michael j. morris


Responding to the Family Research Council
25 October, 2009, 10:33 pm
Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In response to Congress passing legislation this week that would make it a federal crime to assault an individual based on that individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the Family Research Council issued this press release:

Washington D.C. – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released the following statement reacting to today’s passage of “Hate Crimes” legislation as attached to the Defense Authorization Bill.

“In a slap to the face of our servicemen and women, they attached ‘hate crimes’ legislation to the final defense bill, forcing Congress to choose between expanding hate crimes or making our military go without. This hate crimes provision is part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality. Expanding hate crimes puts America in lock step with the stated agenda of homosexual activists who will turn next to the so-called Employment Non-discrimination Act, followed by the repeal of the ban on homosexuality in the military and then the Defense of Marriage Act. We call on President Obama to veto this legislation which violates the principle of equal justice under the law and also infringes on the free speech rights of the American people.”

Beyond the personal and political outrage that this sort of statement provokes, I am constantly offended by the fallacious rational of this organization, one of the most vocal opponents of equality in this country. Perkins posits that this legislation could be used to eventually “silence Christians.” This assumes that the voices of Christians are motivated by bodily violence against homosexuals and gender diversity, which is simply not the case. This legislation extends federal protection to American citizens based on sexual orientation and gender expression. Perkins continually speaks of the effects to which legislation for equality may someday lead rather than commenting on the legislation itself. In this statement, Perkins demonizes this legislation by initially characterizing it as a “slap in the face of our servicemen and women,” following that characterization with foreboding commentary about the silencing of Christians and the marginalization of anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality (the assumption seems to be that it is just fine is homosexuals in this country remain marginalized). Perhaps Perkins resorts to this sort of faulty logic because it is not only absurd  but seems fundamentally anti-Christian to oppose legislation that exists for the explicit purpose of protecting individuals from violent crimes. To oppose that explicit purpose is to support an allowance for continued violence. Being unable to make that statement, FRC’s press release redirects attention to a fictional future in which equality and free speech are threatened (once again, ignoring the fact that the law as it stands supports inequality).

This press release is fallacious on several counts.

Firstly, freedom of speech is not threatened by this legislation. It is legislation against crimes of “bodily injury.” And it makes a provision specifically addressing these concerns surrounding freedom of speech:

“FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.”

Secondly, this legislation does not create inequality of justice, it equalizes the treatment of justice. As the law currently stands, under Chapter 13 of title 18, United States Code, hate crimes committed against individuals based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, or nation of origin are currently considered federal crimes. This legislation amends that existing code by adding to it crimes committed based on actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It is not providing special allowances for a single population of citizens; it is expanding protection that ALREADY EXISTS based on race, color, religion and national origin to include issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

What it comes down to is this: This legislation is increasing equal protection under the law, not creating inequality justice under the law. It does not threaten free expression. What it does do is prohibit violent bodily crimes committed based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender expression. These are categories that apply to ALL AMERICAN CITIZENS, not just homosexuals. All individuals possess “actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.” This legislation protects all citizens based on these qualities. It is Perkins and the FRC who conflate “sexual orientation and gender identity” with a homosexual population and agenda. While I would not assume that this organization supports bodily violence against homosexuals, by distorting the general population addressed by the legislation into the specific population of homosexual Americans, and then opposing the legislation, it feels as if Perkins and the FRC are issuing a statement that implies that physical violence against homosexuals is somehow not worth the notice or concern of the nation. Although other sub-populations (those constituted by race, religion, and nationality) are issued federal protection under the law, homosexuals, it seems, should not be. While such a perspective does not necessarily constitute one of violence, it certainly maintains a conceptual space in which violence is more free to occur. This is offensive.

As our nation continues to move towards equality for all citizens, in marriage, in military service, and in protection from violent crimes, it is my hope that statements such as this as well as the discriminatory attitudes and fallacious perspectives that produce such statements will fade quietly into a (shameful) history. That most likely being a fantasy that will remain unfulfilled for quite some time, it is my secondary hope that such public figures and organizations will at the very least address the issues at hand (not imagined future collapses of Western civilization) with accurate data and informed perspectives. It probably will not make their perspective any less offensive, but it might serve to generate a more functional cultural dialogue.

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Prop. 8 Upheld

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/us/27marriage.html?_r=1&hp

Today the California Supreme Court ruled to uphold Proposition 8 in the state of California. From the New York Times (link above):

“Chief Justice Ronald M. George for a 6-to-1 majority, said that same-sex couples still have the right to civil unions, which gives them the ability to “choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.” But the justices said that the voters had clearly expressed their will to limit the formality of marriage to opposite-sex couples.

“Justice George wrote that Proposition 8 did not “entirely repeal or abrogate” the right to such a protected relationship, but argued that it “carves out a narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights, reserving the official designation of the term ‘marriage’ for the union of opposite-sex couples as a matter of state constitutional law.””

This makes me crazy. It offends me that this is the perspective of the law being upheld in the country in which I live. While it is true that the state of California does allow same-sex civil unions that offer equal legal protection under the law (along with four other states and the District of Columbia; see HRC’s website for the full info on same-sex marriage rights in the United States), civil unions are issued by and recognized BY THE STATE, whereas the legal status of “marriage”, while issued by the state, is recognized by the Federal Government, a recognition that is accompanied by more than 1,100 federal rights, benefits, and privileges. What I cannot wrap my head around is how a state supreme court can offer “equal state rights by another name” as the illusion of true equality. Nor can I understand to any degree how a federal government that currently supports this inequality is doing nothing in this or similar situations.

Then I recall that there are powerful voices in our nation advocating against equality. I hate that I came across this commentary on Anderson Cooper 360 today. I hate that things like this are being said.

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council. Here is the Family Research Council’s official press release on today supreme court ruling in California:

 “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 26, 2009

CONTACT: J.P. Duffy or Maria Donovan, (866) FRC-NEWS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Family Research Council President Tony Perkins today praised the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold democracy and reject efforts to strip the right of the people to amend the state’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. 

“Over one million Californians signed petitions to place Proposition 8 on the ballot and over seven million voters approved the measure on Election Day. California’s Constitution gives its citizens the right of self-governance and we are pleased that the court resisted demands to strip the right of the people to amend the state constitution. Even this widely-recognized liberal court understands that overturning Proposition 8 would represent a repudiation of the state Constitution it is sworn to uphold. 

“Unfortunately, the Court chose to ignore the plain meaning of Proposition 8 and will force state recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ licenses issued last year. The Court’s recognition of these ‘marriages’ clearly seeds the ground for a possible legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“At every opportunity, the people of California have voted to protect marriage because they recognize the far reaching consequences that redefining marriage will have for children, the family, religious liberties, businesses and every facet of American society. Today’s decision should encourage pro-family activists not only in California but across the country. Marriage redefinition is not inevitable unless advocates of the family stand aside and allow it to happen.”

– 30 –

 

I am offended to read praise for empowering a population to impose inequality in a nation that was supposedly founded on equal rights for all citizens. I am offended that this issue is touted as an issue of faith, family values, or semantics rather than one of civil rights. I am offended that heterosexual marriage is elevated as somehow sacred simply on the basis of it being between a man and a woman, no matter its content, no matter its foundation or integrity. I am offended that the re-definition of the legal status of marriage to recognize same-sex marriages is discussed as anti-family and the end of civilization as we know it, as if marriage has not been understood and re-defined culturally throughout history. The Family Research Council made similar statements in April after Iowa moved to recognize same-sex marriage under the law. 

 

 

The court decision is discussed with language such as “forcing same-sex marriage on an unwilling populous,” as if the decision to recognize equal rights for same-sex couples means that the population of Iowa at large will be subjected to non-consensual homosexual unions. It offends me that same-sex marriage is discussed as the gateway to polygamy and marriages between adults and minors, as if the one logically leads to the next. It offends me that the contemporary American definition of marriage is touted as the icon of “5000 years of human behavior,” as if past centuries in cultures around the globe have not recognized all sorts of variations not only on the formal composition of a marriage, but also the meaning which the culture gave to it. 

Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to the FRC responding line by line to their official statement on homosexuality. At the time I did not feel it necessary to make my statement/response public, but today as events such as the California Supreme Court decision continue to unfold, and as organizations such as FRC continue to proliferate statements of their views into arenas of public discourse, I felt the need to make my statements more public as well. It can be viewed here.

At the same time, I am encouraged that their are public advocates for equality to continue to be just as vocal as the FRC. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released the following statement today:

5/26/2009

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded to the California Supreme Court’s split 6-1 decision today ruling that Proposition 8, the narrowly approved measure which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, is valid.  As a result of the court’s decision in Strauss v. Horton, California becomes the first state in the nation to strip away marriage rights for same-sex couples.  As same-sex couples and allies from across the country react to the news, HRC is releasing an online, YouTube video set to the song “I Won’t Back Down”: www.HRC.org/California
 
“Today’s ruling is a huge blow to Americans everywhere who care about equality.  The court has allowed a bare majority of voters to write same-sex couples out of basic constitutional protections,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  “This ruling is painful, but it represents a temporary setback.  There will be a groundswell to restore marriage equality in our nation’s largest state, and HRC will not give up until marriage equality is restored in California.” 

One significant effort already underway is a strategic partnership between HRC and California Faith for Equality (CFE), a statewide group established to educate, support and mobilize faith communities on LGBT equality.  The partnership joins CFE and its 6,000 supporting faith leaders with both HRC’s Religion and Faith Program expertise as well as HRC’s National Field Department to broaden, diversify and deepen religious support for marriage equality in California.

“This ruling couldn’t be more out of step with what’s happening across the country,” said Solmonese, pointing to recent marriage victories in Iowa, Vermont and Maine. “We have no choice but to return this basic question of fairness for the estimated 1 million LGBT Californians back to the voters.”
  
“While we are relieved that the 18,000 couples who married before the Prop 8 vote will still have valid marriages, it does not in any way remove the sting of this ruling,” added Solmonese.
 
Over the past decade, public acceptance of marriage equality for same-sex couples has changed dramatically.  For the first time, more Americans say they support marriage for same-sex couples (49%) than oppose it (46%), according to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll released in late April.”

 

Below is the video referenced in the body of HRC’s statement. If nothing else, it inspires me to hope.

 

I am sure there are some who might read this and wonder what relevance it has to me creative activity or work as a dance artist/scholar. The shortest answer is that it is all connected. As I make work, as I consider the body and its social relevance, I am brought face to face with the society in which I am creating, in which I am living. As I consider the subjects of my research, I consider the research and analysis and writing that has not been done, that has not been explored by dance scholars. This was the fuel for my recent presentation on the negotiation of gender in the work of Bronislava Nijinska. I am currently exploring the potential for analyzing the work of Frederick Ashton through a queer lens. Ashton was a homosexual choreographer, and yet his work has rarely been considered for its potential as a contributor to queer culture or a queer contribution to dance culture. It all relates, it all synthesizes, and part of the purpose of this blog is for these ideas and interests from seemingly disparate parts of living and making to co-exist in this space, to find relationships and offer new points of interest in the process. If this particular post seems too political or too removed from art/dance/creative activity, I encourage you to reconsider it as a component of the making, of the thinking that leads to the making, of the living which fuels and influences and shapes the making. I encourage you to follow a trail of “tags” and see how ideas start to relate, maybe in ways that they didn’t before.



In response to the Family Research Council
24 February, 2009, 1:03 am
Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , ,

This is a letter that I wrote to the Family Research Council in response to their official statement on homosexuality. During the time at which I wrote it, I didn’t feel the need to make it a public statement, but as events in our nation continue to unfold, it felt more necessary that these sort of responses exist in a public arena, just as do the words and ideas to which they are responding.

My letter was originally addressed to Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council. I never received a reply.

The statements of the FRC are in regular type; mine are in bold.

 

“Family Research Council believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed.” 

As a homosexual, it offends me to be told that my conduct, completely removed from its content or intentions, is detrimental to my society and myself. Before a Council appoints itself as judge and jury of such things, it should consider that perhaps the truly harmful conduct is sexual conduct divorced from love or the authenticity of the individual. It should consider the harm done to individuals living in secret repression because their families, churches, governments, and societies tell them that to express who they are and what they feel constitutes a threat to themselves and their society. I offer that perhaps individuals who are faced with this sort of oppression, the oppression of shame, secrecy, dishonesty, and a cultural education in self-hate and condemnation, at the hands of those in positions of power are the true victims of harm in our culture, and their suffering is a far greater detriment to society.

“It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects.” 

I find it arrogant, ignorant, and narrow that this Council has appointed itself the judge of that which is natural and unhealthy. Despite whatever moral systems might be interpreted or derived from sources such as scripture, we as human beings were not given a manual of natural and unnatural, especially when it comes to our bodies and our interpersonal relations. What we have been given is our own experience, a legacy of human inquiry and investigation serving as the foundation for scientific exposition. And from these inquiries, it can certainly be said that negative physical and psychological effects can be a side effect of all kinds of sexual and emotional conduct, even church and government sanctioned heterosexual marriage. Equally, all kinds of sexual and emotional conduct can be expressed in healthy, life and love affirming manners, including those of homosexual couples.

“While the origins of same-sex attractions may be complex, there is no convincing evidence that a homosexual identity is ever something genetic or inborn.”

The origins of same-sex attraction, like all aspects of human identity, are indeed complex. Like all aspects of human identity, there is no convincing evidence that any essence is purely the product of genetics apart from the influence of environment. Identity is always a negotiation of the predetermined (genetics) and the circumstantial (environment). The question of whether homosexuality stems primarily from a persons genes or their environmental condition becomes remarkably less important when one questions whether heterosexuality stems more from genetics or from a society that dictates that heterosexuality is the only acceptable interpretation and expression of oneself.

“We oppose the vigorous efforts of homosexual activists to demand that homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law, in the media, and in schools.”

In turn, I oppose the ill-informed, unconcerned, unloving verbiage proliferated by your organization concerning me, those like me, our rights, and our representation in the media and in schools.

“Attempts to join two men or two women in “marriage” constitute a radical redefinition and falsification of the institution, and FRC supports state and federal constitutional amendments to prevent such redefinition by courts or legislatures.”  

In reality, marriage has always been redefined to reflect the values of the culture in which it emerges. Only a few thousand years ago, as recorded by scripture, marriage was defined in many cultures as including polygamy. In most cultures throughout history, even when those engaging in the union were heterosexual, the roles associated with marriage have varied to reflect the needs and expectations of the culture. It is an institution that emerges principally from the relationships that seek to define themselves as married, and secondarily from a society that agrees to recognize that union with those who have declared it. In reality, church, state, and federal governmental recognition is not necessary for same-sex marriage to exist. As long as couples pledge their union to one another, they are married. As these relationships continue to make themselves public and proclaim their commitment, our society will continue to recognize them as valid. It is only a matter of time before laws emerge to reflect those recognitions. What we homosexual activists seek is not a radical redefinition, but the state and federal rights, benefits, and privileges that are awarded heterosexual couples not on the basis of their love for one another, not on the basis of the sanctity of their marriage, not based on the fidelity of their relationship, nor even their ability or inclination to reproduce. They are awarded these rights, benefits, and privileges for filing a document that they states that they call themselves married. To not award these opportunities equally to homosexual couples is not affirming the sanctity of marriage nor the foundation of the family; it is the affirmation of discrimination.

“Sympathy must be extended to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions, and every effort should be made to assist such persons to overcome those attractions, as many already have.” 

Many have been destroyed by such attempts as well. In turn, I choose to extend sympathy to those who struggle with discrimination against those who are not like them. I extend sympathy to those who feel the need to exclude so that their rights maintain exclusive value. I extend sympathy to those who have been deceived, suppressed, and repressed by the opinions of organizations and individuals such as yourselves. I extend sympathy to those who will one day face the shame of serving as proponents of hate and segregation on the basis of difference in this country.

I do not write to you out of hatred, but out of offense and resentment. Your organization is in a position to do incredible good on behalf of children, born and unborn, families (no matter their composition), and personal liberty in our country. Yet you taint your efforts by weaving with them ignorance, discrimination, and hate. I trust that you have the best of intentions; I appreciate that you fear for the future and feel justified in blaming homosexuality for threatening our culture. But I ask you to consider that perhaps the words you say do more harm than good. Perhaps their capacity for individual destruction and giving sanction to more acute demonstrations of discrimination and hate is greater than you might perceive. Your organization serves as a conscience and moral compass for many in this country. I ask that as such you consider the words I have shared with you in response to your published statements concerning homosexuality, and the implications of your position of power in contributing to cultural liberty and respect for the diversity of what it means to be a human being.

Thank you for your time.

-Michael J. Morris