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.

Roadkill: geezers, texters at the wheel

His father-in-law, aged 91, got a new 5-year driver’s license from the State of California, with zero proof of intact driving skills. The family was worried, but without much power. According to an op ed piece by Santa Cruz, CA writer John Moir, the community was saved from potential disaster at the hands of an age-challenged driver only when a mild heart attack prompted his physician to order him away from the wheel.

Meanwhile, a nationwide population of licensed drivers young enough to be his great-great-grandchildren are navigating our roadways with one eye on the intersection and full attention on a text message in progress. Another op ed piece not long ago, this one by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Cynthia Tucker, told of accidents caused by phoning/texting drivers that are estimated at close to a quarter of a million per year. There is a growing movement to address this truly scary problem. And it is scary: if you walk in cities much you know how often only your own wits (Can’t make eye contact? Don’t trust that driver) keep you alive. In Nebraska, for example, activist teens, largely motivated by the horrific BBC YouTube video now gone viral, are pushing for a state ban on phoning/texting while driving. A national organization, FocusDriven, was started by a group of individuals who had lost loved ones to drivers on phones; they offer support for victims and tips for advocacy. FocusDriven is patterned after MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving.)

But the issue of geezer drivers gets sticky. My own father was fond of pointing out, well into his 80s, that he had never had an accident. We bit our tongues not to comment on the disasters that probably followed in his wake. But the Commonwealth of Virginia continued to renew his license and none of his four out-of-state daughters was able to convince him that his driving was not in others’ best interest. It took a family friend, who pointed out how much money could be saved on gas, upkeep and insurance coverage, to get my father to sell his car.

The primary problem with aging drivers is the ease with which they are (in California, at least) re-issued a five-year license. Not long ago, at the ripe age of 75, I renewed my own. My eyes tested just fine — although prescription distance glasses make me way safer behind the wheel, especially at night. I studied for the written test (same test as anyone gets at any age) because it is full of trick questions, often concerning factoids that have little to do with public safety.  Presumably, if one is not mentally acute one would fail the written test — but you can retake it the next day. There was no road test of any sort, so if I were becoming prone to miss road signs, clip corners or misjudge parallel parking distances nobody would know. (I hope I’m not.)

Mandatory age limits for driving, such as commercial pilots have, probably aren’t going to happen, and probably shouldn’t. Many seniors must drive their own cars for endless reasons. Time and manpower required for road tests may put them beyond what states can afford these days. But why aren’t other answers possible?

Why couldn’t AARP put its considerable muscle and money behind a volunteer training program that would set in motion volunteer-led senior driving sessions? Why couldn’t states then require completion of such sessions before licenses were renewed after a certain age? Why couldn’t some insurance agency — AAA comes to mind — get behind a state-mandated program of this sort, offering the lower rates for graduates that are commonly offered graduates of safe-driving programs? Why couldn’t safe-driving seniors be offered a small compensation for running such programs, in return for the savings in lives and ER costs?

My license expires on my 81st birthday. I’ll happily sign up for a seniors class. Meanwhile I will remain on the alert for texting juniors.

Super Bowl Ads: Anti-abortion, yes — gay romance, well, maybe

Super Bowl watchers at this house tend to be interested in the ball game. But elsewhere, apparently, the star attractions are the commercials. If you get bored in between the ads, you can even keep your laptop handy and bring up winners — winner commercials, that is — from past decades.

Being only mildly interested in this year’s game and not the least bit interested in whatever is on sale for a gazillion dollars a minute, I had been blissfully unaware of the hype and hysteria surrounding the event — until an e-mail earlier today asking if I knew anything about the anti-choice ad scheduled and simultaneous rejection of an ad that could be termed pro-gay. I did not, but as it turns out, NPR does:

This year, CBS is airing an anti-abortion commercial featuring college football star Tim Tebow, with his mother. The ad is sponsored by the conservative group Focus on the Family. Within a few weeks of that ad’s approval, CBS turned down a commercial for the Super Bowl produced by a new gay dating site called ManCrunch.com.

The Tebow and ManCrunch ads raise questions about not just what networks want in Super Bowl advertisements, but also what potential advertisers really want from the Super Bowl.

The 30-second ManCrunch ad shows two guys on a couch watching a football game. They’re rooting for their respective teams. Then, they both reach for potato chips at the same time. Their hands touch. The music builds. Then they kiss — rather comically.

I have a few problems with Focus on the Family. I have a LOT of problems with those who would have us return to the horrors of pre-Roe v Wade. Without roaming around the site a great deal I think I have a few problems with ManCrunch — but I’m not exactly their target audience. I had no problem at all, before now, with Tim Tebow, who seems a pretty good guy.

But suddenly there are problems all over. Emily’s List is petitioning CBS to toss the Tebow ad. The ad has its own, fast-growing Facebook fan club for crying out loud. Planned Parenthood is weighing in with a YouTube video in response to the tempest in the Tebow teapot.

ManCrunch, meanwhile, left out in the cold with their ad that reportedly cost $100,000, has gotten at least twice that much publicity and will probably have their own Facebook fan club before it’s all over.

Are you ready for some football?

Bluegrass for World Peace

A million or so music fans and sun seekers found themselves in Golden Gate Park this weekend listening to the likes of Emmylou Harris, Steve Martin, Hazel Dickens, Earl Scruggs, Boz Skaggs & the Blue Velvet Band, and a long list of other music makers you will recognize if your bluegrass credentials are up to date. There were about 75 bands in all, on six stages scattered around several meadows. I missed The Brothers Comatose, and Booker T & the Drive-by Truckers, and I worried a little about The Flatlanders tooling around these San Francisco hills, but for sheer exuberant free entertainment, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 9 could hardly have been beat.

The free part is thanks to local billionaire Warren Hellman, a banjo-picker, bluegrass enthusiast extraordinaire and one-man stimulus package — he does a little investment banking on the side — who has thrown this party for the past nine years and has now endowed it so it will be around in perpetuity. The fact that much of the music sung by these musicians is pure anti-billionaire dampens no spirits, Hellman’s least of all.

(The top ticket, of course, was our weekend houseguest Don Betts, faithfully YouTube’d by his wife Annie as he performed that great American classic “I just don’t look good naked any more.” Betts was introduced by Hellman, whose  group The Wronglers kicked off Saturday on Porch Stage. In addition to making money and playing banjo, Hellman is an an avid champion of the sport of Ride & Tie, and Betts is current R&T Association president… but that’s probably another blog. )

A little bluegrass celebration has never been needed more. What with the world having pretty much gone to hell, there is something immensely comforting in hanging out with a few thousand fellow sufferers grooving to songs about bad whiskey and love gone wrong — problems you can identify with and get your mind around. Not to mention damning corporate greed and evil rich guys, pausing every now and then for a standing ovation for one of Them who just dropped a few million in household change on your glorious weekend out. It all somehow fits right in with a tanked job market and universal political comedy.

A few decades back this music — or what sounded exactly like this music — was called Country. It was rousing and redneck and not cool. Bluegrass is cool. Hellman’s buddies came in every race, creed, color and national origin, ranged from in utero to way-80s, recycled everything and smiled whiled jostling for dancing space. I submit bluegrass as palliative care for the world.