Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gay marriage defensiveness

As most of you are probably aware same sex marriage is now recognized in quite a few more states than it was just a few weeks ago. When the US Supreme Court decided to not hear several cases that had gone all the way through the appeals process the bans on gay marriage in the states where the cases were filed effectively went away. The bans on gay marriage also should have gone away in states that weren't involved in these cases but that are in the districts where same sex marriage bans were ruled unconstitutional. In some of those states, like North Carolina, the bans did go away. In other states, like South Carolina, they are holding on to their discriminatory, unconstitutional, bans as long as they possibly can. In states that weren't affected by these rulings but that have gay marriage bans the defensiveness has become almost palpable among some groups as they vow to fight on till the very end.

The problem is that they don't have a legal leg to stand on. The "Equal Protection Clause" found in the 14th amendment of the US Constitution is pretty clear and so far the cases brought before federal judges have almost all ended the same way. You can't treat same sex couples differently from heterosexual couples when it comes to marriage. So when you can't win the legal battle you switch to trying to win the battle of public opinion. Sadly for opponents to same sex marriage, but happily for those who believe that discrimination is wrong, they don't seem very adept at forming good arguments even when they don't have to deal with lawyers and judges.

Many opponents of gay marriage will claim that the US Supreme Court has no right to overturn the will of the voters. They say that the Supreme Court is acting in an undemocratic way. Got to give this one to them, they are right that the Supreme Court isn't acting very democratically, however they are complete wrong when they say that the court can't over turn the will of the voters.

If you take a look at the US Constitution you will see that the framers of the Constitution were not huge supporters of democracy. They seemed to worry that all out democracy would lead to mob rule and that the new country wouldn't last long if it didn't try to insure that the government was filled with people calm enough to look beyond the next election to see what was actually best for the country. If you let the people have free reign in elections there is no telling what type of hoodlums they might put into office. So we wound up with the electoral college, an organization that selects the president and could correct a bad decision made by the voters if necessary. Not very democratic you say? Well it gets even less democratic. The framers established a legislative branch with an upper and lower house, the Senate as the upper house and the House of Representatives as the lower. The lower house is fairly democratic, the number of representatives a state gets depends on its population and the voters get to pick who these representatives are (please ignore for the moment that at the time the Constitution was ratified only white, male, land owners could vote because that left out the majority of people in the US and makes even the House of Representatives look pretty undemocratic). But the upper house, the Senate, was a different story. It is about as undemocratic as you can get. In the Senate voters from states with tiny populations like Wyoming are much better represented than voters from a state like California which has a much higher population since both states have two senators each. Furthermore the framers of the Constitution seemed to think they needed to reduce the risks from democracy even further by not allowing the voters to elect their senators. That's right, until 1913 when the 17th amendment was passed US Senators from each state were selected, not by the people, but by the legislators of each state. This caused a problem because on the state level corruption was quite bad (remember this point) and the selection of senators involved bribery or long vacant senate seats as the legislators couldn't agree on who to pick. Add to all of this undemocracy the Supreme Court which is granted the power to overturn any law it finds in violation of the Constitution and who's  members are not elected but are appointed for life and you can see that the framers of the Constitution didn't want a democracy, they wanted a government that just hinted of democracy.

What about state's rights? Well states have got them. They can pass any law they want to, but they are bound by the US Constitution and if they pass a law that conflicts with the Constitution it is the Supreme Court's duty to strike it down. Let's imagine for a second that this wasn't the case. In my home state of Tennessee there would be no chance the the state's same sex marriage ban would be over turned, not any time soon at least. That might make some religious conservatives very happy. They would probably also be very happy to find out that the Tennessee constitution states that an atheist can't hold an elected position in Tennessee. They might be a bit unhappy to learn that the state constitution disqualifies any minister from being a part of the state legislature. Of course Tennessee allows atheists and ministers to hold elected positions because everyone knows that these parts of the state constitution are unenforceable under the US Constitution. I know of at least one member of the Tennessee house who is currently serving who is a preacher at a large church. So what will it be religious conservatives? Follow the US Constitution, which is what is happening now, or have your state constitution supersede the federal Constitution and deal with all of the negative things you might find in it if you took the time to read it?

Another way gay marriage opponents are trying to win hearts and minds is by lying outright. They are claiming that legalizing same sex marriage will force preachers and pastors and ministers to perform same sex marriages. This is nothing but a lie. In the US we have something called "freedom of religion". It is enshrined in the 1st amendment of the Constitution. No minister can be forced to marry anyone, gay or straight. Let's say a man and woman, one Jewish and one Christian go to a rabbi to get married. The rabbi can say "nope" because he may not think a Jewish person should marry someone who isn't Jewish. Let's say an interracial couple goes to a preacher and asks to get married. The preacher can say "nope" because he holds archaic beliefs against interracial marriage. Let's say a gay couple goes to a priest and asks to get married, the priest can say "not a chance" because the Catholic church forbids it. None of these couples would have a leg to stand on because religious organizations are not bound by anti-discrimination laws. Further more most areas don't have anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians. In several states now gay couples can get married and then get fired from their jobs, legally fired with no legal recourse for the gay people who were fired, because they are gay. In areas where there are legal protections for gays and lesbians it might be true that a baker or a photographer wouldn't have the legal right to discriminate against gay couples, but that is because they are business entities not religious entities, plain and simple. Recently in Idaho a big fuss has been raised around a wedding chapel run by two ministers who don't want to perform same sex weddings. A right wing group is claiming that complaints have been filed against the chapel and that they could face up to $180,000.00 in fines. Well the city says no complaints have been filed, and even if they were the chapel couldn't face fines anywhere near that high, no business could, The thing is the chapel couldn't face any fines or other penalties at all because they qualify as a religious organization. The entire controversy is a fabrication and a lie designed to make a certain segment of the population angry. Well it worked, kind of. It may have made religious conservatives angry, I don't know if it did or not, but I do know that it made somebody angry, and that person is me.

All of this talk about gay marriage stepping on the religious freedom of people opposing gay marriage is completely ridiculous. No one is forcing churches to marry gay couples, no one is forcing preachers to perform gay wedding ceremonies, no one is being forced to denounce their religious bigotry and start loving gay folk. No one is trying to force straight people into gay marriages. These people think that freedom of religion means they have the freedom to force their beliefs on others, that somehow they were appointed to make sure we all behave the way they think we should. These people complain about their religious freedom being violated and yet they don't believe in religious freedom, at least not for anyone but themselves. Here's the reason I am angry though, you see I am a Christian. My faith is very important to me. I believe God works in my life and one of the ways he has worked in my life is by bringing my husband and myself together. My getting married doesn't infringe on anyone's religious freedom, but when a law is passed which says I can't marry the man that I believe God wants me to be married to then my religious freedom is being stomped all over. Some may say that God doesn't want me to be in a gay marriage, I might say that God is more concerned with how much hunger and violence there is in the world. That's the thing, I can't force you to believe what I do and you shouldn't be able to force me to live by your beliefs.

Friday, October 17, 2014

10 real things about Nashville...

I am from Nashville and I love my hometown, I can't stand all the new and shallow media attention about my city though. I now live in Europe, but I am back home often enough, and the internet helps me keep in touch with what's going on in my home city so I decided to write my own article/list about Nashville.

10. There is no single thing called "Nashville".

Nashville is a sprawling, diverse, metropolitan area and can't be pigeonholed the way most writers want to do. We have lots of churches representing a ton of different Christian denominations, we also have quite a few mosques. The largest population of Kurds outside of Kurdistan lives in Nashville. Nashville is full of poor people and middle class people and rich people. Most Nashvillians don't work in the music industry, many never attend a concert in a given year. Many drink like fish while others are teetotalers. We are very different but we live in the same place, most of us are happy about that but some aren't, somehow we manage to get along most of the time.

9. Nashville is a food city.

Hot chicken is big in Nashville but a lot of people can't stand it. Nashville has a lot of great restaurants but most of us eat lunch at McDonald's or Hardees. We love biscuits and gravy and country ham but we also love foie gras and caviar. We love food, but how many people and cities don't? We are just lucky to have a wide range of restaurants serving a wide range of food (from New York style Jewish delis to slow smoked pork shoulder to vegetarian South Indian cuisine). There is no "Nashville cuisine" we just love to eat and love to have choices.

8. Nashville is friendly.

I didn't realize how friendly till I moved to Northern Europe, but if you are in Nashville you had better be ready to talk to people. We like to talk, sure, most of it is superficial and shallow, but we are looking for a reason to like you, if we see you twice we will probably consider you a friend.

7. Gospel music is bigger than country music here.

A lot of us like both gospel and country, but we also like punk and dance music and folk. Nashville is "Music City USA", not country music city USA. If you come to visit leave the honky tonks on Broadway behind for a while and see what else Nashville has to offer musically, you will be glad you did.

6. It gets cold in Nashville.

If you show up in January or February don't bring your swim suit. Yep, we get cold weather, really cold weather. The great thing is that while it might be below zero (Fahrenheit) one night it might be in the 60's the next day. In the winter be prepared for almost anything... from one hour to the next.

5. East Nashville isn't just hipsters.

Yes, there are a lot of hipsters in East Nashville, and that is great, but there are also a lot of people who you would never call hipsters, people who are more likely to wear pricey Air Jordans than vintage clothing store finds. People old enough to have worn those vintage clothing store finds when they were new. And people who just get up and get dressed to work every day. East Nashville is like most of Nashville, diverse and impossible to classify, but everyone in East Nashville agrees on one thing, "The rent is too damn high!"

4. In Nashville you can smoke in bars and many people do.

In Tennessee if you don't let anyone under the age of 21 through the doors smoking is OK. Some bars bane smoking but most allow it and this means it can get a bit hazy sometimes. That's OK, you can step outside whenever you want.

3. Nashville is a liberal city in a VERY conservative state.

When Jesse Jackson ran for president in the democratic primaries he won Nashville, Clinton won Nashville, Obama won Nashville, Nashville is very liberal. Step one foot outside of the city limits however and you are in a very conservative area no matter where you go. This means if you are in Nashville you will find people who are super liberal and super conservative and so it doesn't matter which side of the political fence you find yourself on, if you want to talk politics you better be able to back up what you say. Cause if you can't someone will call you on it.

2. Nashville doesn't hate tourists... but...

We can get kind of weary of them. Look, tourists come in to Nashville and try to blend in, but you don't. See Nashvillians don't normally wear cowboy hats or cowboy boots. We wear jeans and suits and Converse and high heels. We dress casually, we dress stylishly, we dress in drag, there is a naturist resort just outside of Nashville where people don't dress at all. The thing is that Nashvillians don't normally wear rhinestones or look like we are about to take the stage at the Ryman Auditorium, we just dress and look like pretty normal people, whatever you think that means.

1. Nashville is a great place.

Please, go to Nashville with no expectations, see as much of it as you can, you will probably fall in love with it. Just don't try to figure it out, it is too complex, too diverse, too wonderful to categorize. It is a city and has all of the good things and bad things that being a city entails. Just bring your car or rent one, cause public transportation sucks in Nashville.