Hey- I've been sitting on some really cool news for the last ten days.

Law firm Kramer Levin has just filed a pair of amicus briefs on behalf of religious organizations.

The US Supreme Court will be hearing challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 on March 26th (Prop 8) and March 28th (DOMA). The DOMA case being appealed is United States v. Windsor, in which a lesbian couple who married in Toronto, lived in New York (which recognized their marriage), and then had to pay $363,000+ in federal estate taxes when one spouse died in 2009. If they had been a heterosexual couple, they would have paid no estate taxes.

At the gathering of Friends for LGBTQ Concerns this month, in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, our group was asked if we might be added as friends of the court. We had received a letter from the law office just weeks earlier. A small group studied the draft filing (so amazingly well-written!) and recommended that we do add our name to the brief. Our Business Meeting then discerned this was part of our witness, and so we sent back our "yes" along with a few minor corrections- and additional URLs. ...And they cited our webpages! Our collection of Marriage Minutes are cited in a Supreme Court filing! The webpages which were put together by [livejournal.com profile] fyddlestyx and myself!
(Though I want to make clear that other Quaker bodies wrote these Minutes on the subject of same-sex marriage. We just collected and shared them.)

BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE

BISHOPS OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN THE STATE OF
CALIFORNIA; MANHATTAN CONFERENCE OF
THE METROPOLITAN NEW YORK SYNOD OF THE
EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA;
THE RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY; THE
RECONSTRUCTIONIST RABBINICAL
ASSOCIATION; RECONSTRUCTIONIST
RABBINICAL COLLEGE; RABBI AKIVA HERZFELD
OF SHAAREY TPHILOH; THE UNION FOR
REFORM JUDAISM; UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST
ASSOCIATION; UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST; THE
UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF CONSERVATIVE
JUDAISM; AFFIRMATION; COVENANT NETWORK
OF PRESBYTERIANS; FRIENDS FOR LESBIAN,
GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER, AND QUEER
CONCERNS
; METHODIST FEDERATION FOR
SOCIAL ACTION; MORE LIGHT PRESBYTERIANS;
PRESBYTERIAN WELCOME; RECONCILING
MINISTRIES NETWORK; RECONCILINGWORKS:
LUTHERANS FOR FULL PARTICIPATION; AND
RELIGIOUS INSTITUTE, INC. IN SUPPORT OF
AFFIRMANCE IN FAVOR OF RESPONDENTS

Any information about the brief was to remain private until after it was filed; it's been tough to sit on this without telling anyone. The anti-DOMA brief is so very well written! How great is this...

"It appears that what those other amici want is not protection for their own free speech and free exercise rights, but rather immunity from disapproval they may face by those who affirm the rights and relationships of lesbian and gay people."

"[The preceding] belies the claim of certain amici favoring reversal that American religions speak uniformly or overwhelmingly in opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples. To the contrary, American religious thought and practice embrace a rich diversity. No one view speaks for “religion” – even if, contrary to the Establishment Clause, it were appropriate to give weight to religious views in evaluating and applying the Constitution’s secular promise of equal protection."

"Were the federal government to start recognizing the lawful civil marriages of same-sex couples– as it does interfaith marriages, interracial marriages, and re-marriages after divorce – religions that disapprove of such unions would remain free to define religious marriage however they wish. They could withhold spiritual blessing of such marriages and
indeed bar those entering into them from being congregants at all, just as they are now free to do so on grounds of faith, race, prior marital status, or any other characteristic deemed religiously significant. Amici urging reversal fail to explain how their religious practice would be burdened by the fact that
other people are afforded equal marriage rights by the state. For example, the brief of amici Liberty, Life
and Law Foundation and North Carolina Values Coalition scarcely even touches on the actual legal
consequences of recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. Instead, it focuses on fears of having to
“endorse or facilitate” marriages of same-sex couples [...]"

And it keeps going.

---

It was a minor miracle of timing that the law office asked us to sign on just a few weeks before our gathering; and the deadline for our decision was three days after the gathering ended. A few weeks in either direction and we would have not been able to sign on as a friend of the court, since our group only meets twice a year.

And a final note: This law firm, Kramer Levin, has been a strong supporter of LGBT rights and cases for almost 20 years. [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball pointed out to me that one of the three founders, Arthur Kramer, was a character in his brother Larry's autobiographical play, The Normal Heart. The two brothers had an enormous falling out in the mid 80s when Arthur Kramer would not lend his name to Larry's anti-AIDS activist group, Gay Men's Health Crisis, only offering personal support of his gay brother. Larry saw this as a cop-out; in the play, they remain estranged until Larry's death (though it seems that in real life they had some limited rapprochement).

And so this is a small part in a long story. And it keeps going.
Acting Up Stage Toronto had a recent run of "Caroline, or Change," written by Tony Kushner. The Globe and Mail gave it 4 stars and a number of blurbs said it's the best theater of the last year. Last year New York Magazine called it one of the "greatest musicals of all time", the only so chosen of the 21st century to appear on every panelists' short list.

So, hm. I wish I thought it was that good.

The story follows a young boy (modeled on Kushner) who lives in Lousiana in 1963. His Jewish family employs an African-American maid, Caroline. The title refers to all sorts of change: the coins in the boy's pocket (which cause drama as his step-mother decides Caroline should keep them rather than give them back to the boy), the political seismic shifts washing across the United States (including the Southern Freedom marches, the assassination of JFK, and the Vietnam War), the changes in social status of Caroline's high-school friend Rose, and against all of these, how Caroline feels the same as ever.

It is a powerful show; and there are notes of genius- the music is beautiful; the players are spot-on (except for one thing I'll note below); the magic of playing the Washing Machine, Radio, and Dryer as soul-singers is wonderful; and the Moon, played by a woman in a diva-like hat, occasionally gave me shivers.

In the end, the biggest problem I had was that it feels exactly like there's only one three-dimensional character, the boy Noah (who grows up to be the playwright). I think with a bit of tweaking to the book, this could be the amazing show for me that other people seemed to find it.

I think the ONLY fault in the production was sort of funny: a song about the moon talks about how her light shone, and the song rhymes shone with alone; but the Canadian pronunciation of "shone" is the same as the name "Shawn", and sure enough that's how it was sung. Um, yeah.

But anyway, it reminds me how difficult it is to change, especially when not changing has lots of comfortable attractions.
Last night, Laurie Anderson gave a concert at the Perimeter Institute. Much to my surprise, I was able to go [1] and so I offer this brief review.

I guess the atrium of the Perimeter Institute has improved a bit since the first concert I saw there, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, which featured very uncomfortable lawn chairs. This, this concert had real hard-back chairs. Not that I got to sit on one- I had a standing-room ticket, upstairs. Mezzanine. The whole 2nd floor was open, and there were only 40 standing-room tickets, so we each got a fair bit of space to ourselves.

Pluses: Unobstructed view: at the beginning I was standing less than 10 feet from Laurie Anderson. Straight up.
Minuses: We weren't allowed to lean on the glass railing, which I kept forgetting. And the top of a performer's head turns out to not be as exciting as seeing the front of her face. Also, I saw her glance upward once and realized it might actually be disconcerting to have audience perched just over-top of oneself.

So I moved back to 20 feet away, where I stayed for the rest of the show. It wasn't bad, even standing, and there was lots of room for me to sit on the floor, which I did for a while.

The acoustics were fine; possibly slightly less amplified, but that wasn't a problem. Fortunately, I also didn't find there were any annoying echoes in the big space.

The concert was 90 minutes. She started with her signature pitch-bended electric violin (which in the late 70's was a "tape bow violin"- with recorded magnetic tape as the bow, and a magnetic tape head as the bridge; though I don't expect that's still how it works). She alternated between instrumental-only pieces, some which I liked quite a lot, and spoken-word over instrumental and keyboard loops. Some of her spoken-word was pitch-bended into her trademark growling bass voice, which she has called audio drag or "the Voice of Authority." That voice matched her appearance- she was dressed up way butch, with spiky hair, a thin tie and dark suit, though the Voice didn't really say things of much authority- and she had a perfectly commanding presence with her own voice.

Lighting was quite dark: there were mood lights of various primary colours, and candles on the stage. She told stories. Very modern stories, simply told, many of them compelling, though I didn't feel like they hung together as a whole (more on that at the end). This is apparently the start of a new tour, "Another Day in America," which started last week in Calgary, and we were lucky enough to be the second city on the tour. I imagine it will evolve as it goes.

She spoke about the National Defense Authorization Act which Obama just signed on New Years Eve, which allows indefinite detention without trial of American citizens in military prisons. She noted that this piece of law centers on a redefinition of "battleground" to include all of the United States. And what does it mean to choose to bring the battleground to one's home? "We've been waiting a couple hundred years for the enemy to show up, and since they never did, we decided maybe it’s us."

She spoke about how annoyed Darwin had been with peacocks- "what could possibly be fittest about a giant bright blue tail?" and jumps to how the Catholic church has been afraid of science- and what if the Church was most afraid that we'd find many worlds, with other popes? Which pope would be the real pope? Perhaps one with the brightest, bluest tail?

She told about visiting one of the many tent-cities in the US which started during the housing crisis, which collectively have housed thousands of Americans over the last years. I have to say I thought she'd veered to the fictional, but google and wikipedia tell me the camp she visited is exactly as described.

Her beloved rat-terrier Lolabelle died this spring, on Palm Sunday; she told how the Tibetian Book of the Dead says when a living being dies, it will spend 49 days in a place called the Bardo, before it is reincarnated. And Lolabelle died 49 days before Anderson's birthday. She goes on to say that when Lolabelle went blind a few years ago, Anderson began teaching her to play the piano, and to paint; and then she shared a dozen of Lolabelle's paintings, and a video of her playing the keyboard (wagging, and barking in joy as she did so).

The last time I saw her, in Ithaca in 2006, she had just spent time as NASA's first (and last) Artist in Residence. She also had stories about Lolabelle, one which has stuck with me, about a walk in the woods when a hawk dive-bombs them and the dog realizes there's 180 degrees of the world she had never imagined could be dangerous- which turns into a parallel story about the US post-9/11. Really sharp stuff.

So, on the whole. I wish this concert had tied together more. I could feel the authority with which she was speaking, and maybe it's up to the listener to pull things together, but the way it was structured, I didn't find myself able to do so during the concert. Perhaps some of that pulling together can happen when I'm in Quaker Meeting this weekend.

I'm quite glad the PI was able to get her here- they have been trying for years. Perhaps she will be back! I would not mind that, no.

[1] So, how I got a ticket. If you are allergic to twitter, you won't want to read this. Just sayin'.

I found out about the concert from someone tweeting about it on Monday. I tweeted an "Aw, how come I just found out about this sold-out show?" After a bit of whinging to friends, I forgot about it. I had a faint hope to show up at the venue and see if there were unclaimed tickets.

But on Wednesday evening, I checked twitter and noticed somebody I didn't know had specifically sent me a message asking if I needed a ticket. I replied, but it had been 6 hours after he had asked, and he had also gotten re-tweeted by the Perimeter when he previously if anybody needed a ticket. ... and yet, somehow, nobody had; all of his friends who would have jumped at the chance lived in Toronto or New York or elsewhere. So Thursday morning, he came to my office and sold me his ticket at-cost! How cool is that?

What was I doing?

Friday, 24 June 2011 11:37 pm
Turns out I will remember what I was doing when New York State Senate passed the Marriage Equality bill.

I was skyping with my parents; we had just said our good-byes, agreed it could take a while for them to get to the vote, even if it were a sure thing (but what if two senators fell and broke their noses and had to leave the chambers...) and mom made one last check on New York Times before hanging up, and there it was. And she got to read it from our Ithaca friend Diane M's facebook page as well. 33-29 votes in a Republican Senate. The bill will become law 30 days after Gov. Cuomo signs it.

This one, US State #6 for full marriage protection, is particularly noteworthy to me because I was born in New York State, lived there for my first 25 years; and so many friends in New York will now have legal marriage protection. In fact one friend (Vonn N.) is from the district of Steve Saland, the Republican senator who made a 10pm shift from undecided (without religious protections built in) to supporting it (with religious protections).

Congratulations, New York State! ...44 states to go, plus federal.

How's that go? Slow arc? Yeah, like that.

US gun control laws

Sunday, 18 April 2010 06:51 pm
Via [livejournal.com profile] sociolog_images:

"Regardless of the arguments you’ll hear so often that gun rights are being increasingly infringed upon, at least on this issue, it appears that gun-rights advocates have made significant progress at affecting the legislative process at the state level."

...that turns out to be an understatement. I was distressed to see how much the gun control laws have changed in the US since the mid-1980s concerning restrictions on concealed weapons. In 39 states, currently, if you pass a safety course and background check, you can carry concealed guns. (In three others, a gun license gives you the right to do so, without checks). Just two states don't allow concealed gun licenses; Wisconsin and Illinois (down from 15 in 1986).

This is of course not the same as how easy states make getting regular gun permits, which I would like to know as well but haven't looked up yet.

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