Thursday, May 31, 2012

Marriage Escalates Up a Notch

As expected, Maryland marriage opponents are rallying to hold a referendum to overthrow the marriage equality law signed this year by governor O'Malley.  The Post is reporting that they have more than enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
A referendum on Maryland lawmakers’ decision to legalize same-sex marriage moved from the realm of the likely to a near certainty on Tuesday as opponents turned in what they said were over 113,000 signatures — more than twice the number needed to qualify the law for the November ballot.

A coalition of religious leaders and conservatives organized to oppose gay marriage said weeks ago that they would easily beat Maryland's first deadline on Thursday to file more than 18,000 signatures.

But with two days to go, opponents said that President Obama’s recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriage appeared to have had the effect of not only invigorating supporters but also those opposed.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance, the group leading the charge to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage law, said that since Obama’s pronouncement — and since leaders of the NAACP followed suit — opponents in Maryland have seen a surge in the number of residents seeking to put gay marriage to a statewide vote.

“When President Obama and the NAACP come out and they wanted to support this issue, well, great, we appreciate that because you help energize our [side],” said Derek McCoy, the group’s executive director.

The alliance on Tuesday filed more than twice the 55,736 signatures needed to qualify the measure for the ballot, and McCoy said the group was on pace to turn in well in excess of its goal of 150,000 signatures by the end of June.

“People that were on the fence are no longer on the fence; they are engaged. ... Countless thousands of Marylanders around this state want to see marriage go on the ballot. But they also want to see it defined and upheld between one man and one woman,” he said.
Signature count makes a Maryland vote on same-sex marriage a near certainty
It's too bad to put people's rights up to a vote, kind of crazy to require a majority of the state's residence to approve your relationship before you can marry.  But if you're going to have a referendum, you couldn't pick a better time, when, as HuffPo says, "Maryland Gay Marriage Poll Shows Marked Shift In Public Opinion."
In a dramatic shift, Maryland voters overwhelmingly would vote to uphold a law allowing same-sex marriage, according to a survey released Thursday  by Public Policy Polling.

Fifty-seven percent of likely voters would vote to uphold the law allowing same-sex marriage, while 37 percent would not, representing a 12-point shift from an identical survey in early March. Fifty-two percent think gay marriage should be recognized, while 39 percent do not. Both polls were commissioned for Marylanders for Marriage Equality.
You can bet on this being an ugly fight.  You're going to hear some terrible things said, old prejudices will come to the foreground, hatred will  boil over and ugly stereotypes will be invoked as the election approaches.  So far the record is not good, many states have voted to retain government regulations defining who citizens can marry.  But right now Maryland is looking optimistic, if the LGBT community can get out the vote they should be able to win this.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What, Me Worry?

This is different from most of the stuff on this blog, but I just followed a Twitter link to an article at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory web site that deserves a little notice.

Maybe you have been following these developments more than I have.  I am a bit of a geek, I once worked out public key encryption with pencil and paper to understand how it worked but I am no expert on security nor do I follow the news or freak out over every little thing.

But I did not like the sound of this paragraph in the middle of the page:
Claims were made by the intelligence agencies around the world, from MI5, NSA and IARPA, that silicon chips could be infected. We developed breakthrough silicon chip scanning technology to investigate these claims. We chose an American military chip that is highly secure with sophisticated encryption standard, manufactured in China. Our aim was to perform advanced code breaking and to see if there were any unexpected features on the chip. We scanned the silicon chip in an affordable time and found a previously unknown backdoor inserted by the manufacturer. This backdoor has a key, which we were able to extract. If you use this key you can disable the chip or reprogram it at will, even if locked by the user with their own key. This particular chip is prevalent in many systems from weapons, nuclear power plants to public transport. In other words, this backdoor access could be turned into an advanced Stuxnet weapon to attack potentially millions of systems. The scale and range of possible attacks has huge implications for National Security and public infrastructure.
So the US bought microchips from China to use in our most sensitive military and industrial applications, and China put a feature on the chip that will allow them to disable or reprogram our weapons, nuclear power plants, and public transportation systems.

Aw, probably no big deal.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Black Americans Shifting on Marriage For Gays

Many observers thought that Obama's endorsement of marriage equality this month was unnecessarily risky in an election year.  Analysts looked at public opinion in important swing states and worried that he would alienate the voters he needed the most.

But the public in not an inert lump.  The public is fully able to change its opinion in response to leadership.  And it is presently appearing that the consequences of Obama's bold statement are positive.  Here's Huffington Post:
The expected backlash among blacks to President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage has yet to materialize. And a new Washington Post-ABC survey  suggests that black opinion is very quickly moving the other way, with a majority of African Americans now saying they support same-sex marriage.

Fifty-nine percent of blacks now say they support same-sex marriage, an 18-point jump since the president's announcement of his own support two weeks ago. Fifty-three percent of Americans now believe that same-sex marriage should be legalized, which also marks a substantial spike since 2006, when just 39 percent of those polled thought it should be legalized.  Poll: Majority Of Blacks Support Gay Marriage After Obama's Endorsement  
There is an interesting dynamic regarding black Americans' position on this issue.  It is controversial to compare the struggle for gay rights to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, though the similarities are inescapable (and check this out).  Black pastors have a tendency to promote the straight-and-narrow and have been at times a powerful force against gay rights.  Groups like NOM have intentionally stirred up anti-gay animosity in the black community.

On the other hand, 96 percent of black voters favored Barack Obama in the last election.  And when he takes a position on something like this, they will take him seriously and reconsider their own attitudes.  His statement was risky but in the long run it was the right thing to do on several levels.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spitzer in the NYT

The New York Times had an article this weekend that was unprecedented.  It was a long article about how a shabby piece of research was published, and an apology by the researcher for the consequences of it.

If you go to PFOX's web site you will see, on the right-hand side of their screen a little video of Robert Spitzer suggesting that people can change their sexual orientation.  His 2003 study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, has been the one and only shred of justification for "ex-gays" to claim scientific support for their dangerous and nutty view that people can stop being gay through prayer, therapy, and/or willpower.

Of course there was controversy, and Spitzer endured it with a stiff upper lip, but as this NYT piece demonstrates, he has finally decided to honestly admit that the research was not well done, should not have been published in the scientific literature, and that there is no evidence that people can actually change their sexual orientation.  And he's sorry.

It is a long article.  I will quote the lede first, then skip through to the good parts:
PRINCETON, N.J. — The simple fact was that he had done something wrong, and at the end of a long and revolutionary career it didn’t matter how often he’d been right, how powerful he once was, or what it would mean for his legacy.

Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, considered by some to be the father of modern psychiatry, lay awake at 4 o’clock on a recent morning knowing he had to do the one thing that comes least naturally to him.

He pushed himself up and staggered into the dark. His desk seemed impossibly far away; Dr. Spitzer, who turns 80 next week, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has trouble walking, sitting, even holding his head upright.

The word he sometimes uses to describe these limitations — pathetic — is the same one that for decades he wielded like an ax to strike down dumb ideas, empty theorizing and junk studies.

Now here he was at his computer, ready to recant a study he had done himself, a poorly conceived 2003 investigation that supported the use of so-called reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality for people strongly motivated to change.

What to say? The issue of gay marriage was rocking national politics yet again. The California State Legislature was debating a bill to ban the therapy outright as being dangerous. A magazine writer who had been through the therapy as a teenager recently visited his house, to explain how miserably disorienting the experience was.

And he would later learn that a World Health Organization report, released on Thursday, calls the therapy “a serious threat to the health and well-being — even the lives — of affected people.”

Dr. Spitzer’s fingers jerked over the keys, unreliably, as if choking on the words. And then it was done: a short letter to be published this month, in the same journal where the original study appeared.

“I believe,” it concludes, “I owe the gay community an apology.”

Psychiatry Giant Sorry for Backing Gay ‘Cure’
The article describes why and how the study was conducted -- phone interviews with people who said they had changed.  It also explains how this study, which is obviously methodologically substandard, came to be published.
The study had serious problems. It was based on what people remembered feeling years before — an often fuzzy record. It included some ex-gay advocates, who were politically active. And it did not test any particular therapy; only half of the participants engaged with a therapist at all, while the others worked with pastoral counselors, or in independent Bible study.

Several colleagues tried to stop the study in its tracks, and urged him not to publish it, Dr. Spitzer said.

Yet, heavily invested after all the work, he turned to a friend and former collaborator, Dr. Kenneth J. Zucker, psychologist in chief at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, another influential journal.

“I knew Bob and the quality of his work, and I agreed to publish it,” Dr. Zucker said in an interview last week. The paper did not go through the usual peer-review process, in which unnamed experts critique a manuscript before publication. “But I told him I would do it only if I also published commentaries” of response from other scientists to accompany the study, Dr. Zucker said.

Those commentaries, with a few exceptions, were merciless. One cited the Nuremberg Code of ethics to denounce the study as not only flawed but morally wrong. “We fear the repercussions of this study, including an increase in suffering, prejudice, and discrimination,” concluded a group of 15 researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where Dr. Spitzer was affiliated.
This is an indictment of the journal as much as anything.  Why did they publish the paper without peer review?  Of course the researcher's reputation is important but it should never allow them to short-circuit the review process of a scientific journal.
But Dr. Spitzer could not control how his study was interpreted by everyone, and he could not erase the biggest scientific flaw of them all, roundly attacked in many of the commentaries: Simply asking people whether they have changed is no evidence at all of real change. People lie, to themselves and others. They continually change their stories, to suit their needs and moods.

By almost any measure, in short, the study failed the test of scientific rigor that Dr. Spitzer himself was so instrumental in enforcing for so many years.

“As I read these commentaries, I knew this was a problem, a big problem, and one I couldn’t answer,” Dr. Spitzer said. “How do you know someone has really changed?”
It is one thing to persuade yourself that your sexual orientation has changed.  People are sometimes able to maintain the belief for years.  They may show every outward sign of having changed, and how are you going to prove it one way or the other?  There are very many more ex-ex-gays than ex-gays, as the self-deception evaporates over time.
The study that seemed at the time a mere footnote to a large life was growing into a chapter. And it needed a proper ending — a strong correction, directly from its author, not a journalist or colleague.

A draft of the letter has already leaked online and has been reported.

“You know, it’s the only regret I have; the only professional one,” Dr. Spitzer said of the study, near the end of a long interview. “And I think, in the history of psychiatry, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a scientist write a letter saying that the data were all there but were totally misinterpreted. Who admitted that and who apologized to his readers.”
The letter to the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior has been posted at Truth Wins Out.  It says:
Several months ago I told you that because of my revised view of my 2001 study of reparative therapy changing sexual orientation, I was considering writing something that would acknowledge that I now judged the major critiques of the study as largely correct. After discussing my revised view of the study with Gabriel Arana, a reporter for American Prospect, and with Malcolm Ritter, an Associated Press science writer, I decided that I had to make public my current thinking about the study. Here it is.

Basic Research Question. From the beginning it was: “can some version of reparative therapy enable individuals to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual?” Realizing that the study design made it impossible to answer this question, I suggested that the study could be viewed as answering the question, “how do individuals undergoing reparative therapy describe changes in sexual orientation?” – a not very interesting question.

The Fatal Flaw in the Study – There was no way to judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation. I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject’s reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid.

I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some “highly motivated” individuals.

Robert Spitzer. M.D.
Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry,
Columbia University
This is a remarkable statement.  Unfortunately it will not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  Even though the author has renounced it, PFOX and other anti-gay groups will continue to point to the published research as evidence that people can stop being gay if they choose.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

That Transgender 5-Year-Old

The band played a gig down in Southern Maryland last night, at Solomons Island; the crowd liked us and we had a great time.  My wife and I stayed overnight and had a leisurely drive back today, checking out the beaches and scenery along the way.

When we got home this afternoon the Washington Post was in the driveway, and wow ... the big story on Page One is "TRANSGENDER AT FIVE," yes, all in caps, with a picture of a kid getting a haircut, looking at the camera.  The story takes up approximately two thirds of the real estate on the front page.

As I carried the paper up to the house, I checked out the subhead: "She first declared she was a boy when she was 2 years old.  Her parents brushed it off but slowly concluded this wasn't just a phase."

That secondary headline had three "she's" in the first sentence about a transgender boy.

Jumping through this long article (which you should read in its entirety):
Jean [the mother] tried to put her daughter’s behavior to rest. She sat down with a toddler-version of an anatomy book and showed Kathryn, by then 3, the cartoonish drawings of a naked boy and girl.

“See? You’re a girl. You have girl parts,” Jean told her big-eyed daughter. “You’ve always been a girl.”

Kathryn looked up at her mom, incomprehension clouding her round face.

“When did you change me?” the child asked.

Transgender at five
Pretty good question.  If this is what boys are supposed to look like, then this little guy is wondering what happened to make him look like a girl.
She went back online and watched videos of parents talking about their realization that their child was transgender. They all described a variation of the conversation she’d had with Kathryn: “Why did you change me?” “God made a mistake with me.” “Something went wrong when I was in your belly.”

Many talked about their painful decision to allow their children to publicly transition to the opposite gender — a much tougher process for boys who wanted to be girls.

Some of what Jean heard was reassuring: Parents who took the plunge said their children’s behavior problems largely disappeared, schoolwork improved, happy kid smiles returned.

But some of what she heard was scary: children taking puberty blockers in elementary school and teens embarking on hormone therapy before they’d even finished high school.

All of it is a new and controversial phenomenon.

In the United States, children have been openly transitioning genders for probably less than a decade, said Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist who is a leader in the field of gender orientation. There is very little to go on, scientifically, to support that approach, and the very idea of labeling young children as transgender is shocking to many people.

But to others, it makes perfect sense. 
There is something scary in the idea of giving children hormones before they reach puberty.  You might be making a wrong decision, the child may have matured and become comfortable with the sex that was assigned at birth, after all.  On the other hand, transition is very much more difficult after the body has acquired the sex characteristics of an adult.  The woman with a deep voice and broad shoulders, the man with a narrow waist and breasts, may very well wish that responsible adults had at least delayed those changes until they had become adults and were responsible to make such a decision.

To make my view clear: I am not saying it is right or it is wrong to administer hormones or postpone puberty in young transgender people.  It is a difficult decision and one that will require a lot of judgments to be made, and a lot of assumptions about what the future will bring if the young person goes down one fork in the road or the other, and the factors are different in every unique case.  Either choice will require unwavering love and trust from the family.
“In children, gender solidifies at about 3 to 6,” explained Patrick Kelly, a psychiatrist with the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

That’s about the age when girls gravitate to girl things and boys to boy things. It’s when the parents who ban baby dolls or toy guns see their little girl swaddle and cradle a stuffed animal or watch in awe as their boy makes guttural, spitting Mack truck sounds while four-wheeling his toast over his eggs, then uses his string cheese as a sword.

And it’s the age when a child whose gender orientation is at odds with his or her biology begins expressing that disconnect — in Kathryn’s case, loudly.

The American Psychiatric Association has an official diagnosis for this: gender identity disorder in children.

Those who have it, according to the association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, experience “a persistent and intense distress about assigned sex, together with a desire to be (or insistence that one is) of the other sex. There is a persistent preoccupation with the dress and activities of the opposite sex and repudiation of the individual’s own sex.”

And, it adds, “mere tomboyishness in girls or girlish behavior in boys is not sufficient” to warrant the diagnosis. It requires “a profound disturbance of the normal gender identity.”

The manual is being updated this year, and a task force that Drescher sits on is studying whether to remove the word “disorder” from the diagnosis and instead call the condition “gender incongruence.”
One of my kids had a friend in kindergarten and first grade who was a girl but dressed and acted like a boy -- this was not a transgender kid, she was definitely a girl but boyish.  In fact, my kid thought she was a boy, and seemed kind of confused when told she was a girl.  And then there was a shrug and it was time to go back outside and play.  Because, really, why does it matter at that age?

I am skipping though the article, but Kathryn has changed her name and is going to school now as Tyler, a boy.  The article discusses some of the issues that came up, you will find it interesting but I am not going to quote it all here.
Tyler doesn’t really like to talk about Kathryn or even acknowledge she existed.

“I’m not transgender,” he fumes when he hears the word, often spoken by his mom as she explains things. “I. Am. A. Boy.”

During one of my visits a few months ago, he showed me their family picture wall, full of pictures of two girls in lovely dresses.

“No Tyler,” he pouted.

Those are issues that are easy for Tyler’s parents to fix.

But in about five years, they will have to decide whether to put Tyler on puberty blockers to keep his body from maturing and menstruating. Using those drugs represents a leap of faith, psychiatrists said, though the effects are reversible if the puberty blockers are halted.

The much tougher call comes when kids are about 15 or 16. At that age, they can begin hormone injections that will make them grow the characteristics of the opposite biological sex.

That’s a method being pioneered by Norman Spack, the director of one of the nation’s first gender identity medical clinics at Children’s Hospital Boston and an advocate of early gender transitions. Those hormone treatments essentially create a nearly gender-neutral being, making sex-change surgery far less painful and expensive for young adults. But the hormones also make people infertile — a daunting and irreversible decision for parents to make when a child is 15 or 16. Only a handful have opted to do so, Spack said.

Jean e-mailed me an article about the drug controversy late one night, the time that many parents stay up and fret about their kids. “See what we’re facing?!” she wrote.

She acknowledges anxieties about what lies ahead. But Jean and Stephen aren’t harboring doubts about what they are doing now.

“If Tyler wants to be Kathryn again, that’s fine,” she said. “But right now, this works. He’s happy. I just want my child to be happy.”

As for Tyler, he is reveling in his new identity. The constant nagging, fighting, obsessing about being a boy is gone. Tyler is just Tyler, a high-energy kid with a Spider-Man-themed bedroom.

On my last visit, he took a brief break from playing with my boys and their endless supply of space cruisers to show me a new addition to the family picture wall. It now features a prominent photo of Tyler in short hair and a red polo shirt. He is smiling.
There are two interesting things about this article, to me.  The first is, as I mentioned above, the awkward and insulting misuse of pronouns.  Tyler and his family and his friends agree he is a boy, so why is the Washington Post saying "she" did this and "she" did that?  They are editorially stating that Tyler and the rest of them are wrong and that Tyler is "really" a girl, as if some journalist knows better.

The second interesting thing is the fact that The Post published this article at all, and so prominently displayed.  I am seeing this as political mischief; now that President Obama has made a statement about marriage equality and nominee-to-be Romney has come out on the other side, we can expect increased polarization along political lines regarding intensely personal issues such as who Americans can marry and what gender they should be.

But this is a more complicated and sensitive issue than marriage, I think.  I expect it will be difficult for some liberals to adjust to ideas about transgender children, ideas of postponing puberty and administering hormones, it will be a kind of test of faith for them.  If you believe in live-and-let-live then you will grant a blessing to the young person who has the courage to follow the path that destiny has laid out for them, and you will trust families to make the difficult decisions that directly affect their lives.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chuck Brown Has Died

DC icon, the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, has just died.  There have been rumors and not many facts for about a month as he recuperated in the hospital, but now an era ends.

The Post:
Chuck Brown, who styled a unique brand of funk music as a singer, guitarist and songwriter known as the “godfather of go-go,” has died after suffering from pneumonia. He was 75.

Brown died Wednesday at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. Hospital spokesman Gary Stephenson confirmed he had died after a hospital stay that began April 18.

Thanks to Brown, go-go music was uniquely identified with Washington.

Musician Chuck Brown, who styled go-go music from the nation’s capital dead at 75
The Post also has a nice series of photographs HERE

Saw him at the Strathmore a year or so ago, amazing show, go-go is relentless -- there is no pause between songs -- and Chuck was timeless up there, rocking that one foot back and forth, smiling out at the people, singing with a resonant growl while he stood off to one side of the stage popping that Gibson semi-hollowbody, letting the younger performers take their turn but always dominating with poise and charisma.  Chuck Brown's death changes the landscape of Washington-area music significantly.

Tell you what, let's not argue about politics and gay people in the comments, if you want to talk about music let's do that today.

PFOX Complains to School Board

The Montgomery County, Maryland, Public School District has been distributing flyers for Parents and Freinds of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), an anti-gay group, for several years, saying they were legally required to.  Now the district is considering a policy that does not allow distribution of any flyers by nonprofit groups, including PFOX.  In the debate, the Superintendent of Schools made some statements of his opinions on the subject.

Now PFOX has filed a complaint with the school board.

Keep in mind that PFOX is essentially a one-person organization.  It is made up of Regina Griggs, the mother of a gay man, who strongly wishes that gay people would just stop being so gay, and several spokespersons, a couple of whom claim to have stopped being gay.

Press release posted at ChristianNewsWire:
ROCKVILLE, Md., May 16, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) has filed a sexual orientation discrimination complaint with the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education against its School Superintendent Joshua Starr.

After PFOX distributed ex-gay flyers to high school students as part of the schools' flyer distribution program for non-profit organizations, Superintendent Starr publicly denigrated PFOX and former homosexuals by calling the actions of PFOX "reprehensible and deplorable" and labeling the flyer's sexual orientation content as "a really, really disgusting message."

"PFOX's flyers provided information on unwanted same-sex attractions, discouraged student name calling and labeling, and urged tolerance for former homosexuals," said Regina Griggs of PFOX.

"Starr does not respect diversity and is creating an unsafe school environment. As School Superintendent, Starr's actions make it impossible for Montgomery County public schools to provide an atmosphere where differences are understood and appreciated, or where everyone is treated fairly and with respect free of discrimination and abuse, as mandated by its Nondiscrimination Policy ACB."

"The School Superintendent is a vital role model. When the School Superintendent promotes intolerance of former homosexuals and organizations that support them, students and teachers will follow his example and learn to also disrespect sexual minorities like the ex-gay community."

"Superintendent Starr cannot be allowed to use his official position to display hate against any group of people because he disagrees with their sexual orientation. Starr's flagrant violation of the Nondiscrimination Policy demonstrates that he is a prime candidate to receive ex-gay tolerance training and diversity education."

"I am sad that Superintendent Starr has called me and other ex-gays names like 'deplorable' and 'disgusting,' said Grace Harley, a former lesbian who testified before the School Board. "What saddens me more is that the Board of Education has not reprimanded Superintendent Starr. If he had said the same things about gays, they would have fired him by now. But because he hates people like me, they support him."

"I have suffered more discrimination and intolerance as an ex-gay than I ever did when I was gay. Please stop hating us. Follow your own Non-Discrimination Policy. If you stop hating former homosexuals, our students will not learn to hate either. Starr's behavior proves that our schools need diversity training on tolerance for the ex-gay community."

PFOX supports the ex-gay community.

Ex-Gays File Complaint Against School Superintendent for Sexual Orientation Discrimination  
I will guarantee one thing.  No matter how badly PFOX loses in this, they will claim victory in the end.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Contrasting Viewpoints

Lincoln, Nebraska is considering passage of an ordinance that would extend legal anti-discrimination protection to gay and transgender people in housing, employment and public accommodations.  The city council was taking public comments.  I thought you would find a couple of them interesting.

Here is someone opposed to the ordinance.  This is classic, it's like the whole Citizens for Responsible Whatever rolled into one:

And here is a PFLAG mom.  She was sitting behind the lady in the first video.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

As had been anticipated, President Obama today made a statement supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry.  From MSNBC:
President Barack Obama endorsed the right of same-sex couples to marry on Wednesday, a landmark pronouncement made in light of mounting pressure from gay rights advocates.

Obama became the first U.S. president to back the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, a reversal from views expressed during the 2008 campaign, when he said he opposed same-sex marriage but favored civil unions as an alternative.

Obama told ABC News that, after reflection, he had "concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."

In making his announcement, Obama completes what he had described as an “evolution” in his views on this issue, hastened by growing fervor this week involving gay rights. The growing pressure was capped Tuesday by North Carolina voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment banning not only same-sex marriages, but civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, as well.

Obama’s shift not only speaks to a broad swath of the electorate, which has exhibited increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage in opinion polls, but also gay and lesbian voters who compose a core part of Obama’s base, and have been major fundraisers for his re-election.  Obama: 'I think same sex couples should be able to get married'
Some observers, for instance Chris Matthews, have suggested that perhaps supporting marriage equality is too risky a political move, that the President might end up alienating key voters that he will need in the upcoming election.  On the other hand, his statements about "evolving" were transparently ingratiating, it was too clearly a case of a politician avoiding discussion of a controversial topic that he obviously had an opinion about.  Only time will tell whether this declaration works for him or against him in the long run -- and let's not forget that he is the master of eleven-dimensional chess.  If I were a Republican I would not feel too smug right now.

Marriage Loses in NC

From the Charlotte Observer:
Riding a Bible-influenced coalition that cut across political and racial lines, the marriage amendment stormed to approval Tuesday, making North Carolina the latest state to put stronger legal barricades before same-sex unions.

With 90 percent of the counties reporting, the constitutional amendment to make marriage between a man and a woman the “only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” won resoundingly, 61 percent to 39 percent.

It goes into effect Jan. 1. North Carolina has had a law banning same-sex marriages for 16 years.

Turnout, fueled largely by the marriage debate, was the largest for a primary in decades, election officials said.

“This was an issue of standing on the principle of God’s word that marriage is between one man and one woman, and I believe that message has gotten across,” said the Rev. Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charlotte and a leader in the state campaign for passage.

North Carolina becomes the last Southern state – and the 31st overall – to pass a “defense of marriage” amendment. Such measures have yet to lose. Eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have passed laws allowing same-sex marriage.

Opponents of the N.C. amendment called it a threat on a variety of fronts, from domestic-violence protection and health benefits for unmarried families, to industrial recruitment and job retention.

But for most voters, Tuesday’s decision appeared to be a referendum on gay marriage.

“The pro side could have not spent a single dollar, and they would have still won by double digits,” said Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh.

Duke law professor Mike Munger said the amendment’s real impact might not be known for months.

“The screaming, excruciating paradox of all this is that supporters wanted to take this out of the judges’ hands. Clearly it will have the opposite effect,” Munger said. “…There will be litigation, and judges will have to decide what the darn thing means.”

The amendment lost in the state’s largest areas, including Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville, Raleigh and Durham. But it ran strongly almost everywhere else.

Amendment One: N.C. voters approve measure to block same-sex marriage
There isn't much to add.  The city folk were against it, but North Carolina has a large rural population, they are church-going people who believe what they are told, and are slow to change.  It's going to take some time.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Is This a Change or the Same Old?

Yesterday Joe Biden made a strong, surprising statement in support of marriage equality, and then the White House tried to make it sound like it was nothing new.  While Biden's support for marriage is an attitudinal step in the right direction, it implied no policy advances.

Here's this morning's Washington Post:
Vice President Biden on Sunday appeared to go further than he has in the past in expressing support for same-sex marriage.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Biden described himself as “absolutely comfortable” with gay couples having the same rights as heterosexual couples.

“Look. I am vice president of the United States of America,” Biden said. “The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.” Biden ‘comfortable’ with same-sex marriage
The New York Times analyzed the situation a bit.
The vice president’s comments are likely to intensify pressure on Mr. Obama, who says he is still wrestling with his feelings about same-sex marriage, to take a clearer stance on it before the presidential election this fall, something the White House has shown reluctance to do.

 Mr. Biden’s aides, in insisting that he was not deviating from White House policy, pointed to a 2010 statement by the vice president that the country was moving toward a “national consensus” on same-sex marriage. And in Sunday’s interview, Mr. Biden did not say explicitly that the federal government should recognize it.

But gay rights advocates, who spent Sunday morning parsing Mr. Biden’s words, said the president’s running mate had, in their analysis, conveyed new and unmistakable support for their biggest cause.

Mr. Biden called the debate surrounding the issue a simple question of “who do you love?” and “and will you be loyal to the person you love?”

“That’s what people are finding out is what, what all marriages, at their root, are about,” he said, “Whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.”  A Scramble as Biden Backs Same-Sex Marriage
The question is what level of attention the issue of marriage equality will receive in the upcoming presidential campaigns.  Obama may be afraid to take too bold a position, for instance advocating that Americans who love one another and want to marry and have a home and family together should be allowed to, but he also needs to be careful not to further alienate the liberal voters who supported him in the last election, hoping that he would implement some changes in social policy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

MCPS Moving Toward Ban On Nonprofit Flyers

This was inevitable.  The Montgomery County Public School District is on the road toward banning all flyers from nonprofit organizations in high schools and middle schools.  They couldn't figure out a way to stop the bad ones and keep the good ones, so now they will block them all.  From The Gazette:
Despite hearing concerns from Boy Scout volunteers Monday, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to introduce a resolution that would ban nonprofit fliers from being distributed to students.

Government agencies, such as the county’s recreation department and the school system, and PTAs, would be allowed to distribute pamphlets, and fliers could still be given to students in elementary schools. Fliers could be available to students on tables in all schools.
Residents can submit comments until the end of May. After discussion, the board will make a final decision in June. The policy will take effect next school year.

The fliers are crucial to ensuring diversity within Boy Scout recruitment, according to John C. Hanson of Gaithersburg, a Boy Scout volunteer.

The fliers reach students that are hard to reach otherwise, whether it be because there is a language barrier, they do not have a computer at home, they are new to the area, or they do not have stable housing, Hanson told board members Monday.

“I believe that the neediest children in the area will be the ones most hurt by the elimination of backpack fliers,” he said.

The Boy Scouts served more than 8,000 county students from first grade to age 21 in 2011.

Some school board members said that it is not the school system’s responsibility to provide a free outlet for nonprofits to get their message to students and families.  Montgomery school board suggests banning nonprofit fliers from backpacks  
A public school is two things.  One, it is a government institution that implements programs administered by a central office and funded by taxes, just like any other government program.  Two, the school is the focus of family and community activity for the neighborhood it serves.  Education per se exists in the overlap.  There is constant tension between these two roles of the school, on the one hand taxpayers expect efficiency and accountability and rigorous attention to formal requirements, and on the other hand kids like to play and make noise and jostle, their families love them and wish the very best for them, they get excited about learning and about activities, they worry and joke around and do all the things that kids do, teachers try to interface between the formal system and the spontaneity of youth and the diversity of families, and it not always easy to mesh real peoples' chaotic personal lives with the formal government framework.

Our community should be able to trust that the public school district will not be handing out false and dangerous misinformation to students.  Our community should expect its leaders, including elected leaders on the school board, to be able to draw a line between acceptable messages to send home and unacceptable ones.  Our county's school board and administration from top to bottom have been unable to make that distinction, and so they are moving toward a new policy that says nobody can send home flyers.  Punishing the whole class for the misbehavior of one.
“I’m kind of torn with the question of whether or not the school system has a role in helping nonprofit organizations distribute their information,” said board member Phil Kauffman (At large) of Olney.

Alan Xie, a Richard Montgomery High School senior and the student member of the board, said fliers waste time and resources.

He said he often sees students discard fliers.

The policy is being reevaluated this year after a flier sent home by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays provoked outrage of some school officials and gay advocates.

Under law, the school system is not able to pick which fliers are sent home.
No, this is under the school district's lawyers' interpretation of a court ruling.
Some board members said they are concerned that the change may result in a distribution shift of what some see as offensive fliers. Those fliers are now just sent to middle and high school students but the rule change could shift them to elementary students.

“We have tried to do our best in walking the legal tightrope, and realizing that there may be consequences,” said Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda.

If the change is enacted, after next year the school system will reevaluate its impact.

Residents can submit comments to the board at
Since the vote was unanimous, you can be sure the board's mind is made up.  This will easily pass when the board decides next month.