Saturday, June 07, 2014

161.1 - Good News: hope for LGBT rights

Good News: hope for LGBT rights

Updated Starting, as I try to do whenever I can, with some good news, I have this week some bits of news that, rather than "good," I would prefer to call "hopeful."

The first bit is filed under the heading "Even in Texas."

On May 28, the city council of Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, passed its own Equal Rights Ordinance, which creates nondiscrimination protections for many classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity. The protections cover employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Houston is the fifth city in Texas to adopt such an ordinance, following Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

Now, the state as a whole continues to be an ethical backwater, exemplified by Big Earl’s Bait House and Country Store - and yes, that is the real name - in Pittsburg, Texas, which recently banned a same-sex couple from ever returning to the restaurant, citing a policy of only serving men who “act like men.”

When the place got flak about it, management defended a server who was accused of telling the couple "we don’t serve fags here" by tut-tutting that what she actually said was "We do not like fags," which was apparently supposed to be much, much better.

Despite that, it remains true that Houston, one of the last large cities in the country to lack a municipal nondiscrimination policy, now has one and its one that includes recognition of how reality and society are changing. And that's good news.

On another front, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walkalloveryou, who has long backed the state's ban on same-sex marriage, is suddenly getting all squishy about the issue.

This likely has something to do with the fact that he's facing a challenge to that ban in federal court, a challenge the state is already preparing to lose. So despite his long support for the ban, now he's saying well golly gee whiz he doesn't know if it violates the US Constitution, or if the ban would be approved by voters if it was up for a vote today, or even if it would amount to a big change for the state if it was overturned, and he is certainly not going to tell a federal judge what to do about it! Which is really weird because his administration is in court defending the ban, which means they are trying to tell a federal judge what to do about it.

The bottom line here? Openly endorsing the ban in an election year is a political liability, one Walkalloveryou wants no part of.

The last bit here bit is more philosophical but maybe for just that reason even more meaningful.

Around the end of March, I noted the death of Fred Phelps, who I described as
[a] notorious and gross bigot, founder of the notoriously and grossly bigoted Westboro Baptist Church, which isn't part of any Baptist convention and isn't really a church but more like a family cult.
At that time, I noted that news had leaked out that last summer, Phelps had been excommunicated from his own church for reasons unknown but which supposedly had to to with him urging "kinder treatment of fellow church members" in the wake of an internal power struggle.

Now there is a new wrinkle: Several weeks ago, Zacharias Phelps-Roper, Phelps' grandson, bolted from the group. Something over a week ago, he said that on the day that Phelps was excommunicated, he stood outside of the front door of the church and said, not loud enough for anyone but a few nearby church members to hear, "You are good people."

Why is that important? Because the sentiment was not directed at members of his former church, but across the street at The Equality House, the rainbow-painted house directly opposite the compound of the WBC. It's run by a group called Planting Peace, which among other things advocates for LGBT rights, the very thing the members of the Westboro Baptist Church most hate.

It remains true that Fred Phelps lived his life as a notorious and gross bigot. But as one person said, if even he could be moved, there isn't a heart out there that can't be.

Martin Luther King, Jr., has often been credited with the saying "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Although he did say that, the saying seems to have originated with Theodore Parker, a 19th-century Unitarian minister and anti-slavery activist who published a book of Ten Sermons on Religion in 1857. In one of those, he said
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Our eyes still see but a little ways, but in the case of LGBT rights, we surely can see the bending of that arc.

Updated with the news that on June 6, as expected, US District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage as an unconstitutional violation of the right of equal protection. More next week.

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