Uncivil Unions: June 2008: Archives

June 28, 2008

Missionary Positions: XXXChurch.Com Tackles Porn genre: Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

While I frequently criticize religion and those who have used it as a vehicle for their own self-interest, every now and then I've come across some people of faith who are actually willing to take an honest look at people and then set out to make a difference. The following documentary, Missionary Positions, is about two such Christian ministers who started xxxchurch.com to assist Christians who are addicted to pornography. I wrote about their ministry in the past in a piece titled, Icebergs And Identities: What Lies Beneath?

Before proceeding I want to offer one caveat. I respect these guys for addressing an issue that is prevalent in society...as well as in many of those who are affiliated with religion. On the other hand, I'm not sure that the approach they employ will produce the intended outcome since I don't necessarily think that immersing oneself in religion actually puts a halt to this or any other addiction. I say as much because we're all aware of the many ministers who have succumbed to any number of carnal obsessions and fallen from grace.

In fact, part of the problem, as I've outline in the posting mentioned above, is that religion frequently seeks to cast sex as sin, ignoring the fact that it is an integral part of our human identity. In my opinion, the goal shouldn't be to extinguish pornography; it ought to be to encourage and educate our children that sex is a healthy component of human behavior and, when channeled properly, it should and will enhance our relationships.

Until we abandon the sex as sin construct, everything that is negatively associated with sex and porn will continue to propagate. I relate the pornography problem to the notion of, "you can pay me now or pay me later". When we cease stifling sex education in our schools and begin to encourage our children to incorporate their sexuality into a healthy identity, we will begin to disarm the power of pornography.

By the way, while pornography is the subject of this documentary, it is, for the most part, tastefully presented. The video is just over 71 minutes in length.

Tagged as: Craig Gross, Mike Foster, Pornography, Religion, Sex, Sex Education, Sexuality

Daniel DiRito | June 28, 2008 | 2:26 PM | link | Comments (7)
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June 19, 2008

Mika - Lollipop & Billy Brown genre: Gaylingual & Tuned Out & Uncivil Unions & Video-Philes

Mika, born in Lebanon and currently living in London, doesn't get a lot of mainstream attention in the States. I've included two of his videos below. The first is for the song, Lollipop, an infectious upbeat tune with a fun animated video that just seems appropriate for the start of summer. I'll come back to the meaning of the song in a moment.

The second video isn't actually the music video for the song, Billy Brown...but it does a good job in telling the song's story. In fact, there isn't an official video for the song since one was never released. The song, in my opinion, tells the story of a man who struggles to accept his homosexuality.

That brings me back to Lollipop. There has been a fair share of buzz about Mika's sexuality, a subject he has not chosen to address. Some have speculated that he's gay but doesn't disclose that fact as it could hinder his popular appeal in the United States. He points to Billy Brown as evidence that he isn't shying away from sexual orientation.

Let me be clear. Mika's sexual orientation is irrelevant to me but to the extent that issues of orientation may influence the songs he performs makes my psychology wheels spin. In this particular instance, call it instinct, intuition, or gaydar...but whatever it is, I find the content of his songs fascinating. Both of these songs talk about love and relationships...with a focus on a lack of fulfillment as well as a measure of preoccupation with norms and conventionality.

Granted, Lollipop is far more gender and orientation neutral than Billy Brown, but what I hear in both songs is the undertones of a personal struggle...one that leaves the protagonist is a state of limbo. If he follows his heart, he'll have to endure the whispers and judgments of others...if he conforms, he can fit in but he'll be denied the happiness he seeks.

Hence, he vacillates between the two, which I view as akin to the back and forth of a pendulum...always struggling to find the center...but always overshooting the mark in an endless battle for a measure of constance and comfort. In other words, the center is safe but often wholly meaningless. Mika's song, Stuck in the Middle, reveals more of this concept. The lyrics can be found here.

One line captures the essence of what I'm talking about. When Mika sings, "Oh Billy Brown you are a victim of the times", I hear the angst I've described above. Whether that angst is Mika's or simply the words expressed in a song he sings, I don't know. Regardless, the song succeeds in capturing real feelings that I suspect resonate for many in the gay community.

You can find the video for Happy Endings here and the video for Grace Kelly can be found here.

Mika - Lollipop

Mika - Billy Brown

Tagged as: Billy Brown, Grace Kelly, Happy Endings, LGBT, Lollipop, Mika, Music, Relationships, Stuck In The Middle

Daniel DiRito | June 19, 2008 | 12:20 PM | link | Comments (0)
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June 18, 2008

Is Something Fishy At Focus On The Family? genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

The folks at Focus on the Family are out with another video in opposition to same-sex marriage. It's consistent with the new strategy being adopted by religious groups to portray themselves as victims.

The gist of their message is that the passage of gay rights will create prohibitions on free speech and their right to practice their religious beliefs. Never mind that the practice of their religious beliefs often includes working to deny rights to gays. After all, if they say they are the real victims, they must be, right?

This new video is also a play on words that appears to be designed to assail Truth Wins Out (TWO), an organization established to combat the rhetoric of those who are promoting the notion that being gay can be reversed. This propaganda is delivered by a number of groups including Love Won Out, an outreach group established by Focus on the Family, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX), and Exodus.

In the video, Focus on the Family's Stuart Shepard is seen wearing a sign stating "The Truth Always Wins Out". As the video progresses, a number of individuals (with angry faces intended to mimic militant homosexuals?) affix other signs on top of it...demonstrating the assertion that gays are attempting to silence the voice of people of faith.

Anyway, I decided to have some fun with a couple of screen shots from the video and a saying from my Italian heritage, "When a fish rots, it starts from the head". There are a number of versions of the saying, but they all deliver the same message - when an organization, family, club, or any other affiliated group of people lose their way, it starts with the leader.

As you'll see from the graphic, I'm suggesting that there's something "fishy" about Focus on the Family and its leader James Dobson...if you know what I mean. Oh, and lest there be any doubt, TRUTH WINS OUT.

TruthWinsOut.jpg

Tagged as: California, Evangelical, Exodus, Focus On The Family, Gay, James Dobson, LGBT, PFOX, Religion, Same-Sex Marriage, Stuart Shepard, TruthWinsOut.org

Daniel DiRito | June 18, 2008 | 8:54 PM | link | Comments (2)
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Pastor Hagee Misrepresents "Thoroughly Modern Women" genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Uncivil Unions

If you listen to Pastor John Hagee, modern women are little more than sinful secular caricatures of all he would deem wrong with the fictional women portrayed on Sex & The City. In fact, he sets out to portray independent women (feminists) as little more than hedonistic sluts who engage in the excesses of self-satisfaction. Yes, according to Hagee, nothing about modernity...as it applies to women...is sufficient or redeeming in the eyes of the obtuse pastor.

Now I'm going to go out on a limb and attempt to identify the hypocrisy that emanates from men like Hagee...especially when they set out to proclaim one political candidate superior to another...while never comparing and contrasting the reality of the lives of the candidates with the rhetoric they espouse.

First, an important caveat. I don't actually think the personal lives of candidates and their families are all that relevant to their ability to execute the duties of the positions they seek. However, when one side of the political spectrum decides to make morality and values the prevailing determinant for their followers, the other side must respond to the pointed attacks launched to impeach the character of their candidates...or their family members.

Here's the point. Many within the GOP want to portray Michelle Obama as a "modern woman". They did the same with Hillary Clinton for years. While these current assailants refrain from defining Michelle Obama by the specific attributes mentioned by Hagee in the video below, they associate her with the notion of modernity...and therefore they endeavor to infer that her values are aligned with the specious caricature described by Hagee. Hence, the sympathetic voter is never asked to take the time to complete a thoughtful examination of Michelle Obama's values and her redeeming attributes. In fact, those voters who are predisposed to accepting Hagee's world view are asked to do little more than connect Michelle Obama with modernity...and therefore the derisive definition provided.

At the same time, they hold up their own candidates and their families as examples of all that is decent and moral...predicated upon the one-dimensional assumption that their candidate will cast votes that support the agenda of the religious right and men like Hagee. Here's the problem...they do so while ignoring any of the questionable values that their candidate, and/or the family of their candidate, may have demonstrated over the course of their lives.

In other words, the morality of their candidate is only measured on the basis of the votes that candidate will promise to cast. This means that men like Hagee (and the followers they lead) are fully content to disregard the personal history and morality of their chosen candidate (while highlighting that of the opposition) if the result is political gain.

I find this strategy to be an abrogation of reality that is not only unacceptable...it is also an act of incorrigible deception. Even worse, it is an insult to the morality that is worn like a badge by men of John Hagee's ilk. You may be thinking that this is the point at which I plan to pivot to assail the values and morality of John and Cindy McCain. It isn't and I won't. It isn't necessary since anyone who wants to pursue such comparisons, without prejudice, can find the relevant documentation in the public record.

You see, choosing our next president shouldn't be limited to a measurement of the values of Barack Obama or John McCain...or their wives. Unfortunately, there are those, like Hagee, who would seek to misconstrue the values of others for political gain and power...under the guise of religious righteousness. Truth be told, Michelle Obama's modernity should not be an indictment of her values any more than Cindy McCain's unfortunate battle with drug addiction should overwhelm the good deeds she's performed.

Those who hide behind the rhetoric of religion to pursue power are a threat to the values we hold because their manipulations are designed to misconstrue morality. In doing so, good people frequently become unsuspecting casualties. As we approach the November election, the task of all Americans is to sift through the smoke.

When men like John Hagee tell us that modernity offends motherhood, our obligation, as people who espouse a commitment to the family, is to look to those mothers who have embraced modernity (women like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton) and conduct an honest examination...absent the hyperbole of those who seek to promote patriarchy at the expense of progress.

In the end, humanity will only achieve it's potential when it refuses to stifle the vast potential that resides in all of us...regardless of gender or any other label that is attached as a means of limitation. If Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama represent modernity, then John Hagee and those who entertain his ideology of oppression are the unacceptable antithesis. I'm hopeful that 2008 will be the year that voters choose to turn this cathartic corner.

Tagged as: Cindy McCain, Feminism, God, Hillary Clinton, John Hagee, Michelle Obama, Misogyny, Modernity, Religion, Secularism, Sexism, Values, Women, Women's Rights

Daniel DiRito | June 18, 2008 | 12:57 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Heinz Deli Mayo Advertisement: "Mum's" The Word genre: Gaylingual & Uncivil Unions

The following video is a new advertisement being run by Heinz in the UK. The ad, designed to promote it's Deli Mayo, is delivered with a different take on a typical morning in most homes...where mom is preparing school lunches for the children and dad is getting ready for work.

From The Guardian:

Heinz is set to challenge some viewer expectations with a light-hearted TV campaign that features two men sharing a kiss.

The TV commercial, which promotes a new range of dressing called Heinz Deli Mayo, breaks tonight and will be supported by a press campaign.

AMV BBDO said that the concept behind the campaign is that the product tastes so good "It's as if you have your own New York deli man in your kitchen".

The twist in this ad is that "mum" is actually a man...one that looks like an employee from a New York deli, complete with the appropriate accent. Despite the gender bending, everything plays out as expected...the kids interact with mum while she readies their lunches and dad gives mum a goodbye kiss as he heads off to work. I think the subtlety is effective and charming.

As an aside, imagine it is still 2004 and think about what the GOP would have to say about this ad and the fact that John Kerry's wife is none other than Theresa Heinz Kerry.

Tagged as: Gay, Heinz, Humor, LGBT, Tolerance

Daniel DiRito | June 18, 2008 | 9:52 AM | link | Comments (1)
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June 16, 2008

John McCain Revealed: The Unborn, Gay Marriage, & Health Care genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Uncivil Unions

MCainBushFourMoreYears.jpg

John McCain would like independents, moderates, Reagan Democrats, and Hillary Clinton supporters to think of him as a maverick who doesn't march in lockstep with George Bush and his right wing ideology. The problem is that John McCain is traveling the country espousing the very principles that define the evangelical agenda George Bush touted throughout his presidency.

McCain's recent comments to a gathering of Catholics offers insight into what voters could expect from a McCain presidency.

From Catholic Exchange:

The first issue addressed by McCain was abortion. He said that the "noblest words ever written" were "the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." McCain believes that those words "apply to the unborn." He reminded the Philadelphia Catholics of his pro-life voting record, adding that he would "maintain that commitment" if elected president.

McCain also brought up the subject of defending marriage, saying that some in the room may differ with his view that this decision should be taken up first in the states. "But," he added, "if some federal judge rules that all the states must recognize the [gay] marriages in Massachusetts, I would be in favor of pursuing a Constitutional amendment."

When asked about the possibility of universal healthcare, McCain rejected the idea completely. "The government can't run the healthcare systems it already has; take a look at the Bureau of Indian Affairs." He argued that government-run health systems around the world have been "colossal failures," and inevitably become two-tiered systems, "one for the rich and one for the poor."

It's well known that McCain is aligned with George Bush in supporting the war in Iraq and continuing the presence of large numbers of American troops. However, voter perceptions about his positions on social issues could benefit from a review of the above statements.

Lest voters fool themselves, it's clear that a McCain presidency would likely embrace the overturning of Roe v. Wade and seek to eliminate a woman's right to choose. Depending upon the real meaning of McCain's comment, one could easily see his administration working to define the moment of conception as the point at which an individual is granted legal standing...leaving women to simply serve as involuntary and unwitting vessels for unintended pregnancies.

As to same-sex marriage, one would be reckless to assume that John McCain would refrain from invoking the need for an amendment to the Constitution to define marriage as nothing more than the union of one man and one woman. Despite his statement that states should be allowed to decide the issue, he cleverly pivots to suggest that he's opposed to the courts enforcing existing laws with regard to any current requirements to recognize marriages enacted in other states.

In other words, the only reason he hasn't yet called for a constitutional amendment is because he can assert that same-sex marriage in Massachusetts has a residency requirement. Notwithstanding, with the recent ruling of the California Supreme Court, there is little doubt that out of state couples will soon marry in one state and then return to their home state wherein they could argue in favor of availing themselves of established recognitions such as the "full faith and credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution. At that point, I would bet on McCain leading the charge for a federal amendment.

To assume that a McCain administration would resist the temptation to appease an important segment of the Republican base is foolhardy. Like George Bush before him, I would expect a McCain presidency to raise the issue each time it needs to rally the faithful.

On the issue of health care, it's clear that a McCain presidency will simply seek measures that do nothing to disrupt the flow of more money to existing and established insurance providers. Unless and until health care costs are no longer allowed to operate unchecked, the tax credits promised by John McCain will, in short order, leave the public scrambling to afford ever increasing health care costs and the rising insurance premiums that will accompany them. It should be clear by now that the free market system has simply facilitated the expanding number of uninsured Americans.

John McCain can pretend he's not an establishment politician and he can attempt to portray himself as an agent of change...but his positions, since his defeat by George Bush in 2000, simply suggest that John McCain has become a loyal soldier who gladly tows the party line.

The fact that he thinks he can sell repackaged Bush administration kool-aid to an already skeptical citizenry suggests he not only mortgaged his straight talking soul to become George Bush's successor...he's become a run-of-the-mill snake oil salesman. I don't plan to be buying anything he's selling come November.

Tagged as: Abortion, California, Catholics, George Bush, Health Care, Insurance Premiums, John McCain, LGBT, Massachusetts, Pro-Life, Right To Choose, Roe v. Wade, Same-Sex Marriage, Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution, Women's Rights

Daniel DiRito | June 16, 2008 | 2:24 PM | link | Comments (0)
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June 11, 2008

Innocence Lost: The Path From Purity To Pragmatism genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Uncivil Unions

AshesOfInnocence.jpg

Many Americans like to look at Europe as an example of the moral decay we can expect if we continue to alter our values and ignore our long standing Christian principles. Implicit in this belief, amongst many on the religious right, is the presumption that one's morality is directly correlated with one's sexuality...and that goes beyond any consideration of one's orientation. It also includes a belief that sexual activity is only acceptable under the umbrella of a marriage. That means that sex before marriage is unacceptable and it also infers that both parties are expected to be virgins.

Along with these sexual mores and our disdain for Europe is a growing belief that Islam is an unacceptable religion...or at the very least a religion that will not lead to salvation and therefore it cannot lead to one's admittance into heaven. Fortunately, life often provides the contrasts and comparisons necessary to illuminate the absurdity and/or hypocrisy of our beliefs...and our predisposition to judge others while ignoring the need for self-examination.

An article in The New York Times provides the backdrop for some measure of reflection...and an illumination of the slippery slope that moral certainty often becomes. The prevalence of Islamic immigrants in Europe has served to pit a strict religious ideology against a far more secular society...and that has led to some rather convoluted interpretations of propriety.

It seems that a number of the Islamic women (note that we don't focus on the Islamic men) who have partaken in the sexual freedoms afforded by European culture now find themselves in the unenviable position of being unacceptable marriage partners. Islamic teaching require that a bride be a virgin, and should that not be the case, she can be rejected and the marriage can be nullified. In extreme cases, family members (on both sides) feel justified in committing an honor killing.

To combat the stigmatization that results from losing their virginity...and to restore their moral standing...a number of Islamic women are now seeking out the services of the medical profession to "reconstruct" their lost virginity and allow them to comply with the prescribed marital expectation.

From The New York Times:

Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.

"If you're a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage," said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. "So if you're looking to marry a Muslim and don't want to have problems, you'll try to recapture your virginity."

The issue has been particularly charged in France, where a renewed and fierce debate has occurred about a prejudice that was supposed to have been buried with the country's sexual revolution 40 years ago: the importance of a woman's virginity.

The furor followed the revelation two weeks ago that a court in Lille, in northern France, had annulled the 2006 marriage of two French Muslims because the groom found his bride was not the virgin she had claimed to be.

The domestic drama has gripped France. The groom, an unidentified engineer in his 30s, left the nuptial bed and announced to the still partying wedding guests that his bride had lied. She was delivered that night to her parents' doorstep.

The next day, he approached a lawyer about annulling the marriage. The bride, then a nursing student in her 20s, confessed and agreed to an annulment.

The court ruling did not mention religion. Rather, it cited breach of contract, concluding that the engineer had married her after "she was presented to him as single and chaste." In secular, republican France, the case touches on several delicate subjects: the intrusion of religion into daily life; the grounds for dissolution of a marriage; and the equality of the sexes.

Some feminists, lawyers and doctors warned that the court's acceptance of the centrality of virginity in marriage would encourage more Frenchwomen from Arab and African Muslim backgrounds to have their hymens restored. But there is much debate about whether the procedure is an act of liberation or repression.

Those who perform the procedure say they are empowering patients by giving them a viable future and preventing them from being abused -- or even killed -- by their fathers or brothers.

Now I realize that many on the religious right will simply condemn the loss of virginity as well as its restoration...and I believe I understand how they would come to that conclusion. Regardless, I don't believe any of us can ignore the lessons we can learn from looking at this clash of religious ideology with secular society.

The willingness to characterize Islam as an extremist belief system seems to disregard the many similarities it shares with evangelical Christianity. If one were to strip away the arguments over the source of each groups beliefs (Jesus v. Muhammad; the Bible v. the Koran) and looked exclusively at the values both groups espouse as well as their desires to impose them upon their fellow citizens, one begins to see that evangelical Christianity and Islamism aren't all that different.

The irony is revealed in the animosities that exist. Evangelicals view secularism and Islam as a threat to their beliefs...while Islamists view secularism and the tenets of Judeo-Christianity as the enemy. On the other hand, the secularists look at Islam and Christianity and struggle to ascertain the relevant distinctions while hoping that all can exist under the umbrella of a governance that remains separate from religion and religious beliefs.

Reason and rationality tell us that secularism is relatively accommodating...happy to allow citizens to embrace the belief systems they choose while insisting that they refrain from imploring the government to impose one belief at the detriment of another. Hence secularism embraces freedom while allowing those who are religiously inclined to live the ideological inclinations they elect.

Unfortunately, with the growing influx of immigrants, secular societies are constantly barraged by the demands of the ideologues who now reside within them...couched in the certainty of their faith absent any real respect for the faith of others or those who have no faith at all...all premised upon the writings of mortals who allegedly intuited the one true deity's directives.

That brings us back to an understanding of morality. Yes, evangelicals like to assail the French and the Islamists like to attack the infidels...but aside from dogma...just what is the basis of their morality? Can it be reduced to the existence of a woman's hymen? Can it be surgically restored? And where's the imperative to know about the places a man's penis may have traveled prior to marriage? Is morality nothing more than a misogynistic construct such that the purity of a woman is the only relevant consideration? We know that numerous women die in the interest of morality, but I want to know how many men are put to death for disregarding the same moral imperatives?

In many ways, hasn't morality become a contrivance or a club used to make discriminations...one that serves to elevate the standing of some members of society and denigrating that of others (gender and other considerations)...all the while endeavoring to impose the beliefs of one group upon all others? How is it that religiously derived morality is the least accepting of other iterations of morality despite its inability to rationally justify its assumed superiority?

In the larger picture, why is it that the one group that affords tolerance...the secularists...are the object of scorn and ridicule from people of all faiths? In truth, it is the secularists who are willing to admit the reality of this existence...that people will always adopt conflicting beliefs...and government's role should be accommodating. In the end, the secularist assumes that the only achievable role government can play is to allow for difference while rejecting and preventing the imposition of any singular or narrow belief system.

We Americans have a tendency to forget that our history is in its infancy when juxtaposed with that of Europe. No doubt the secular forms of governance that exist in Europe result from a recognition that the ideological differences (especially those derived from absolute religious doctrine) will never be resolved to the satisfaction of the purists. The evidence supporting this is found in the centuries of conflict, crusades, and death in the name of a deity that dominated the history of Europe.

Rather than ridicule Europe for achieving some measure of peaceful and cohesive stasis, perhaps evangelicals and Islamists could find the wherewithal to realize that the best they can hope for is the right to believe as they choose absent the constant fear that those very beliefs may facilitate their extermination. It has the added benefit of recognizing the inherent flaws of the human condition. That seems like a rather evolved morality to me. If the cost is nothing more than the loss of purity, sign me up.

Tagged as: Bible, Europe, Evangelical, France, God, History, Honor Killing, Innocence, Islam, Judeo-Christian, Koran, Misogyny, Morality, Muslim, Purity, Religion, Secularism, Sexuality, Tolerance, Values, Virginity

Daniel DiRito | June 11, 2008 | 11:11 AM | link | Comments (0)
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June 10, 2008

WHO Updates AIDS Model - Guess Who Attaches Moral Judgement? genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Uncivil Unions

WHO.jpg

The inclination to view natural disasters and disease as signs of God's wrath remains a frightening demonstration of the dangers of religious dogma. Time and again, a vocal group of religious leaders attribute these tragedies to the morality of those affected.

One long standing example is HIV/AIDS, though there are many more. When HIV first appeared, there were numerous religious leaders and politicians who chose to characterize the disease as punishment for homosexuality. Since the beginning, the fact that the infection rate in lesbians was a fraction of that found in gay men seemed to defy the efforts to apply a moral judgment. Regardless, the prevalence of these prejudices continues to exist.

The release of a new report by the World Health Organization, in which the organization acknowledges that HIV isn't likely to become a heterosexual pandemic, has already triggered a new round of moral pronouncements. I'll discuss the invective offered by the Family Research Council beneath the following excerpts. They are from an article in The Independent which details the reports conclusions.

A quarter of a century after the outbreak of Aids, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has accepted that the threat of a global heterosexual pandemic has disappeared.

In the first official admission that the universal prevention strategy promoted by the major Aids organisations may have been misdirected, Kevin de Cock, the head of the WHO's department of HIV/Aids said there will be no generalised epidemic of Aids in the heterosexual population outside Africa.

Dr De Cock, an epidemiologist who has spent much of his career leading the battle against the disease, said understanding of the threat posed by the virus had changed. Whereas once it was seen as a risk to populations everywhere, it was now recognised that, outside sub-Saharan Africa, it was confined to high-risk groups including men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and sex workers and their clients.

[...] But we have to be careful. As an epidemiologist it is better to describe what we can measure. There could be small outbreaks in some areas."

Aids organisations, including the WHO, UN Aids and the Global Fund, have come under attack for inflating estimates of the number of people infected, diverting funds from other health needs such as malaria, spending it on the wrong measures such as abstinence programmes rather than condoms, and failing to build up health systems.

Dr De Cock labelled these the "four malignant arguments" undermining support for the global campaign against Aids, which still faced formidable challenges, despite the receding threat of a generalised epidemic beyond Africa.

Any revision of the threat was liable to be seized on by those who rejected HIV as the cause of the disease, or who used the disease as a weapon to stigmatise high risk groups, he said.

The biggest puzzle was what had caused heterosexual spread of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa - with infection rates exceeding 40 per cent of adults in Swaziland, the worst-affected country - but nowhere else.

"It is the question we are asked most often - why is the situation so bad in sub-Saharan Africa? It is a combination of factors - more commercial sex workers, more ulcerative sexually transmitted diseases, a young population and concurrent sexual partnerships."

The inclination to assail the motivation of WHO may have some measure of merit...but the criticism is primarily a demonstration of all that is wrong with a reliance on hindsight. The truth of the matter is that we knew nothing about HIV when it first appeared which lent credence to the alarm that was disseminated. Frankly, any cynical calculation on the part of WHO (based upon the value judgments that accompanied the discovery of the virus) are understandable and, in my opinion, justifiable. Truth be told, the U.S. government drug its feet in addressing the epidemic...despite the evidence. I think it's fair to conclude that some of that hesitation centered on the fact that gays were the predominant demographic.

In order to understand the motivations that may have led to some of the alarm generated by WHO and other organizations on the forefront of the epidemic, all we need to do is take a look at the Family Research Council's reaction to this new report.

25 years after the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the leader of the World Health Organization's efforts against the disease has finally admitted the obvious--there will be no worldwide AIDS pandemic among the general heterosexual population.

In the article, however, one line stood out in particular:

"Any revision of the threat was liable to be seized on by those who rejected HIV as the cause of the disease, or who used the disease as a weapon to stigmatise high risk groups, he said."

In other words: We couldn't tell the truth, because it might have made people think there is something wrong with homosexuality, prostitution, and drug use.

Duh! Thank you FRC for confirming the legitimacy of the fears held by the World Health Organization. Aside from the obvious moral judgment, the position taken by religious groups like the FRC ignores a number of relevant considerations. First, if morality is the underlying concern...meaning HIV evidences immoral activities...then we should look at all sexual activity; not just the activity that can lead to HIV. Here's the point. It's easy to scapegoat gays, drug users, and prostitutes...but doing so ignores other available data...and therefore the moral judgments that could be applied because of it if one were so inclined.

I've long argued that the best way to understand how inappropriate it is to selectively judge the morality of the above groups is to look at the rates of sexually transmitted disease in the heterosexual population. In truth, the emergence of HIV received an inordinate share of attention (rightly so) because it was a fatal disease. At the same time, were any of the many STD's commonly found in heterosexuals to have suddenly mutated into a similarly fatal infectious disease, the number of deaths would likely overshadow those found in the early stages of the HIV epidemic.

Hence, if unacceptable sexual relations (multiple partners, adultery, premarital sex, etc) are the grounds for judging gays, drug users, and prostitutes to be immoral, the same judgment should be applied to the millions of heterosexuals who have contracted an STD.

So why is the lion's share of the negative judgment reserved for gays, drug users, and prostitutes? Well, the easy answer is because the religious heterosexuals leveling the charges prefer to focus on the actions of others rather than address their own predisposition for impropriety. Besides, the vast majority of heterosexually transmitted diseases can be discretely (and quickly) addressed by one's physician or at any number of clinics that offer a degree of discretion and/or anonymity.

Thankfully, with many of these pillars of piety, their dalliances eventually betray their efforts to hoard the high ground. Regardless, they continue to insist upon directing their derision towards those groups they choose to vilify. I do find it rather amusing that they've chosen to include prostitution on their list of uber-sinners. After all, who do they think heads the list of "sinners" who make it possible for prostitution to flourish? It isn't homosexuals and I think we pretty much know where drug users are spending their cash.

I want to address one additional area of hypocrisy that frequently goes unnoticed. Under the Bush administration, faith based groups have been enlisted in the efforts to combat HIV in Africa. The preferred model for many of these groups is to encourage abstinence over comprehensive sex education that would feature the use of condoms. The working assumption for many of these groups is that promiscuity is largely responsible for the crisis that exists in Africa.

However, you'll note in the WHO report that they identify a distinction with regard to the cultural sexual practices found in some regions of Africa. That distinction is identified as "concurrent sexual partnerships". My interpretation of this phenomenon is that it's not unusual for some Africans to be simultaneously involved in multiple relationships that include sexual contact. This doesn't mean that these Africans have more total sexual partners than the average American; it simply means that they approach the occurrence of multiple sexual encounters differently than one would expect to find in the United States.

I would describe the African structure as a form of polygamous interaction versus the American model of serial monogamy...or ongoing bouts of adultery. Based upon these two models, the passage of the HIV virus is apt to occur with more frequency and consistency in African society because of an ongoing pool (a linked web if you will) of repetitive sexual partners. Once one member of the pool is infected, all are apt to be infected over time. The fact that the American model would more likely involve one extramarital partner at a time makes the passage of an STD less of a certainty given the absence of an extended pool of simultaneously ongoing sexual partners.

The point I'm making is that many of those who are inclined to apply a moral judgment to those infected with HIV are prone to ignoring their own morality. They're able to do so for three primary reasons. One, it's rare for any of the common heterosexual STD's to result in death so they can be kept under the radar. Two, not all of these STD's are chronic infections so treatment resolves the infection and puts an end to ongoing transmission. Three, the manner in which Americans engage in multiple sex partnerships masks the number and frequency of such encounters and may minimize the potential for predictive infection patterns.

At the same time, none of these explanations can serve to remove any of the same moral considerations and/or judgments that are being routinely applied to those with HIV. While I've provided a justification for an equitable distribution of judgment, I am not making the case to enact it. Instead, I find the assertion of morality as an explanation for natural disasters or diseases that result in death to be abhorrent. Given that death is inevitable, attempts to attach moral attributions to the causation of death opens the door to doing so with all deaths (of course I'm excluding reasonable judgments made, and punishment applied, relative to murder or an identifiably criminal act). Further, such assertions simply can't be substantiated.

Aside from an absolute disregard for the random nature of our existence...inclusive of death and disease...the presumption that we mortals could anticipate and apply the all knowing conclusions of an immortal deity is arrogance of the highest order.

Tagged as: Africa, AIDS, Family Research Council, Gay, HIV, LGBT, Morality, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Sexually Transmitted Disease, STD, World Health Organization

Daniel DiRito | June 10, 2008 | 2:56 PM | link | Comments (0)
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June 4, 2008

Gay Marriage: 63% Say It's A Private Choice; CA Court Rejects Stay genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Uncivil Unions

GayRights.jpg

Good news on the gay marriage front from a newly released survey and from the California Supreme Court. A new USA Today Gallup Poll suggests that a large majority of Americans believe that the choice to marry someone of the same sex ought to be a private choice and that the government shouldn't be involved in restricting those decisions.

From USA Today:

Six in 10 Americans say the government should not regulate whether gays and lesbians can marry the people they choose, a survey finds.

As same-sex couples line up to get marriage licenses in California on June 17, the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that 63% of adults say same-sex marriage is "strictly a private decision" between two people.

That the government has the right "to prohibit or allow" such marriages was stated by 33%, and 4% had no opinion.

A majority of respondents at every level of education and income say same-sex marriage is "strictly private." This was true:

• In every region: East (71%), West (64%), Midwest (63%) and South (56%).

• Among all ages except "65 and older": 18 to 29 (79%), 30 to 49 (65%), 50 to 64% (62%) and 65 and older (44%).

In California, the Supreme Court has rejected a request to stay their recent decision to allow same-sex marriages. Opponents had asked the court to stay its decision until such time as the voters of California had an opportunity to voice their opinion on a November ballot initiative designed to prohibit gay marriages. The ruling means that June 17th will likely be the first day gay marriages will be conducted in the state.

From Reuters:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's Supreme Court gave the final green light on Wednesday for gay marriages to begin later this month, turning down requests for a delay.

The court voted 4-3 to deny the petition to stay the decision. The same judges voted the same way on May 15 in the landmark decision, hailed by gay activists and condemned by social conservatives.

The court's original ruling becomes final at 5 p.m. on June 16, opening the way for gay marriages to start the next day.

Massachusetts is the only U.S. state that allows same-sex marriage, but offers licenses only to its own residents. California has no residency requirement, which means gays from across the United States will be able to go there to marry.

While polling on same-sex marriage has been relatively inconsistent, there is clear evidence from virtually all of these polls that the age of the respondent is an important determining factor. What this means is that the passage of time will undoubtedly result in diminished opposition to the granting of full equality to same-sex couples. As this latest poll suggests, the only demographic wherein a majority are opposed to same-sex marriage is the eldest segment of society.

I'm sure all of this news is a disappointment to those leaders of the religious right who have utilized the issue of homosexuality to amass followers and separate them from large sums of money in order fund measures designed to deny rights and recognition to gays. Additionally, their efforts to convince the public that the passage of gay rights will jeopardize the family and compromise morality have been undermined by the experience of cities and states that have afforded a variety of rights to homosexuals.

We're fast reaching the point at which these religious bigots will need to find a new segment of society to scapegoat in order to manipulate and motivate their followers. At the same time, their predictions that we're nearing the end of days (rapture rhetoric) hasn't materialized. At some point, the faithful will have to conclude that they've been duped by their dogma driven demagogues. I know I can't wait for that moment of awareness to arrive.

Tagged as: Bigotry, California, Faith, Gallup, Gay, Gay Marriage, LGBT, Rapture, Religion, Religious Right, Same-Sex Marriage, Supreme Court, USA Today

Daniel DiRito | June 4, 2008 | 1:05 PM | link | Comments (2)
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