Monday, April 25, 2005

Progress, Erosion and Confusion


Spain has just taken
a bold step forward in the effort to promote human rights and a more tolerant society. The lower house of parliament, by a count of 183-136, passed a law that would recognize, as valid and legal, same-sex marriages. The bill is still awaiting approval in the upper house, but due to an interesting characteristic of Spain's parliamentary law, the lower house can override the vote of the upper house so it looks as if this effort will succeed. Most expect the Catholic church to weigh in on the subject with a stern condemnation.

The vote is likely to strain relations between Spain's Socialist-led government and the Vatican. Last fall, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who this week was elected pope, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that the Spanish government's position on same-sex marriage was "profoundly negative" and "destructive of family and society." [emphasis added]
This narrow-minded view is, in my opinion, "profoundly negative" so it is encouraging to see the Spanish people rise above such misguided religious dogma. In an ironic twist, other activity in Spain's legislative body on Thursday:

...the lower house of Spain's Parliament also voted to ease restrictions on getting a divorce.

Under the bill, which was passed by 195 to 5, with 127 abstentions, couples would no longer have to explain their reasons for seeking a divorce, nor would they have to be separated before ending the marriage.
I wonder if the new Pope will be as alarmed at this legislative act, which has more potential to destroy marriages than the recognition of same-sex matrimony. I mean, are we really supposed to believe that the fact that two men or two women can now get married is somehow going to lead to a wave of divorces, or fewer marriages in the future? More so than a relaxation of divorce laws? Priorities I guess.


Unfortunately, as Spain pushes ahead, Microsoft takes
a giant step back.

The Microsoft Corporation, at the forefront of corporate gay rights for decades, is coming under fire from gay rights groups, politicians and its own employees for withdrawing its support for a state bill that would have barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
This is a bill (with slight variations) that has come up for a vote repeatedly over the prior three decades. Microsoft had supported the effort for several years, but this year buckled under the pressure of a local minister, Ken Hutcherson, who heads a regional megachurch. Hutcherson openly boasted of his influence on Microsoft's decision.

Dr. Hutcherson, pastor of the Antioch Bible Church, who has organized several rallies opposing same-sex marriage here and in Washington, D.C., said he threatened in those meetings to organize a national boycott of Microsoft products.

After that, "they backed off," the pastor said Thursday in a telephone interview. "I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about," he said.
John Aravosis has some more details about this incident, including a look at the particulars of the bill that so incensed Hutcherson and his co-religionists.

House Bill 1515 would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, banking, insurance, and other matters by adding sexual orientation to a state law which already bars discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, and mental or physical handicap. More than a dozen states currently have similar laws on the books....
Sounds pretty awful to me. So much for "hate the sin, love the sinner." Instead, these so-called Christians are fighting efforts to prevent punitive discrimination against people solely based on their sexual orientation. How very Christ-like. I was also a little surprised to see this list, which highlights just how craven Microsoft is:

The list of high-profile companies that endorsed the bill this year reads like a who's who of the Pacific Northwest corporate world. It includes the Boeing Company, Nike, Coors Brewing, Qwest Communications, Washington Mutual, Hewlett-Packard, Corbis, Battelle Memorial Institute, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc., and others. And as late as February 1, Microsoft, which issued a letter in support of the bill last year, appeared poised to do so again....
Coors? Coors? The notoriously conservative Coors Brewing supports the bill, but not Microsoft? Cowards. Aravosis also takes note of the larger significance of Microsoft's retreat from principle:

That one of the world's best-known corporations, synonymous with cutting-edge workplace innovation, would reverse its stance on such a basic piece of legislation because of threats from one minister seems to be yet another sign of the ongoing reverberations of last November's presidential election, when "moral values" voters were widely - if probably erroneously - perceived to have played the role of kingmaker in ensuring the reelection of President Bush.

"The pastor of a megachurch gets a meeting in two weeks with one of the top executives at one of the world's most powerful corporations. He makes these idle threats and he gets everything he wants," the GLEAM member who reported Smith's comments says. "Microsoft just got taken to the cleaners on this issue."
Apparently, Hutcherson played up the values-voting angle as well in his pitch to Microsoft brass:

Dr. Hutcherson, who has become a leading national critic of same-sex marriage, said he believed he could have organized a widespread boycott of Microsoft. He said he told the Microsoft executives, "If you don't think the moral issue is not a big issue, just count the amount of votes that were cast on moral issues in the last election."
Deeply disappointing. This cult of values has run amok, and it is taking on a life of its own. This country needs a stern reality check.


Pope Benedict XVI, a noted theological conservative, will be faced with dilemma because of an increasingly popular movement amongst Catholics, both within the Vatican and outside, to explore certain exceptions to the prior Pope's prohibition on condoms as a means of preventing the spread of HIV in certain regions of the world particularly hard hit by the disease.

In much of the developing world, Catholic charities and local churches provide much of the medical treatment and care, so the Vatican's views have enormous impact. Official church policy is that the spread of AIDS should be fought with sexual abstinence and fidelity in marriage.
The problem is, in impoverished regions of the globe, prostitution is rampant for women who have few or no other option for supporting themselves and their children. The rates of infection for these women, and their children, are astronomically high. Further, the men that visit these prostitutes often return home and infect their own wives - who then pass the disease to future offspring. So, by maintaining a rigid doctrinal opposition to condom use, the Catholic church is in effect punishing women who may be chaste in their marriage, but who are the victims of their husbands' extra-marital transgressions. Sadly, the HIV virus makes no moral judgments. And for the women forced into prostitution as a result of their destitute circumstances, this seems an awfully cruel stand to take. The bottom line is, where there is dire poverty, AIDS will spread in such a manner because people cannot afford the luxury of noble moral stands. Telling these people to abstain from sex is just not going to work. Thankfully, some high level Catholic officials are able to grasp this reality.

Several cardinals have also implicitly - if not explicitly - challenged Vatican policy in supporting the limited use of condoms to combat AIDS in recent months. Theologically, they contend that in such situations, condoms are lifesaving medical devices rather than a form of contraception....

In an interview with an Italian news agency in February, Cardinal Georges Cottier of Switzerland said that "the use of condoms in some situations can be considered morally legitimate," particularly to stem the spread of H.I.V. and AIDS in Africa.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, the Vatican's top health official, has said twice in recent interviews that it would be allowable for a woman married to a man with H.I.V. to use condoms "in self-defense" just as the church found it acceptable to use deadly force to fend off an attack.
Which is not to say that the Catholic church needs drop their message of abstinence and fidelity altogether. There is nothing wrong with a practical approach with a principled backbone.

In Rustenburg, South Africa, Bishop Dowling has made the policy decision that the diocese's huge network of H.I.V. clinics would include in its counseling both a talk about the virtues of abstinence and faithfulness, and instruction in how and when to use condoms.
This is the best approach to take in my opinion. It will be interesting to see how this new Pope handles the confrontation between the culture of life on the one hand, and the hyperfocus on sexual activity on the other. Shouldn't it be that life wins out over a doctrinaire commitment to prohibitions on certain sexual activity when so much needless suffering is at stake?

"I believe condoms need to be debated, and I believe theologically their use can be justified, to prevent the transmission of a death-dealing virus," said Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, an impoverished diocese of miners and poor women who sell their bodies to feed their children, where H.I.V. rates in prenatal clinics approach 50 percent.

"I see these young women and their babies, and the desperation and the suffering, and I think, 'What would Jesus want?' " he said in an interview. "There's no way he could condemn someone like this."

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