Thursday, November 26, 2015

Moore, Gays, and Alabama

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten. Look away,

Look Away.

— Confederate Song, I wish I was in Dixie

Roy Moore is back in the news, accompanied by (a) all but one of his colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court and (b) by Judge Marvin Wiggins, a Circuit Court Judge in rural Alabama. It all comes about because of their approach to the law.

Roy first made news in 1997 when, as a Circuit Court Judge in Alabama, he hung the 10 Commandments on a hand-carved wooden plaque in his courtroom and refused to remove the plaque when ordered to do so by a higher court. It was not removed until Roy was elected Chief Justice of the State of Alabama in 2001. Within 6 months of being elected to that post, he supervised the construction and installation of a 5,280-pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the central rotunda of the State Judicial Building. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit upheld a lower federal court ruling ordering Roy to remove the monument. Roy refused. In 2003 the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed him and the monument met the same fate. That ended Roy’s judicial career until 2013 when he was once again elected Chief Justice. Although he did not reinstall the monument, he demonstrated that in at least one important way, nothing had changed from the time he first served until his subsequent election. What had not changed was his attitude towards the gay community.

In a concurring opinion that he wrote in his first term as Chief Justice he said that homosexuality is “abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” He concluded his concurring opinion by saying a homosexual is “presumptively unfit to have custody of minor children.” Now it is 2015 and Roy has once again afforded the country an opportunity to see how his views on gays have evolved over time. They haven’t.

An Alabama lesbian known only by her initials, V.L., was married in Georgia to her lesbian partner. Three children were born by in vitro fertilization during the 16-year marriage of the parties, a marriage that came to an end when the parties divorced. The children had been legally adopted in Georgia by V.L. in 2007. Following the divorce, V.L. sought visitation rights in proceedings brought in Alabama. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded, with only one dissent, that Alabama did not have to give Georgia’s actions the benefit of full faith and credit since Georgia judicial officials misunderstood Georgia law and had improperly permitted the adoption to occur 7 years earlier. Accordingly, said the Court, the adoption was invalid and V.L. had no visitation rights. Tom Parker, one of Roy’s colleagues on the bench, feels as strongly about gays as does Roy. Tom took advantage of the fact that being a justice on the Court he could express himself in a concurring opinion even if what he had to say was irrelevant to the outcome. He did and it was. He said that in Alabama adoption is a privilege and not a right and that Alabama can second guess adoptions occurring in foreign states and refuse to recognize their validity if it suits him. (My words, not Tom’s.) V.L. has said she will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. By the time that Court acts, if it does, the children V.L. helped raise, , a child 13 years of age and 11-year old twins, will be well into their teens if not beyond.

Alabama’s unique approach to the law is not confined to its highest court. A Circuit court in a remote county devised a way to deal with those who cannot afford to pay their fines. On September 17, 2015, one day before Roy and his colleagues announced their decision, Judge Marvin Wiggins, a circuit judge in rural Alabama, addressed a courtroom filled with defendants who were present because of unpaid fines and court costs. He said those present had two choices. He said there was a blood drive outside the court house and: “If you do not have any money, and you do not want to go to jail, go out there and give blood and bring a receipt indicating that you did.” He said those without money who were unwilling to give blood would face jail time. Those who gave blood would be given $100 credit against what they owed, and would receive no jail time even though the credit did not pay all they owed.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a complaint against Judge Wiggins with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama. In the complaint it observes that if a defendant is unable to pay a fine because the defendant is indigent the it violates both the U.S. Constitution and Alabama law to jail the defendant for indigency. Of course the complaint says a great deal more than that. It is too soon to know what the Commission will do with the complaint. Whatever it does will probably be better than what Judge Wiggins did. That’s a fairly low bar-just as improving on the approach Roy and his colleagues have taken on the rights of gays is a fairly low bar. Perhaps it’s best if, as far as Alabama is concerned we all look away and, perhaps, hang our heads in shame. Many Alabamans are probably doing the same-understandably.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mormons Minus Gays

The nearer to the church, the further from God.
— John Heywood, Be merry friends (1580)

Here is a question that since November 3, 2015, is being asked by (a) children under 18 years of age who want to be baptized as Mormons but are living with parents in a same-gender relationship and (b) Mormons who are in same-gender relationships and fear excommunication because of the rule change: is it necessary to address the issue now or can it be addressed after death? The reason for the recent interest in this comes about because of changes to LDS Handbook 1 Document 2 that were promulgated November 3, 2015.

The Handbook adds a paragraph 16.13 that says a “natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.” (A name is bestowed through baptism.) The prohibition may be removed when the child attains “legal age,” commits to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage and doesn’t live with a parent who “has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.” The Handbook has also been amended to describe what sorts of serious transgressions MAY result in the convening of a disciplinary council that can, among other things, excommunicate a church member. Serious transgressions include “attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse . . . homosexual relations (especially sexual cohabitation), deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities . . . .” The new rule goes on to say that a disciplinary council is MANDATORY in cases of “apostasy” and “apostasy” includes being in a “same-gender marriage.” (It will probably surprise some same sex couples to learn that their misconduct is on the same level as forcible rape and other enumerated offenses.) The good news for those who wonder whether these new rules will affect them permanently is, they needn’t worry. Here’s why.

In 1994 the world learned that the Mormons posthumously baptized, among others, 380,000 victims of the holocaust together with Adolph Hitler, the man responsible for the 380,000 being eligible for posthumous baptisms. The baptisms occurred in a ceremony known as the “Baptism of the Dead.” During that ceremony people who are not dead, known as “proxies”, stand in for people who are dead. The proxies give the dead folk the opportunity to become what might be called “late blooming Mormons” although that is my description and not the church’s. They are baptized posthumously and as a result, if they are already in heaven when the ceremony is concluded, they can presumably check out the accommodations and decide if the Mormon digs are better than the digs they were in before being made members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Among the folks who have been beneficiaries of this practice, in addition to Adolph Hitler, are Anne Frank, Sigmund Freud and David Ben-Gurion, together with hundreds of thousands of non-Jews.

It is obvious that those acting as proxies for the dead in hundreds of thousands of posthumous baptisms, have no way of determining whether or not the dead people being baptized were openly and gaily married or were children of gay parents who refused to disavow their parents’ life styles. These people will certainly be baptized posthumously along with thousands of others and will enjoy the same heavenly benefits as those who were baptized while alive. For readers who do not take comfort in that thought, however, there is another reason they should not be completely despondent. It is found in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

For the first 148 years of the church’s existence, black males were banned from the priesthood because they were black. That all changed in 1978. It was then that a letter was sent to all Mormons from the president of the Church in which he stated that “we [the first Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance. He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church [irrespective of race or color] may receive the priesthood. . . .”

Although it is too soon to hope that God will decide it’s OK for gay people to marry or enjoy same sex relationships since he just told the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that it was not, I have confidence that He will, upon sober reflection, realize that He made a mistake when talking to the First Presidency and the Quorum since it makes Him look really silly. It was He, after all, who made gay people gay. He would not have done so had He not wanted them to enjoy life’s pleasures as fully as heterosexuals can. Nonetheless, until God realizes He made a mistake and lets the higher ups in the church know, deciding to not worry about the present but to await the benefits bestowed by posthumous baptism seems to be the best bet for gay Mormons and children of gay Mormon parents. Either that or join a church that believes in both God and tolerance.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carson, Science and Putin

True science teaches, above all, to doubt and be ignorant.
— Miguel de Unamuno,The Tragic Sense of Life

Herewith a suggestion for Ben Carson. It came to mind listening to the Republican debate on November 10, 2015. During that debate two of the most important disclosures came from Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina. It turns out that BOTH of them know and have spoken with Vladimir Putin. Carly has not only met Mr. Putin but, as she let slip during the debate, (although it does not appear in the transcript, two of us listening heard it, so I’m going with recollection rather than transcript) she has met many of the world leaders in addition to Vladimir Putin, acquaintances that will serve her in good stead should she become president. (Although she didn’t say, those meetings probably happened before she was fired from her position as president of Hewlett Packard since it is not likely that leaders around the world would have been interested in meeting her otherwise.) She was slightly contemptuous of Donald’s meeting with Mr. Putin because, as she explained “Donald met Mr. Putin in a green room waiting to appear on 60 Minutes and the two of them got to know each other before their appearances.” She was somewhat dismissive of that encounter since it was in a green room. To show how much more important her encounter had been, she said it was “not in a green room before a show but in a private meeting.” She had apparently forgotten that when she was on the Tonight show in September she said she met Putin in Beijing saying: “We were in sort of a green room setting, actually.” Of course, where or how the two candidates met Mr. Putin is not important. What is important is that they have met him and established rapport. Mr. Carson was probably listening to this and wishing that he had met Mr. Putin and had had the opportunity to discuss brain surgery or other scientific issues with him. The good news is he now has the perfect opportunity to get together with Mr. Putin in order to discuss a matter of great interest currently and one about which he and Mr. Putin have similar views. Such a meeting would not only enable Mr. Carson to brag about the fact that they met, but would help him establish his credentials as a serious candidate when it comes to scientific matters like climate change.

A meeting about climate change would be especially relevant because of the upcoming U.N. meeting that is to take place in a few weeks in Paris and because of a report just released by the World Bank. The World Bank report has said that climate change may force 100 million people into poverty by 2030 unless, as John Roome, the Senior Director for Climate Change says, “climate considerations . . .[are] integrated into development work.” The goal of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change that will take place in Paris from November 30 to December 11 is to get the 196 countries attending to sign a new climate change agreement.

Mr. Putin is skeptical of climate change. According to a report in the New York Times, in 2003 Mr. Putin told an international conference on climate that warmer temperatures would mean “Russians spend less on fur coats while agricultural specialists say our grain production will increase, and thank God for that.” Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst and Putin critic said that Putin “believes that there is no global warming, that this is a fraud to restrain the industrial development of several countries including Russia.” Given that stand, Mr. Carson and Mr. Putin could have a fruitful and substantive discussion. Not that Mr. Carson has yet taken a firm view on the subject.

At a town hall at the University of New Hampshire in late September he was asked if he believed in climate change. He responded saying: “Of course there’s climate change. Any point time (sic), temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that’s happening. When that stops happening, that’s when we’re in big trouble.” He went on to say that climate change should not be a political issue and from there continued to discuss evolution (a topic he had earlier said was nothing more than a fairy tale) and concluded his response by saying: “Just the way the Earth rotates on its axis, how far it is from the sun. These are all very complex things. Gravity, where did it come from?” He might even want to probe Mr. Putin a bit as to where Mr. Putin thinks gravity comes from. It may be that that would be yet another area in which he and Mr. Putin agree because it is entirely possible that Mr. Putin has wondered about that.

Even if Mr. Putin is not puzzled by gravity, Mr. Carson would not have to bring up that subject in order to have a meaningful conversation with Mr. Putin about global warming. And the most important thing is that a conversation with Mr. Putin about scientific matters would not only burnish Mr. Carson’s credentials as a serious student of science but it would put him in the same class of candidates as Carly and Donald who have gotten to know Mr. Putin, thus giving his candidacy yet another shot at credibility. I’ll be happy to prepare a letter of introduction to Mr. Putin if Mr. Carson thinks that would be helpful.