Sunday, January 30, 2005

Court Rules Lesbian Couple May Keep Child

I believe that most people enjoy children and want them to have the best that life offers, including a loving and nurturing family life as they grow up. My book research indicates that same-sex couples, gay or lesbian, can provide such good family life and that their children grow up with the sexual orientation that they were born with, not the orientation of the adoptive parents.

The following article comes from Lambda Legal, a group dedicated to fighting for the legal rights of sexual minorities. I found it through the site for PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a group I belong to. Three cheers for PFLAG and especially Lambda Legal! And the judges who ruled correctly!

Lambda Legal Says Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Today Reinforces that Children's Needs, not Parents' Sexual Orientation, Dictate Parenting Decisions Statewide
Supreme Court overturns lower-court ruling that said a foster child should be placed with grandparents indicated for abuse instead of staying in loving home with lesbian foster mother

(Chicago, January 21, 2005) -- Lambda Legal issued the following statement on the Illinois State Supreme Court's unanimous ruling today that reinforces that the best interests of children, not sexual orientation, control foster placement, adoption and all parenting decisions in Illinois.

Today's ruling overturns a lower-court decision that ordered a foster child (known as "Austin W." in court documents) removed from the home of his lesbian foster mother and her partner, instead placing the child in the guardianship of grandparents who had been indicated [sic] for abuse against him. The lower-court decision had been appealed by the foster mother and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Lambda Legal authored a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the foster mother and DCFS. The state Supreme Court today restored DCFS as the child's legal guardian to resume its previously approved plan to allow adoption by the foster mother, Rosemary Fontaine.

The statement issued by Lambda Legal today is from Patricia Logue, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal in its Midwest Regional Office, who authored the friend-of-the-court brief in support of the foster mother and DCFS:

"Today's ruling puts the child's best interests first, overturning a lower-court decision that made the disturbing choice of preferring a home where the boy had been seriously injured over a loving home headed by two lesbians. The Supreme Court said that 'serious errors' were made when the abuse this child suffered was discounted by caseworkers and the lower court.

"It's clear today that the Illinois Supreme Court understands that lesbian and gay parents can provide children with the love, support and guidance they need. Two decades of social science evidence shows that lesbian and gay people make excellent parents, and the state Supreme Court today did not even suggest that Rosemary's sexual orientation should keep this 5-year-old boy from the nurturing environment she's given him for nearly his entire life.

"Sexual orientation is not a relevant issue in choosing foster parents or in allowing good foster parents to permanently adopt children. All that needs to be determined is whether the child will be in a loving and nurturing environment -- an environment that Austin W. has found with Rosemary and her partner."

Lambda Legal fought for three years to make sure that Austin W. now 5 years old, was not taken during the appeals process from the safe and loving home he has enjoyed since he was an infant recovering from skull and leg fractures. Lambda Legal arranged representation for Rosemary Fontaine from Michael Brody at Winston & Strawn and submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the state Supreme Court together with the National Association of Social Workers and its Illinois chapter, the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law and the ACLU of Illinois.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Lesson from My Best Friend, Karl Schwartz

First, some background. The time was during the early part of World War II. In those days men would sit on the front porch and talk while the women got the food ready to feed the gathering. Most of the time they wanted to keep their hands busy, so they’d go over to a tree and break off a twig, take out their pocketknives, and shave the bark off of the twigs. When they got one twig shaved they would go get another one. I wanted to be like the men so I asked my dad for a pocketknife. Knives were part of my dad’s everyday life at work; he was a meat cutter for Safeway. He sure knew how to sharpen knives and kept even his pocketknife sharp enough to shave hair off his arms. He said, “A sharp knife is less dangerous than a dull knife.” Not very long after my request, Dad showed me a pocketknife, opened it up, sharpened it, closed it, and handed it to me. I doubt that many parents then--and even fewer today--would give a third-grader a knife.

Back to Karl’s lesson in tolerance. It was summertime and he and I had walked down to Washington Park. We had the whole park to ourselves. We were on swings and I was pretending on the downswing that I was diving a fighter plane and machine-gunning the enemy. I thought about my knife and said to Karl, “If there were a German here, I’d kill him with my knife!” Karl answered, “I’m a German; do you want to kill me?” I answered, “No--a Jap then.” I didn’t realize then that his family had friends who came from Japan and I would get to know them a little bit and like them.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Two Big Hats: Religion and Politics

Warning: change of metaphor!

Today I am making something different by mixing religion and politics and adding just two gay items like a spice. Actually, I had nothing to do with either the mixing or the cooking. It’s like I went to the bakery and bought it, but I do want to share it with you and hope you’ll like it. If it starts to make you sick, don’t eat any more, but please do come back often and maybe next time you will like what I serve. The author is both a pastor and a professor of rhetoric. He is trying to convince you, not be nice.

Dr. Robin Meyers
Oklahoma University Peace Rally
November 14, 2004


As some of you know, I am minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, an Open and Affirming, Peace and Justice church in northwest Oklahoma City, and professor of Rhetoric at Oklahoma City University. But you would most likely have encountered me on the pages of the Oklahoma Gazette, where I have been a columnist for six years, and hold the record for the most number of angry letters to the editor.

Tonight, I join ranks of those who are angry, because I have watched as the faith I love has been taken over by fundamentalists who claim to speak for Jesus, but whose actions are anything but Christian. We’ve heard a lot lately about so-called “moral values” as having swung the election to President Bush. Well, I’m a great believer in moral values, but we need to have a discussion, all over this country, about exactly what constitutes a moral value--I mean what are we talking about?

Because we don’t get to make them up as we go along, especially not if we are people of faith. We have an inherited tradition of what is right and wrong, and moral is as moral does. Let me give you just a few of the reasons why I take issue with those in power who claim moral values are on their side:

When you start a war on false pretenses, and then act as if your deceptions are justified because you are doing God’s will, and that your critics are either unpatriotic or lacking in faith, there are some of us who have given our lives to teaching and preaching the faith who believe that this is not only not moral, but immoral.

When you live in a country that has established international rules for waging a just war, build the United Nations on your own soil to enforce them, and then arrogantly break the very rules you set down for the rest of the world, you are doing something immoral.

When you claim that Jesus is the Lord of your life, and yet fail to acknowledge that your policies ignore his essential teaching, or turn them on their head (you know, Sermon on the Mount stuff like that we must never return violence for violence and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword), you are doing something immoral.

When you act as if the lives of Iraqi civilians are not as important as the lives of American soldiers, and refuse to even count them, you are doing something immoral.

When you find a way to avoid combat in Vietnam, and then question the patriotism of someone who volunteered to fight, and came home a hero, you are doing something immoral.

When you ignore the fundamental teachings of the gospel, which says that the way the strong treat the weak is the ultimate ethical test, by giving tax breaks to the wealthiest among us so the strong will get stronger and the weak will get weaker, you are doing something immoral.

When you wink at the torture of prisoners, and deprive so-called “enemy combatants” of the rules of the Geneva Convention, which your own country helped to establish and insists that other countries follow, you are doing something immoral.

When you claim that the world can be divided up into the good guys and the evil doers, slice up your own nation into those who are with you, or with the terrorists--and then launch a war which enriches your own friends and seizes control of the oil to which we are addicted, instead of helping us to kick the habit, you are doing something immoral.

When you fail to veto a single spending bill, but ask us to pay for a war with no exit strategy and no end in sight, creating an enormous deficit that hangs like a great millstone around the necks of our children, you are doing something immoral.

When you cause most of the rest of the world to hate a country that was once the most loved country in the world, and act like it doesn’t matter what others think of us, only what God thinks of you, you have done something immoral.

When you use hatred of homosexuals as a wedge issue to turn out record numbers of evangelical voters, and use the Constitution as a tool of discrimination, you are doing something immoral.

When you favor the death penalty, and yet claim to be a follower of Jesus, who said an eye for an eye was the old way, not the way of the kingdom, you are doing something immoral.

When you dismantle countless environmental laws designed to protect the earth which is God’s gift to us all, so that the corporations that bought you and paid for your favors will make higher profits while our children breathe dirty air and live in a toxic world, you have done something immoral. The earth belongs to the Lord, not Halliburton.

When you claim that our God is bigger than their God, and that our killing is righteous, while theirs is evil, we have begun to resemble the enemy we claim to be fighting, and that is immoral. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.

When you tell people that you intend to run and govern as a “compassionate conservative,” using the word which is the essence of all religious faith--compassion--and then show no compassion for anyone who disagrees with you, and no patience with those who cry to you for help, you are doing something immoral.

When you talk about Jesus constantly, who was a healer of the sick, but do nothing to make sure that anyone who is sick can go to see a doctor, even if she doesn’t have a penny in her pocket, you are doing something immoral.

When you put judges on the bench who are racist, and will set women back a hundred years, and when you surround yourself with preachers who say gays ought to be killed, you are doing something immoral.

I’m tired of people thinking that because I’m a Christian, I must be a supporter of President Bush, or that because I favor civil rights and gay rights I must not be a person of faith. I’m tired of people saying that I can’t support the troops but oppose the war--I heard that when I was your age, when the Vietnam War was raging. We knew that that war was wrong, and you know that this war is wrong--the only question is how many people are going to die before these make-believe Christians are removed from power?

This country is bankrupt. The war is morally bankrupt. The claim of this administration to be Christian is bankrupt. And the only people who can turn things around are people like you--young people who are just beginning to wake up to what is happening to them. It’s your country to take back. It’s your faith to take back. It’s your future to take back.

Don’t be afraid to speak out. Don’t back down when your friends begin to tell you that the cause is righteous and that the flag should be wrapped around the cross, while the rest of us keep our mouths shut.
Real Christians take chances for peace. So do real Jews, and real Muslims, and real Hindus, and real Buddhists--so do all the faith traditions of the world at their heart believe one thing: life is precious. Every human being is precious.

Arrogance is the opposite of faith. Greed is the opposite of charity. And believing that one has never made a mistake is the mark of a deluded man, not a man of faith. And war--war is the greatest failure of the human race--and thus the greatest failure of faith.

There’s an old rock and roll song, whose lyrics say it all: War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. And what is the dream of the prophets? That we should study war no more, that we should beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Who would Jesus bomb, indeed? How many wars does it take to know that too many people have died? What if they gave a war and nobody came? Maybe one day we will find out.

Time to march again my friends. Time to commit acts of civil disobedience. Time to sing, and to pray, and refuse to participate in the madness. My generation finally stopped a tragic war. You can, too!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Lessons in Tolerance

I suppose that it was in the fall before my third birthday that my mother took me to Doctor Ingram, our family doctor, to see about my asthma. He told my mother that I might not live through a winter in Walla Walla. My Uncle Ancil worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. He could get a pass so that his wife, my Aunt Amelia, could accompany my mother and me down to San Diego, California. I imagine Aunt Amelia saw the two of us settled in a lodge up in the hills above San Diego and then came back to Walla Walla.

I wouldn’t have much of any memory of our stay there, except that Mother would tell me stories about it. Mother worked in the lodge kitchen when needed, which reduced the room and board costs. I was born in 1934 and had my third birthday there at the lodge, so that would be about 1937, and I believe that money was still tight after the Depression.

It was there at the lodge that I had my first lesson about tolerance and I took to it like a duck to water. There was only one other child up there at the lodge; she was the daughter of the combination waiter, groundskeeper, and general handyman. He, his wife, and daughter were black people. I don’t know how we played, just that we played together and liked it.

I have a black and white photograph of the two of us, and we seem to be about the same age.

After we returned to Walla Walla, my mom corresponded for several years with some of the women who had been at the lodge when we were there. That’s how we learned that Janice grew up and became an RN. I keep that photo of us on our fridge, held on with a magnet of course. When I look at that picture I always wish there was some way to find out more about her life--if she’s still alive and such things.

I’m 70 and coming up to 71 very fast. That will happen on next April 2. Yes, I was almost born on April Fool’s Day. I’m surprised that I called my mother Mom in the beginning of the paragraph above. She wanted to be called Mother. I think that was because my father may have called his mother Mom, and the two women didn’t get along some of the time. When my mother got really angry with Grandma Marshall, she would go down in the basement and bust up some of the large hunks of coal so that they would fit into the furnace. That would vent her anger.

There will be more “Lessons in Tolerance,” some probably next time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Political Hat, Gay Shoes

In my first posting I recommended several books, mainly thinking that some of you reading them might want to further gay rights because you have a sense of justice, and maybe you have gay and/or lesbian friends and want to understand them better. However, if you are gay, you also might find some very interesting and important things in them. One example is that almost all same-sex couples should have wills, preferably written for you by a gay/lesbian-friendly lawyer. There are some horror stories about some parents, even if they have had no contact for years with their gay offspring, suddenly wanting to claim some or all of what the partners have accumulated over the years. Some states might want to get in a claim or two also. Who gets to make medical decisions for the one who is dying? Who gets to make funeral arrangements and burial choices?

Don’t put it off because you’re both in your prime, because accidents do happen!

Also, in “Human Worth” I quoted the Bible, and some of you with same-sex orientation may have had bad experiences with churches. But there are some gay-friendly churches, including some perhaps gay-friendly breakoff parts of some churches that are not universally same-sex friendly.

I hope I won’t further irritate you by posting some information about the Reconciling Congregation Program of the United Methodist Church. The listing also mentions some other gay-friendly religious organizations you might like to know about.

RECONCILING CONGREGATION PROGRAM:
HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

The beginning of Reconciling Congregation Program (RCP) happened during 1982-1983. Some members of Affirmation, an organization of United Methodists for lesbian, gay, and bisexual concerns, began to talk about forming a grass-roots movement for change on lesbian and gay issues in The United Methodist Church. The Presbyterian Church had started a movement called the More Light Program, which was seen as a model to follow. At the meeting of Affirmation in Spring 1983, a working group was assigned to develop a plan. In Fall 1983, Affirmation developed a new plan called the Reconciling Congregation Program. Mark Bowman and Beth Richardson agreed to serve as volunteer co- coordinators of the program. During the next months, the first brochure and a paper, "How to Become a Reconciling Congregation," were developed.

RCP was publicly launched during the General Conference of The United Methodist Church that was held in May 1984. The morning after the conference voted to deny ordination/appointment to so-called "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," several friends of Affirmation gathered outside the conference meeting hall to pass out Reconciling Congregation Program brochures to delegates and visitors. Shortly after General Conference was over, two congregations voted to become Reconciling Congregations--Washington Square United Methodist Church in New York City and Wesley United Methodist Church in Fresno, CA.

PURPOSE
RCP has a three-fold purpose: 1) to strengthen local churches by helping them consider justice and ministry issues arising from the involvement of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals.

2) to support local churches who are willing to be visible servant churches in ministry to and with lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals.

3) to identify local churches where lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are welcomed as full participants in the Body of Christ.

Reconciling Congregations are local churches which accept lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and their families; attempt to heal the gulf between The United Methodist Church and its lesbian, gay, and bisexual members; and minister to and with lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. To be in ministry to and with lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals involves an attitude of sensitivity and openness to the gifts and graces of each person in the Body of Christ. It requires an understanding that teaching and learning are a two-way process of mutual listening and understanding.

While RCP centers on the church's ministry with lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, it is intended that a Reconciling Congregation reach out to all persons who may be alienated from the church. The program does not intend to single out ministries with lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals as more significant than ministries with persons separated from the church because of racism, sexism, or classism. However, it is our situation in the United States that today gay men, lesbian women, and bisexuals face the most blatant discrimination within the church.

BECOMING A RECONCILING CONGREGATION
The process of becoming a Reconciling Congregation will vary with each local church, according to its history and context. In general, a local church:

1) Undertakes study, discussion, and prayer leading to the explicit, intentional, and public inclusion of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals in its life and ministry.

2) Writes a statement of reconciliation and registers it with the national Reconciling Program office in Chicago.

3) Incorporates ministries to and with lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals into the general ministries of the local church.

4) Supports the program nationally through gifts of visibility, financial resources, and participation.

PREPARATION
Two important points to remember as you prepare to enter the process of becoming a Reconciling Congregation are:

1) The process a local church goes through is as important as the goal of becoming a Reconciling Congregation. The Reconciling Congregation Program provides local churches the opportunity to become involved in a crucial issue of social and biblical justice. Although the goal of becoming a Reconciling Congregation is important, also important is the church's experience of struggling with the concerns of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals and other arenas of human sexuality. Transforming change happens in individuals through such dialogue.

2) It is crucial to establish a support network before entering the process. Due to the potentially emotional nature of issues relating to human sexuality, develop a support network for yourselves as advocates and for any lesbian, gay, and bisexual members who may be affected by the actions of your local church. As you develop this support network, expect a variety of responses from persons in your congregation. Some will be affirmative, but some will be very negative or homophobic ("full of fear of homosexuality"). As part of the reconciling stance, be prepared to respond to such painful remarks in a caring and healing tone. You may want to role-play such an exchange within the support group. Have others observe and offer suggestions. Talk about your feelings. Feelings are a real part of the situation.

The Reconciling Congregation Program is a movement of churches and individuals who are working for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in our denomination. A number of denominations such as the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, The Presbyterian Church, USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Unitarian/Universalist Church have similar programs by different names such as "Open and Affirming" and "More Light." The United Methodist program, UCCs, Presbyterians, and ECLA publish a quarterly journal called "Open Hands."

Our movement encourages churches to educate themselves about human sexuality, homophobia, and heterosexism and invites them to become Reconciling Congregations. We encourage open dialogue in the congregations--not one side trying to force another side to its thinking (even if we agree with one of the sides). This is a part of the "reconciliation" aspect. Reconciliation also must include justice. We can't be truly reconciled unless there is justice for all.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

No Smoking

New research concludes that children exposed to secondhand smoke had lower standardized test scores in reading, math, and problem-solving, USA Today reported Jan. 3.

The study, led by Kimberly Yolton, a researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, included 4,400 children. Exposure to secondhand smoke was determined by testing for cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine in the blood.

Researchers determined that children exposed to the least amount of secondhand smoke scored an average of seven points higher in standardized math and reading tests, compared to children exposed to high levels of smoke. Children with the lowest environmental tobacco exposure also scored better on two types of reasoning tests.

The findings are in line with earlier research that found that tobacco exposure seemed to be related to impaired intellectual development.

The study's findings are published in the January 2005 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

What happened? Well, I switched hats on you. Religion isn’t my only interest. As a former Navy Hospital corpsman, retired elementary school teacher, and ex-smoker I was interested in the above article and thought you might be too. Besides, you may be ready for a switch in topic. I do hope to keep some of you coming back! I would like to suggest that you don’t smoke in the house if there are children in the house. If you live in a cold climate and can afford it maybe you could designate a small room in your house as your smoking room and add a fan to blow the smoke outside and away from your house.

I hear that it takes most people an average of six tries before they actually quit smoking. I don’t know how many times I tried before I actually made it, but at first I didn’t tell anyone for fear I would not make it. In my opinion you should get a lot of your friends to ask you about how you are doing and support you. In my case it also didn’t hurt for me to know that quite a few of them were also praying for me. There was no direct divine intervention; I still had to be stubborn and keep on keeping on.

Another suggestion is for you to figure out how long a carton of cigarettes lasted for you and keep a record of how much money you’re saving and be miserly about it. Are there any stop-smoking clinics or such in your area? Some hospitals have stop-smoking programs, some of which might be low cost or even free. Quit smoking, but don’t quit quitting. By the way, have you noticed that this blog site has given you a way to make comments?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Human Worth

I found this quote among some notes that I must have made some time ago. It probably came from somewhere on the Web:

"Do not regret growing older; it is a privilege denied to many!"

I think that I'll get some scrap cardboard and make a sign of the above to place here in my home office. If I read that a lot, maybe I won't get as disgusted with myself if I walk from one room into another and think "What did I come in here to get?" Or I get up in the morning and want to get dressed for the day in a hurry, and I get my clothes tangled up or get a T-shirt on with the front in back and have to ask my wife to help me. Sometimes we both get a good laugh out of it. At other times the thought crosses my mind: "John, you’re a big pile of worthless shit."

(My computer is trying to tell me that I can't spell "shit"; both times the computer underlined it in red. But I know better. Could it be that the blog master set it to reject naughty words? I will try "feces." I guess that’s more medical and therefore approved. I made my wife come in and look at my computer. Without a witness I don’t think anyone would believe me.)

I had no intention of writing anything humorous! In fact I was going to write about suicide, which is one of the things I want to fight the most! I am well aware that young teenage gay men--especially if they internalize what they hear from society, TV preachers, and/or even their own church’s pastor--are much more likely to kill themselves than the majority of teens are. What a horror, what a waste, and how needless! In my opinion people who hate gays and lesbians or just say hateful things about them, even just foul jokes, may have blood on their hands! I hope to list next time some organizations and even churches that are open and affirming to the whole gamut of same-sex couples, including transgendered people, etc. (I hope the "etc." covers anybody I left out.)

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). There are no exceptions that follow that verse in the Bible.