Over the Ledge...

As most of you know, I have no love for Sen. Chris Buttars, who recently won re-election for reasons I have yet to fully understand. You might call me a lousy liberal who just wants to crucify this man for his backwards, stupid, bumbling word choices. However, I'd like to hope that a recent vote in the Utah State Senate highlights how absurd this man's view of government is.

Robert Hilder was up for appointment to Utah's court of appeals. He had some of the highest marks on jury and lawyer surveys of any judge in the state. And he was rejected by the senate. It seems like the reason behind this was a ruling a few years back where you allowed the University of Utah to forbid concealed weapons. This is, of course, an affront to gun rights advocates who find it necessary to attend SOC 1100 packing heat.

Some of the concerns of Sen. Buttars, though, are more fundamental. He claims there should only be one "sovereign" in the state: the Legislature. Wait a minute...checks and balances? Judicial review? Maybe the Leg is just good enough in Utah that they don't need anyone to tell them what they did is unconstitutional or just plain wrong.

During the hearings, Buttars also said, "I've been on this committee for six years. I have never received, in all of the hearings, the e-mail that I've received for this case - well over 1,000. What's fascinating, is you can divide these among citizens who say no, and judges and lawyers who say yes. And, I'll tell you something else, if I get any issue and there's 1,000 lawyers on this side, and 1,000 citizens on the other side - I'm going to go with the citizens."

So, lawyers are no longer citizens, it seems. Also, heaven forbid that you listen to people who may have actually worked with the judge, or have some sort of informed opinion about whether or not he can do the job well. I just...don't understand Buttars' political viewpoint. At all.

In other, slightly depressing Utah government news, Margaret Dayton was appointed to head up the Senate Rules Committee, the one that decides if bills are passed on to vote. Why is this possibly a bad option? Because Sen. Dayton, you may not remember, is the one who raised questions about the "international" nature of the IB program in Utah high schools.

Sometimes, I think it'd be interesting to live in a state where rabid conservatism isn't seen as a step in the right direction. Maybe, though, just maybe, the probate bill will pass and gay couples in Utah will have a few rights. I'm not holding my breath on that one, though.

So, Mallard Fillmore doesn't really make sense to me. Is it ever funny? But, more pressingly, is it ever appropriate to compare the controversy surrounding cartoon mascots to the holocaust?

Sitting on the sidelines

World War I, I think, wins the award for Most Earnest Propaganda, a title that is pretty impressive, given the nature of propaganda in general. We know that WWI came about in part because of the jingoism of the European monarchies, but did they have to be so chipper and positive about it all? One of my favorites is the one shown above. A young girl asks her middle-aged father what he had done to fight back the Hun scourge. Apparently, his blank expression tells us that, rather than risk trench warfare for England, he had done something dishonorable, like working an office in London rather than dying horribly in a trench in France.

There's a powerful sense in this poster that Britain knew it was involved in shaping the history of tomorrow. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option, you've got to man up and become part of the planned glory of victory. I also like the insecurity that's being played on here. Men seeing this poster are supposed to be shamed into signing up. But shamed by the possibility that, in the future, their as-yet-unborn kids will think less of them for not carrying a gun. It takes a certain kind of personality to be urged to get involved by this thought. And, apparently, I have that personality.

The current fight over gay marriage seems to me to be what we will all look back on as my generation's Vietnam. It's the major social issue that is spurs intense political action and ire from both sides of America. And I feel sort of like I'm sleeping through it. I'm frustrated by my church's involvement in the anti position enough to complain to everybody I cross paths with but not enough to sign a letter to the first presidency decrying it or to show up for a rally at Temple Square. In fact, the fallout of Proposition 8's passing has, unaccountably, put me on the defensive for Mormonism. Not so much for this particular PR nightmare, but for all the things on the periphery that seem to be roiled up by the issue. I'm halting between two opinions (which is the second half of my personal narrative after being designed contrary to happiness). And, being lukewarm, I'll be spewed out by both sides.

And it's not an issue that I want to be on the "winning" side, I don't think. As far as I can tell, there's no winner here. If the Church gets its way, gays are second-class citizens. If the civil rights wins, the church loses (though what they lose is entirely unclear to me). I still firmly believe the Church should just let it alone and that gay marriage is actually the right answer. I'm just a little hesitant to move myself to anything that might actually include any effort on my part. It seems like the only explanation here is some uncovered fear I'm holding onto. What, I wonder, am I really afraid of? And, at the other end of my life, what will I have to say to those people who ask me, expecting an exciting, brave story, what I did during the great war for equality?

Oops...too soon

I guess the LDS Church does want to pass the buck, sort of. The Catholics have our backs, it would seem.

Also, this from an email from Equality California and whole bunch of other No on 8 folks:

We achieve nothing if we isolate the people who did not stand with us in this fight. We only further divide our state if we attempt to blame people of faith, African American voters, rural communities and others for this loss. We know people of all faiths, races and backgrounds stand with us in our fight to end discrimination, and will continue to do so. Now more than ever it is critical that we work together and respect our differences that make us a diverse and unique society. Only with that understanding will we achieve justice and equality for all.
So, churches are bewildered and begging for respect, and gay rights organizations ask for civility, and yet people show up at Temple Square to protest. As my friend Hannah keeps pointing out, nobody's winning here and everybody's getting hurt.

Pointing the finger

There’s a fairly well-known set of bronze doors on the cathedral St. Michael’s in Hildesheim, Germany. The colossal bronze doors have on one side the story of the creation up to the murder of Abel and the other side highlights scenes from the life of Jesus. About half-way down the Genesis retelling, there’s a depiction of Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden. God, understandably angry at His creations for failing to keep a very simple rule, points forcefully at Adam. Adam, in turn, claims it’s all his wife’s fault. Eve, hunched to hide her nakedness, points no less insistently to the serpent. It’s pass the buck, 5000 BC-style. This post could be read as that same story being repeated, not the part about pissing off deity for failing to grasp his reasons but rather the share the blame bit. That’s not really my intention, but I guess part of being Mormon is having an apologetic reflex.

I don’t want you to think that I am actually defending the position of the Mormon Church and their involvement in Prop 8. The position they took, surrounded by sketchy logic, and connected with the statements that they don’t oppose same-sex couples having the rights of marriage without actually getting married doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. It’s either confused or evil or just half-baked. And, barring some revelation that the Brethren have yet to share with us, their fervor is grounded, not too subconsciously, on the cultural mores of a bunch of men seventy years and older. Nor do I feel all that sorry about the protest yesterday outside the LA temple or the one planned tonight for Temple Square. The Church surely knew they were going to raise the ire of a whole bunch of folks by opposing marriage equity. Also, these protests, sadly for those of us who are hurt and annoyed by the church, will probably do very little. Mormons love the sense they’re being persecuted and calling them out like this will only galvanize them further.

But, did Mormons really protect marriage in California? The data seem to suggest that, really, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There’s the obvious fact that Mormons donated a staggering amount of money to the cause and the time and energies of devoted members who manned phone banks, knocked on doors and stood outside polling locations can probably never be quantified. The Church also made public statements outlining its reasons, called special meetings for the Saints to hear higher ups urge them to get involved and willingly signed up with a bunch of people who think we’re all going to hell just to maximize their efforts. On the flipside, the money donated by opponents is also astounding, as was their devotion and volunteer hours. Both sides were highly engaged. The question is which side was more effective. The opponents’ ads, it turns out, had more impact, according to polls. People who had seen both ads agreed that the No on 8 campaign was more persuasive. Of course, given the disparity between exit polls and actual returns, that could be more social desirability bias coming through.

The real answer, as most media outlets are coming to, is that both sides were blindsided by the nature of the electorate in 2008. African-Americans, who turned out in record numbers, voted in favor of banning gay marriage seventy percent. The reasons for these citizens showing up at the polls are complicated, but have a lot to do with the big push of the Democratic Party to get the vote out and the fact that, for the first time, we were voting for an African-American president. I doubt the Dems will soon be changing their publicity materials to include the unsavory fact that getting people involved in democracy can backfire. The efforts to flood the polls with Obama-supporters, though, surely helped the opposition to Prop 8 camp as well. After all, young, first-time voters showed up in droves, and that group is generally more accepting of gay marriage. Unfortunately, though, the African-American and, to a lesser degree, the Latino vote gave marriage “preservation” a lead that couldn’t be surmounted. I find it sad and troubling that the group that should know the most about laws curtailing rights turned out to do the exact same to another group. Of course, we could talk about kick-the-dog syndrome, but I’m not really sure that African-Americans are just picking on a group with weaker social protections. Basically, I don’t get the rationale of African-American voters who said no to gay marriage and I wouldn’t try to guess.

So why, then, given these complications are Mormons getting all the blame? Surely they do deserve part of it if they convinced anyone sitting on the fence to vote for the ban. However, I think four main factors play into the rage. The first has to do with the way the story was reported in the press. Before the election, most reporters seemed to agree that, if Prop 8 passed, it would be because the Mormons have deep pockets and a knack for organizing. [I find it interesting, somewhat as a non-sequitor, that most press kept referring to the “Utah-based Church”, while we never saw “Rome-based Catholic Church” or “Georgia-based Southern Baptist Convention”.] Like everyone else, these reporters didn’t fully expect the African-American voting patterns. The second reason for Mormons getting the blame is that they are an easy target. They have a cohesive structure, they failed to admit that members disagreed on this issue (they sort of did, in their press release response), they have these big temples, they were very vocal and so on. The third, connected closely with being an easy target, is the fact that a lot of the protestors were already upset with the Church for any number of reasons, most of which are quite valid. Prop 8 fallout is just another reason to go picket, or the straw that broke the ruminant.

The fourth reason is the most interesting, at least to me. There’s been quite a bit of talk, ever since Mitt Romney’s bid, about acceptable biases in society. Anti-Mormonism is still a very comfortable bias for most Americans. After all, these people are weird. They believe in becoming gods, polygamy, extreme communalism, secret temple oaths, and they don’t even drink coffee! Even people who don’t openly hate Mormonism don’t have much good to say for it. However, anti-African-American bias is definitely not cool any more. So, all the frustration of the gay rights groups has to go somewhere. Since angry signs and yelling in African-American neighborhoods or in front of heavily black churches would be viewed with repugnance, that bloc of voters isn’t being held responsible. So, instead of pointing the finger accurately, these groups opt for a course that provides an outlet, real blame and a socially acceptable target.

I am glad that the Church has yet to try to point the blame elsewhere. They are taking these protests the way they always do: with silence to suggest dignity and an underlying belief that it’s just one more sign that we’re the chosen people (when, in fact, they should maybe realize that their position is questionable). I’m also happy to know that not all is lost in the fight for marriage equity. There’s a court case with new, compelling logic to be settled (a case that forces the Supreme Court of California to either admit they were wrong a few months ago or claim that it’s kosher to let fundamental rights be taken away from a specific group) and, failing that, it’ll be back on the ballot in 2010. There’s hope. Maybe by that time, the leaders of the Church will have learned to not get involved. But even if they do, it looks like all the time and money in the world don’t make that much difference when all’s said and done.