Monday, November 30, 2009

What does one religion's doctrine have to do with civil marriage?

That's the title of this great piece in today's Blue Jersey blog. The concept of separation of church and state, one of the pillars of our republic as enshrined in the very first article in the Bill of Rights, seems to be difficult for a lot of people, notably among established religious organizations, to understand. For example, the Roman Catholic Church seems to think it appropriate to use its influence and financial resources (arguably better spent helping the poor) to prevent people like me, who aren't even Catholic, gaining equal CIVIL legal marriage rights.

Most recently, the Catholic Church in Maine was instrumental in contributing money to overturn equal civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in the recent Question 1 ballot initiative in Maine, thus stripping same-sex couples of equal civil protections regardless of whether or not those couples were even Catholic. The Catholic Church is also threatening to withhold charity services to the poor and sick in Washington, DC if the District council votes, as it is expected to, to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples there. Perhaps I'm picking too much on the Catholic Church when in fact many other denominations have been just as guilty of imposing their sectarian beliefs on society at large. But I can't help being disgusted as I see an institution that has its own checkered history with respect to morality (e.g. the ongoing scandal of priests abusing children while being protected by the Church, most recently in Ireland) seeking to impose its religion-based sectarian views on all of society, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Nobody is imposing anything on the Catholic Church. I wish they would return the favor.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Coverage of our lobbying effort at the NJ State Capitol

Organized by Garden State Equality, almost 300 hundred lesbians, gay men, and our allies spent much of the day at New Jersey's state capitol in Trenton to lobby senators on the opening day of the lame duck session (the period between the recent election and the new term in January) for civil marriage equality in New Jersey. Here is a synopsis of the press coverage we received. I'm already looking forward to heading back to Trenton again and hope it is soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Biking in my home town of Porto Alegre, Brazil

Ever since I watched and blogged about a video from this year's Austin LIVESTRONG Challenge, I've been intrigued by the idea of shooting video of bike rides. The bike, after all, offers such a unique perspective not available from within a car.

I've even been thinking of getting a dedicated helmet-mounted camera myself or improvising a handle-bar mount for my existing camera (which can shoot video). In the meantime, I've been exploring videos shot by other cyclists. Some of them are crazy, shooting through traffic while violating every traffic law in the book. Others are a demonstration of how, no matter how much a cyclist obeys the law, drivers can be inattentive, malicious and downright murderous.

But today I saw a series of videos posted on YouTube by Diego Hernando Szczesny Mancilha, a cyclist living in my home town of Porto Alegre, Brazil. He has improvised a helmet mount for a regular camera and has shot videos riding around the city. Having lived in Porto Alegre and faced the terrible driving manners of its citizens as a pedestrian, I think cycling is the last thing I would do there. If American drivers are disrespectful of cyclists, Brazilians are downright hostile. This guy is brave. Here's one of the videos, this one of Diego hurtling down some of the steepest drops in the city. Porto Alegre is well known in Brazil for its hills:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Frontline: "Sick Around the World"

My partner and I recently watched a brief but reasonably informative documentary on PBS' Frontline program entitled "Sick Around the World" and providing an overview of systems for providing and insuring health care in very different settings: the UK, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan. While there may be many people in the United States who believe, for whatever reason, that we have nothing to learn from the experiences other countries have had, I very much disagree. Each of these countries offers a lesson in how their societies made choices, often very difficult ones, to balance competing objectives with respect to health care: universality, flexibility, efficiency, low cost, good public health outcomes, and patient satisfaction. The results vary a good deal from country to country but one thing keeps emerging, at least to judge from the public health statistics: all these countries achieve better population outcomes (neo-natal mortality, life expectancy, popular satisfaction) at lower costs as a proportion of GDP than is the case in the United States. We obviously have much to learn from these countries and ignore their experience at our peril.

Urge FBI to Investigate Anti-Gay Hate Crime in Puerto Rico

Urge FBI to investigate Hate Crime in Puerto Rico: "Please join me in urging the FBI to investigate a suspected hate crime involving the brutal murder of a gay 19-year-old in Puerto Rico particularly as local authorities seem to exhibit a "he had it coming" attitude towards this crime."

Friday, November 13, 2009

There's nothing like coming home to a dog...

This blog entry includes videos of soldiers returning home from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and being greeted by their dogs. And by "greeted" I mean jumped on and loved in a way only a dog can. Who was it who said "the more people I meet, the more I love my dog?" Enjoy:

Here's the first of the videos and my favorite:

LLS to participate in Gap's Give & Get program to support its blood cancer research

LLS to participate in Gap's Give & Get program to support its blood cancer research

Here's the coupon link:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The pressures of cancer on couples

From today's The New York Times, this article on the impact of a cancer diagnosis on married couples: "Divorce Risk Higher When Wife Gets Sick" and which cites research published in the journal "Cancer" of the American Cancer Society showing that women diagnosed with cancer are far more likely to face divorce than men diagnosed with cancer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Avoiding Factory Farm Foods

There are some good rules of thumb to follow in this piece by author Nicolette Hahn Niman entitled "Avoiding Factory Farm Foods: An Eater's Guide" on how to improve the quality of what one eats (tip: avoid industrialized beef for starters).

Rubix Cubewich

Courtesy of the Insanewiches blog, I present the Rubix Cubewich:

Silly? Of course. But I needed a little levity on the heels of so much bad news these days (Christie, Maine, homophobia, cancer, etc.).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy 40th, Sesame Street

At my age, my memories of "Sesame Street" are from long ago but I still remember the "Manamana" song, among others. Here's the original version from 1969:

"Rubber Ducky" is my other favorite song:

Happy birthday, "Sesame Street" and welcome to middle age.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The high price of equality

It's tiresome fighting for what others take for granted. It's also expensive. Last week, my partner and I attended one of several statewide sessions called by Garden State Equality to get the New Jersey LGBT community organized to lobby for civil marriage equality in our state. The window of opportunity for equality is quickly closing as the inauguration of New Jersey's recently-elected Republican governor, Chris Christie, approaches. Christie has made no secret of his opposition to gay equality. GSE needs funds to air ads on television in support of equality. Already, the opponents of equality are airing ads full of lies and fear-mongering. So my partner and I felt we had no choice but to pledge $500 to help air the ads. Another couple did the same and many others at our meeting in New Brunswick followed up with contributions. We did so so that someday we might have the legal protections afforded by marriage. That's not the first time we've made a contribution to fight for our rights and, sadly, it won't be the last. Incidentally, straight couples need merely hand over $28, the cost of a marriage license, to a clerk to obtain the same rights.

Unfortunately, achieving something better than second-class citizen status in our state will take a lot more than writing a check. At the very least, it will take calls every single day to our legislators not only from members of our community but also from our straight allies. The lesbian and gay community is small and, while attendance at the aforementioned meetings was inspiring, too many members of our community are too cynical, apathetic, or ignorant of their own oppression to participate in this effort. Others, after so many years of disappointment, have little hope and even less energy to fight yet another battle. The losses in California in 2008 and in Maine last week, when our rights were put up for a vote (in a way no one else's would be), have only added to this disenchantment. This is why it's all the more important for us to reach out to our friends, family members, and coworkers for help. We are too few in number without the help of our straight allies to offset the shouting and fear-mongering coming from the forces of bigotry.

The forces opposing marriage equality will tell you that marriage equality somehow redefines existing marriages. That's a lie. They will tell you that your children will be taught about homosexuality. That too is a lie. They will say that marriage is a religious institution and that religious institutions will be affected by marriage equality. That is false: civil marriage is granted by the state and New Jersey residents are free, and will always be free, to choose to have that marriage celebrated in a temple, church or mosque of their choice. The state has nothing at all to do with religious marriage and cannot therefore require that any religious institution do anything different than they currently do. The forces of bigotry will try to mislead the public and our elected representatives into thinking that marriage equality is something other than it really is: simply the extension to all New Jersey couples of the civil rights, protections and obligations before the law that currently only opposite-sex couples enjoy. In short, their voices are loud and shrill, qualities which seem too often to hold more sway in our society than the quiet voices of reason.

So I appeal to all my friends and colleagues to join me and my partner and scores of other couples in New Jersey in our effort to gain the same level of equality before the law that our friends in opposite-sex relationships are. If you live in New Jersey, please call your state assembly members and state senator every day starting now. All it takes is a few seconds on the phone with each of their office staffers to tell them your name, that you live in their district, and that you want them to vote to enact full marriage equality for same-sex couples before the end of the year. I do this regularly and it takes absolutely no time at all, the office staffer keeping a tally of how many people call to support marriage equality. Trust me, our enemies are doing the same thing and will stop at nothing to make sure we never achieve our dream of being treated as full citizens of our state.

Looking up your representatives in Trenton is easy. For a search engine as well as talking points, simply go to this link: .

Below is the ad my partner and I are helping to air. In addition to calling your legislators, if you would like to contribute to support this ad and the overall effort to persuade the state legislature to enact full equality, please do so by contributing to the Garden State Equality Action Fund.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

ENDA Hearing in DC Today

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is holding a hearing this morning on the pending Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I've written to my two US Senators, Sens. Lautenberg and Menendez, this morning even though neither of them sits on the Committee (see letter below).

I urge my friends to please contact their senators, particularly if they sit on the Committee, to support passage of ENDA. A list of the Senators on the Committe is on the left side of this link. While those of us working in companies with explicit non-discrimination policies or living in states with non-discrimination laws on the books may not fear being fired for being gay, lesbian or transgendered, far too many Americans do not have that peace of mind. In particular, transgendered individuals are at special risk, with more than a third of transgendered people having experienced discrimination in the work place. Non-discrimination is good for business as it attracts and retains the best talent and it is the right thing to do. It's about fairness.

Below is the letter I have written to my two Senators:
As the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions holds a hearing this morning on pending legislation to ban employment and other discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgendered individuals, I'd like to take this opportunity to express my strong support for passage of ENDA.

I hope, Senator, that my partner and I can count not only on your support should a bill come to a vote in the Senate, but that you will urge your colleagues in the Committee as well as out of the Committee to support passage of ENDA.

As a resident of New Jersey and an employee of a company that has a nondiscrimination policy, I am aware of the fact that while I enjoy relative peace of mind, so many Americans elsewhere do not. I very much wish to see all Americans throughout our country be able to go to work without fear that their employer will fire them for their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A painful loss in Maine

I could post about how the very idea that one group of people could vote out the basic rights of another group of people runs counter to the principals at the core of our republic, a republic established on the idea of representative democracy as a means of safeguarding minorities from the tyranny of the majority through the filter of deliberative representation. This comes to mind as I ponder the painful defeat as the No on 1 campaign in Maine lost to the forces of bigotry with the effect that the recently-enacted same-sex civil marriage law in that state has been voted out. Same-sex couples will continue to be treated as second-class citizens before the law.

But instead, I post a letter I received (and published on the No on 1 campaign site) from Jesse Connolly, who ran a valiant effort to sensitize Maine voters to the fundamental inequity of treating lesbian and gay couples as second-class citizens. This vote shows that the road ahead will indeed be very difficult, even in an otherwise progressive state, and that it may be years, many years, before lesbians, gay men, and transgendered people ever experience the level of respect and equality before the law they demand and certainly are entitled to:

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Maine voters stood for equality, but in the end, it wasn't enough.

I am proud of the thousands of Mainers who knocked on doors, made phone calls and talked to their family, friends and neighbors about the basic premise of treating all Maine families equally.

And I'm proud of this campaign because the stories we told and the images we shared were of real Mainers -- parents who stood up for their children, and couples who simply wanted to marry the person they love.

We're in this for the long haul. For next week, and next month, and next year-- until all Maine families are treated equally. Because in the end, this has always been about love and family and that will always be something worth fighting for.

Thank you. Thank you for everything you did. Thank you for digging deep and giving one more dollar to run our TV ads, for making those phone calls for one more hour. This campaign was, from the beginning, powered by people like you who rolled up their sleeves and did the hard work of change.

Stay the course.

Jesse Connolly
Campaign Manager
NO on 1 / Protect Maine Equality