change the argument.

Vice President Biden recently said that he would support a measure to make gay marriage legal, which in my opinion is no big deal. I personally couldn’t care less what Biden thinks, but it does give some indication as to which way the White House will lean on the issue. Of course, “Hollyweird” and “Left Coast” has long been a proponent of gay marriage and all things liberal. Perhaps more important that the Vice President’s opinion is Oprah’s opinion, and she is an ardent supporter of gay marriage.

On a personal level, I’ve always believed that marriage should be between a man and woman. When I ran for State Representative in 2004, the issue of allowing gay marriage was on the ballot, and I, for one, opposed it. My opponent, Denver Butler, a Democrat and perhaps more tellingly, a conservative Catholic, opposed it too. In fact, you were hard pressed to find anyone outside of Jefferson County (Louisville) who supported it (it was hard to even find someone in Jefferson County, which is perhaps the most “liberal” of Kentucky’s 120 counties, who supported it. The issue failed overwhelmingly by the way). My logic was that marriage was something that formed the nucleus of society; the very foundation of civilization itself. People got married for the purpose of creating and raising a family; passing on knowledge; adding to the workforce; it created familial units which in turn, created villages, communities, towns, and cities. All this, of course, increased the exchange of ideas and thus, systems of government and religions were created. Well, I’m sure you get my point.

However, in looking back at history, I found the gay relationships openly existed. In fact, they were generally quite common. The Sumerians had them. So did the Babylonians. The Hittites and Assyrians, both notably militaristic, had them, as did the Persians and Greeks (remember Alexander the Great?). Even the mighty Roman Empire had openly gay relationships. On the other hand, I didn’t find any evidence that the Egyptians did or for the matter, the Chinese. In fact, some ancient civilizations down right forbid it on pain of death, such as the Huns, Vandals, Mongols, Goths, Norse, Celts, and Germanic tribes.

Of particular importance was that I didn’t find mention of acceptance among the certain nomadic Semite tribes, such as the Hebrews. Their reasoning, as was the Egyptians by the way, was that the desired outcome of a sexual encounter was to produce offspring, which was seen as a form of wealth in what was an agricultural or nomadic society. It seems to me that gay relationship seemed to be more openly accepted as the complexity of a given society increased and/or became more settled.

In today’s society, relationships are not always about procreation any more. They are just as often about companionship or financial arrangements. Technology has made knowledge available to everyone equally. As we become more global, we are exposed to more cultural traditions and religions. No longer are we just Judeo-Christian society. As such, does society therefore have a right or obligation to impose what is chiefly Judeo-Christian values system onto others? There’s a tenet in the ancient nature oriented religion of Wicca which says “Do as you will, but do not harm to others”. Should an otherwise upstanding individual be denied what you and I take for granted, that is, the legal right to share our lives with whomever we chose? We’ve agreed they have the right to fight and die for the freedoms this country stands for, and yet we as a society have said that they don’t have the right to legal relationship with someone of the same gender.

Of course, there are many other issues to consider, such as the right of survivorship, insurance coverage, healthcare coverage, joint ownership of property, a tax deduction, right to adopt, etc. By repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, the GOP and its Conservative allies, have opened Pandora’s Box, and perhaps it’s a box which needs to be opened. Certainly, we as a society need to reexamine what constitutes a legal as well as moral relationship and what, if any, are its boundaries.

The Gouge Gage

As just about every holiday traveler will tell you, gas prices across the country are outrageous. The AAA reported on 12/10/10 that the average price for a gallon of unleaded was $2.98. A week before, it was eight cents cheaper? So what happened in one week to see that kind of an increase? Well, oil company officials will tell you some cockamamie story about a price adjustment due to oil production on a rig in BFG being affected by the flight pattern of birds. The truth as you and I know is much simpler. It was an opportunity to gouge consumers while knowing damn good and well that the government won’t do a thing to interfere. In fact, it’s government’s job to clear the way for the oil companies by creating the illusion of “protecting” us.

Former Shell Oil Chief, John Hofmeister predicted that by 2012, the price of a gallon of gas will be $5.00. He’s not far off the mark. Already, the average price where I live is over $3.00 a gallon. People who are making at or just above minimum wage are already talking about it becoming to expensive to go to work. With bus routes being cut, what are lower income people supposed to do? I don’t see this as a Democrat or Republican issue. I see this simply as corporate greed running amuck and being all but sanctioned by the government. Perhaps the time to nationalize the oil industry is about to dawn.

A few months ago I reviewd a book by Dr. Ida Lichter entitled “Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression” which is published by Prometheus Books, New York. If you haven’t read it yet, you seriously need to. This is perhaps one of the most important books ever written about conservative Islam and its treatment of women you’ll ever read. Recently, Dr. Lichter wrote an article for the Huffington Post (12/20/10) about an often overlooked relgious group, the Bahai and the human rights violations they suffer daily in Iran. I thought you would find the article as compelling as I did.

Baha’is in Iran are Easily Forgotten

Wikileaks has revealed government and diplomatic violations of the truth while paradoxically keeping their own sources secret. In the process, editor in chief and whistleblower Julian Assange has become a hero for human rights defenders. Sadly, the intense publicity surrounding Wikileaks diverts attention from serious injustice and continuing human rights violations, some already on the back burner and badly neglected. A good example is the state-sponsored persecution of Baha'is in Iran.

The 300,000-strong Baha'i community, the largest religious minority in Iran, represents less than 1% of the population. Over the past 30 years, they have suffered torture and execution. They have been denied tertiary education and government jobs, their shops and properties are often seized, cemeteries desecrated and children harassed at school. In addition, Bahai's are facing stepped-up persecution and have been falsely blamed for organizing and inciting anti-government protests although they abstain from partisan political activity on religious principles. Charges against them include espionage, "propaganda activities against the Islamic order" and "corruption on earth," the latter a capital offence. Baha'i communities around the world insist these charges are spurious and part of a campaign to scapegoat members of the faith.

During the Shah's era, Baha'is strove for education and became successful and prominent, creating envy and suspicion, and although police sometimes protected them against Islamic extremists, they were victims of periodic outbreaks of violence.

A major source of ideological friction with Islam is the doctrine of a hierarchy of traditions that subsumes previous ones. According to Baha'is, the Prophet Mohammad was not the last prophet but one in a progressive line, and the next one is not due for a thousand years!

Women's rights are central to Baha'i teaching and in stark contrast to the discriminatory sharia laws implemented by the Islamic Republic of Iran. These rights include full support for the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

There are numerous documented stories of violent arrests and incarcerations in the hundreds of prisons situated in basements of houses in Tehran.

Rozita Vasseghi is a Baha'i prisoner. In Kafkaesque fashion, a man claiming to be a 'postman' arrested her three years ago after a knock on the door, and during repeated interrogations while blindfolded, her captors threatened her with death. Throughout her ordeal, she was denied a lawyer. Following release from prison, she found a job but government authorities exerted pressure on her employers to have her fired. A few years later, she was arrested at her home, and for the next six months, found herself in solitary confinement. Her elderly mother, who was allowed visits of only five minutes, was horrified by her wasted appearance. Accused of insulting Islam, acting against national security and teaching the Baha'i religion, she is serving a five-year sentence.

Rozita's sister Rosa, suffered multiple incarcerations before escaping Iran. She was on her way home in a shared public taxi when the driver asked about her religion. Discovering she was a Baha'i, he stopped and made a phone call. A car with several people soon showed up, the women fully covered in chadors. Rosa was blindfolded and forced into the vehicle and when they reached their destination, she was thrown onto the pavement, her hands were tied and she was dragged down stairs to a room and beaten. Her captors repeatedly called her an infidel and declared her blood would be impure until she renounced her faith and converted to Islam. Over several years, she was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned.

As proponents of a religion originating from Islam, stamped by modernity, universal human rights and compatibility with many Western values, Baha'is are vulnerable targets for persecution by the Iranian theocracy. Baha'i women are doubly at risk, being female and Baha'i, and as victims of severe injustice, they deserve more outrage and support than Assange and Wikileaks.

Ida Lichter is the author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression, published by Prometheus Books, New York.

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