Friday, March 29, 2013

Why the Supreme Court May Want to Find a Way to Punt on Prop 8

The behind the scenes wrangling at the Supreme Court in the wake of this weeks arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry promises to be interesting.  This is the California Prop. 8 case where the court is being asked to decide whether the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

The back and forth between the judges should be very interesting behind the scenes because a) the equal protection argument is very strong, b) the argument offered against (regulating procreation) is very weak, and c) the real argument against (most states prefer it that way) is not a legitimate constitutional argument.

The fear to let gays marry is, of course, irrational.  But it's there.  At current trends, in another 20 years most states will have legalized marriage and there will be a strong majority in favor of gay marriage  (new young voters are strongly in favor of it).   At present, however, the map of states prohibiting same sex marriage is overwhelmingly red;  much more so, say,  than a similar map of states requiring segregated education in 1954.  Brown v. Bd of Education, striking down de jure segregation in education was a unanimous decision.  It's safe to assume that none of those justices personally believed we should have de jure segregation in education.  By contrast, there is strong support in the country for keeping marriage between a man and a woman, and four of the justices personally share that sentiment.

In light of the continued national split, still favoring "let's keep marriage between a man and woman," it will be much harder for five justices to shove gay marriage down the throat of the states where this has less than 20% support, down the throat of the nation as a whole (where a [slight?] majority still favors "traditional marriage"), and down the throat of the four dissenting justices.  By comparison, the decision in Brown v. Board of Ed to unanimously strike down segregated education in 1954 was a cakewalk.

That's why the justices in the Prop 8 case may want to look for a way to let this "perc" a little while longer and say .... "never mind."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Passover for Atheists and Hangers On

At our house we’re getting ready for Passover Seder on Monday.  We’ll be joined by a minyan of friends.  It’s one of my favorite holidays. 

Passover is the story of God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian slavery with a mighty hand.  And lots of magic.  There is a talking burning bush, turning water into blood, and parting of the sea.  It’s about the Jews as a chosen people, and a promised land. 

I don’t understand any of it.  There’s the fact I’m not a Jew, although I’m married to one.  What does it mean to be a chosen people?   If I join the chosen people do I become chosen?  Chosen by whom? Chosen for what?

What sense does this ritual make for an atheist non-Jew?  What sense do stories make?  It’s a mystery.  It’s easy to invite people to Passover.  There is that.  If you invite them they will come.  I know that would not be true for a reading of Hamlet.  The Hamlet reading requires more lobbying, it’s not a tradition.  And at the Hamlet reading our guests wouldn’t put up with what can rightly be perceived as preachy, or spiritual gobbledygook.  As I said, I don’t understand any of it. 

But then there’s so much I don’t understand. Take the theory of relativity, or the Higgs Boson.  I don’t understand them.  I don’t understand where the world comes from or where it’s going to.  Although I understand a little bit of the law, every other time I think I have it right some judge tells me no I don’t.  I don’t understand why we all just can’t get along.  As the cartoon goes, there’s so much we don’t understand about carburetors.

Yet, through it all we come back to the Passover Seder year after year.  We’ve been doing it a long time.  God or no god, we don’t chuck it overboard.  Even though we understand it not, and we won’t ever understand it, there is something nourishing about the Seder and the retelling of this old story with family and friends.  In all the shifting sands of partial knowledge, illusions, uncertainty and mystery, the ritual remains constant, and mysterious to us all in our different ways.  It’s reason enough to keep it going.   

An Irish-Kenyan-Hawaiian-non-Jewish Seder