Why I Will Vote for Obama: Appointments to the Federal Bench are Every President’s Lasting Legacy

All the news these days centers on the Republican Convention in Tampa and the storm battering the Gulf coast. In the midst of that, let’s not forget stories like this:  Texas redistricting discriminates against minorities, federal court says.  The unanimous decision — handed down by three judges appointed by George W. Bush and one appointed by President Obama — is clear and direct:  the congressional redistricting plan developed by the GOP leaders of Texas is discriminatory and cannot stand.

We all have good reasons (hopefully!) for making the choices we do at the ballot box. The President of the US has many powers and influences our country in countless ways. But long after any president forwards his mail from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, one of those presidential powers stands alone in significance:  it’s his (her?) prerogative of nominating judges to the Federal Courts. Certainly the bench of the US Supreme Court is paramount there.  But, as the story above reminds us, federal judges at all levels play a critically important role in implementing the laws of our country and ensuring that America — as the inscription over the Supreme Court building  says — is a place where there is Equal Justice Under Law.

There’s no doubt that the next president will appoint at least one new justice to the Supreme Court, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turning 80 next March (2013).  Not far behind are Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, both of whom are over 76 yrs.  The next Court will have an enormous impact on the lives of LGBT people for years, perhaps decades, to come as it rules eventually on the cases that have challenged the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). This decision will proclaim to the world whether LGBT Americans truly do enjoy the full blessings of liberty enshrined in our Constitution, or whether we will continue to live in a country where “some are more equal than others.” 

This fact alone — the president’s right of nominating justices to the US Supreme Court — is sufficient for for me to support President Obama in his bid for re-election.  What’s your reason for your choice this election year?

The Bishops’ Vincible Ignorance

People are responsible for their actions.  The degree to which one is either blamed or praised for those actions is determined by a number of factors.  In moral theology, one such factor used in weighing culpability for an evil act is ignorance.  Literally, “ignorance” means “not knowing,” and usually refers to something one should know.  If I get behind the wheel of a car and start to drive, I may not know the speed limit of the road I’m driving on, but I should know that speed limit.

Invincible ignorance is the type of ignorance that cannot be overcome, while vincible ignorance can be overcome with a relatively normal amount of effort and diligence. Vincible ignorance does not typically reduce culpability and it is this type of ignorance that we should strive to overcome throughout the course of life. Diminishing vincible ignorance is at the heart of education and every pursuit of knowledge.  Knowledge at the horizon is advanced not by mere repetition of what has been received and maintenance of the status quo. On the contrary, it is advanced by constructive and thoughtful criticism, by asking questions, by challenging accepted notions and seeking greater understanding as new data – including the data of lived experience – become available.

It is this type of ignorance — vincible ignorance — which seems so frequently to be present in most of what comes from official church statements about God’s gay and lesbian children and same-sex relationships, including ongoing debates about public recognition of those relationships in marriage.

I continue to be so very saddened by the un-Christlike actions of our episcopal leaders who seem to be stuck in a state of vincible ignorance when it comes to gay and lesbian people.  They seem not only to be blind to the truths about sexual orientation that we are learning from all areas of science, but they also are unwilling to implement a Catholic approach to scriptural theology when it comes to discussing what Sacred Scriptures really say about same-sex attraction.

And — perhaps what is saddest of all —  is  that they seem to think that love, all of which comes from God, is a zero-sum reality.

On the first two points, the bishops and others who oppose the recognition of numerous civil rights for gay and lesbian people — especially marriage — have begun to use the term “sexual difference” instead of “sexual orientation” as they put forth their arguments.  In their lingo, “sexual difference” simply means that males and females are different, and that this difference has predetermined goals, ends and purposes that are the same for everyone.  In their minds, the purpose of “sexual difference” is the creation of family — men and women coming together in exclusive, lifelong partnerships, for the raising and rearing of children.  Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the current voice of the American bishops’ opposition to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), uses the term in this way: “There is no corresponding duty, however, for society to disregard the meaning of sexual difference and its practical consequences for the common good; to override fundamental rights, such as religious liberty; and to re-define our most basic social institution.'” To put it bluntly, the “meaning” of sexual difference and one of those “practical consequences” is simply that every man and every woman should be heterosexual and should have an inherent desire to seek out an opposite-sex partner for a life-long spousal relationship.

This, of course, is where Bishop Cordileone and his confreres completely miss the boat and express their vincible ignorance.  They continue to try to retrofit a square peg into a round hole, and refuse to consider the perspective in which all the pieces fit together – a perspective which honors fundamental Christian anthropology and incorporates the lived and valid experience of God’s gay and lesbian children.

Archbishop Dolan’s Letter Recognizes US Bishops Don’t Speak for US Catholics

I just re-read the letter which Archbishop Timothy Dolan, current president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent to President Obama last month expressing concerns that the Obama Administration is no longer defending legal challenges to the constitutionality of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).

Dolan repeatedly notes that he is writing on behalf of the “Catholic Bishops of the United States,” and that the views he is expressing are shared by “millions of citizens who stand with us on this issue.”

What the good archbishop does not say, however, is that these citizens are necessarily Catholic; nor that he is writing on behalf of Catholics in the United States.  Perhaps this is because, given whatever limitations the logic of his arguments might have, Archbishop Dolan at least is able to read opinion polls and he knows that the views he and his brother bishops are espousing are not the views of most American Catholics when it comes to recognizing that even gays and lesbians are God’s children, with all the rights and responsibilities this brings.

Dear Mr. President

June 5, 2006

President George W. Bush.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President,

I write simply to share with you my deepest disappointment in your decision to support enshrining discrimination in the U.S. Constitution by advocating the so-called “Marriage Protection Amendment” (MPA).

Like its misnamed legislative cousin, the “Defense of Marriage Act,” the MPA would do absolutely no good and would do much evil. It would protect no one, and would continue to harm countless American families. It would not support existing marriages between men and women; it would not enhance the family life of households with a married mother and father; and it would not provide greater resources for children from these or any other families.

It would, however, deny millions of good, decent, hard-working gay and lesbian Americans the same rights that their parents, siblings, neighbors and co-workers so often take for granted.

This amendment is mean-spirited and below the dignity of someone who calls himself a Christian. While there are many issues on which people of good will can disagree, this is not one of them. At its heart, this amendment seeks to undercut the very humanity of millions of gay and lesbian Americans, telling them that they are somehow “less than” their heterosexual fellow citizens.

I raise my voice with those who have called upon you to be the President for ALL Americans, not just the vocal minority of biblical fundamentalists who would want to see America become a theocracy created in their own image. On the day of judgment when the Lord separates the sheep from the goats, (cf. Matthew 25:31-46) I have no doubt that at least some of these “leaders of the religious right” will find themselves dumbfounded, saying with those who have been excluded from God’s Kingdom, “.. ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'” I pray that you, Mr. President, will learn the true lesson of this passage, seeing the Divine Image in the dignity of every human person, and heeding God’s call to include rather than exclude — including those whom God created as homosexual.

Mr. President, please do the right thing; the good thing. Have the courage to withdraw your support from this bad, discriminatory proposal.

Wishing God’s Peace to you and all those you love.

Timothy MacGeorge
Washington, DC