Monday, August 23, 2010

First Amendment, People ...

So ... there's this hate group called the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE) that advocates for the criminalization of Islam. That's right, SANE wants to make it illegal to be Muslim in this country.

I'll give you a moment to soak in the irony of the group's name.

Done? Good ... in February 2007, the group offered the following resolution:

Whereas, adherence to Islam as a Muslim is prima facie evidence of an act in support of the overthrow of the US. [sic] Government through the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the US Constitution and the imposition of Shari’a on the American People. . .It shall be a felony punishable by 20 years in prison to knowingly act in furtherance of, or to support the, adherence to Islam.

That's right ... in claiming how Islam subverts the Constitution, SANE is arguing for the subversion of the Constitution. Forget that whole freedom of religion thing -- that's inconvenient when it comes to peddling hate speech for political purposes. Never mind that the very foundation of America does not allow for the outlawing of a religion -- how can conservatives scare donations out of their mostly white and Christian base if they stuck to the Constitution they claim to love?

As a primer, I offer the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Freedom of religion, speech, and the press; rights of assembly and petition):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So there you have it ... a supposedly America-loving group wanting to outlaw Islam from America, thus spitting in the face of the very historical document conservatives and their allies claim to adore.

I leave you to bask in the sickening irony.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Planned Mosque a Question of America

I wholeheartedly support the right for a community center and mosque to be built in Manhattan, two blocks away from Ground Zero, despite my understanding of the potential emotional implications. I understand that allowing Muslims to have a place of worship just two blocks away from a horrible terrorist attack perpetrated by a disgusting perversion of the Muslim faith can open old wounds, and I understand why families of the victims would be offended.

I get that. Really, I do.

However, the right for this community center/mosque to exist is undeniable. The First Amendment, which explicitly protects both freedom of speech and freedom of religion and establishes the separation of church and state, enables and protects the right for such a structure to be built in the area in question. To deny this place to be built would fly in the face of those constitutional concepts.

Who are we as a country if we tell those of the Muslim faith they can't have a place to worship? Are we still America if we deny one group of people the freedom of religion and assembly that are guaranteed to every citizen of this country? Can we still consider ourselves Americans if we forget that religious persecution was part of why this country was founded in the first place?

Some people fled to our shores centuries ago so they could build their churches and worship in peace. That's all Muslims in Manhattan want in this case: to build a place of worship in Manhattan. The fact that this place would be two blocks away from Ground Zero (thus making it *not* a Ground Zero mosque) is unfortunate, but there's already a mosque within four blocks of the site.

Would that mosque have to go away? And what of the other houses of worship in the area? What of the churches? What of the synagogues? If we're going to persecute religion in this country, if we're going to wipe our collective asses on the First Amendment, why not stop with Islam? Why don't we desecrate all faiths while we're at it?

But there's another side of this, one that I feel has been woefully ignored. When those terrorists attacked us on Sept. 11, when they destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon and killed over 3,000 people, that was not their complete endgame. They didn't just attack us to kill a bunch of innocent people.

The terrorists attacked us in part to make us afraid, and to make that fear override all of our values as Americans. If the terrorists had their way, their attacks on us would've left us scrambling in fear, acting out in hate and uncertainty while negating all of the values this country holds dear.

If we subvert the First Amendment and block this planned mosque, the terrorists win. In a way, they already have, since fear-mongering in the name of Islamic terrorism has led to two wars we are still in and still paying for to this day. But if we ignore freedom of speech, if we throw freedom of religion out the window and begin a form of tacit religious persecution, then Osama bin Laden and those who follow him have won.

Do we want the terrorists to win? Do we hate our own country that much?

We cannot abandon our core values, not even when those values defend things we don't like. I vehemently disagree with the likes of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin; I feel their rhetoric is inflammatory and potential dangerous, but I defend their right to express their venomous opinions. I strongly oppose organized Christianity and the way it perverts what faith is supposed to be, but I support its right to operate free from government intervention.

To defend the First Amendment is to defend all free speech and the freedom of all religions -- as well as the right for all those religions to build houses of worship on private property. If we do not defend the First Amendment in every instance -- even when we don't agree with what we're defending -- then we are no longer adhering to our founding documents, and we have let down our founding fathers.

Even worse, we let those who would destroy us win.

Tell me, is that something we really want?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Bravo, Governator!

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite being named as a defendant in the recently-contested trial for Proposition 8 -- a state constitutional amendment that revoked same-sex marriages rights -- issued a court filing on Friday asking that Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling be immediately implemented.

Schwarzenegger was named as a defendant by virtue of being the state's governor, though he did not publicly support or reject Prop 8, before or after its November 2008 passing. He was against the initiative when it was on the ballot -- California already granted same-sex couples marriage rights -- and he did not advocate on Prop 8's behalf even after 52 percent of California voters decided to take those rights away.

Even though, as I mentioned in my last post, such a thing should've never come to a vote.

Schwarzenegger's filing asks that Judge Walker's staying of his ruling -- which he put in place in anticipation of pending appeals -- be bypassed and that California immediately start granting marriage rights to same-sex couples again.

California issued 18,000 same-sex marriage licenses prior to the passing of Prop 8.

Though Gov. Schwarzenegger deserves a lot of blame for California's woes -- particularly on the budget front -- he deserves credit on this issue. Unlike most within the Republican Party, Gov. Schwarzenegger understands the nuances behind Judge Walker's ruling, and he understands that granting equal rights to all of California's citizens are an important part of the state's foundation and identity.

The filing was a surprise, but a welcome one; Gov. Schwarzenegger deserves praise and thanks for helping further the cause of full equality under the law in this country. Opponents like to frame same-sex marriage as a moral or religious issue, when it is in fact a question of whether we should be granting different citizens different sets of rights.

The answer, of course, is that we should not. The Constitution grants all American citizens equal protection and rights under the law, and that includes homosexuals. Judge Walker's thorough ruling reflects that reality, and I applaud Gov. Schwarzenegger for realizing that.

It might not seem like much, but having such a prominent Republican fighting for equal rights for homosexuals is not a small thing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prop 8 Overturned!

Ninth Circuit District Court Judge Vaughn Walker handed the LGBT community a huge victory on Wednesday, as he offered a scathing, 138-page decision that overturned California's controversial Proposition 8, which took away the marriage rights of gays and lesbians in the state. Judge Walker called the law, among other things, unconstitutional, saying it violates the equal protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Prior to November 2008, California was one of few states to legalize same-sex marriage. But anti-gay rights groups (many of whom were not even based in California) pushed to have an initiative -- Prop 8 -- placed on the electoral ballot for the November elections. California became the 31st state to put the rights of same-sex marriage up to a vote among the citizenry, and for the 31st time, that right was denied.

This was not simply a case of a state (like, say, Virginia) preemptively passing a law or state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman; in California, same-sex couples already had the right to marry, and Prop 8 -- and those who voted for it -- took away that right.

It was a dark stain on what was otherwise a celebratory night.

But Judge Walker's decision -- which you can read in its entirety here -- makes a clear case as to why Prop 8, and the concept of marriage discrimination as a whole, is unconstitutional. Prop 8, he argued, "fails to possess even a rational basis" and that the plaintiffs in the case "do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize plaintiffs' objective as "the right to same-sex marriage" would suggest that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples across the state enjoy -- namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask California to recognize their relationships for what they are: marriages."

The argument in favor of same-sex marriage has perhaps never been clearer, and Judge Walker's ruling also served as a scathing takedown of the bigoted argument against same-sex marriage.

"Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society," he ruled.

The rights of minorities are not supposed to be put before the majority for a vote -- the Constitution is pretty specific about that. Every time the majority gets a chance to vote on the rights of the minority -- rights that are guaranteed by the very Constitution conservatives claim to hold sacred -- the minority loses.

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Is that the America we want to live in? According to Judge Walker -- and a case in Massachusetts in July that determined part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional -- it is not. It's been a good month for the cause of same-sex marriage -- and for the larger issue of equality for all in this country.

One of America's greatest strengths -- and part of the reason for its founding -- was the fight against inequality. This country was founded largely on two principals: economic and religious freedom. Some came to our shores looking for economic freedom from the monarchy, while others sought to free themselves from religious persecution. The basic tenets of freedom and equality are the bedrock of this nation ... or they should be.

Some in the political realm like to talk about freedom and equality, but history tells a different story. We know all about the plight of African-Americans throughout this country's history, and the fact that, until 1920, women did not have the right to vote. Before Harry Truman because president, African-Americans faced discrimination in their own military. For decades, interracial couples could not marry.

Any of this sound familiar?

We're fighting many of these same battles today, but largely through the lens of homosexuality. Opponents would point to religion to defend their bigotry, while also citing bogus studies about how unfit same-sex couples are when it come to raising children. By "protecting the sanctity of marriage," opponents have overlooked the high divorce rate or the alarming rate of children growing up in single-parent homes.

But Gods forbid a child have two mothers who love them.

Judge Walker's ruling does a solid job of picking apart the opposition's argument, finding there is no merit or basis of fact in it. His lengthy ruling is heavy on fact, which it will have to be for the appeals that are certain to come. In fact, Judge Walker stayed his ruling in anticipation of such appeals. It wouldn't surprise me if this case went all the way to the Supreme Court -- where anything can happen -- but Judge Walker's ruling is so solid that it would be incredibly different for anyone to find holes in it.

Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- as well as the provision Rachel Maddow mentioned in the above video protecting the rights of the minority from votes by the majority -- same-sex couples have the same inalienable rights as the rest of us. That's the foundation of this country: rights for all. Not rights for some, not rights for those who can biologically procreate ... rights for all. To deny one person the right they are entitled to as an American is to deny all of us that right.

And since conservative opponents are so fond of quoting their (allegedly) beloved Constitution ... the biblical argument against homosexual rights would have no legal basis, thanks to the First Amendment. You know, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. That whole separation of church and state thing ... freedom of religion also includes freedom from religion; many came to our shores looking to avoid religious persecution, and what does it say about us as a country that one political entity wants to deny same-sex couples a simple right because "the Bible says y'all are bad"?

As Judge Walker noted, perhaps better than anyone else has in this debate, the argument against same-sex marriage (or really, any right for homosexuals) has no merit, legally or otherwise. The tide is slowly turning on what is becoming the civil rights battle of our generation, and it's incredibly gratifying to see all of our efforts paying off.

Not because we want to rub homosexuality into our opponents' faces, but because it's what's right. We cannot truly call ourselves American so long as we continue to deny a segment of the population the same rights the rest of us enjoy.

I wish I knew former Lt. Dan Choi personally; if I did, I would want to thank him for his service, as well as ask him why. Why would he, a homosexual man, feel the urge to defend a country that doesn't recognize him as a complete citizen? Lt. Choi joined a military he knew would kick him out if it found out he was gay, and in all but six states, Lt. Choi would not be allowed to marry his partner. Many states would not allow him to adopt a child, or for his partner to enjoy the health benefits and other rights entitled to him.

So if the country views him a second-class citizen, why would Lt. Choi want to defend it?

Maybe because Lt. Choi has far more character and integrity than any politician who stands behind a microphone and thumps the Bible to express his supposed moral superiority.

I leave you with a Special Comment from Keith Olbermann, one he delivered on Nov. 10, 2008 after Prop 8 passed. He aired it again last night in celebration of the initiative being overturned.

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