Shameless theft from ThinkProgress: a great source for progressive truth, and some new insight into Arizona craziness

Every now and then, when you’re dismayed and distressed about having zero time to put down any thoughts worth someone else’s time, you remember the excellent thoughts of someone else. In this case, a blog about recent goings-on in Arizona that was posted last week by my friend and very astute reporter on reproductive justice, Tara Culp-Ressler, Health Editor of ThinkProgress.org.

Arizona actions are a little difficult to follow, but they have to do with large issues. Issues like: when does your right to your religion trump my right to be who I am? Or, can your religion control my life? As in, does your religion have the right to determine whether or not I may choose to abort an 8-week fetus?

There is also a great deal of word-play going on (see ‘On choosing one’s words’ below.) As a general rule in these Arizona debates, “religious liberty” can be translated “I really don’t like gay people.” And “protecting women’s health” usually refers to limiting access to abortion. It’s easy to get lost in the wording and inuendo, and that’s why I appreciate others’ careful reporting and analysis. Here is the beginning of a thorough explanation of recent happenings in Arizona, lifted from Tara Culp-Ressler’s ThinkProgress page, which you may want to bookmark.

“All eyes were on Arizona this past week, after the legislature approved an anti-gay bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals under the guise of preserving religious liberty. The intense national backlash culminated in Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) decision to veto the legislation. But that doesn’t mean the lawmakers in the Grand Canyon State are putting controversial social issues to rest.

“Just one day after Brewer’s widely publicized veto, lawmakers in Arizona advanced new legislation to attack abortion rights. HB 2284, misleadingly named the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” would allow for surprise inspections at abortion clinics to try to catch them violating state law. The measure also stipulates that abortion clinics need to “report whenever an infant is born alive after a botched abortion and report what is done to save that child’s life,” inflammatory language that the anti-choice community often deploys to suggest that some doctors are committing infanticide.

“HB 2284 is being spearheaded by the Center for Arizona Policy, or CAP, the same right-wing group that was behind the controversial “right to discriminate” bill.

“State lawmakers gave the measure preliminary approval on Thursday. “I mean, for goodness’ sake, we even do unannounced inspections of Burger King and McDonald’s, but we’re not allowing them at abortion clinics?” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R), the bill’s sponsor, said during the legislative hearing on the measure.

“In reality, Lesko’s legislation is seeking to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist. Abortion is already one of the safest medical procedures in the country, and the clinics that perform these procedures are already highly regulated. There’s no good reason to single out abortion providers for this additional red tape. Enacting these type of laws simply gives abortion opponents the opportunity to trigger state investigations — and, depending on the political affiliations of the people who serve on state health boards, this can be an avenue to force clinics out of business.

“’As an organization, we support bills that truly protect patient safety, but House Bill 2284 opens the door to provider and patient harassment,’ Jodi Liggett, the director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Arizona, told ThinkProgress in a statement.

“HB 2284 is part of a coordinated strategy to close abortion clinics that’s advancing across the country. And it’s also a clear reminder that, regardless of Brewer’s recent veto, the fight against “religious liberty” legislation isn’t over. This line of argument is driving efforts to restrict LGBT rights in other states across the country — and it’s directly related to attacks on reproductive freedom, too.”

For the rest of the story, surf over to ThinkProgress. Click those buttons at the top of the page if you appreciate it as much as this writer.

The curious world of cyberspace

Disappearing from cyberspace is a little like being a tree that falls in the forest. A very small tree. Having disappeared from cyberspace myself for a couple of weeks, I am comforted by the fact that the forest is very large.

It’s not that this space disappeared, just that Boomers and Beyond disappeared. Boomers and Beyond is a blog primarily about issues critical to over-50 generations, and it came to pass on  True/Slant.com a couple of years ago. It dealt with health care and fitness and housing choices and brain exercises and driving safety, and often diverted into rants about gay rights and abortion rights and gun control and other miscellany — because the True/Slant folks were a free-wheeling bunch and why should anybody quit worrying about rights and justice when they turn 50? All those profound words are archived in this nifty blog (this WordPress one right here) created by incredible friend-of-B&B-&-this space Mary Trigiani, so that if anyone stumbles into the forest and wants to study a small bush those twigs — OK, enough with the metaphor — are there to be read.

True/Slant didn’t actually disappear; it got bought by Forbes, and is gradually reappearing (as a New And Improved Forbes blogsite) there. Boomers & Beyond is reportedly going to reappear thereon, as soon as a contract appears. In the interim, it is just sitting there inert, and after several watchful readers noticed its inertia (posting anything new isn’t an option at True/Slant any more) I decided to venture once more into cyberspace.

It’s pleasant to meet you here. I hope we’ll meet again soon.

Judge to rule on same-sex marriage

Can gay marriage be a fundamental right, when all legal protection has been denied until recently? In a state that treats domestic partners the same as spouses, “what purpose is served by differentiating – in name only – between same-sex and opposite-sex unions?”

These are two of the questions sent to opposing lawyers by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who will hear their closing arguments next Wednesday in the San Francisco case being watched for broader implications. Supporters of gay rights are seeking to overturn Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

The closing arguments won’t be watched by just anybody. Judge Walker ruled late this week that arguments may not be televised beyond the closed circuit of the courthouse. So you’ll have to be on site to follow the proceedings up close and personal. Media organizations had sought to have the session, which is expected to last all day, televised; proponents of Prop 8 argued against the idea.

The denial means “the public will again only hear about this case second-hand,” said Thomas Burke, the media groups’ lawyer.

Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for sponsors of the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage, countered that “the purpose of the court is not to entertain or educate the public, but to protect the right to a fair and impartial trial.” The sponsors had opposed televising any trial proceedings.

Two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco have sued to overturn Proposition 8, the November 2008 initiative that amended the California Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Walker presided over the non-jury trial in January. He had proposed to televise the trial live to several federal courthouses around the nation and record the proceedings for a delayed Internet posting on YouTube.

The telecast, which would have been the first for a federal court in California, was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court just before the trial started.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said Walker hadn’t given the public enough time to comment on the proposed change in court rules. The court also cited claims by Prop. 8’s sponsors that showing the proceedings outside the courthouse might intimidate witnesses.

Media organizations asked Walker last month to approve televising the closing arguments. They said that airing a hearing that included only lawyers and the judge couldn’t affect witnesses or the fairness of the trial.

Prop 8 supporters argued, though, that cameras in the courtroom could prompt “grandstanding and avoidance of unpopular decisions or positions.” Whatever the judge’s decision, it is guaranteed to be widely unpopular.

No TV for closing arguments in Prop. 8 trial.

Pope denounces abortion, gay marriage

With all due respect to the Catholic faith, and to the legions of good people, clergy and laity alike,who are among its believers, this space takes serious issue with the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI used a famous Portuguese shrine to the Virgin Mary on Thursday as a stage to denounce abortion and gay marriage, just days before Portugal is expected to join five European countries that have legalized same-sex weddings.

In a speech (in Fatima, Portugal) to Catholic social service groups, Benedict called for initiatives aimed at protecting “the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”

He also said he expressed his “deep appreciation for all those social and pastoral initiatives aimed at combating the socioeconomic and cultural mechanisms which lead to abortion, and are openly concerned to defend life and to promote the reconciliation and healing of those harmed by the tragedy of abortion.”

The common good, according to the pope, would suffer from individuals being allowed to marry those whom they love. And tragedy? What he and his allies are invoking — in this drive to dictate what women may or may not do with their own bodies — is a return to the brutal reality of back-alley abortion. That will be the tragedy beyond healing.

The pope’s remarks came on the third day of a four-day visit (to Portugal) aimed at shoring up Christian belief in increasingly secular Europe, although it has been somewhat eclipsed by the sexual-abuse scandal confronting the Vatican in recent weeks. Benedict also has used the visit to signal a more forceful tone in confronting the abuse, which he has called a “sin inside the church.”

Although it is 90 percent Catholic, Portugal has seen a notable shift away from Catholic teaching in recent years. The country legalized abortion in 2008 and its Parliament recently approved a bill permitting same-sex marriage. President Aníbal Cavaco Silva is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.

The church has opposed the measure, but Portuguese society appears to be largely supportive.

Portugal would be the sixth country in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway and Sweden. France and Denmark recognize same-sex unions, which convey many but not all of the rights enjoyed by married couples.

Individual rights, women’s rights and gay rights are slowly going forward in a few places around the globe.  Pope Benedict XVI would like us all to go backward.

Pope Decries Gay Marriage in Portugal Visit – NYTimes.com.

Will fatherhood change Rev. Billy?

It’s true. The 50-something Reverend is a new father. Rev. Billy and his gorgeous wife  Savitri, today welcomed Lena Nightstar Talen into the world. If you Facebook friend him you can see her photos.

You may not have encountered Rev. Billy. He is, however, worth encountering. Minister of the Church of Stop Shopping, occasionally the Church of Stop the Bombing or most recently the Church of Life After Shopping, Reverend Billy got out of jail in time for his daughter’s arrival. He was incarcerated (something that happens with some regularity) for creating a mountain of toxic waste from Appalachia and dumping it in the NY lobby of JP Morgan Chase in protest against their financing of mountaintop mining.

Rev. Billy, a performance artist AKA Bill Talen, puts his energies where his beliefs are in ways most of us couldn’t imagine — and certainly couldn’t pull off. He ran unsuccessfully but with gusto for Mayor of New York in the last election. Long before the gun folks targeted Starbucks the Rev was targeting them for driving out the mom and pop stores. (That particular campaign, which included preaching a one-minute anti-Starbucks sermon in every Starbucks in Manhattan, got Starbucks’ attention, prompted a memo to their outlets and resulted in a book titled after that memo, What Should I Do If Reverend Billy Is In My Store.)

The Rev supports equality, gay rights and everyday folks; he laments consumerism, corporate culture, destruction of the environment and other popular evils. His laments, though, are considerably more activist than most. This is partly because he’s gifted and funny, and mostly because he truly believes that one should stand up for principles that matter. Check him out. You may not agree with his passions or his methods, but you won’t be bored.

About those passions, what Rev. Billy wants most is a better world for newcomers like Lena Nightstar. He’s entertaining, but he’s dead serious.

So no, I doubt that fatherhood will slow him down. Congratulations, Savitri & Bill.

Gay judge for Prop 8 trial: open secret, non-issue

The biggest open secret in the same-sex marriage trial underway in San Francisco has been the general knowledge that presiding Judge Vaughn Walker is himself gay. It became less secret and more open today, thanks to a piece in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle by columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross.

Many gay politicians in San Francisco and lawyers who have had dealings with Walker say the 65-year-old jurist, appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, has never taken pains to disguise – or advertise – his orientation.

They also don’t believe it will influence how he rules on the case he’s now hearing – whether Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure approved by state voters to ban same-sex marriage, unconstitutionally discriminates against gays and lesbians.

Gay rights supporters, as well as many on the other side of this case, say they would not expect the sexual orientation of the unpredictable jurist to become an issue. Walker was, in fact, loudly condemned by the LGBT community for representing the U.S. Olympic Committee in their successful suit to keep the San Francisco Gay Games from using the ‘Olympics’ name when he was a private attorney.

“There is nothing about Walker as a judge to indicate that his sexual orientation, other than being an interesting factor, will in any way bias his view,” said Kate Kendell, head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is supporting the lawsuit to overturn Prop. 8.

Matier and Ross quoted a federal judge friend of Walker who said Walker had some concern that people might conclude he wants to conceal his sexuality, but that it is part of his private life and irrelevant to any decision-making. The friend, who asked not to be identified “because of the sensitive nature of the Prop. 8 trial” further commented,

As evidence, she cites the judge’s conservative – albeit libertarian – reputation, and says, “There wasn’t anyone who thought (overturning Prop.8) was a cakewalk given his sexual orientation.”

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who has sponsored two bills to authorize same-sex marriage that were vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said that as far as he’s concerned, Walker’s background is a nonissue. “It seems curious to me,” he said, that when the state Supreme Court heard a challenge to Prop. 8, the justices’ sexual orientation “was never discussed.”

Leno added, “I have great respect for Judge Walker, professionally and personally.”

Matier and Ross quoted a federal judge friend of Walker who said Walker had some concern that people might conclude he wants to conceal his sexuality, but that it is part of his private life and irrelevant to any decision-making. The friend, who asked not to be identified “because of the sensitive nature of the Prop. 8 trial” further commented,

Is it newsworthy?” he said of Walker’s orientation, and laughed. “Yes.”He said it was hard to ignore the irony that “in the beginning, when (Walker) sought to be a judge, a major obstacle he had to overcome was the perception that he was anti-gay.”

In short, the friend said, Walker’s background is relevant in the same way people would want to know that a judge hearing a discrimination case involving Latinos was Latino or a Jewish judge was ruling in a case involving the Anti-Defamation League.

There has been some talk around town that if the judge rules Prop. 8 unconstitutional and the  case goes as expected to the Supreme Court, Prop. 8 supporters will indeed raise the issue of Walker’s sexual orientation; and this was noted by the columnists.

Not so, said Andy Pugno, general counsel for the group that sponsored the Prop. 8 campaign.”We are not going to say anything about that,” Pugno said.

He was quick to assert, however, that Prop. 8 backers haven’t gotten a fair shake from Walker in court. He cited both the judge’s order for the campaign to turn over thousands of pages of internal memos to the other side and Walker’s decision to allow the trial to be broadcast – both of which were overturned by higher courts.

“In many ways, the sponsors of Prop. 8 have been put at significant disadvantage throughout the case,” Pugno said. “Regardless of the reason for it.”

Who’s getting the breaks and advantages in the case, now being considered by the judge, is a matter of who’s doing the analysis.

Judge being gay a nonissue during Prop. 8 trial.

Gay rights: a strange week everywhere

President Obama seemed finally on the move toward ending don’t ask, don’t tell after 16 years. The California same-sex marriage case was inching toward its anticipated target, the U.S. Supreme Court. Gay rights supporters were beginning to see rays of hope. That was the beginning of this week.

Nearing week’s end, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had joined Adm. Mike Mullen in calling for an end to the policy, was saying we should not rush into anything. Former Secretary of State and Retired Army General Colin Powell had switched gears and said the onerous law should be changed. Judge Vaughn Walker had begun to sift through testimony in the Perry v Schwarzenegger — but you can watch it (well, a reenactment set up after cameras in the courtroom were barred) yourself if you’d like to second guess the unpredictable federal judge. It has been a strange week, and it’s not even Friday yet.

In the California capitol meanwhile, State Senator Mark Leno, an openly gay and widely influential state legislator, is pushing a bill to defuse religious opposition to same-sex marriage. The bill would alleviate clergy concern about their churches losing tax-exempt status by putting the word “civil” before “marriage,” thus clarifying the differences between civil and religious ceremonies. It would protect those unwilling to perform a marriage which conflicts with religious beliefs — an argument that featured prominently in the acrimonious debates leading to Proposition 8 ‘s ban of same-sex unions.

Leno’s bill has the support of LGBT organization Equality California, whose executive director Geoff Kors says it will eliminate confusion, and of the pro-Prop 8 California Southern Baptist Convention, whose spokesman Terry Barone calls it “good legislation.”

We may never see bipartisanship in Washington, but when Equality California and the Southern Baptist Convention come out in support of the same legislation, it has to be a sign of progress. Or Mark Leno’s political wisdom. Or something.