A Poetic Victory For Equality

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I don’t know how much I can add to the celebration over the incredible and wonderful development that same-sex marriage is not only now legal in Oklahoma but also has already happened and will continue to do so.

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of lower court rulings that argued state bans of same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. By refusing to hear the appeals, the court implicitly endorsed the lower court rulings. This means same-sex marriage is now immediately legal in five more states, including Oklahoma, and should soon be legal in six other states.

Meanwhile, a judicial panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the ban of same-sex marriage in Nevada and Idaho, a ruling which could also lead to same-sex marriage in three other states under its auspices. In all, same-sex marriage is legal or should be soon legal in 35 states, though some conservative states will surely try to fight its implementation.

I think it’s poetic that same-sex marriage is now legal in a state that produces political leaders such as state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, who once made national news when she said homosexuality was “the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam.” Remember this claim by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe on the Senate floor in 2006: “I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.” I could go on and on.

I also vividly remember the sense of deflation I felt—and others felt this, too—after the 2004 election when Oklahomans voted overwhelming to approve State Question 711, which defined marriage as a union limited to a man and a woman. The vote count was 1,075,216 to 347,303, or approximately 75 to 25 percent. It was downright depressing, but I think it also helped to activate people in the fight for equality, including myself as a local political writer.

So here are three takes on this momentous and historical development.

(1) The push for equality here on the local level over the last three or so decades has been a blend of people fighting openly for justice and a growing cultural tolerance and acceptance. I wonder, for example, if SQ 711 would still be passed by such an overwhelming margin. I do know that many people, some who are now deceased, spoke out for equality at a time when it was extremely risky to do so. Lobbyist Keith Smith, who died in 2006, comes to mind, but there were many others. My point is that growing tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community here has been a dialectical process between countless numbers of people through many years. Those people include civil rights activists but also people who lent their support in less visible ways.

(2) Gov. Mary Fallin’s clichéd reaction to the news was typical and political. After all, she’s running for reelection in a gubernatorial race that has become closer than most imagined a year ago, and she’s pandering to the conservative base. She said, “The will of the people has now been overridden by unelected federal justices, accountable to no one. That is both undemocratic and a violation of states’ rights.” But that ignores the U.S Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which contains the equal protection clause. States must offer legal protection to ALL of its residents. It’s the law. SQ 711 was only a short-lived visceral thrill for conservatives and the right-wing religious folks. It was easy to see that in 2004, too.

(3) The right-wing religious folks weighed in with their disappointment, clinging to the tired arguments about the sanctity of marriage and what their vision of a God intended in this universe. They are certainly entitled to do so, and they can also deny same-sex couples the right to marry in their churches. That’s a crucial point. The Supreme Court decision doesn’t force churches in any form or manner to marry same-sex couples. The decision deals with civil marriage and its legal aspects. The right-wing religious folks here will always want to dictate civil law based on their belief system. They want to force people to live under their world views by law, not by choice. Their religion demands this of them. The court’s decision is a tremendous victory for the LGBT community, but it’s also a victory for people who believe in the separation of church and state.

The fight for equality is far from over. Discrimination against the LGBT community continues here and elsewhere. It’s time to uncork the champagne, but, alas, there’s more work to be done, especially in a state like Oklahoma.

Sarcasm Not Science

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The Oklahoman editorial page continues to describe the growing environmental movement in this country with self-righteous, smirky sarcasm while ignoring the scientific basis for claims about the threats of climate change and fracking.

This means The Oklahoman puts forth arguments like this about the recent People’s Climate Marches across the country on Sept. 21: “. . . marchers aren’t just useful idiots for the millionaires fighting for a cleaner environment from the comfort of their private jets but simplistic as well . . . ” or “ . . .some of the highest-profile participants in the march — movie stars and politicians — claim we’re destroying the planet but notably refuse to give up their private jets, multiple cars and giant houses.”

Note the fixation with the upper class and private jets. Isn’t The Oklahoman, and I say this with absolutely no sarcasm intended, the mouthpiece for the rich? The quotes I used in the above paragraph came from smaller editorial briefs under the newspaper’s Scissor Tales series. These editorials mock and stereotype. What they don’t do is focus on scientific claims about global warming and the damage done to our planet by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process.

The newspaper’s main counter argument to the 400,000 people who marched in New York, and the thousands more who marched in other cities, including Oklahoma City, seems to be this: People who fly around in private jets shouldn’t be able to speak up against the threat of global warming. That’s nonsensical on two levels. First, the vast majority of people who marched on Sept. 21 don’t fly around in private jets. Second, such reductionist arguments—even if you agree with the accusation of hypocrisy—only try to shift attention away from scientific claims.

The internet and our public libraries abound with credible scientific information about the reality of global warming and the environmental dangers of fracking, which include water contamination and earthquakes. Instead of digging through this information and responding to it, the newspaper’s editorial writers deploy sarcastic ad hominem attacks against people through stereotyping and mocking. This, then, is presented as “argumentation” in the wider culture in Oklahoma. That’s a shame.

One of the latest claims emerging from new studies is that trying to reduce our carbon imprint through a carbon tax and developing cleaner renewable energy sources would actually create more jobs and help the world economy. Don’t expect The Oklahoman to weigh in on this issue, in particular, with anything but sarcasm.

Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, of course, is famous for denying manmade global warming while arguing that a carbon tax or cap-and-trade for certain industries would eliminate millions of jobs. If Republicans take over the Senate, Inhofe, who is expected to win reelection, could become chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and then scientific truth won’t matter at all.

Oklahoma is an energy-producing state, and the oil and gas business is important to the economy. There’s also nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. Even allowing room for those two caveats, The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in the state, doesn’t even begin to deal honestly with the developing science about global warming and fracking. This is not good for the state’s long-term welfare. What happens, for example, when the fracking boom plays out?

Blame Shame

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This country’s prisons are filled with self-professed Christians who have committed heinous acts of violence, but few Oklahoma politicians will want to note this obvious fact.

Instead, right-wing politicians here distort and cast aspersions on one of the world’s largest religions, Islam, based on the extremely non-religious and unholy actions of one solitary person.

Why not blame all of Christianity for Timothy McVeigh, the maniac who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in 1995, killing 168 people? Some people argue he was influenced by the extremist Christian Identity Movement, and he grew up as a Catholic. But that’s different, right?

Alton Nolen has been charged with murder after police say he decapitated a worker last week at Vaughan Foods in Moore. Nolen, who had just been suspended from his job at the company, had supposedly tried to convert a fellow worker to Islam and had photos of Osama bin Laden and a beheading on his Facebook page.

Some right-wingers here immediately called the case an act of terrorism without any regard for simple logic. What would be gained by Islamic terrorists, for example, by killing people at a company in, of all places, Moore, Oklahoma? Can you imagine terrorist group leaders in Syria or Iraq ordering Nolen to kill his fellow workers if he ever got suspended or fired from his job? None of that makes any sense, and the FBI is treating the murder as a case of workplace violence.

But Nolen’s professed Islamic beliefs—he converted to the religion apparently while in prison—was enough to fire up the anti-Islam crowd here.

The so-called Counterterrorism Caucus in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives called for “public discussion about potential terrorists in our midst and the role that Sharia law plays in their actions.” Those who signed off on the statement were state Reps. John Bennett (Sallisaw), Sean Roberts (Hominy), Lewis Moore (Arcadia), Dan Fisher (El Reno), Mike Ritze (Broken Arrow), and Sally Kern, Mike Christian and Mike Reynolds, who are all from Oklahoma City.

Let’s be clear: Sharia Law, which is essentially an Islamic moral code, does not condone murdering your fellow workers once you get suspended from your job. Does that even need to be stated?

Bennett, it should be noted, has made controversial statements recently about Islam and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) even before the killing in Moore. His recent comment that Islam “is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out” has drawn national attention and condemnation from CAIR.

Even Gov. Mary Fallin, who is up for reelection this year, decided to weigh in on the murder case with some typical fear mongering when she issued a statement that said “it is unclear at this time whether the crime was an act of terrorism, workplace violence, or a gruesome combination of both.” She also urged “Oklahomans to remain alert and report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement.” In other words, people, be scared.

There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and only a tiny fraction of them distort their religion to support violent acts of crime. There is also a long history of violent extremists who have distorted or used Christianity to support their violent acts. What about The Crusades or the Salem witch trials or David Koresh? What about the former but deep support for slavery among American Southern Baptist Churches? Doesn't slavery meet the definition of "terrorism"?

Do religions, in general, create hardened dichotomies of thinking among some people that turn into vitriol when those dichotomies get challenged or are not accepted? That’s the real public discussion we should have, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon in Oklahoma.

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