Marriage Equality: About Damn Time

The Court may go this way or that, but finally, the country seems to be on the right path. 

As many of you may have noticed this week, Facebook was flooded by a wave of digitized Rothkoesque profile pictures in support of marriage equality as two pivotal cases make their way through the Supreme Court, challenging the governments’ ban (California – Prop 8) and non-recognition (federal – DOMA) of same sex marriages.

The hater inside of me initially thought about the silliness of reducing a civil rights issue to a social media profile image. What difference would it make? I doubt I was alone in dismissing the value of the trend. In spite of my own cynicism, I changed my profile and was hit with a feeling I had not felt since November 2008 – another instance in which I scoffed at (yet publicly supported) a national campaign that was unforeseeable just a few years earlier.

SC Supreme Court Facebook

Nearly five years later, Continue reading “Marriage Equality: About Damn Time”

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Why I Am not Voting

As a New Yorker, I know that my state is a lock, so I’m going to maximize my vote by not using it.

I support Barack Obama for the Presidency, but hope he loses the popular vote. As much as I want the President to complete a second term in office, any loss in legitimacy would be offset by the prospects of replacing the Electoral College (EC) with a national popular vote.

Until now, the EC has disproportionately benefited smaller and more rural states, which tend to be Republican. Only if the American right feels cheated by the electoral system, can we begin to have a meaningful discussion about reforming it.

Americans across the political spectrum are in favor of replacing the EC with a popular vote, but this sentiment does not carry over to our elected leaders. Whereas Democratic officials have publicly expressed support for selecting the President through the popular vote, Republican lawmakers have been fully aware that this would eliminate the disproportionate power given by the EC to their states.

If President Obama were to capture at least 270 electoral votes, but lose the popular vote, all that could change. It would send the American right into such a tizzy that instead of focusing on voter suppression, birth certificates and secret religious convictions, they may turn their ire at the electoral system that elevated the man they so dislike, once again, to the highest office in the land.

This will undoubtedly decrease Barack Obama’s legitimacy as President, should he win, but this is the man that since day one of his Presidency has been deemed illegitimate as their leader and as an American by significant portions of the American right. No electoral mandate will be enough to win these people over. Should conservatives feel that they have lost something as a result of the EC, then, and only then can we begin to reform our electoral process to achieve a popular vote.

I’ve already gone into detail about how and why we should effectively dismantle the current Electoral College system (it doesn’t even require altering the Constitution). Had my vote been from Ohio, I’d be out on the streets, banging my drum. Unfortunately, my vote is from NY – it will not matter – and that is a shame. This is about convincing all (enough) Americans that the popular vote is a good idea.

I know promoting this sort of behavior is risky. It assumes that Obama will win the EC. It assumes he will take Ohio and other key swing states. It assumes that the loss in legitimacy would not make Obama a 4-year lame duck. If, in the end, Romney gets the minimum 270 electoral votes and also wins the popular vote by one vote, I will punch myself in the face and stop blogging.

The Electoral College: Affirmative Action for Smaller States

In a previous post, I argued that the Electoral College is unrepresentative, unfair and inaccurate. In another recent post, I argued that affirmative action has come a long way over the past forty years and has outlived its utility.

Today I highlight some common themes expressed in these posts by equating the Electoral College as a form of affirmative action for small states. Our country’s framers were tasked with convincing 13 disparate colonies to form a union. The main hurdle to the Federalist agenda was ensuring small states (eg: Delaware and Rhode Island) that they would not be overpowered by the larger states (eg: Virginia and Massachusetts).

The clearest way in which smaller states were given guarantees of their own limited sovereignty was in the equal representation among states in the US Senate. Although membership to the House of Representatives was agreed to be allocated by population, each state, whether small or large, gets two Senators. This means that today, Wyoming’s 570,000 people have the same Senate representation as California’s 38 million.

Giving small states more power may make sense in Congress, but not in quadrennial national elections.

This overrepresentation makes some sense in the Congress where laws are created. In the complicated mess that is the legislative process, state interests can be clearly defined and it can be difficult for smaller states to fight for their interests – yes, some forms of affirmative action are OK.

The election of the President, however, Continue reading “The Electoral College: Affirmative Action for Smaller States”

How the Electoral College Works (or Doesn’t)

President Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in Denver tonight for the first of three debates that are to be held over the next two weeks. They will not be speaking to the entire country. They will not be speaking to the 47%. They will not be speaking to the 53%. More than likely, they will be addressing the concerns of people living in a handful of states, particularly Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada and Iowa.

These are the so called “swing states” in which neither candidate has a commanding lead. He who picks up the most votes in these states will almost certainly be the next President of the United States. Considering that my vote would be from New York, I may as well not vote. Here’s why.

The framers of the US Constitution were big fans of democratic governance in so far as it was not monarchical. The kings of Europe were bad. The American yeoman farmer was good, but not good enough to be trusted with a direct vote for the highest office in the land. And so they created the electoral college.

How it works

The Electoral College is made up of representatives whose only job is to vote for the President. The membership is basically equal to the total number of representatives in Congress. There are currently 538 electors: 100 (number of members in the Senate) + 435 (number of Representatives in the House) + 3 from Washington D.C., which has no Congressional representation.

The partisan colors reflect the current Congress only in which the Democrats control the Senate and GOP the House. DC is not winner takes all.

Whichever party/candidate garners the most votes in each state, typically gets all the electors from that state. This system is not a federal mandate as Maine and Nebraska award electors based on the most popular candidate per Congressional district. The federal government empowers states to decide how to allocate electors. In our country’s early history, it was no uncommon for state legislatures to decide how to allocate electors – this is a Republic after all! For the most part, we have a winner take all system based on state-wide popular votes.

Why it was created Continue reading “How the Electoral College Works (or Doesn’t)”

Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 2

In the last post, we took a look at nuns who were standing up to Church leaders. The nuns were not trying to subvert the Vatican – they were defending themselves in the face of hierarchical opposition. Today we profile a couple of organizations that are actively trying to reform the Church as a whole.

The Second Vatican Council was a big deal. Prior to its conclusion in 1965, all Roman Catholic masses around the world were held in Latin. Priests conducted masses with their backs to the congregation (everyone facing God). There was no such thing as a Saturday mass. Following the Council, the Church began to encourage open dialogue with other religions and prioritize individual conscience. Essentially, the Church began to open up. Critics of the Council cried that Catholicism was “protestantizing”.

This all set the stage for (or was precipitated by – depending on how you look at it) a lot more active involvement of the laity in the Church. In 1964, Roberty Hoyt, a Catholic Journalist founded the National Catholic Reporter with the aim of bringing professional standards to the Catholic press. Until then, every major Catholic newspaper or magazine in the US was published by the Church. As Hoyt put it “If the mayor of a city owned its only newspaper, its citizens will not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs.”

Since then, the NCR has been a thorn in the side of the Vatican, which has on numerous occasions called employees and readers of NCR heretics Continue reading “Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 2”

99 Problems, but Gay Marriage Ain’t One

The ham-fisted view that African Americans oppose gay marriage is narrow-minded and fails to capture a dynamic cultural evolution.

For the longest time we have been told that the Black community strongly opposes marriage equality, aka “gay marriage”. Since President Obama’s announcement  of his support nearly three weeks ago, a surprising number of prominent members of the Black community have come forward with similar sentiments.

On May 19, the NAACP (perhaps the most prominent civil rights organization in the country) endorsed marriage equality. On May 23rd, Colin Powell did the same. But the most powerful and bravest (by far) comments came from the hip-hop world, in which homophobia and blatant anti-gay hatred is rampant and often celebrated. Here’s the biggest man in the industry.

This fits into Jay-Z’s effort to clean up his image following his marriage to the nontarnishable Beyoncé and the birth of their daughter Blue Ivy. The following, I did not see coming. 

50’s views on the issue aren’t perfect (like many straight men, he is afraid of the legions of gay men that desire him), but hey, it’s a sign of progress and a testament to how far the country has come. So how did we get to our current view of the Black community and gay rights anyway? Surely, the polls contain at least a grain of truth, but it misses the larger picture.

A major reason is that so many of the country’s Black leaders are members of the clergy, who are disproportionately against same sex marriage. Until the President’s feelings were made public, there has been a great deal of silence on the issue, except among the pastors – and we assumed that the rest of the community felt the same way. Consider the Catholic Church for instance – whereas the clergy are among the most vocal opponents, the laity are, among Christians at least, among the most tolerant and supportive. Just wait until more prominent Blacks come out in support, just as Catholics have.

The Black community, like the President, will evolve its stance on LGBT rights and acceptance. Until now, no one has had an honest discussion with them about it.

Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

After years of evolving his position on the issue, Obama has become the first sitting President to support same-sex marriage.

For many this is an announcement that has been years in the making. When Obama stated during the 2008 campaign that he believed in traditional marriage, but that gay and lesbian couples should be treated fairly and equally, most of his supporters thought of it as a wink wink campaign tactic to win over those Americans who were opposed to or unsure about gay marriage. At the same time, his detractors thought of this as a wink wink campaign tactic to win over those Americans who were opposed to or unsure about gay marriage.

Almost four years later, the expectations of his supporters and the fears of his detractors have been actualized. Last night’s announcement came on the heels of Vice President Biden’s blunt (as always) statement supporting gay marriage last Sunday.

Many were quick to attribute the Veep’s comments as yet another gaffe. Now, however, it seems as if it was all part of some tactical plan to publicize the matter in advance of the big announcement. Well, here it is.

2012 has seen the issue of same-sex marriage rise to the forefront of political discourse and legislation. In February, Washington and Maryland became the 7th and 8th state, respectively, (in addition to D.C.) to legally recognize marriage equality. And yet, earlier this week, North Carolina became the 30th state in the country to explicitly ban gay marriage. It might seem like a losing battle for marriage equality supporters, but a slew of polls (here, here, here, here and here) have shown that, for the first time in history, more Americans support same-sex marriages than oppose it.

I give no major props to the President because I think he feigned confusion and adopted his evolving position to avoid taking a firm position earlier. But then again, had he taken a stand in 2008, he might not have been here to make this one in 2012.