Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marriage Equality and SCOTUS

This week has been a historical week for both gay rights and the US Supreme Court. Two major cases involving gay marriage have been heard before the Court. One was the case in California where Proposition 8 , which bans same sex marriage, is being challenged and the other case is DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same sex married couples from states which allow gay marriages.

The oral arguments are now over and the 9 justices must decide the cases. After hearing about some of the questions asked by most of the Justices it would be tempting to make a prediction, but that would be too dangerous. The Justices are almost evenly divided, with 4 Democratic nominated members and 4 Republican nominated members and a Republican Chief Justice, but it is still difficult to predict, except for 2 members. It is tradition for Justices to keep their personal feelings on issues to themselves, but Justice Scalia has many times broken that tradition with his strongly derogatory statements against gays and voting rights for minorities. He definitely will not support any type of gay or any other minority rights. Then there is Clarence Thomas, who has not asked a single question in his many years on the bench. He is the only Black member and is strongly conservative. He also has voted against affirmative action and other issues that would help Blacks and other minorities. He has an attitude of "I made it to the top, so to hell with you, if you haven't".

Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts will be the swing votes. Kennedy has a history of supporting gay rights, but no one knows what Roberts will do, especially after supporting Obamacare. The court seemed to attack DOMA in the oral arguments, which could give a hint of how they will vote. They should make their decision sometime in June. So we will have to wait until then.

In the polls public support for same sex marriages has shown a dramatic increase over the past decade. Even a majority of young Republicans support gay marriage, while the majority of the older members of the party are against it, as well as most other issues benefiting minorities. The Justices today have effectively shot down the arguments of the conservative and religious right opponents. I felt very good about one of the Justice's reply to a lawyer saying marriage is solely for the purpose of procreation. The Justice said that if a gay couple should be denied marriage, so then should couples where one or both are over the child bearing age or couples who are unable to have children. The lawyer didn't respond.This reminds me of a friend, or I should say former friend of mine who was always very conservative, but since Obama's election has gone way over the edge. She and her husband have always said they are in favor of gay rights, but have always supported anti gay politicians. Recently she asked why I was so against anyone who supported DOMA. I explained my views to her. In her reply she stated that both her and her husband believe that the purpose of marriage is to have and raise children. This from a couple who have no children, are not religious and have often professed their extreme dislike of children and also said because of their marriage they are more financially secure. Typical conservative Republican hypocrites!

If DOMA is found to be unconstitutional many deserving people will benefit, either from government benefits such as Social Security, immigration or other federal benefits or just a feeling of equality and security. I am especially interested in immigration rights for bi-national couples, that are denied under  DOMA. There are many bi-national couples who are forced to live apart simply because of their sexual orientation. There are many people, like myself, who are forced to live in another country, because my country treats me as a second class citizen. The US government always emphasizes human rights in dealing with China and other developing nations, but it's about time the government starts looking at human rights back home. I can only hope that SCOTUS will make the rights decision for me and millions of other Americans.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013



I know it doesn't seem like spring for many people in the US, but it is and with spring comes Easter. I would like to wish all of my readers, family and friends, who celebrate, a very Happy Easter. It will soon really be spring.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time for My Yearly Punishment

Yesterday I finally completed my 2012 tax returns. As I always owe some money I don't hurry my returns. As some of you may know, I am retired and live in Malaysia. Because I live abroad I not only have to file my federal and state taxes I also have to pay a penalty for living abroad.

I don't mind paying my taxes, but I do mind filling out the extra paperwork required, which is called FBAR, Foreign Bank Accounts Report.  Apparently the purpose of the FBAR is to catch those people who have millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts, like Mitt Romney. As anyone living anywhere in the world I need a bank account to pay for my daily living expenses and emergencies. But because I live abroad I am treated as a criminal. The US government is not only pressuring me, but it is pressuring banks in foreign countries who have American clients. It has gotten so bad in some countries that some banks have refused to open accounts for Americans, which is a real hardship for those Americans working and living abroad. I am retired and live on a fixed income and do my own taxes, as I do not have a complicated financial situation. Those very people the IRS are out to get have the money, the means, the lawyers and the greed to get around these requirements, whereas I sheepishly comply, face with threats of imprisonment. There is one other form, which is required of expats, who have foreign bank accounts totaling $200,000 and over. This is called the FATCA, Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Fortunately I do not have to use this form as I both permanently live abroad and my assets are way less than $200,000

To add insult to injury, as I am filling out my tax forms and the FBAR forms I keep thinking that because I also live abroad, my own benevolent government will not allow me to use any of the money I paid to medicare all during my working career. I am constantly reminded that I am a second class citizen, because I live abroad.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A New Pope - The Tradition Continues?

As everyone knows by now, on the second day of the Conclave, white smoke arose from the Sistine Chapel chimney signifying a new pope had been elected. The new Pope, Francis I, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, is the first Pope from the Americas. This seems to be no surprise as many expected the College of Cardinals would go outside of Europe to Asia, Africa or the South America, for a new Pontiff, since these are the only areas where membership is growing.

Other than the origin of the new Pope there were no surprises. Pope Francis is 76 years old, hardly a youthful figure to appeal to the youth of the Church. Not a surprise also is the fact that he is a social conservative, who strictly adheres to the old, haggard traditional teachings of the Church.  In his native Argentina, the new Pope had a bitter confrontation with the female Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez over the issues of gay marriage, gay adoptions and birth control. He was on the losing side of these issues. His actions and sermons I am sure did not earn him any admirers among gays and women. Those people hoping for some change regarding gays in the church, birth control, married priests or women priests are once again sadly disappointed.

In his favor Francis I has a reputation of being a champion for the poor and less fortunate in society. He shunned the usual trappings of his position as Cardinal in the Catholic Church, in favor of a more modest lifestyle. He even chastised fellow clergy, for refusing to baptize children of prostitutes and unwed mothers, calling them hypocrites.

It is interesting to note that on the same day that the new leader of 1.2 billion Catholics was chosen, the new leader of 1.3 billion Chinese was also chosen, Xi Jinping. Neither the Catholic Church nor the People's Republic of China, are democratic societies, and they both are noted for their secrecy and opposition to change. Both leaders were chosen by similar bodies, who were not elected by those they represent. Both the Catholic Church and China are plagued by corruption, scandal and a loss of trust from their people. Both needed a new leader who would inspire trust and at the same time clean up the messes from the past. Both institutions desperately need to be brought into the modern world and both need reform. Any bets that neither one of these leaders will accomplish anything along these lines? If there is going to be any kind of reform and modernization, I am sure it will happen in China, not in the Catholic Church.

I admit that I am a bit jaded about the Catholic Church and really don't see it changing at all, regardless of who the pope is. I do realize that to many people the election of a new offers new hope and a ray of light during dark times for the Church. I sincerely hope for the many Catholics of the world that Pope Francis can institute some much needed reform, hope, tolerance and change.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What Will the Election of a New Pope Bring?

The other day I watched the ceremonies surrounding the final day of the reign of Pope Benedict XVI on CNN and the BBC. A number of Cardinals and Vatican spokesmen were interviewed by a variety of correspondents from these networks. It seemed that each of the interviewers asked the same questions regarding, marriage of priests, women priests, gay rights and gay marriage and birth control. I was surprised to hear the questions being asked but I was not surprised at the answers.

The Cardinals and Vatican spokesmen were asked about these topics in regards to how the new pope would handle these issues. To a man those who were asked the questions said that the new Pope would uphold the Church's teachings and Christ's teachings. In other words everything will remain the way it was hundreds of years ago, with no change or modernization.

What really irritates me is they call the Church's outlook on married priests, women priests, gays and birth control, "teachings". I don't recall Christ ever teaching anything about married clergy, gays or birth control. The issue of married priests is merely a sexist tradition of the Catholic Church. At the time of the founding of the Church women were traditionally second class citizens or property, so naturally Church officials of the time continued the discrimination. According to many Biblical scholars Mary Magdalen was a close companion and disciple of Christ, who played a prominent role in the early Church until the Church hierarchy demonized her and relegated her role to a reformed prostitute, instead of recognizing her femininity and her close relationship to Christ.

The Apostles were all married and in the early Church the clergy were more likely than not to be married. But the male dominated Church  conveniently left out all references to the wives of Christ's disciples. Was it early Church policy for the Apostles and early clergy to ditch their wives and their children without any means of support? I don't think Christ would have approved. Right up to and including the middle ages Popes were frequently married and had children. Some were also gay. So where did the tradition of unmarried priests come from? Perhaps many of the subsequent Popes and Cardinals did not care for women or probably more likely, were gay.

Regarding birth control, I am sure it was never mentioned in the Bible and probably never existed until modern times. I could never figure out how a bunch of supposedly celibate old men who were uncomfortable with sex in any way, shape or form, could advise couples on birth control. In the face of the AIDS epidemic where millions of lives could have been saved by the use of condoms, these senile old men still refused to accept reality and allow Catholics in poor countries to use condoms. Luckily Catholics in the modern world paid little or no attention to the Pope.

In regards to gay rights, gay marriage or civil unions are becoming recognized in most of the developed countries of world, while the Church as usual sticks it's head in the sand, referring the matter to the Church's so called teachings on homosexuality. It is odd that at this time a prominent Cardinal in the Church has just admitted to having a number of gay relationships with younger priests. As in the Church sex abuse scandals the Church officials remained silent, until the accusations were discovered and made public. I guess the new Pope will continue this tradition of silence, lying and hypocrisy regarding sexual abuse and sexually active priests, either straight or gay.

What really gets me is that the Church always refers to the teaching of the Church on all of these issues. When I was in grammar school and high school I was taught that only Catholics could go to heaven. I was also taught that it was a mortal sin and you would go to hell for marrying a Protestant or even dating one. I was taught that it was a sin to donate to the Salvation Army's kettle at Christmas time. Long before my time the Church taught that the sun and planets revolved around the earth and put to death, anyone who thought otherwise. Now those teachings are no longer valid. When it becomes obvious that some teachings are totally false, bigoted or used for the sole purpose of power and control, then truly enlightened and sane leaders have an obligation to change those teachings

I have little hope that the College of Cardinals will pick someone who will actually bring change or any modernization to the Church.  I believe that Church membership will continue to decline in developed countries, as the Church leaders refuse to budge. We'll just have to wait and see what the next Pope will bring.

Ablog about liberal politics andsocial issues