Friday, March 29, 2013

Blah, Blah, BLAG...

After a long day there's nothing quite as relaxing as sitting down at your laptop, puttin' in the old ear buds, and rockin' out on two hours of Supreme Court oral arguments...said no one ever.

Thanks largely to a total lack of attorney Charles Cooper, United States v. Windsor wasn't nearly as entertaining as Hollingsworth v. Perry.  There was some comedy.  For example, this amazing exchange between Justice Kagan and Mr. Clement (attorney for BLAG)...
Justice Kagan: ...I'm going to quote from the House Report here -- is that "Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgement and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality."  Is that what happened in 1996.
Mr. Clement: Does the House Report say that?  Of course the House Report says that.
There's more to that exchange.  In fact you can listen to all two hours and read along at NPR.org.  Mr. Clement goes on to say that if that's enough to invalidate the statute then the Court should invalidate the statute.  He's totally right, the court should invalidate the statute for that reason.

Mr. Clement wants to argue in a vacuum that all Congress was trying to do was to create a uniformity of the definition of marriage because...you know...traditionally, the Federal government has had all kind of interest in marriage...except for when they haven't since the definition of marriage is pretty specifically left to the states to decide.  Look, all the Federal Government wanted to do was to provide a uniform definition of marriage that maintained marriage as between a man and a woman because some states don't allow same-sex marriage and so the Government didn't want people to lose benefits in moving from a same-sex friendly state to a same-sex unfriendly state or to encourage states toward a particular definition of marriage.

Look, let's be serious for a second, and that's hard because BLAG's legal arguments are hysterically funny.  You can argue until you're blue in the face that DOMA is about a uniform marriage definition, but there are two important things to remember:
  1. The Federal Government doesn't get to define marriage.
  2. As Solicitor General Verilli says, "the statute is not called the Federal Uniform Marriage Benefits Act"
This is not about uniformity, this is about a so-called moral judgement of a specific group of people.  This is about people who are specifically discriminating against gay people.  Period.  To argue otherwise is simply disingenuous.  The intent of DOMA is crystal clear.  It's an indictment of gay people as inherently immoral.  It has nothing to do with federal benefits or uniform definitions.  DOMA is about hate and moral judgement.  If there is any justice in this nation, the Supreme Court will find section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Traditional Marriage"

Instead of rehashing what you could certainly read many other places on the internet today regarding yesterday's Supreme Court hearing of Hollingsworth v. Perry, I thought I'd give you my personal perspective on yesterday's arguments.  Specifically, something that I heard a great deal of from the petitioner's attorney, Charles Cooper.  Traditional marriage.

Now, for the life of me, I don't can't understand how allowing same-sex couples to be married is redefining marriage.  Honestly, I don't.  And, the more I heard from Charles Cooper about this sacred and majestic institution of marriage, the more I wondered whether Charles Cooper had ever met or talked to actual people who are married or...better yet, people who have been divorced.  For example, Cooper insists that the government has a compelling interest in defining marriage as between a man and a woman for the sake of possible unplanned children because...
"Your Honor, society's interest in responsible procreation isn't just with respect to the procreative capacities of the couple itself.  The marital norm, which imposes the obligations of fidelity and monogamy, Your Honor, advances the interests in responsible procreation by making more likely that neither party, including the fertile party to that..."
And this point Cooper's little monologue gets interrupted by several of the Justices, but he continues a minute or two down the road with...
"It's designed, Your Honor, to make it less likely that either party to that marriage will engage in irresponsible procreative conduct outside of that marriage..."
He goes on about how the magical institution of marriage assures that committed opposite-sex couples won't fool around outside of marriage and then the men and women who responsibly procreate together will stay together and be super duper responsible with those responsibly created children.  I mean, set aside that if same-sex couples are allowed to be parents too then government should have the same interest in assuring them a framework that allows for a responsible legal structure to support their families.

Let's just talk for a second about "traditional marriage".  The more I hear about traditional marriage the angrier it makes me and more that I think about what traditional marriage has meant to women all over the world.  Traditional marriage has been many things, but one thing that it has been over and over again is an exchange of property between a father and a husband-to-be.  That property is a woman and that attitude is responsible for the extremely sad state of women's rights around the world.  So I hope you'll excuse me when, every time I hear people argue for traditional marriage, all I can think about is the traditional place of a woman and the traditional role of a woman  and the traditional view of a woman as a piece of property that belongs first to her father and then to her husband and I wonder if that's worth fighting for.

I believe that two people who love each other and want to commit to each other for life should have the same legal status and benefits no matter what their genders.  Charles Cooper argued that if the government's interest isn't in children and we make marriage a genderless institution then the focus of marriage might shift from the production of children to the emotional desires of the married adults.  I fail to see how the emotional well-being of two adults is anything but a boon to the children that they may or may not have.

Hopefully today's arguments will make me happier.  There were definitely some great moments in the Prop 8 arguments, but Charles Cooper's tired and, frankly, ridiculous arguments just made me angry over and over again thinking about how a segment of America, an ever shrinking segment, is fighting so hard for a past that doesn't exist and to deny their fellow human beings the happy and fulfilled lives that they so deserve.  People are actually fighting to deny the rights of same-sex couples in order to not redefine an institution that, for centuries, has seen women as pieces of property.

Redefine marriage?  Yes.  Let's redefine the hell out of it.  Let's define marriage as the legal union of two adults who love each other enough to commit to a lifetime together.

Kids?  Kids are great and kids deserve two loving adults who have a committed relationship.  They don't need to be a man and a woman, but they should be two people who can show those kids what a loving and happy relationship looks like.  That's the tradition of marriage that I want to pass on to my son and I hope that's the tradition that we take this moment to create for all of our children.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Good Options On Alcohol

For awhile now I've been laboring over a coherent opinion on whether or not Pennsylvania should privatize alcohol sales.  As a Democrat, it's possible that you'd think my opinion would clearly be that we should not privatize alcohol sales.  You would be incorrect.

This is not to say that I agree with Governor Corbett's plan.  I don't.  It is, to put it bluntly, a really stupid plan.  After all, if you're really serious about alcohol reform and you really want to privatize alcohol sales, why not write a completely new law, or set of laws, and then scrap the current system?  Why amend our current system?

Before I talk more about the opinion that I'm forming, let me tell you what kind of drinker I am, because I think it goes a long way toward forming that opinion.  I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer or two with friends.  There are times when I may have a glass of wine with dinner every night for a week.  There are times when I may drink no alcohol at all for weeks on end.  This is all by way of saying that I enjoy a drink if it's convenient or I'm in the mood, but it's not really that big a deal in my life.  I don't really mind that you can only buy wine and liquor in state stores.  This fact is, at most, somewhat inconvenient.  For me, there's no personal stake and so forming an opinion up to this point has been difficult.

Look, people who work in state stores have decent jobs and they get paid reasonably well.  I don't want them to lose that, but I also don't necessarily agree that the Commonwealth should be in the business of both selling and regulating alcohol.  Some people have put to me the argument that having wine and liquor available only in state stores (and, for wine, some wineries and winery stores) makes alcohol less available and thus lessens alcohol consumption.  From all the data that I have found, Pennsylvania is squarely in the middle of the road when it comes to alcohol consumption.  We don't get mentioned on lists that discuss states where people drink the least.  We don't get mentioned on lists of people that drink the most.

The decision that I've come to very recently is that we are offered two choices: the Democratic legislators who would rather we keep the state store system and the Republican legislators who want to privatize...well...everything.  These are crappy choices.  These are stupid choices.  HB790 left committee after winning on a completely party-line vote and what exactly are we getting?

If this were a world ruled by logic then Republicans, who champion privatization at all costs, should be backing options that actually open up competition.  They aren't, though.  The bill to begin with wasn't going to give us full-scale actual free market actual competition, but it was closer than it is now that Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny) has added a 35 page amendment to it.  A what?  Yes.  35 pages.  What's in there?  Well the bill now precludes pharmacies, convenience stores, grocery stores, and big-box stores from selling beer unless they also have a restaurant license, which might not be a big deal if we weren't still keeping the disastrously stupid county quota system in place.  This means that now grocery stores have to compete with actual restaurants for liquor licenses and if you just said to yourself "that's really stupid" then you are correct. Oh don't worry though, because gas stations can still sell liquor...but not beer...without a restaurant license.

Under the new bill beer distributors would be able to pay $1000 to be able to sell beer in six packs (or other less-than-case-or-keg quantities) and restaurants could be retail licenses for $500 and beer distributors will get first crack at licenses to sell wine and liquor (because for whatever reason they deserve special consideration.  You know, businesses get special consideration from Republicans but not actual people.)  What this bill in no way even attempts to fix is the endlessly dumb county quota system which allows only one tavern license for ever 3,000 persons.  This isn't such a big deal in Pittsburgh or Philly, but out here in the hinterlands (yeah...hinterlands) it's another story.  We're talking about licenses selling for over $500,000.  Does that sound insane to you?  It should.

Okay, so what about the State stores?  They're gone, right?  Well, after awhile anyway.  State stores will stick around until they are outnumbered in a county by private alcohol retailers 2 to 1 at which point they'll be phased out county by county.

I think Rep. Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) hit the nail directly on the head when he said "People want convenience, this legislation delivers chaos."  This bill is a total clusterfluff.

Understandably, restaurant owners don't want their liquor licenses to go down in value.  Right now they're a commodity.  They shouldn't be, but they are.

Oh hey!  Do you know what I haven't addressed here while I've been blathering on about the free market and competition and licenses and crap? The public good.  Yeah, our legislators haven't addressed it either.  This bill doesn't in any way address public health concerns.  The limits to alcohol sales aren't about public health, they're about pandering to the special interests of the alcohol industry and we don't even get healthy competition out of it.  So, thanks House of Representatives, for all your hard work.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Because There is Nothing More Important to Legislate...

Over a couple month period at the end of this past year into the beginning of this year, the United States saw a spate of truly horrifying mass shootings, the sum of which have led to a movement to actually do something about gun laws in this country.  Conservatives, especially minions of the NRA have been waiting for the so-called "Connecticut Effect" to subside, but it's looking like gun control proponents are gaining steam, not going away.

The Conservative answer has been a numerous legislative efforts, not to work with what, at this point, is an overwhelming public desire to strengthen gun laws.  Instead state legislators the country over are busy trying to pass bills that would, in some cases, nullifying federal gun laws.  In other cases, states have attempted to pass legislation that would actually criminalize the enforcement of federal gun laws.   A conservative group called The Tenth Amendment Center has available on their website a generalized "2nd Amendment Protection Act", ready for legislators to use as their blank slate to "protect" themselves from federal gun laws.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe
States such as Missouri, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and South Carolina have had varying degrees of success thus far in enacting these ludicrous laws.  Are you living in Pennsylvania and feeling left out of the insanity?  Never fear!  Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe is here!  On January 25, HB 357 was introduced to the House Judiciary Committee.  The bill has 72 co-sponsors, including our very own Rep. John D. McGinnis.  This shouldn't be surprising, considering that McGinnis thinks that the government's only responsibility is defense, even when that government is a state, not federal, government, and even when the constitution of said state does not agree with that view.  Two of the other noteworthy co-sponsors are We'll-Win-PA-for-Romney, Mike Turzai the truly awful, I mean...honorable...Kerry Benninghoff; so McGinnis is in really fantastic company.

What exactly would HB 357 seek to do?  It's essentially a carbon copy of all the other federal law-banning legislation out there.  The bill would provide that "any Federal law attempting to register, restrict or ban a firearm or limit the size of a magazine of a firearm in this Commonwealth shall be unenforceable in this Commonwealth."  And of course it provides for penalties.  In fact, it provides that any federal agent attempting to enforce a Federal gun law passed after December 31, 2012 will be committing a third degree felony and, if convicted of such, would be subject to imprisonment for up to one year.  Does anyone else see a problem with threatening to imprison Federal officers in the course of their duties?

But what about the innocent gun-law-violator who is also lucky enough to be a resident of the Commonwealth?  Well, they're in luck!  If a person violates a gun law passed after December 31, 2012, once HB 357 is passed, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania would be empowered to defend that person against Federal charges.  If you're rolling your eyes right now, know that you are not alone.

It is my hope that this legislation would go absolutely nowhere, but I will certainly be keeping an close eye on this bill to see where it goes.  If you're interested in checking out what's happening in the General Assembly and State Senate, I suggest you check out the website, Legiscan.  It's a great resource.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Meeting

If you're read my previous post you'll know that I recently sent off a few letters to legislators in an effort to spread the good word about LGBT equality.  One of the letters that I wrote was to Representative John McGinnis.  Somewhat surprisingly, the response was an email in which he said he'd be happy to sit down and meet with me.  I was intrigued, and I set up a meeting.

The meeting happened today.  I wanted to talk it out while it was still fresh in my head.

As expected, Representative McGinnis was very polite.  We sat down and I laid out my issue.  In Pennsylvania, LGBT persons are subject to fully legal discrimination in employment, public housing and accommodation  etc.  As a staunch defender of pure capitalism, Rep. McGinnis pointed out that enacting anti-discrimination laws is not the way to stop employment discrimination.  He believes that if a business, for example, didn't hire women, the way to combat that discrimination is to put them out of business, one assumes, by no longer patronizing the business.  This is an economic argument that I've read.  And it's great, if you live in a world ruled by the laws of pure capitalism and where everyone shops their conscience.  The problem is that, whatever the Tea Party wants to believe, we do not live in a country that is purely capitalist.  Beyond that, most people don't shop with their conscious.  Sure, if a business refuses specifically to hire women, they may be put out of business, but most hiring discrimination isn't that blatant.  In any case, it would seem that Representative McGinnis doesn't believe that the government should make any regulations regarding why you can or can't fire or hire someone.  My assumption is that he doesn't like the current anti-discrimination laws for those reasons as well.  It is apparently, as he says, our "God given right" to discriminate.  People shouldn't be bigoted, he argues, but it's not the government's place to make laws about it.

Can you guess how he feels about hate crimes legislation?  Well, that's the government being thought police and that's bad.

Having this part out of the way, I decided, what the heck, I'm going to go ahead and jump in the deep end.  I asked him what his feelings were on same-sex marriage.  Well, while he has no problem with gay people, even with gay people adopting.  However, his feeling is that the purpose of government being involved in marriage is because of the "third party" that is created through marriage, by which he means children.  Because heterosexual marriage can create children (and, of course so can any man and woman having sex), that's the reason that the government makes laws regarding who can and can't marry.  For example, brothers and sisters can't get married or first cousins, or 12 year olds, etc.  Lesbians and gays can't (I mean, except through artificial insemination, but whatever) produce natural children and therefore the government doesn't need to be involved in their relationships in any way.  When I put to him that heterosexual married couples gain benefits from marriage that lesbian and gay persons don't get, he denied that there are any benefits.  He said that he could go out on the street and pick the first stranger that walked past and buy property with them.  I'm no real estate law expert, but I'm fairly sure that married couples purchasing property deal with slightly different regulations than two strangers, or even two friends.  Heck, even a boyfriend and girlfriend for that matter.

So there you have it.  He's a very polite gentleman who doesn't believe in anti-discrimination laws, hate crimes legislation, or marriage equality.  He did tell me something that has really stuck with me though, and I think I will absolutely take to heart.  If there is a person in business who is a bigot, the best way to deal with him is to put him out of business.  I will keep that in mind when Representative McGinnis goes up for reelection.