Uncompromising

Wherein I explain the basis for my views on gay rights, and why this issue is different than most other political issues of our day

During my final year as an undergraduate, I had an experience that has deeply affected my view on social politics.  At the time, it immediately reinforced my position on one particular issue, but over time my reaction to this incident has colored my view on many political debates, and my political outlook more broadly.  I will be the first to admit my bias, and I am biased against certain conservative religious activists.  This story will explain why.

I was fortunate in the Spring of 2004 to secure an internship with my state senator, Ernesto Scorsone.  Scorsone represented the northern half of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, and was viewed as a liberal member of the caucus.  The job was intensive, frenetic, and endlessly satisfying for a 21 year old with boundless energy and optimism.  The year prior to my internship, Scorsone had also finally made public what many long knew; he became Kentucky’s first openly gay senator.

If you can think back to 2004, that was the year of the marriage ballot initiatives.  In many states, religious conservatives were sponsoring constitutional amendments to specifically ban gay marriage.  As both a gay legislator and a liberally minded one, Scorsone vigorously opposed the measure, but in conservative Kentucky, it seemed fated to pass.

On one particular day during the session, the bill’s supporters came to rally from all over the state.  Churches sponsored buses to bring hundreds of activists to bear, and they crowded the Frankfort Capitol to demand passage “in the defense of marriage.”

In my mind’s eye I can still see these folks, best described as an angry mob.  They cloaked their views as being pro-family and pro-tradition, but we all knew why they were there.  They both hated and feared homosexuality and homosexuals, and saw in the gradual societal acceptance of gays and lesbians a challenge to their established worldview.  This group brought to mind the quote of William James, “A  great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

In retrospect, it is clear to me that in Ernesto Scorsone they saw a fitting object for their hatred.  A gay man, a liberal, representing a community largely comprised of minorities.  As Scorsone’s only intern during that term, I was easily identified with him, and felt their venom directed at me, also.

During the course of the day, I would frequently run messages back and forth between the Senate and the Assembly, whose respective chambers book-ended the main hall of the Capitol.  Each time, I had to pass through this mob, listening to their insults, their paranoia on full display, their fear and hate made more urgent and more extreme by their numbers.

In the early afternoon, as I was navigating a path through this crowd on my way back to the Senate chamber, an older man in need of both a laundering and a dentist leaned close to me and said “you people make me sick!”  As I moved to pass him, he spit at me, a large goober that thankfully missed my face, but spoiled my tie.

I spent the balance of the day defiant, giving an interview to the local newspaper and trying, though in futility, to use this incident to highlight why the bill was misguided.  It was a day of high passion and drama, and it has left a mark on my political outlook that persists to this day.

Never before have constitutions been amended to specifically deny rights to a group of people.  The “debate” about gay rights is not really a debate at all: it is and has always been a core civil rights issue, perhaps the only issue our parents’ generation left virtually untouched for ours to tackle.  Gay marriage does not cheapen straight marriage.  It does not deny people their religious beliefs.  If a church decides to refuse to conduct gay marriages in its facility, it can do so, as many churches refuse to participate in inter-faith unions.  However, a government that permits adults to enter into a special legal relationship with their chosen partner should not be in the business of withholding that right from certain classes of people.

During the next generation, young people will ask us incredulously if we remember when being anti-gay was commonplace among politicians, and was a socially acceptable thing to be.   Make no mistake- those who would deny gays and lesbians equal rights in any area of the law are not pro-family, pro-religion, or pro-anything else.  They are anti-gay.  As a court in Los Angeles recently opined, there is no rational basis at all for denying equal rights to gays and lesbians simply because of their sexuality.

As I hope I have made perfectly clear, I have very strong views on this topic, and it is perhaps the only political issue on which I will not “agree to disagree.”  It is both moral and political, and on this one there are no fuzzy boundaries.  To co-opt the ultimatum usually used by conservatives, you’re either with us, or you’re against us.

The 2004 incident in Frankfort has also colored my view in general of religious conservatives in the US South.  It played a significant role in my decision to relocate after college to California, which has a reputation for being more accepting and less religiously fervent.  To be sure, there are thoughtful religious conservatives, and while I may disagree with their positions, they can at least articulate them well.  They were not in evidence on that Spring day in Frankfort.  Rather, the people I observed appeared as a stereotypical and stereotyping angry mob.  They were incited by political leaders who told them what to think and made their legislative proposal fit neatly into the mob’s preconceived worldview.

I perceived a great deal of hatred and venom resting just beneath the surface of these conservatives, and it only took a carefully stated wedge issue to bring it out in force.  I see echoes of this in many people’s response to Barack Obama, to Nancy Pelosi, to the new health care law, to the deficit proposal.  They do not oppose things or debate things; they hate things.  They yell, and curse, and spit to make their passion felt.  I fear for what this active and angry minority would do if directly incited to violence.

Gradually, I believe education and what Thomas Friedman calls “the flattening of the world” will erode the strength of the narrow-minded, as exposure to the broader world of diverse people breeds acceptance and understanding.  It cannot happen quickly enough.

~Andrew

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Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm  Comments (2)  

The Pleasure of Reading Dorian Gray

Wherein I explain why Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is my favorite novel so far

Reading a book in public can invite querulous snippets of conversation.  This alternatively welcome and unwelcome truth can interrupt the flow of a good book, but does result in human contact in such unlikely places as, say, a MUNI bus.  Often, the interrupting stranger simply inquires as to the title, nods or grunts in satisfaction at the reply, and rejoins the anonymous scenery of the city’s background.  Other times, the question and answer spark the tinder of a real conversation.

One question I have been asked countless times in those conversations always catches me off guard: what is your favorite book?  I have learned not to respond with what comes naturally, which is “favorite book of what kind?”  That tends to confuse people.  So, I have accepted that it is socially aberrant to be unable to identify the one book that stands out among all other and is worthy of the title “favorite.”

For about two years, my favorite book was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  For anyone unfamiliar, he is the author best known for The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask.  The Count of Monte Cristo, much different from these other stories, details the protagonist’s careful, meticulous, and ultimately gut-wrenching revenge on his former lover, and the friend who betrayed him.  The revenge tale is brilliantly conceived, indulgent in detail, and very satisfying.

When I first picked up The Picture of Dorian Gray, the only novel written by playwright Oscar Wilde, I was underwhelmed.  The publishers of my particular copy used such brilliant literary devices as small pages, unnecessarily long chapter spacing, and courier new font to buff the book out to its still modest 164 pages.  My previous knowledge of Oscar Wilde consisted in large part of witty quotations, and the overall impression that if one looked up the old noun “dandy” in an illustrated dictionary, his image would appear.  However, the book had found its way into my hands, and I figured that reading it would be a one-sitting venture, and would add another so-called classic to my list.

As it turned out, the book took me nearly a week to read.  The reason is not that the book is difficult to understand, or dense, or confusing.  Rather, I found on every other page a passage or excerpt that was so amusing, so insightful, or so profound that I would stop reading, mark the page, and seek out my wife so I could share it with her.  I quoted it to my parents, to my friends, even to some of my coworkers.  The writing was so good, the ideas and observations so on-point, that I simply could not read it quickly.

The plot of the story is a good one.  An artist paints a portrait of a young man, Dorian Gray.  The subject believes it is a great work, but he remarks sadly that it is a shame that he will grow old and his good looks will fade, but the picture will remain young and handsome.  He laments that it cannot be the other way around.

Of course, the story’s device is that things do become the other way around.  The picture ages, and Dorian does not.  As he becomes morally depraved, it is the features of the picture, not his own, that show the signs of a hard life.  The face in the picture becomes cruel, older, withered; Dorian remains young and unblemished.

There is a particularly good representative scene in which a man confronts Dorian for wronging a female relation of his some years past.  Faced with being beaten or killed by the angry relative, Dorian insists that he be taken in front of a streetlight.  When the man sees his illuminated face, he remarks that this must be the wrong person, for nobody who committed such a cruel act so long ago could still be so young and innocent-looking.

Throughout the short novel, Dorian struggles against a life of depravity, though he outwardly expresses his desire to be good.  In the end, he destroys the picture, and it returns to its original, youthful state, while his body is transformed into the monster he has truly become.

Though the guilty pleasure of The Count of Monte Cristo is superior in many other technical respects, I have never thoroughly enjoyed reading a book as much as I did The Picture of Dorian Gray.  It is a refreshing, thought-provoking, and worthwhile read.

~Andrew

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 3:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Opening Remarks

Wherein I explain the background of this Blog, and the circumstances that led me to create it.

 

During my law school orientation in the Fall of 2005, I sat reading a book, waiting for the lecture to begin.  A professor walked by my seat, and remarked “I hope you enjoy that book; you won’t be reading for pleasure again until at least your third year of practice.”

I would love to say I responded with some witty retort, but I was a new law student, intimidated by the authority of the professor, and so I chuckled, put my book aside, and prepared to take notes.  However, that evening I finished the book, opened up an Excel spreadsheet, and wrote down the title and name of the author.  From that point on, each time I completed a book for pleasure, I added it to the list.  I never stopped reading, not through law school, not while studying for the bar exam, and not in my first two years of practice.

That first book was, appropriately enough, 1L by Scott Turow, a book about being a first year law student.  Last night, in the wee hours before I went to sleep, I completed Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight and added it to my list.  It was my 500th book since that conversation.

I believe in literature, and in the value of reading for fun, for education, and in furtherance of my quest to become more fluent with the English language.  In my youth, I always wanted to write- not as a profession, mind you, but as a way to share thoughts and ideas, to entertain people and engage them in a meaningful way.  I did not believe I could achieve that goal without a solid foundation as a reader.

My goal is to make the transition to writing through blogging.  Moving from consumer to provider is still an intimidating proposition in my head; my hope is that by writing in an informal forum, I can overcome my ingrained resistance to public writing and explore the wonderful tools of the written word.

The subject matter of this blog is going to be broad and eclectic; essentially, I am going to write about what interests me.  I plan to talk about books I enjoy, current events, politics, and my experience as a practicing attorney.  Only a short time ago, I would define blogging success in terms of readership and following.  Today, as I actually start this undertaking, I view success much differently.  I want this blog to be engaging, readable, and authentic.  I want to see my writing improve over time.  Most of all, I want this to be a creative outlet, and if that means generating content that people find interesting, all the better.  Readership may be a side-effect, but it is not the goal.

Enough introduction- I think I’ll begin working on my first substantive post.

~Andrew

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 3:08 am  Comments (2)