Austrian Parliament Celebrates Austrians
Observe Gay Pride Month in Congress? With greetings from Queen Elizabeth? That's the equivalent of what happened last month in Vienna, Austria's capital--the first national Parliament to honor a gay-lesbian organization.
The historic event celebrated the 15th anniversary of Rechtskomitee Lambda, Austria's lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender civil rights organization. It was held in the federal Parliament building, with video greetings from the country's President and Police Chief. Speakers included Austria's Minister of Justice, a few Supreme Court judges, representatives of the Bar Association, and dignitaries from South Africa and Australia. Kind of like what happens in the U.S., except totally, utterly different.
How could Austria stand in such stark contrast to America?
Perhaps it's their religious heritage. Like Spain (allows gays to marry and serve in the military (issues #56, 64)) and Italy (highest use of birth control in Europe), Austria is almost completely Catholic. Apparently, this God European Catholics worship today is comfortable with human sexuality. Great idea for a religion.
Civilization: The Ultimate Danger
Sidney McGee, a popular art teacher with 28 years in the classroom, has been fired for leading her fifth-grade classes through the Dallas Museum of Art. It's the result of an unnamed parent's complaint that her child saw nude art in the museum.
The tour had been approved by the principal. The 89 students were accompanied by four other teachers, 12 parents, and a museum docent. Nevertheless, school principal Nancy Lawson responded to the complaint by criticizing the students' exposure to nude statues and other nude art--such as the marble torso of a Greek youth from 330 B.C, and Rodin's "Shade."
Three thousand years of civilization dismissed over a penis here, a nipple or two there.
So forget the miracle that children were somehow actually engaging non-electronic, non-moving, soundless expression. Forget the idea of enriching the lives of human beings who happen to be 10 years old, inviting them to consider existence beyond McDonald's.
In Dallas, kids can watch football players knock each other down, and hockey players knock each others' teeth out. Kids learn that it's every Texan's birthright to hunt down innocent birds, fish, and mammals, killing them for sheer pleasure.
But a 2,500-year-old statue that encourages us to contemplate the meaning of being human? That's just too dangerous. The kids might get ideas.
The parent who complained is a psychologically sick individual, obsessed with sex and paranoid about its dangers.
The principal who honored the complaint is far worse. She's a traitor.
Mark Foley: "Them" or "Us?"
To hear Republican Congress members speak, Mark Foley is not one of them. His sexuality is some alien, degenerate force, completely unrecognizable to the self-described reasonable people in power.
The Religious Right and conservative politicians have an amazing ability to conceptualize everything they want distance from as "other." Last week Nevada Senator John Ensign even said in an election debate that "we have to rein in the Washington spenders." He's a sitting senator of the party in power, he voted for the largest federal budget deficit in history, and he calls the government's fiscal irresponsibility a product of "them"!
Well, Mark Foley isn't "other." His impulses are common (I'd say "normal" if my clinician's ear didn't hate the word). Lacking self-discipline and insight, his behavior was inappropriate. Sounds like a lot of American adults.
Like a pack of coked-up hyenas, the media have torn at Foley's flesh, salaciously celebrating the chance to speculate about his "pedophilia" without feeling the need to actually understand the subject.
Please. Having sexual fantasies about 16-year-olds isn't pedophilia. Are four centuries of audiences who watch "Romeo & Juliet" pedophiles for being interested in the sexuality of passionate 15-year-olds? What about watching MTV dancers with the sound turned off? Or luxuriating over the forms of high school football players or cheerleaders? Cries of "pedophilia" are code for "there is absolutely, positively, nothing this creature has in common with me or with us." If pedophilia is simply erotic attraction to teenagers, every adult is a pedophile. Clearly, that's not a helpful way to look at things.
Then there's the question of a gay-pedophilia link, making Foley a pervert-hater's dream. Why is it that when straight men rape, when straight women molest, when straight men abuse, it can be discussed separately from heterosexuality, but that when gay men or women do any of these things, it's portrayed as an expression of perverted homosexuality? Foley is also right-handed and sandy-haired, but these presumably do not drive his immature obsession with teen boys. Neither does his alleged homosexuality. Foley's sin is not his attraction, it's his undisciplined, selfish behavior that he's refused to examine. No demographic group has a monopoly on that.
So here's the deal with Foley: he's not representative of gay men. He's not representative of pedophiles. Sexually, he's presumably not even representative of Representatives.
But as head of the Committee to Protect Children from Exploitation, Foley was an open faucet of child-protection platitudes. "We need to stop these predators now," he often declared while a Congressmember. A key member of the Sexual Disaster Industry intent on terrifying Americans about sexual perversion, he often spoke bitterly about the need to protect children from pedophiles. "We track library books better than we do sexual predators," he said, arguing the need for the Children's Safety Act, passed by the House in 2005. While, we now realize, he was pitching woo with 16-year-olds.
And so in projecting his impulses onto others and denouncing their dangerous sexuality, in denying responsibility for his behavior, and in inviting exploitation of sexuality to score political points, he is highly representative of the Religious Right and current administration.
As if Foley's hypocrisy wasn't enough, so-called decency leaders have now jumped in to see who can manipulate the public's disgust most effectively. Who is to blame for the slimy trespasses of a Republican Congressmember? Why, the out-of-power Democrats, according to some. "When we elevate tolerance and diversity to be the guidepost of public life, this is what we get, congressmen chasing boys down the halls of government," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. Yes, that must be it--people who believe in personal choice and responsibility are to blame when an adult who goes around condemning others makes poor choices. And these people have the nerve to call themselves conservative. They wouldn't know a conservative if Goldwater himself rose from the grave (a man of consistency, Goldwater favored gay marriage decades before faux "conservatives" made it a popular political issue).
The Religious Right and its political puppets are geniuses at portraying themselves as victims, fighting a desperate battle to preserve a shred of decency in a culture gone mad with lust. Jimmy Carter, a devoutly religious and spiritual man, acknowledged he had lust in his heart--and moved on with the business of living, growing, loving, and cooperating. The more Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Livingston, Rudy Giuliani, Terry Randall, Bill O'Reilly, and now Mark Foley deny that they have lust in their hearts, the more they will simply act it out--while aggressively attempting to control the rest of us.
And so those frightened of sex will learn absolutely nothing from Mark Foley's fall from his bully pulpit.
Liquor Banned From Non-Existent Strip Clubs
The city of Miramar, Florida has decided to ban alcohol at all adult entertainment venues, such as strip clubs.
The city currently has no such clubs, nor is anyone planning to open one.
But that isn't stopping Miramar's city council from cracking down--on the non-existent customers of non-existent clubs causing non-existent problems. The city's moral crusaders aren't about to let reality get in the way of demonstrating how tough they are on sex-related danger.
"We want to make sure our city is protected from the negative impacts of development and growth associated with this type of industry," said Assistant City Manager Wazir Ishmael. There isn't a police department, hospital, or tax collector in the country with any evidence that adult entertainment brings these "negative impacts." But protecting citizens from these make-believe nightmares is a great way for officials to look tough and demonstrate their "morality."
This is like the Denver City Council demonstrating its commitment to disaster preparedness by voting to protect citizens from tidal waves. Of course it's foolish. But so many people today "know" that sex is dangerous, not even the craziest safety scheme seems outlandish to them. It's exactly like the hysteria that tried desperately to protect America from non-existent Communists in the arts, universities, media, and even the White House only a few decades ago.
When James Dobson spreads lies about the effects of sex education, or George Will fans hysteria about strip clubs, or Karl Rove demonizes the "gay agenda" in Ohio, where is today's Edward R. Murrow, asking "have you no shame, sir?"
City after city in South Florida has joined an orgy of outlawing the clear-and-present danger of adult lapdancing. Last year Florida taxpayers spent millions of dollars creating solutions in search of problems. That's what America's War on Sex is all about--scaring more and more people into supporting more and more solutions for more and more problems that don't exist.
Kind of like Halloween. Except kids wake up on November 1 to a world without goblins. In Florida, adults' feverish terror of the dark continues 365 days a year.
New Jersey Court: Gays Are Human
New Jersey's Supreme Court came dangerously close to common sense, morality, and a profound belief in American democracy when it declared that over 100 free government handouts can no longer be distributed according to whom a recipient pair-bonds with.
Like virtually all U.S. states, New Jersey gives special legal status--"marriage"--to pairs of adults who take blood tests, pay a fee, and include one person with a penis and one with a vagina. Once certified, these couples qualify for valuable deals such as tuition assistance, survivors' benefits under workers' comp, spousal privilege in criminal trials, and hospital access in case of a partner's medical emergency.
Acknowledging the long tradition attached to the word "marriage," the Court didn't mandate that couples now freed from this historical discrimination be called "married." They did tell the state legislature to either expand existing laws or create new ones to ensure that all New Jersey humans in committed relationships get the full range of benefits previously given only to some.
The justices didn't address the question of why half of the couples who had been getting these benefits under the old, discriminatory ("marriage") system eventually split up. One hopes that ending the selective distribution of these government programs will lead to more stability in committed relationships as a group.
Oddly, President Bush, vocal in his love of democracy outside the U.S., immediately criticized the New Jersey court decision. He said ending discrimination against some couples would threaten the couples who had already qualified for the benefits, even though the ruling doesn't exclude them or make re-qualifying more onerous in the future. Perhaps he has been misinformed.
The President characterized the judges who made the legal decision as "activist judges." He clearly doesn't understand the structure of American government--that it's the job of judges to examine the laws and regulations by which we live, and to notice when some of them violate America's fundamental legal promises. The President also used the decision to warn voters about the kind of freewheeling, dangerous place America would be if the country's judiciary was run by people overly concerned with the principles that already govern us.
In truth, the President is not alone in the mistaken belief that judges are supposed to reflect the will of the majority. We already have a branch of government meant to do that--Congress. Our country's courts are not supposed to answer to the people, but rather to something more abstract and even grander--the law. This periodically means giving some people rights the Constitution guarantees them, even when other people don't want them to have those rights. That's how racial integration occurred--before many Americans were ready for it. That's how the rights of those accused of a crime were defined and enhanced--before many Americans wanted it.
Right now, ballot initiatives in Oregon, Montana, and Colorado threaten to make judges "more accountable"--that is, responsible to write rulings that reflect the popular will. In such an arrangement, courts would become unnecessary and redundant. We'd just need a show of hands.
South Dakota's ballot initiative goes even further, establishing a special grand jury empowered to punish judges and other public officials if their rulings unpopular with locals, even if technically competent. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor blasted the initiative as an obvious attempt to intimidate judges. Fifteen months ago, she also said "we don't count noses when we decide whether or not to give people First Amendment rights." Or, we might add, the rest of their Constitutional rights.
Democracy without a strong court system is impossible. And a strong court system without independent judges is an illusion.
If our country's strength depends on creating and distributing government perks for "marriage," excluding otherwise-eligible people from these perks because of race or gender or any other arbitrary thing weakens our society and stains our democracy.