A Surprising “No” Vote

On Sunday, the Times-Dispatch editorialized against passing the marriage amendment in Virginia, which would restrict future legislatures not only from approving same-sex marriage but also from recognizing or conferring marriage-like benefits on other “relationships of unmarried individuals.

The newspaper’s reasoning in the case is quite different from that of the Commonwealth Coalition and other groups opposing the amendment as a matter of civil rights and equality. Instead, the newspaper argues that the amendment is not needed given existing state legislation, and might lead to unpredictable, unintended rulings in the future from activist judges. Finally, the newspaper urges a general restraint and caution with respect to amending the Constitution.

What the newspaper didn’t argue is that a constitutional amendment now would impose an undemocratic restriction upon future legislative majorities in Virginia which might (in the full measure of time) come to see the value of conferring public respect upon committed same-sex relationships. Public opinion on this question has shifted substantially in recent decades, and will surely continue to shift in the future, in a more progressive and inclusive direction. The fact that so many conservative groups feel compelled to sponsor so-called “defense of marriage” amendments is a sign of weakness, not strength, and can be seen as an attempt to lock-in law based on current opinion to constrain future change.

To its credit, the Times-Dispatch editorial does mention the civil rights argument for opposing the amendment, but does not explain why it does not think that argument is not in itself sufficient grounds to defeat the amendment. Indeed, the editorial almost studiously avoids any discussion of the substantive issue, instead confining itself to a procedural argument. (Addendum #1: Just to be clear, the RTD editorial more or less takes for granted the idea that same sex marriages and partnerships are wrong.)

But opponents of the marriage amendment will probably be happy enough to overlook such details for now, and be glad to welcome another “no” voice. Maybe, just maybe, the Times-Dispatch‘s refusal to join the amend-the-constitution crowd will play a part in defeating Ballot Measure #1 on November 7.

Addendum #2: for a somewhat more incisive brief against the marriage amendment, see Michael Paul Williams’s fine column on the issue from last week.

Published in: on October 29, 2006 at 3:22 pm  Comments (2)  

Do Immigrant Children Have the Right to Eat?

This morning the Richmond Times-Dispatch offers a shot across the bow of anyone inclined to regard immigants as human beings worthy of basic respect. In an editorial titled” Four Hour Obscenity,” the newspaper criticizes a California program designed to increase immigrant enrollment in food stamp programs in which (under federal law) they are legally entitled to participate. A little research reveals that the real obscenity is not in California’s program, but in the sheer mean-spiritedness of the RTD’s stance.

Two background points are in order. First, it is estimated that less than 60% of persons in the United States eligible for Food Stamps actually claim such assistance. Given the negative impact of poor nutrition on child development as well as numerous other outcomes, there is a clear public interest in minimizing the number of Americans who are inadequately nourished. Consequently, the general idea of outreach programs to expand use of food stamps is a sound one that both advances the public interest and can help alleviate both short-term suffering and long-term negative consequences of hunger and malnutrition.

Given that federal law (under the Food Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002) specifically provides that adult aliens living in the U.S. for at least five years are eligible for federal food stamps and thatall children of legal immigrants living in the United States are eligible for support (regardless of length of residency), and given that enrollment rates for legal immigrants typically are lower than among U.S.-born residents, it makes perfect sense that there be outreach and education programs specifically targeted at immigrant populations–if we accept limiting hunger as an important public goal.

Second, administration of food stamps programs, including oversight of outreach programs, is left to the states, with the Department of Agriculture playing a supportive role. It’s unclear why a Virginia newspaper should be so agitated by another state’s decision on how to implement its own program. Apparently it’s not enough for the RTD’s editorialists to have influence in Richmond and Virginia politics; they want and policy and administrative decisions in the other 49 states to conform to their editorial stance as well.

Be that as it may, it would be wrong to suggest (as the RTD editorial might lead you to believe) that the California program is some wild deviation from the intent of federal law. In fact, the federal government itself publishes materials aimed at educating immigrants about food stamps similar in spirit and content to the California program.

But the real kicker is this: the RTD editorial fundamentally mispresents the California program by suggesting that one of its key aims is to help illegal aliens. As the Los Angeles Times explains, California does not in fact offer food stamp assistance to illegal alien adults, who are ineligible under federal law. Rather, California (like other states) permits illegal aliens to apply for food stamps on behalf of their American-born children who (under the 14th Amendment) are citizens and hence entitled to such assistance under federal law. In its eagerness to crack down on illegal immigrants, the RTD is willing to deny not just adults but also their American-born children access to nutrition.

There is no compelling argument for denying such residents benefits to which they are legally entitled–or for criticizing efforts to ensure such persons obtain the benefits for which they are eligible. The very desire to deny such benefits reflects, at best, a lack of humanity.

Couple that hard-heartedness with a fundamental factual error, and the result is a disgraceful piece of commentary.

The RTD’s real objection is not to the outreach programs in California, which in fact represent a quite intelligent application of federal law fully consonant with the legislative aim of minimizing hunger. Rather, what the RTD objects to is the idea that children growing up in the United States should not go hungry, regardless of where their parents come from.

Published in: on October 27, 2006 at 7:16 am  Comments (6)  

Protesting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

What follows are two first-hand accounts of the sit-in Tuesday evening which led to three University of Richmond students being arrested in protest of the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian citizens serving their country.

The sit-in took place at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Willow Lawn shopping center on Broad Street. Jacob Neal and Jessica Miller, two openly gay students, each attempted to sign up for military service Tuesday. Miller’s interview with a recruitment officer Tuesday morning ended when she revealed her sexuality.

Later that day, Jacob Neal had an interview with a recruitment officer from the U.S. Navy. Accompanied by about 20 supporters from the UR community (including students, staff, and faculty), Neal asked and answered a variety of questions regarding potential service in the Navy.

He then noted that he had one more concern, whether as a gay man that would present any issues in the Navy. The officer replied that he was not allowed to ask about any potential recruit’s sexuality, but now that the information had been volunteered, that he would not be able to process Neal’s application, thus ending the interview.

At this point Neal responded by briefly describing the injustice of this policy and some of the ongoing efforts to persuade the military to change the policy, and stated that the assembled gathering planned to sit-in in the office in protest. The recruitment officer responded that he understood what the group was trying to do, but that eventually the police would be called.

Neal’s interview lasted from roughly 6 to 6:15 p.m. By the time the police came and arrests were made at 9:30 p.m., there were still about 10 supporters on-hand in addition to the arrested students. It should be noted that the recruitment officers were very respectful and professional towards the protesters, and even asked questions of Neal about the history and progress of attempts to change the policy.

The students involved are affiliated with the national organization Soul Force. Jacob Neal provided additional details about the action in a note to supporters sent early this morning:

Yesterday, as the Soulforce Richmond City Campaign Organizer of the ‘Right to Serve’ campaign against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ to lift the ban on open lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, I staged a nonviolent protest–a sit-in–at the naval recruitment center with the help of 20-25 University of Richmond community members. After I was deemed ineligible for service in the United States Armed Forces because of my sexual orientation, my supporters and I , unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer, engaged in a nonviolent sit-in demonstration. We remained, seated on the floor of the office, from my 6pm appointment time until 9pm when we were warned that we would be arrested should we remain. The majority of supporters were not able to be arrested yesterday and left at this time, but Kristen Tilley and I remained, willing to put our bodies on the line for the estimated
64,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service men and women who are forced to live every day in fear and hiding that their identities will be exposed. We were then greeted by 40 police officers, 2 police dogs, and a police ‘school bus’ which transported us to the Henrico County Magistrate’s Office with a 4 patrol car escort. After processing we were released on a personal recognizance bond of $1000 (each) around midnight last night and are required to appear before a judge this morning or risk warrants for our arrest being issued.

In court this morning, a trial date of November 13 for the students was set.

The best media coverage of this action so far has been on WRIC (ABC). The RTD carried a brief item about the protest which quoted none of the participants this morning, but an updated account by Peter Bacque with some brief quotes (and an inaccurate tally of participants) is now on their website. More detailed coverage in the Richmond Collegian (UR) and the Commonwealth Times (VCU) is expected to appear shortly.

Published in: on October 12, 2006 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Torture Forum Report, II

Still no RTD coverage or follow-up on the hugely successful public forum on “Torture and the War on Terror” put on by the Richmond Peace Education Center and Amnesty International at VCU last month and documented here in a previous posting.

Style Weekly, however, has printed a useful and informative follow-up interview with one of the stars of the forum, former Army interrogator Tony Lagouranis. This is a really interesting interview well worth checking out.

For what it’s worth, I’m reliably informed that at least one letter to the editor about the RTD’s non-coverage of the forum has been sent, but nothing has been printed yet.

Published in: on October 11, 2006 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment