Religion

Fight to Be Ordinary

AP Photo/Jim Rogash
Recently, someone asked me what it felt like to be married in Massachusetts. After all, our state has had marriage equality longer than any other in the nation, since May 17, 2004 (which, not coincidentally, is the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education ). How does the controversy manifest these days? He was clearly surprised by my answer. And because the issue is current, I thought I'd try to explain what it feels like to you, too. But first, the background. Today the Ninth Circuit will issue a decision in Perry v. Brown . You remember Perry ; it's the best-known of the more than half a dozen federal court marriage-equality challenges now underway. Brought by celebrity lawyer team David Boies and Ted Olsen, this challenge would overturn California's Proposition 8 and reinstate same-sex marriages in California—although everyone expects the case to go either en banc or straight to SCOTUS before anything is final. (Chris Geidner has more background here .) Perry is not my...

Contraception, Co-Pays, and the Church

The Obama administration took some hits last week after it announced that employers with religious affiliations would not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act's mandate to cover preventive services without a co-pay—including contraception. At The Washington Post , E.J. Dionne* was quite peeved at the administration's insensitivity to the Catholic Church. Yesterday, the White House set up a news media conference call with senior administration officials to go over the decision's basic talking points. When I asked for a link, they pointed me to the following White House blog post , written by Cecilia Muñoz. Let me excerpt the bullet points, which are essentially what was covered in the call: Churches are exempt from the new rules: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception. No individual health-care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception : ... For example, no Catholic doctor is forced to write a...

Balancing Faith and Contraceptives

Criticisms of President Obama's new birth control policy skip over the benefits for women's health.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues against the Obama administration's laudable decision to require employer-provided health-insurance packages to cover contraception. The new rule, according to Dionne, is a "breach of faith" that the "administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here." Dionne's argument is, however, extremely unconvincing. As an alternative to the Obama administration’s decision, Dionne touts what he calls a compromise. Under Dionne’s proposal, to get coverage for contraceptives, employees would have to pay more for a separate plan to obtain it, but "religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact." The requirement that employers provide written notice before denying people their federally guaranteed statutory rights is, to put it mildly, not an acceptable compromise if you place significant weight on the rights of women at all. Dionne mentions a...

Indiana Wades into the Culture Wars

Indiana is hardly a state known for its intense culture wars and political battles. Mostly, it's known for one of the greatest sports movies of all time . But this year, Indiana is entering territory usually occupied by places like Kansas and Texas. The state legislature is not only about to pass a controversial bill to decrease union power; a measure to teach creationism has already passed out of the state Senate's Education Committee. The right-to-work legislation is hurtling at lightning speed for Governor Mitch Daniels's desk. After a year of fighting, including recent boycotts from Democrats, the legislation passed the state's House last week, leaving little doubt that the measure, supported by the governor and most of the state Senate, will soon become law. Indiana will be the first state in the Rust Belt to pass such legislation, which prevents mandatory union membership and forbids unions from collecting fees from anyone who chooses to opt out. Proponents argue that the move...

Missing the Arab Awakening

Fears of radical Islam and a depleted budget may keep the U.S. from shepherding a Middle Eastern transition to democracy.

Twitter/Shokeir
On January 25, Egyptians marked the one-year anniversary of their revolution with another massive demonstration in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of what has become known variously as the Arab Spring, the Arab Awakening, or the Arab Uprising. Whatever term one chooses for the events that began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor in December 2010 and soon swept through Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria—the last year has marked a decisive shift in the modern history of the Arab world. Though the situations in different countries have and will continue to take different paths, the people of the region have voiced their unmistakable rejection of the political and economic arrangements that have dominated their countries for decades. But what of the United States' role in the current era of transition? As I wrote in The American Prospect one year ago, the Egyptian uprisings offered President Barack Obama an opportunity to make good on the unfulfilled promise of his historic June...

Friday Miscellany

It's Friday! Time for a little bit of this, a little bit of that: Barney Frank is engaged! How sweet is that? Chris Geidner at MetroWeekly put up this : The two have been together since the spring of 2007, according to Frank's office. [Jim] Ready, who is 42 years old, lives in Ogunquit, Maine, where, per Frank's office, he has a small business doing custom awnings, carpentry, painting, welding and other general handyman services. He also is a photographer. And yet, ironically enough, the retiring U.S. Congressman's marriage won't be recognized by federal law. If (god forbid) Frank should predecease Ready any time soon, his widower will have no rights to collect the spousal benefit of his husband's federal pension. In fact, as Geidner writes: One of the plaintiffs in the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders's ongoing lawsuit challenging Section 3 of DOMA, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management , actually is the same-sex widow of a former member of Congress. Although they married...

Romney's Mormon and Evangelical Divide

COCOA, FLORIDA —In the Republican nomination contest, where evangelicals represent a broader segment of the voting population than the general election, it's widely accepted that Mitt Romney's Mormon faith could cost him. Romney's tax returns brought his faith back into the limelight when it was revealed that he does in fact tithe around 10 percent of his earnings to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as dictated by church rules. Yet, in the weeks preceding the Iowa caucuses, I didn't run across a single Republican who had ruled out Romney on the basis of his religion—or at least no voters willing to admit as such to a reporter. The worst I would get from the Iowans was concern that other people in the general election would be hesitant to cast their ballot for a Mormon, though they themselves were of course not influenced by that factor. I arrived in Florida this week to cover the last few days of the Sunshine State's primary, and at the very first event I attended, one...

Sex, Preaching, and Abortion

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
You know the colloquial definition of "chutzpah" as well as I do: the man who murders his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he's an orphan. As you know by now, our good buddy Newt is steadily exercising more chutzpah than our homicidal orphan. Do you remember that, way back while he was trying to impeach President Bill Clinton for, um, perjury, Newt Gingrich had to resign as speaker because he was cheating on Marianne? And now he is shocked that the liberal media would bring all that up, despite his career as a moral scold . ("Liberal media" is one word, just like "gays in the military" once was.) He prayed it all away, OK? 'Nuff said! Ah, just another entertaining moment in the sideshow we call the primaries. But while you were snorting out your coffee over Newt's antics, the Guttmacher Institute announced that the drop in the world's abortion rate has stalled. (Guttmacher is generally respected as the most accurate and nonpartisan source of...

It All Falls Apart

In the beautiful A Separation, even the family is no refuge from society.

Berthold Stadler/dapd
W ho are you to judge? Another’s life, the beliefs and attachments, rational and otherwise, that make up another’s choices—how can anyone evaluate such things? Yet the arguing Iranian couple in A Separation demand judgment. They face the camera in the opening scene, a comely woman with dyed-red hair under her veil, and her bearded, exasperated husband. Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) are presenting their case for divorce to an unseen magistrate and in turn, to us. She seeks a better life for their daughter abroad; he refuses to leave behind his home and his elderly father, who is stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. The judge denies them a divorce, declaring, “My finding is that your problem is a small problem.” They are stuck with each other and with us. These are the seemingly low stakes of Asghar Farhadi’s latest, which has the unlikely distinction of being an Iranian film with Oscar buzz. (Iran hasn’t had a nomination since Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven was up for...

Running on Faith

AP Photo/David Goldman
Jamelle Bouie Rick Perry seemed more like a preacher than a politician at a campaign stop in South Carolina Monday morning. Anderson, South Carolina —Five months ago, when Rick Perry announced his campaign for the Republican nomination in Charleston, South Carolina, he was the hottest kid on the block. The three-term governor of America’s second-largest state, he promised a credible Tea Party alternative to the opportunistic conservatism of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. But Perry wasn’t prepared for the rigors of a presidential campaign, and it showed. His campaign stumbled through debates, and alienated potential allies with tone-deaf rhetoric on immigration, and his position on the HPV vaccine as governor of Texas. By the end of year, his failures were a national joke and his campaign was abandoned by conservatives looking for someone to deliver them from Romney. After his fifth-place finish in Iowa, it looked as if Perry would drop out. Instead, he opted to renew his...

Catholic Bishops versus Tolerance

While you were away from your computer over the holiday break, Catholic bishops escalated the latest tactic in what we once called "the culture wars": accusing pro-diversity and gay-equality forces of religious intolerance. Here's how it works. A government—state or federal—implements a nondiscrimination law and requires all of its contractors to abide by it. But some of those contractors are religious groups—say, Catholic Charities—and refuse to abide by a nondiscrimination policy that would require them to consider same-sex couples as prospective parents for foster care or adoption. Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times notes : For the nation’s Catholic bishops, the Illinois requirement is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme not just for Catholic bishops,...

The Social-Conservative Frontrunner

FORT MADISON, IOWA —Rick Santorum's campaign staffers must have fallen asleep with smiles on their faces last night. The former Pennsylvania senator has spent more time than any other candidate visiting Iowa, yet he has struggled to gain traction in the polls even among the evangelical base that led Mike Huckabee to victory in the 2008 Iowa caucus. A string of new endorsements from the state's evangelical leaders might have provided Santorum with just the boost he needs to move out of the bottom rung, but they also carry the risk of reminding voters of Santorum's history of incendiary comments against the LGBT community. Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, endorsed Santorum yesterday. I met with Hurley earlier this summer in the basement cafeteria of the Iowa State Capitol to discuss the state's judicial politics and the campaign against three state Supreme Court justices who in 2009 ruled that denying same-sex couples marriage rights was...

My Favorite Holiday Lights, Ever

Do you believe in science?
Spotted on a house nearby. Does someone work at, say, MIT? E.J. Graff Holiday lights got scientific in Boston with this double-helix display.

Occupy Our Ovaries

Here's a prediction: The Plan B backlash is going to reverberate for quite a while. The ladies are furious that, once again, the administration has backed the bus right over their ovaries, overruling scientific research in the name of patronizing paternalism. If boys and men can pick up condoms as easily as a bag of Skittles, why can't girls and women also bypass a potentially conscience-ridden pharmacist and buy an easy-to-use pill to prevent pregnancy after—after — having sex? Come on, people, it's already happened; if she's too young to have sex, surely she's also too young to have a baby and raise a child. As for wanting parental oversight, well, if the 11-year-old is potentially pregnant by her father or stepfather or uncle, wouldn't it be terrific for her to be able to skip that little nicety? There have been some brilliantly scathing pieces written about the decision. Katha Pollitt announces that the Department of Health and Human Services has decided to treat all women like...

B Is for Betrayal

At a time when women's reproductive rights are under attack on many fronts, the last thing we need is for the Obama administration to join in.

Less than a day after President Barack Obama’s soaring speech on restoring the American middle class, progressives who felt that the administration was finally heading in the right direction stumbled back to reality Wednesday with a baffling decision from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius overruled the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) on its recommendation to make the contraceptive Plan B—a morning-after pill that reduces the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex—available over the counter alongside contraceptives like condoms. Even girls younger than 16 would have had access to Plan B under the FDA's recommendation. In a statement explaining her decision, Sebelius argued that the FDA had not studied the potential impact on girls as young as 11 who could misunderstand the effects of the pill. As a result, she determined it was premature to make the pill available over the counter. "After careful consideration of the FDA summary review," Sebelius...

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