Thursday, November 27, 2008

It was my naïveté, I suppose, that had me somewhat shocked when one of my counselees told me of her company’s policy regarding employment termination. It seems this particular institution had no use for a two-week resignation notice. The moment you reported to your supervisor you were resigning, you had exactly fifteen minutes to clear out your desk, turn in your keys and be escorted out the door by a security officer.

The company’s rationale was centered on the principle that once you had committed to employment elsewhere both your usefulness and productivity dramatically decreased, hence the speedy and undistinguished departure.

The lack of goodbyes and best wishes seemed a harsh penalty to me for an assumedly faithful employee with years of valued service but lately I’ve begun to see the wisdom in such matters.

Now saddled as we are with a lame duck administration headed by what history will surely judge as the lamest of ducks, it seems not just foolhardy but downright dangerous to be forced to endure more than two months of interregnum between the changing of the guard. Why, many of us are wondering, must we wallow in this governmental barrenness of inactivity when America, indeed all the world, is eager to move on?

Clearly, President-elect Obama is doing his best to get the governmental gears in motion in order to be at full-speed by January 20th but it just seems silly he has to wait so long for the presidential red light to turn green. To employ a very undemocratic but quite realistic image, we commoners are crying out: “The king is dead! Long live the king!” Let’s get on with it.

Amazingly, some elections still haven’t been resolved. There are two senate races yet to be determined along with threats to overturn the results of any number of propositions that did pass and shouldn’t or didn’t and should.

It all depends on your perspective, of course. While social conservatives are no doubt cheering their anti-gay victories in several states, others who are appalled by what they see as unjust and immoral legislation are gathering forces to overturn the majority’s mandate. All of this raises some interesting issues.

For instance, in Arkansas a strong majority there decided that gay couples and other non-traditional co-habitants could not be foster care-givers or adopt children. This in a state where only 25% of the children needing foster care have homes available to them. Fortunately, this foolishness may soon be rectified in the courts. Just this past week a Florida court decided that a similar law on the books in that state was unconstitutional.

In California, the now infamous Proposition 8 continues to rile the sizable minority who think it untenable for the state to deny marriage to gay couples. The fall-out over this election has been dramatic with several prominent folk losing their jobs over their support. The Mormon Church particularly is taking a big hit with demonstrations at various temples and calls for boycotts against Mormon-run enterprises.

Here the question revolves around the sometimes tenuous and often unclear relationship in America between church and state. Opponents of Proposition 8 are incensed that a religious organization would so heavily finance a political movement seeking to perpetuate their own religious views. Why, they wonder, must a worldview, clearly shaped by theology, be thrust upon all citizenry? Let Mormons forbid their own members from entering into gay marriage just as they have similar injunctions against the leadership roles of women and, until quite recently, of African-Americans. But why must they force their religious biases on others? One suspects and certainly hopes this matter will eventually be settled in a courtroom and not in a church.

Among the correspondence I’ve received over the last couple of weeks came comments from one gentleman who stated: “To try to undo the votes of us who feel as I do is not right.” Many of us would be in sympathy with such a seemingly democratic sentiment. Unless that sentiment meant you were denied your own constitutional rights. Not too many years ago, a majority of voters were incensed when civil rights legislation began to be instituted by the government in direct contradiction to their majority view. Nevertheless the government deemed it unconstitutional to treat African-Americans and others as less than full citizens.

Decrying activist-judges who go against the will of the majority has been popular among those who claim “To try to undo the votes of us who feel as I do is not right.” But when majority opinion precludes a minority’s civil rights, it is the Constitution which takes precedence. Thank (your divinity of choice) for that.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Practicing Progressive

How do you win an election and still feel like you have lost?

There are lots of ways, of course. We’ve had one experience of it over the last eight years as a man who promised his party he’d be both compassionate and conservative ignored the needs of the poor and dispossessed all the while increasing governmental involvement in our lives and running up a multi-trillion dollar national debt.

This time, even while we celebrated the election of Senator Obama, our elation was tempered by the realization that America’s gay and lesbian citizens are, once again, subjected to state-sanctioned prejudice and discrimination.

Of the four anti-gay state ballot initiatives that passed, California’s absurd addition to its constitution appears the most vile and vindictive. Overturning the California State Supreme Court’s ruling giving gay and lesbian couples the same marital rights as other citizens was a singularly sinister act financed primarily by a few religious organizations including evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics (particularly via The Knights of Columbus) and the Mormons.

The Mormon Church, with a rather unique understanding of marriage all its own, poured millions of dollars into the California initiative outraging the millions of Californians who believe that “freedom and justice for all” means exactly that.

With a marital survival rate of around 50% among evangelical Christians, (no different than the national average for heterosexuals), one can’t help but wonder why folks who claim to focus on their families feel entitled to force their own unsuccessful version of marriage on the rest of us.

Even more discouraging was the apparent support for the measure among African-American Christians. The Black Church’s literal understanding of the Bible, shared with most white evangelicals, compelled them, I suppose, into disregarding loving relationships that fail to fit into their limited worldview. Since the statistics in the African-American communities regarding out-of-wedlock births and absent fathers is so glaringly inconsonant with the “traditional” understanding of marriage, the only conclusion I can reach is one found in repugnant religious demagoguery. Religious leaders demanded obedience and, this time, they got it.

Thinking of religious leaders’ shameful demands…the Catholic bishops, shepherd staffs at the ready, met this week in Baltimore to try and figure out how better to control their sheep. With the overwhelming defeat of Amendment 48 here in Colorado and similar proposals elsewhere, the bishops found themselves licking their wounds as they came to grips with their diminishing power among their people. In the waning days of the presidential campaign, several bishops, appalled by the possibility of a pro-choice president, came perilously close to publicly endorsing the Republican candidate. Other bishops were nearly apoplectic over Vice-President-elect Joe Biden’s and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s shared conviction that one can be a practicing Catholic without practicing all of the mandates of Catholicism. Statistics show that most Catholics will side with Pope Benedict when it comes down to the creeds but they’re hanging with Joe and Nancy when it comes to their lives.

Perhaps this concerted religious effort to deny the civil rights of a certain segment of the population was more of a last gasp of decreasing demagogic power than a fresh breath for Christian conservatives. Over and over again, history has shown that these hold-outs in the battles for social progress ultimately lose the war. The abolition of slavery, suffrage for women, voting rights for all Americans and so much more continue to show the inevitability of the defeat of personal bigotry and institutional bias. It is easy for some of us to remember the dramatic spike of violent acts perpetrated against brave African-Americans in those final years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Fire hoses, snapping dogs, shouted insults, beatings and worse made the headlines as the racists tried to stem the tide of progress with their desperate acts that we now see were really bigotry’s own death rattles.

May it soon be so in California, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida and anywhere else intolerance has temporarily triumphed.