Maureen Walsh on Marriage Equality in Washington State

13 02 2012

At 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning, 13 February 2012, as the raindrops slide down the sides of Seattle’s skyscrapers, Washington state is expected to legalise same-sex marriage when Governor Christine Gregoire signs into law a bill passed by the state Legislature. The fight for equality in Washington has been an incremental one, starting with an anti-discrimination law (2006) and moving on to a domestic partnership law (2007), which was later expanded and approved by voters (2009), until the Legislature finally passed the marriage equality bill (2012). Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay man, has played an instrumental role in the process, having spent the last few years sponsoring bills to expand gay rights. But what do impassioned lawmakers have to say?

The struggle to pass the marriage equality bill has been anything but perfunctory. Thanks to the Internet and social networking, people around the world have had the chance to witness the powerful, heartfelt speeches given by Washington lawmakers who support the bill. Interestingly, some of those lawmakers are Republicans, showing that compassion for devoted same-sex couples crosses party lines and touches on core humanist principles. I think we should all acknowledge this basic common-sense empathy when it pops up in Republicans. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representative for Washington’s 16th District of Walla Walla (where yours truly happens to have some super-conservative religious relatives) proved for me that empathy crosses party lines:

This was an inspiring speech, and it’s no wonder it has more than a few Youtube commenters a little bit verklempt. But what we should note is how Walsh touches on the argumentum ad populum of gay marriage opponents, which states that a thing is good just because it is popular. She bravely and passionately communicates that a belief is good not because it is popular, but because it makes people happy. And she holds her fellow lawmakers accountable for making a rational, fair-minded decision (the way Thomas Jefferson would). Her message wouldn’t have had the same clout, though, had she not made it personal and intimate by recounting her relationship with her lesbian daughter, who, as she recalls, used to stand up for bullied children on the playground. She tells her fellow legislators,

My daughter stood up for that kid, [and] even though it wasn’t the popular thing to do, she knew it was the right thing to do. And I was never more proud of my kid than knowing she was speaking against the vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority. And to me, it is incumbent upon us as legislators in this state to do that. That is why we are here. And I shudder to think that if folks who have preceded us in history [had not done] that—frankly, I’m not sure I would be here as a woman. I’m not sure that other people would be here due to their race or their creed, and to me that is what’s disconcerting.

Walsh is right. A thing is not right just because it is popular; it is right because it is reasonable, and it takes a principled leader to stand up and say, “this is right, and here are the reasons why”. Would we have abolished slavery had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Would we have approved women’s suffrage had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Neither decision was decided by a popular public vote. There are reasons why we have lawmakers brooding over the rights of minority groups. They take it seriously.

Marriage equality has triumphed in Washington state in part because of people like Maureen Walsh, who, despite her Republican status, believes that every loyal couple deserves the equal protection of the law. Hopefully this will be expanded to include the rest of the United States and, eventually, the rest of the world. To facilitate this effort, what we shoud be doing is proving to people who are still sitting on the fence why gays and lesbians deserve these rights, and we can do this by breaking down fallacies like the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature, the slippery slope argument, the “special rights” argument, the “homosexuality is a choice” argument, the “homosexuality is condemned in the Bible” argument, and others (many of which I refute in my blog entry “8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense“). However, we also need to complement our appeal to reason with anecdotes about the legal and personal struggles of individual gay and lesbian couples. We need to appeal to both justice and mercy. That will change both hearts and minds.





Christians vs. Witches: the Atheists Arrive

3 07 2011

Previously, we discussed how the armies of Republican Christian politician Sarah Palin and pagan high-priestess Laurie Cabot were bearing down on one another. After an initial onslaught, they decided to withdraw and hold a match between the choicest champions of either side. Palin was not impressed with “losing” her champion to the side of the witches, and called on her forces to resume the onslaught against Cabot’s pagan forces. It is the ultimate duke-out. Thus, we continue.

Palin assumed the form of a huge and matted grizzly bear, wielding a Bible in one paw and a shotgun in the other. Cabot assumed the form of a flying cat-woman with a sleek, black body and batlike wings, wielding a staff in one paw—the staff, made of yew, was etched in an ancient Ogham incantation and glowed white—and a ball of blazing blue fire in the other. Palin levelled her gun on her shoulder, aimed at the flying witch-demon, and fired, but the shot was deflected partly by Palin’s own poor marksmanship and partly by the ball of fire, which shot from Cabot’s fist and burnt Palin’s paw, sending the shotgun a-flying.

“You’ll never best me, you Satan-worshipper!” cried Palin, rubbing her burnt paw.

“Satan?” asked Cabot, quizically. “I don’t worship Satan,  because I don’t believe in him. How can I worship something I don’t believe in?”

“Oh, he’s real enough!” cried Palin. “And he’s seducing you with his pretty words! He is the ultimate sleuth!” She was reading a page in her Bible when she said this. “Ever read C.S. Lewis?”

“Actually”, responded Cabot, “I think evil is the work of man, not some demon scapegoat. Satan is just an excuse humans use when they don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions. Humans cause evil, so humans should correct it. All evil comes from humanity, and it is the obligation of humanity to correct this error, not foist it conveniently on to some other force. It’s all about personal responsibility.”

“Lord in heaven above”, pleaded Palin, scanning a page in her Bible, which boasted a pastel-coloured, floral-print book-jacket edged with lace, “smite mine evil enemy as you would have an innocent babe of Canaan for being the child of a tribe occupying the land that your chosen people sought to conquer!” With those words, a stream of blood shot forth from the book and knocked Cabot to the ground—well, not quite to the ground, but she crashed into the Christ Church Cathedral spire. From the mass of crumbling roof she rose upright to meet her nemesis.

“You may abide in such a bloodthirsty lord”, spoke Cabot in a ringing baritone, “but I cannot!” With that, she pointed her staff at Palin, spoke a series of strange and mystical words, and shot a ray of pure light at her enemy, blasting her through a rooftop in the city-centre below. Her enemy struggled to her feet and found herself inside an Oxfam shop, asking, “What curious thing is this?”

“It is a shop where one selflessly donates to the poor and needy by buying things, such as books”,  cried the shopkeeper, a surprisingly spry old matron, “you know, those things one reads—without feeling the need to invoke capitalism or the myth of trickle-down economics in order to protect one’s wealth! Not that you would know what that means, you daft old chattering voicebox”, she snapped, pushing the bear-woman out the door and slamming it shut in her face.

“Curious indeed!” pondered Palin pawfully. “I never thought of that.”

“Chief-witches”, cried Cabot, “let us gather at the site of your fallen foe!” With that, Cabot and her chief battle-witches descended through the spires and steep roofs till they reached the cobble-stone street in a cluster before the pitiful Palin, who pawed vainly at the doorstep of the Oxfam shop. “Here”, said Cabot, “we must consider our next course of action while the armies battle above, given her”—and here she pointed at the bear-woman—“temporary disadvantage.”

“Well, we can’t just kill her”, said Doreen Virtue in a sweet voice. “At the very least, we have to judge her, but we have little time to spare at the present moment. Let us incarcerate her for the time being.”

“Ugh, such minor tasks use up my power”, sighed Cabot, considering both the army above and her fallen foe below. She could not await any further assaults, nor the re-ascent of Palin, either. She waved her staff in the air above, and the crystal atop the staff glowed with a beam of bright, opalescent, blue-white light. When this had acquired a sufficient luminosity, she pointed the crystal at the she-bear and blasted her with a cold ray of light, freezing her where she lay in a giant heap of ice. This task accomplished, she returned her glace to the enemy’s host above. They had metamorphosed into a bevvy of flying, braying moose-women. Startled by this spectacle, she raised her staff in the air once more, this time holding it horizontally with both hands, and recited a mysterious, arcane incantation. There was a brief pause.

“Witches, assume panther mode!” she bellowed. With that, a purple mass of light burst forth from her, weaved through the spikey Oxford skyline, and showered her soldiers above, transforming them into a throng of giant black cat-beasts.

“We still haven’t enough numbers!” yelled evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber from the side.

“Nigel Barber?”, mused Doreen Virtue with a soft but quizzical expression. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Oh, I don’t know”, he responded dully. “I guess I kind of like you guys!”

“Great!”, she said. “We’ll need all the help we can get. General Cabot, perhaps we can summon some friendly non-pagan forces with our psychic abilities!” she beamed, bloated with the soul of Michele Bachmann inside her.

“We are already here!” squawked Richard Dawkins, landing on a perch above in the form of a giant pteradactyl. “I have brought my forces to assist you, lady, as I see a need to protect humanity from the forces of evil.” Behind him hovered philosopher Daniel Dennet and evolutionary psychologist Susan Blackmore, in their normal human forms, as well as a number of other hardcore classical materialists.

“The atheists!” rejoiced Cabot. “I never thought you’d have come to my aid, given our differences on spirituality, the afterlife, and the mind-brain relationship. Your reputation for being cold, mean, stubborn, and blindly egotistical does precede you. Obviously it is not entirely deserved!”

Stay tuned to find out how the witch-friendly atheists fare against the Christians, and how the atheists are able to cope. Also, stay tuned to find out how the Christians and witches begin to employ their greatest assets against one another. The battle is peaking, and we need some serious forces to ensure that it is as tumultuous as possible. Expect the oddest things to transpire.