Saturday, January 23, 2010

End of Week News Roundup: Prop 8, Supremes, and the Pro-Life Movement

A news roundup as the week ends:

Rick Jacobs of Courage Campaign reports at Huffington Post this week about the massive internet coverage of the prop 8 trial.  As he notes, though the Supreme Court blocked televised coverage (on YouTube and at select federal courthouses) after presiding Judge Vaughn Walker gave the green light for it, there’s intense online coverage of the trial.

As I’ve noted previously here, Courage Campaign itself is doing daily live-blogging to make up for the lack of televised coverage.  And Los Angeles film producers John Ainsworth and John Ireland have had the very clever idea of filming re-enactments of key moments of the trial.  Their re-enactments are now up and running at YouTube.

As Jacobs notes, the level of public interest in reading about, hearing, and seeing this trial is unprecedented, and was even cited by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissenting opinion when the Supreme Court chose to block televised coverage.  Justice Breyer notes that 138,248 online signatures appealing for televised coverage were submitted prior to the Supreme Court decision—the first time that an online organized campaign of this sort has been cited in a Supreme Court opinion statement.

I’m struck by Jacobs’s reflections about precisely why those who continue to combat same-sex marriage don’t want their faces seen on t.v. or their opinions heard in televised coverage:

At its core, our system of justice also allows us “our day in court” -- the power to be heard and to confront our accusers. That's what is happening right now in California. Millions of people have the chance to be heard as their rights -- and indeed basic American values of justice and fair treatment for all -- are on trial.

They are speaking out because they believe that it is much harder to deny a right in the abstract than it is in the flesh. It is one thing to say that marriage should be between a man and a woman. It is something different, and much more difficult, to stand before loving, committed same-sex couples and tell them they are less equal than straight couples.

This is, I believe, one of the primary reasons the anti-gay side sees its witness list shrinking by the minute. Truth thrives when you shine a light on it and lies, misinformation and bigotry shrink and slink away when exposed.

Truth thrives when you shine a light on it and lies, misinformation and bigotry shrink and slink away when exposed: too bad, isn’t it, that the five Catholic men on the Supreme Court who keep making decisions antithetical to democracy don’t seem to see things that way?


And speaking of those Catholic fellows on SCOTUS, when the Supreme Court opened the floodgates this week to corporate interest groups wanting to buy our democracy (well, to buy it more outright than is already the case), Justice Clarence Thomas issued a stunning statement linking the call for full disclosure of financial interest groups impinging on democracy to . . . the appeal for full disclosure of the names of those contributing money to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens.

It seems Justice Thomas is agin’ it: that is, he’s against full disclosure in both areas. 

Which appears to mean he’s just flat against transparency and accountability in general, in the democratic process.

And how, I wonder, does one get from Catholic values to that morally dubious position, with its tendency to cover over the machinations of the rich, powerful, and corrupt and to trample on the rights and needs of minorities?

Come to think of it, Thomas’s stance on transparency and accountability in a democratic society sounds all too eerily like the stance many church leaders have taken about transparency and accountability in the Catholic church—especially about the sexual abuse of children by clerics.


And speaking of some of the Catholic bishops and their preference for strong-arm tactics to get their way in the democratic process, regardless of what the majority of citizens want: I recommend several good pieces lately on the pro-life movement, and its need to transcend the dead-end strategies it has employed up to now.  That is, its need to transcend coercive, bullying, threatening strategies (and behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing with power-brokers) if it really wants to appeal to people’s reason and conscience about life issues.  And to build a culture that’s authentically pro-life.

At Huffington Post yesterday, Cristina Page addresses these issues.  She notes that next month the Catholic lay group Legatus (“the organization designed exclusively for top-ranking Catholic business leaders”) will give President George W. Bush its prestigious Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life award. 

Yep, you heard that right: George W. Bush.  Who, as Page notes, waged bitter war against access to contraception everywhere in the world, in his terms as president—though access to contraception diminishes the rate of abortions.  Bush, whose economic policies created huge new stresses for American families that caused the abortion rate—which had begun to fall under Clinton—to spike again.

As Page notes, hard-line “pro-lifers” have now developed a circular firing squad in which they turn on any of their confreres who question the old rhetorical strategy of trying to shout down the opposition, strong-arm the public, and cut back-room deals with political power-brokers.  And why is this happening?  In Page’s view, for the following reasons:

This only makes sense if lowering the rate of abortion isn't the actual goal. The campaigns against progressive pro-lifers is not so much about "protecting the unborn" as it is about protecting their political co-conspirators, the GOP. And so, little threatens more than the rise of a pragmatic pro-life voice to champion strategies proven to reduce the need for abortion, like access to contraception and supports for struggling families with wanted pregnancies; traditionally Democratic policies. This is, after all, the approach that worked. During the Clinton years it resulted in the most dramatic decline in abortion rates in the history of our country.

As Michael Sean Winters notes at National Catholic Reporter recently, it’s time for the pro-life movement to re-think its strategy.  If the movement is really about inculcating respect for life in the culture at large, pro-lifers need to develop a new argument that connects the abortion issue to all life issues; they need to develop a new politico-cultural strategy that respects dialogue and the democratic process, and stop trying to shout down the opposition and coerce the public; and they need to come up with a new ecclesial awareness that connects the obsessive concern with abortion and sexual morality to the core beliefs and values of the Catholic tradition.

That is, they need to do this if they’re really concerned about inculcating respect for life in the culture at large.  And not merely with continuing to use the Catholic church and the religious right in general as religious covers for the Republican party and the interests of big business.