Wednesday, April 29, 2015
In recognition of the Supreme Court's hearing on the same-sex marriage case, both Utahn supporters and protesters rallied separately for their causes yesterday, April 28th.
Same-sex marriage supporters stood on State street near Piper Down Pub holding signs asking cars to honk in support of same-sex marriage.
On the flip side, a reported 100 traditional marriage supporters gathered in the Capitol Rotunda for speakers, musicians, and political figures to exclaim their right to prevent alternative or "counterfeit" families from having government recognition via majority vote.
Believing that judges shouldn't overturn the will of the people, traditional marriage supporters exclaimed the sanctity of marriage was being trampled by the "gay agenda".
The question is, where do one's rights begin, and another's end? Is it a religious person's right to vote away equal opportunities for family and happiness for others they believe are living in "sin"? Does a same-sex couple's ability to marry infringe on the religious heterosexual couple's happiness? Does it prevent them from living their beliefs and their religion? Is their religion being oppressed and governed unfairly by allowing equal opportunity to others not like them?
It seems to me that "Religious Freedom" is a disguise for religious oppression and dominion.
The justices in the Supreme Court yesterday seemed to embolden and discourage both parties in the fight for adding same-sex couples' ability to marry in the interpretation of the US Constitution. Justices Kennedy and Roberts both had questions that made them appear undecided on the outcome.
Most of the other Justices asked questions and challenged the respective lawyers that fell on the opposing side of their reputation.
Although Utah was not involved in the plaintiffs or defendants of this case, Utah played the key role to get the topic all the way up to the US Supreme Court. Gay Rights activists knew Utah would be the hardest state to win, and therefore chose Utah to be the grounds of the first battle. The Kitchen vs. Herbert case won rights for same-sex couples all the way up to the Supreme Court. But at the time the court was to decide cases to take on, all federal appeals courts were unified in their decisions to strike down gay marriage bans.
Since October of last year, the sixth District Court was the first to side with a state's ability to deny same-sex couples the ability to marry, causing a split in the lower courts. The US Supreme Court immediately took up the case, knowing it was a time-sensitive issue that the nation would like 50-state clarity for.
Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee are the affected states, and the plaintiffs that were chosen to represent same-sex partners are all couples seeking marriage for joint parental custody of their children.
If the US Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex couples' right to marry, nothing would change in the states where same-sex couples can currently marry. In the remaining 14 states where SSM is banned, the bans will be struck down and all couples in the US, straight or gay, can marry in any state of their choosing.
If the court rules in favor of states' rights, some experts have said it would be "chaos". There will be the question of whether the laws will unwind the families already legally sanctioned in several states. Hundreds of lawsuits would rush to the courts to secure or defend rights. Utah would be able to reinstate its ban on gay marriage as well as civil unions, preventing further same-sex marriage and potentially cancelling any that have occurred. It would be a historically devastating day to many, as well as a historically unique reversal of government-given rights and privileges.
For these very reasons are most skeptical that such a ruling would take place. Although it isn't impossible.
A ruling is expected no later than late June, but could come any day.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
The heat is on between two very strong opinions in the US. Today, April 28th, is a historic day as the 9 US Supreme Court Justices hear two 2.5 hour arguments for and against same-sex marriage in the states. The two specific questions to be answered are:
1. Does the US Constitution require states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, considering equal protection and due process under the law?
2. Are states required to recognize same-sex marriage licenses from out of state?
Monday morning, a conservative group gathered on the Supreme Court steps in DC to declare a new law to "restrain the judges" from ruling in any case regarding same-sex marriage. The speakers said it was wrong for federal judges to take the rights from citizens to vote against gay people, and that the gay agenda should not be allowed to advance via the court system.
As early as last Friday, a line formed in front of the Supreme Court building to get into the hearing today. Several same-sex couples long-awaiting this ruling sat in lawn chairs and sleeping bags expecting to fare rain or storm to get a seat. Several others protesting same-sex marriage held up signs stating "homo sex is a sin", "Repent Repent", and "Shame" underneath a photo of two men kissing. A supporter held a sign saying "Don't like gay marriage? Don't get gay married."
While several of the arguments stem on religious beliefs of traditional marriage, lawyers point out that tradition and religion were forced out of political decisions that did away with Jim Crow laws, slavery, and anti-interracial marriage laws. Supporters argue that stripping same-sex couples from marriage rights demeans and invalidates real, committed families and sends a message of unequality to the children of such parents. Some lawyers argue that it's not about validating families, but whether states have the right to define valid families through the democratic process.
The forecast for the ruling is a 5-4 in favor of same-sex marriage legalization. Experts suggest that the high court only got involved since there was a split in the lower courts, and that it is highly unlikely for the court to overturn and invalidate the marriages that have already been performed in so many states, especially since it decided to not take on the cases in October of last year that struck down state bans--essentially giving their agreement on the strike-down.
Since the ruling is so historic, some suggest that the more conservative judges might swing in favor of SSM to solidify the decision and affect who writes the majority or dissenting opinions.
Religions, including the LDS Church have filed hundreds of briefs to the court, urging them to favor traditional marriage between a man and a woman for the sake of tradition, society, children, and God. They suggest that legal same-sex marriages would undermine and harm society and religious freedom, stripping religious people from enforcing their beliefs on others via majority vote.
Monday, April 27, 2015
During a recent forum for parents to input on proposed changes to science and engineering curriculum, parents argued over each other criticizing and rejecting the changes. Richard Scott (pictured), a science education specialist in Utah's State Education Office, had difficulty bringing the meeting to order.
The changes were to move away from memorized teaching and to include more engineering concepts, such as dissecting problems and using hands-on activities to problem solve. The parents believed the proposal was a mere copy from "Common Core Standards", which many parents believe to be a way for liberal political agendas to be pushed on their children. The Common Core simply restricts education to evidence based information, clarity, consistency, application knowledge, high-order thinking, and world and state-based standards to help kids compete in a global economy.
Parents feared that ideas such as:
1. Abortion and birth control would be taught as ways to control population.
2. Living green and reducing human footprint would cause kids to hate the human race.
3. Images of animals copulating would be used for sex education.
4. Climate Control and Evolution would be pushed when they don't believe these concepts.
Parents seem to be overly offended when their exact beliefs aren't the only ones presented in public schools. It's disheartening when they have no trust in their children to decide for themselves what to believe. Education must provide a non-biased and truth-based curriculum that challenges kids, exposes them to world perspectives, and includes the latest techniques used in the world to succeed.
Just as non-christians are abhorred at Christianity being taught in public schools, Christian parents are equally upset when other religious beliefs or religion-conflicting scientific principles are presented.
Teachers at the meeting argued with parents and didn't want to have to start from scratch with new curriculum, as some parents suggested.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Nearly a year ago, Kate Kelly, founder of "Ordain Women", was excommunicated by her local church leaders, influenced by higher up leaders. She was removed on the grounds of apostasy for leading others astray from core church principles.
Ordain Women was a grassroots effort to rally members that believed that women should have equal treatment and opportunities in the church, such as the priesthood and leadership positions. Currently, only LDS men can hold the priesthood, and only LDS men can hold significant positions such as bishops, stake presidents, and apostles.
Kelly is now in Kenya working on human rights efforts. During an interview at a bar in NYC, she told listeners her experience, the pain of the excommunication, and the happiness and freedoms she feels since her removal. She still believes in and fights for the equal rights for women in the church as much as possible, but being relieved from things like temple garments and church responsibilities has been healthy.
Kelly was nervous that Ordain Women would fizzle out once she was removed from the church, but to her surprise, it has gained momentum as a result of the church's discipline with her. Despite the fallout from loyal church members, many have joined the cause. Even her parents, excommunicated for their support, shunned, and subjects of mailbox vandalism by disdaining Mormons, stand by their daughter for the cause.
Monday, April 20, 2015
A poll taken by Dan Jones & Associates for UtahPolicy surveyed 601 people to determine within about +/- 4% margin of error what people of Utah thought concerning the LDS Church's influence on the Utah legislature and politics.
Unsurprisingly, the less Mormon the surveyed was, the more the person thought the LDS Church had too much influence on the law. The more Mormon the individual was (based on membership and activity), the more the person thought the LDS church had the right amount or not enough influence on Utah politics. It seems most Mormon people want the church to have just as much political involvement in the future, if not more. Most non-Mormons felt the opposite.
Of active members:
88% thought the church had the right amount or not enough influence.
5% thought the church had too much influence.
Of less active members:
70% thought the church had the right amount or not enough influence.
26% thought the church had too much influence.
Of inactive members:
45% thought the church had the right amount or not enough influence.
49% thought the church had too much influence.
Of people of other religions:
15% thought the church had the right amount or not enough influence.
83% thought the church had too much influence.
Of people with no religious affiliation:
17% thought the church had the right amount or not enough influence.
80% thought the church had too much influence.
The rest of the numbers were "Don't Know".
A similar trend is seen in political affiliation.
Although a church can promote beliefs and ask members to vote according to those beliefs, a church cannot ask members to vote for particular candidates and most measures. In my opinion, a tax-exempt church should not be allowed to lobby a legislature to enact particular laws. The members are welcome to be politically active as long as they are not official church representatives.
In 2012, Thomas Monson, Mormon president, issued a decree that new missionaries can sign up at ages 18 (males) and 19 (females). This new announcement brought an onslaught of teens joining the mormon conversion forces.
Unfortunately for the church, conversions did not follow the trend. A 9% increase in conversions from the previous year is just barely more than one-fifth of the missionary increase: 44%. Although this is disappointing to believers, some experts believe that there will still be long-term positive effects, noting that this is still the greatest number of missionaries out--ever, and that the number of conversions in a year is still the highest--ever.
Other experts believe that the overflow of missionaries was not meant for conversions, but for both member and missionary retention in the church. Well over half of converts fall away within a year of conversion. The church wants to use the newer and younger missionaries to bring those people back to activity in the more developed countries. In addition, the younger mission age removes the gap from high school graduation to mission for teens, the most common years for them to discover new ways of life, question the church, and fall away themselves.
Now, as a matter of personal opinion... (stop reading here if mormon criticism bothers you)
First off, people love to be told how to live their lives by teens, right? Teens definitely know what it's all about and have experienced enough to start advising people 5-70 years their senior. So that's one laughable aspect.
Second, it is a huge church stunt to prevent losing kids by sending them out to a brainwashing wild goose chase. Church leaders know they are losing people. They wish to indoctrinate their members even earlier in hopes that they can keep tithe-paying members up and retain young leaders to encourage others to pay tithes as well. Without that important year or two to discover the rest of the world, young teens are being thrust into a prescribed mindset to discard all doubt, ask no questions, and follow the leader. Maybe that's not so bad, right? I mean, the LDS church does do good things...
I disagree. The mormons are pulling kids away from college. They'll just come back to college when the two years are up, though, right? They'll try. But they've been away from formal education for TWO YEARS. Can you remember your math from two years ago? Not only have they forgotten how to form and dissect a simple sentence, but now they're competing with kids fresh out of high school that are smarter than them when they graduated... The odds are not in their favor.
So the poor returned missionary's chances at a great school have diminished. Not to mention that most scholarships require immediate enrollment the fall after high school graduation. So now the money that could have paid for the first semester is gone, and the returned missionary's money is lost to two years of church service (about $10k). No money. No knowledge. No chances at getting knowledge. The future for this poor returned missionary looks bleak. The only school that might take them in is BYU... another indoctrinating entity.
Another downside relates to my story. I was gay from the beginning... but I refused to accept that for 23 years. I did the mission. I believed I could pray away the gay. Or get over it. Or something. But I wasted another two years post mission trying to be someone I was not. I did not get the vital dating experience every young person needs, because, well, the people I wanted to date were forbidden: boys. Going on the mission not only delayed my inevitable departure from mormonism, but made it that much harder to make that decision. I was so brainwashed that I told myself I was better than other mormons because my trial was so hard. That I was better than other gays when I started coming out because I still tried to be a gay with mormon standards.
Being gay is not the only attribute a person can have that makes being a mormon a living hell. Intellectuals, feminists, people who like to stand out, people who like to question and doubt, people that think going out is more fun than a single's activity making gingerbread temples. I can't begin to think of the people with personalities that don't fit the mormon way. And when they are dragged into full-time, brainwashing service for the church, leaving it becomes that much harder. They are going to try to fit in, likely for way too long. By the time they finally can't handle it, they have a wife and kids. Then they'll be labeled as despicable because they left their family for something they should have done years ago.
Mormons are creating their own devastating stories.
The mormon church is not for everyone. Its for a very select few that happen to fit the mormon mold. If you are white, straight, conservative, and like to be told what to do and what to think... you're probably perfect for mormonism.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Choosing to unite with Jackie Biskupski, Jim Debakis removed himself from Salt Lake Mayor candidacy this year. Fearing that his run would split the votes and make it more likely that current mayor Ralph Becker or a republican win, Debakis decided it was best to get out of the race.
Biskupski is thrilled to have Debakis's support. Critics claim Debakis's in-and-out moves is reflective of his career, but Debakis said he didn't have time to consider the option until after the legislative session, and didn't have time to discuss ideas with Biskupski.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
This post is going to be more of an opinion column, or personal blog post of mine.
It cuts me (and so many others I sure) deeply when the church I sacrificed so much for in the first part of my life wants to deny me rights and opportunities for happiness in my future. The LDS Church has filed an amicus brief (friend of the court) with a coalition of other religions asking the US Supreme Court to not approve of same-sex marriage in the US. They argue that such a legalization would destroy the fabric of society, strip freedoms from religions, and impede religious citizens from fully participating in American civil life.
This is all offensive and false. It is only their opinion that families with parents of the same gender are inferior to "traditional families". It is fine to impose this falsity on their own members, but to impose it on all families, whether they have a belief or not, is selfish and hypocritical. Religions already have exceptions from taxes, anti discrimination, and several other things. Yet they want to impose no exceptions to others that don't share their views. They can believe all they want that it is "bad" for society to legalize same-sex marriages. But asking for it to be the law of the land, by vote or by court rule, is exactly what makes many religions bigotry.
Same-sex parents will be around whether the law approves it or not. But these are real families that deserve the same legal protections as other families--from a government blind to discrimination. It's not up to 15 old men in red chairs (Mormon apostles) to decide who in the world is a real family or not. It is up to the individual family itself. That family, "traditional" or "alternative" does not affect any other family but its own by simply existing and being recognized by the government.
It is not a right of a religious person to hold bigoted beliefs in order to conduct their life. It is not infringing on their civil liberties to tell them they can't vote away equal protections and opportunities to others. Is it my right to vote away a couple's ability to adopt because I think children should stay with birth parents? No. I can't vote that away. That is a right and opportunity to happiness that no one can take away. My civil liberties are not diminished by preventing me from voting away what the constitution grants.
There are other groups that have filed in favor of denying same-sex marriage. Lawyers and attorney generals have weighed in. The same AGs that fought for same-sex bans in their own states and lost the appeals. One lawyer said that legalizing same-sex marriage is demeaning to gay men that have married women. How insulting is that? These brain-washed and mentally unstable men have made a choice to deny their feelings and bend to religious and conservative demands. The poor wives have to sit and wonder if their husband is really attracted to them. These couples ruined their own lives. A law providing more opportunity to others is not to blame. If they are unhappy, they can only blame themselves. They didn't marry a woman because that was the only legal option. They married a woman to appease their religious needs and delude themselves that they can ignore who they are to be rewarded in an unknown afterlife.
These religions claim they know what is best and wish to impose those beliefs into the law of the land. This trend is exactly what led to the exodus in Europe to the Americas... to be free of a religiously tyrannical government. It is the american way to believe as you please. But forcing others to believe and life your way is NOT american. The LDS Church and its companions in this quest are anti-american and are themselves, destroying the fabric of our society.
A married lesbian couple filed for legal parenthood of their daughter, but was denied by the Utah Health Department. They are now suing the department for not offering equal rights to them as their heterosexual counterparts currently have. Had they been a man-woman couple, the process would have gone through with no questions.
The office said the couple would have to go through a difficult step-parent process to both be legal parents. The Utah Health Department stated that they will seek an option that best suits all parties
Monday, April 13, 2015
Chile's President recently signed a law that permits same-sex unions. The law grants many of the rights and privileges that married couples have, but it separate and not exactly the same. Many other counties in South America already have same-sex union laws, but Chile is late to follow with its conservative history. Being gay was only decriminalized in 1999 following the death of a gay man and the national debate around it.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Mr. Tom Perry, 92 and eldest of the 15 Mormon apostles, stated in a semi-annual Mormon conference that alternative lifestyles (than the Mormon prescribed husband, wife, and several children) were counterfeit. Completely disregarding LGBT familes, Perry put his and his fellow Mormons' "traditional" lifestyle above others as superior.
HRC criticizes the statements and says that it is a sign that there is still much to do to fully include LGBT people in society. Troy Williams, Equality Utah's executive director, said that LGBT families are not counterfeit, but "real and beautiful". HRC calls out to Perry and his fellow leaders to embrace the diversity within their own church and reject offensive and intolerant language. Statements like these completely undermine the progress and compromises made to support anti-discrimination in Utah.
A senior adviser for President Obama announced that they were seeking law to ban the "conversion therapy" to change one's sexual identity or sexual orientation. The practices were spawned from religious beliefs that homosexuality and trans-gender is a curable illness. The American Psychiatric Association does not categorize either case as an illness, and even states that such practices are harmful, causing anxiety and depression.
The proposed ban will outlaw any conversion therapy to minors, who are the most susceptible to life-long depression and sometimes suicide. A recent teen trans-gender suicide, motivated by conversion therapy, is one of many reasons to push the ban.
A gender-neutral bathroom was installed in the White House to show the support for trans-gender.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
A clerk in Guam rejected the first same-sex couple application for marriage. The couple wishes to marry in their homeland for family to attend, and doesn't want to wait for US Supreme Court rulings. The territory falls under the 9th District, which has already allowed SSM. The couple is sure the request will follow suit with the previous rulings.
Puerto Rico had a similar situation recently, which falls under the 1st District court. Last month, Puero Rico stopped defending the ban on SSM.
Monday, April 6, 2015
It is unusual that three of the four contestants in the run for SLC Mayor are Democrats that have all played important and mutual roles in the progress for LGBT people in Salt Lake. Mr. Debakis is the only openly gay member of the Utah Legislature. Jackie Biskupski was the first openly gay person in the Utah legislature. A third challenger, Luke Garrott, another Democrat, is striving for mayor. Ralph Becker was supportive and present during several LGBT rallies, events, and marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. But the challengers criticize some of his actions, including prison relocation, raised sales tax, and other alleged "shady" practices.
All of the candidates respect and appreciate several aspects of the others, but feel their ideals are more suited for the next mayor. It is interesting that Salt Lake has had democratic mayors since the 1970s. It shows how much more of a liberal city SLC is compared to its saturated conservative, Mormon state in general. Two of the four, including the current two-term Mayor Becker, will become one of two to advance to the general election on November 4 this year.
Thomas Monson's failing health
It isn't a surprise that Tom Monson, LDS President, is struggling with health at the age of 87. But it was surprising that he:
1) Didn't give an opening statement for the conference (which happened in Oct. 2011)
2) Stumbled into his seat at an afternoon conference (the whole center gasped at the event)
3) Only gave a small speech the first day at the evening men-only meeting
Members voting 'opposed' to LDS leader sustaining
Also shocking was the publicly voiced opposition to the LDS leader sustaining portion of the conference. Up to seven individuals stood up in the conference center to loudly voice, "Opposed", to the several inquiries by Mr. Uchtdorf of, "Any opposed?" Of course, as expected, the thousands of other attendees obediently sustained in favor of their leaders, but gasped at the public dissent within the conference walls.
Mr. Uchtdorf, instead of the usual "President Monson, the vote appears to be unanimous," calmly stated, "The vote has been noted." He also stated that any members opposed to sustaining their leaders should visit with their local bishops and stake presidents to resolve their concerns. It has been dozens of years since members publicly stated their dissent. Unlike in the past, the dissenters were allowed to remain in the conference for the duration of the meeting.
The group that opposed appeared to be part of a small organization called. "anyopposed.org". The general statement is that they believe the church is ignoring people who question doctrines seriously and not properly addressing their concerns. They believe that it is good for there to be dissent in the church and they hope there is no "unanimous" sustaining ever again, saying it is deceptive to observers. There are several issues that the church has inadequately addressed, including LGBT rights, gender equality, and a number of suspicious essays the church has released about the shady truth of the church's past. The group wants the church to make a more serious effort to answer questions instead of just telling the members to read more scripture.
Traditional families again trump the minority as a superior unit
Despite the recent effort to unite mormons with gays, the LDS church took another step back to reiterate that the minority is making itself look like the majority. Mr. Tom Perry stated that those "minorities" are trying to make "mainstream values" look obsolete. Traditional man-woman families are what keep society, the economy, and culture stable, he said. He also grouped "counterfeit lifestyles" with "alternative lifestyles", effectively invalidating anything other than what the LDS church endorses.
Mr. Todd Christofferson stated that families were the best unit for the creation of children. He also grouped people with physical or mental impairments with people who "experience same-sex attraction".
It seems the LDS church is forever linked to the same-sex marriage issue. It will always be involved, and it will always be criticized for standing firm in its non-inclusive policies. People are beginning to notice. As observed this weekend, members are beginning to stand up against the church.
President Obama came to Utah for the first time on Thursday, 4/2. Although his primary purpose was to propose a new Solar Energy program for Vets, he met with different leaders Thursday night in the Sheraton Hotel in downtown SLC, including a handful of the leading LDS apostles: Henry Eyring, Dieter Uchtdorf, Tom Perry, and Todd Christofferson. The LDS President, Thomas Monson, was unable to attend to reserve energy for the LDS Conference the coming weekend.
Although details of what was actually discussed in the meeting were not released, what was expected to be discussed were the disaster relief efforts of the past, other humanitarian and service it has provided, the immigration system, and other nation-unifying topics.
It is notable that in the last few months of Obama's presidency, he is making extra efforts to unify the several loud and differing voices across the nation.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Indiana signed into law the bill amendments that explicitly add protections for sexual preference and gender identity. The bill cannot be used as a defense in court to legitimize discrimination. It also bans discrimination to the two and other common groups.
Opponents still want the religious freedom bill gone, and a new bill to add explicit LGBT protections. But they are currently in approval of these steps for the time being.
Arkansas nixed their original bill and signed in a new one. The new bill only addresses government intervention in religious freedom matters--not business or individuals. Although supporters say it doesn't open doors for discrimination, opponents still want more explicit anti-discrimination protection language.
Other states are stalling and/or re-thinking other "religious freedom" measures, including Georgia and North Carolina. Texas also has a proposed bill that threatens LGBT citizens.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Indiana quickly responded to the heavy and incessant criticism of its "religious freedom" bill that was passed and signed into law recently. Although they claimed the intention of the bill was to be more inclusive of diverse religion, many saw it as a greater weapon for religious people to object to associating and doing business with LGBT people--considering the timing of the bill.
Gov. Pence of Indiana is working to push amendments to the law that would:
1. "Prohibit service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations."
2. Prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, among the other traditional groups (sex, religion, race, etc).
3. Exempt religions, religious schools, and religious non-profits from the discrimination ban.
These additions closely mirror the SB296 bill in Utah where religious leaders and equal rights groups worked together for a compromising bill. But critics are still wanting to repeal the Indiana bill altogether for the state to begin healing from the backlash.
Arkansas has little time to make changes, but is reacting to sharp criticisms from its biggest corporate resident: Wal-Mart. There are no statements protecting LGBT in any current law, and the 'religious freedom' bill soon to pass has none either. Adding the language as Indiana plans is something Arkansas Gov. Hutchinson is considering.