Prop 8 Declared Unconstitutional

So, the week I’m on vacation, the biggest gay marriage news happens and I can’t update my blog! But so it goes. In case you hadn’t heard, Judge Vaughn Walker, of the US District Court for Northern California declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional. It’s a huge victory for gay rights, but the fight is far from over.  This case will almost certainly be appealed, and could go all the way to the Supreme Court.  Conversely, the Supreme Court could refuse to hear it, or it could never reach that level.

There are three important lessons to be learned from this victory:

  1. The Fourteenth Amendment is the key to equality.    Judge Walker ruled that Prop 8 violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of this Constitutional amendment.  Both of these basic civil protections formed the basis for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s as well.  For those who don’t know, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments were passed following the Civil War.  They’ve been called the “Second Bill of Rights”, and, given their ability to create equality in America, it’s not a misnomer.
  2. It’s almost universally recognized that the arguments against gay marriage are fallacious.  Discrimination based upon religious belief doesn’t seem to be justifiable any longer.  Or, it doesn’t hold up in a public debate at least.  People will continue to be homophobic in their houses and voting booths, but they don’t even want to acknowledge why in public.
  3. The Christian Right’s, and in particular, the Catholic Church’s hold on the issue of gay marriage is weakening.  This was also shown when two strongly Catholic nations moved towards equality for gay citizens.  Argentina, which is 76.5% Catholic, legalized gay marriage a few weeks back.  In Mexico, which is 89% Catholic, the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriages must be recognized throughout the whole country.

All in all, the fight for gay rights is progressing, just as it’s been expected to.  Citizens of both the United States and other countries are becoming more accepting of gay and lesbian relationships, leading to a greater equality and freedom for gay couples.  Still, not we cannot become complacent.  Especially in the United States, hatred based on sexual orientation exists and proponents of “traditional marriage” spread misinformation and logical fallacies in an attempt to stem to coming flood of support for GLBT populations.  We should do all we can to promote marriage equality for all.


The Catholic Church and the Wrong Side of History

By this period of history, I think most people can agree that the Catholic Church has been consistently on the wrong side of history.  Whether the issue was sexism, racism, Witch Hunts, persecution of non-believers, slavery, or Holy Wars, the Church’s actions are thoroughly repudiated throughout most of the world today.  Still, they seem to have developed an addiction to being on the wrong side of history.

After David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, voiced his support for unions for gay couples, a Scottish bishop sent him a quick reply, reminding Cameron that the Catholic Church would “not register civil partnerships nor celebrate same-sex unions: not now, not in the future, not ever, no matter what legislation or regulations your Government enacts or endorses.”  This is no surprise to those familiar with the Church and its unyielding position, which members consider a form of “tough love”. 

In the past, however, the Catholic Church has repudiated its own actions and teachings and those of the Bible, primarily because secular pressures compelled them to change their ways.   We know this because they no longer subjugate women as blatantly as the Bible orders in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. To do so would be an affront to individual rights and reminiscent of Fundamentalist Islam.  The same is true for the treatment of heretics and “witches”.  Despite the many, many, many things that the Bible and the Church, historically, have declared to be punishable by death, the Catholic Church now opposes the death penalty.  Similarly, the Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death, but the Church has softened that view and now they are considered merely “intrinsically disordered”.

I am convinced that, in 50 years, we will be able look back at the issue of gay marriage and agree that the Catholic Church was in the wrong.  Every poll I’ve seen has shown that acceptance of gay marriage is growing.  Some predictions have put all states recognizing gay marriages within 15 years.  It’s clear that the opponents of gay marriage are fighting an increasingly uphill battle, one they have almost no chance of winning.  The stronger they fight, however, the greater the backlash will be against them.  I predict that when gay marriage is fully legalized, either the Catholic Church will go back on their word and be condemned for it or they’ll keep their position and be maligned even more strongly.  Either way, the future will know that they’re in the wrong.

The Argument that Convinced Me to Stay a Theist (For a While)

My sophomore year of high school, I was starting to seriously question my religion.  I was raised Catholic, but I wasn’t the sort to worship with the youth group or even give much attention at all to God.  I was nominally religious, but if I had really questioned myself, even then, I wouldn’t have been confident about my answers.

Despite that, I hadn’t even begun to think about myself as an atheist.  It wasn’t because of the official Catholic view on atheism, as expounded by our textbook, either.  Our theology book declared that life without God was bleak and meaningless and “how could they live with themselves!”, but I could spot logical fallicies even then.  Such claims clearly had nothing to do with the truth of “The God Hypothesis”.

Even while I was quickly losing faith in the things that Christianity says are required for salvation (Jesus’ divinity, God’s omniscience, etc.), I stayed a theist for the simple reason that there had to be something, didn’t there?  How could everything that exists just spring from nowhere?

This argument, I now admit, wasn’t really a logical argument at all.  It was more of a feeling, a conviction based on no real evidence.  Still, it convinced me for about a month.  Pretty soon, however, I realized that this argument didn’t make any sense.  Why did there have to be something to create something? And if everything has to have a cause, what caused God?  I realized that it was a confusing mess, no matter how you attempted to explain it.  Therefore, I decided to declare non-knowledge.  I had no idea why the universe started, and I had no reason to even believe there was a ‘why’ to the beginning of the universe.

With the help of a few of my friends, along with different internet sites, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the Invisible Pink Unicorn, I eventually overcame this last irrational roadblock, and I have been a happy atheist ever since.

Book Review: Fluke

Title – Fluke: Or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings

Author – Christopher Moore

My first comment is that Christopher Moore is a wonderful writer.  He has written some of the funniest books I have ever read.  That said, this is not one of those books.  Don’t expect as many hilarious quips as there are in previous Moore you’ve read.  Fortunately, while he didn’t fully use his comedic abilities, Moore gave this tale more heart and introspection than his others.

The plot revolves around scientists working in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Hawaii, to study the songs of humpback whales.  Sound cerebral? It is.  It’s the most intellectual Moore book I’ve read, delving into science (biology and ecology in particular) with relish.  Richard Dawkins’ idea of memes is used liberally as is data about marine life conservation. 

Being interested in science, I took an immediate liking to the inside look at the work of scientists who feel ineffectual and useless.   It’s common to hear ordinary people wonder why anyone would study something so worthless and seemingly unrelated to human experience.  In Fluke, these voices echo in the protagonists’ heads. 

Moore, through his use of analogy and anecdote, left me with no doubt of the twofold connection between marine science and human life.  The first is obvious to anyone with a basic definition of science.  Learning about our natural surroundings helps us to manipulate them in ways that are favorable to us.  This idea is the cornerstone of medicine and technology. 

The second connection between the findings of science and human existence is more abstract but ultimately more fulfilling.  Understanding the universe helps us find our place within it and comprehend our own existence.  Fluke frequently implies parallels between humans and other animals through sex, hinting at questions of its function in a healthy society. 

Also, just as we are amazed at our insignificance through astronomy, biology helps us realize the interconnectedness of the natural world.  When we understand that we aren’t a species set apart, we can start to build an ethic of conservation and environmentalism built on rational thought.

That is the true message of Fluke: science may seem useless at times, but it’s important work for the physical and emotional health of humans and the rest of the natural world.  I believe that is a truth worth spreading.

A Victory for Gay Rights

Yesterday, a U.S. District judged ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act discriminated against gay couples “by excluding them from benefits available to heterosexual married couples.”  You can read the whole story here

Judge Tauro also said that DOMA, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, violated the Tenth Ammendment because it infringed upon the states’ rights to govern themselves.  This ruling, though I’m sure it will be appealed, could have far-reaching effects into gay rights policies.  DOMA is a target of most gay rights groups for its direct opposition to gay marriage.  DOMA has 2 primary statutes:

  1. No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
  2. The federal government defines marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.

It’s obvious how these two ideals are in direct opposition to same-sex marriage.  Hopefully this ruling will influence other gay rights rulings, and the recognition that DOMA and other policies discriminating against gay couples violate the Equal Protection Ammendent (14th).

Gay rights are generally thought of as more an issue in the legislative branch of the government, where propositions allowing or barring gay marriage originate.  Late, gay rights have been prominent in the judicial branch however.  With this case and the recent case in California examining Proposition 8, the courts have become more influential in the struggle for equal rights for gay couples. 

This is unsurprising as, while a majority opinion is required for most laws, a majority consensus is irrelevent when basic civil liberties, such as those granted by the Constitution are at stake.  In the 14th Ammendment, which states that government cannot “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

I will keep an eye on appeals to this case and the California case examining Proposition 8, for they both have the potential to fundamentally change the way gay couples are treated in the eyes of the law.

How to Evangelize Me

I was talking to one of my friends last night, and when I told her I wasn’t very religious she said she wanted to evangelize me.  I don’t fault her for it because she doesn’t just see me as a person to convert; she’s just a friend who wants the best for me.  The truth is, I want her to try because what are my intellectual convictions if they can’t be tested and proven?  So I was thinking of what it would take for me to become a Catholic again.  I came up with five quick things she would have to convince me of.  They’re basically in order, because the second one requires the first belief and so on:

  • God (defined as a sentient, all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing being) exists OR that I should believe in God even though he doesn’t exist.

Obviously, the first part would be extremely difficult to do.  There have been no sufficient proofs of God’s existence, either logical or empirical.  The second part could be easier, but I believe that knowing the truth is the best way to live your life.  Anyways, that wouldn’t be the Catholic perspective.

  • Faith is a reliable way of gaining knowledge.

This one is also probably destined to fail.  Because no one can test claims about God empirically, there is no way to know if the claims of faith are true.  It is completely opposite to science where knowledge is crafted through careful and deliberate observation of the universe.

  • The Bible is God’s Word, inerrant and the greatest moral authority in existence (though, in the Catholic perspective, it is probably tied with the Church) OR I should believe the claims of the Bible despite errors in it or greater moral authorities.

I do not believe this is possible, because it is so easily falsifiable.  If you pick a random passage in the Bible, chances are it will not be a perfect moral teaching.  The book is riddled with errors and dubious lessons of all sort.

  • That Jesus is both God and the Son of God.

If anyone could convince me that the Bible is inerrant, then this conclusion would automatically follow.  However, since I doubt anyone could convince me the Bible is inerrant, there could be other ways to conclude that Jesus is God.  I doubt they’d be valid though.

  • The Catholic Church is the greatest moral authority in history OR it should be considered God’s emissary on Earth despite it’s failings.

Now, the first point would be nearly impossible to prove.  The only organizations I know that have persecuted and slaughtered on such grand scales as the Church are dictatorships.  The second one seems unlikely as well.  Why wouldn’t God make sure that the people who have the most direct connection to him are morally righteous?

These were just a few quick thoughts on the claims of faith.  I’ve studied them before, but they’re always worth a second glance simply because they are so believed in our current age.  So far, they aren’t looking convincing, but I try to keep an open mind.  Trying to evangelize me will be interesting but not, I think, successful.

Is Homosexuality Unnatural?

The Religious Right and, in particular, the Catholic Church have consistently argued that homosexuality is “unnatural and intrinsically disordered“.  The Church has specifically stated that

“Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357).

The word natural, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary means:

1. based on an inherent sense of right and wrong

2. being in accordance with or determined by nature

Homosexuality is, in both these respects, natural.

Allowing gay relationships rather than the Bible-sanctioned murder of gays is, I would say, the morally correct thing to do.  Allowing others to choose how to live their lives without interfering is an intrinsic part of free society.  In such a society, morality should focus upon increases in human happiness and decreases in human suffering.

Homosexuality is also “in accordance with or determined by nature”.  The natural world is rife with examples of homosexual relationships in species from humans to fruit flies.   Through research, scientists have found homosexuality is almost certainly influenced by both genetic markers and pre-natal development.  There are multiple theories about why tendencies for homosexuality would not be weeded out of the evolutionary pool; I’ll expound on those in another post.

When religious groups say that homosexuality is not natural, they don’t mean it in the accepted sense of the word, for homosexuality is natural, morally and biologically.  They use the word “unnatural” as a thinly veiled synonym for “we don’t like you”.  Because of their dogmatic thinking, which ties them to the Bible’s dubious morals, they feel the need to prop up this discriminatory rhetoric.  The answer they need to hear is this: all people have a right to live and love, and exercising that right is not morally wrong.  What is wrong is perpetuating injustice and stubbornly opposing love.