15 December 2012

Moral Decrepitude

Yesterday, a very tragic shooting took place at an elementary school. Hopefully, we as a nation can have a dialogue concerning these events, and how we may be able to reduce them - such as addressing lack of access and stigma associated with mental health services. However, this is not what I want to discuss. I have seen multiple people use this to say that we are a morally bankrupt society and that essentially the entire country is going down the ethical tubes.

I agree we see a lot of things that we shouldn't. A nation with a food surplus has people going hungry at night - that doesn't make much sense. A country with many vacant buildings has homeless - that doesn't make much sense. A country with the largest military by far also having comparatively weak schools for the industrialized world. We can argue the corruption and decrepitude there.

It is not fair or correct, however, to say that crime is increasing. It is not a fair characterization of our society, and is simply not true. Violent crime has, in fact, gone down and been going down. We have even gotten to witness phenomena that nobody would have expected - like NYC having a day without reported violent crime being. Crime is not increasing (I'm sure if we count piracy or something it might, but I feel like after the fall of Limewire and MegaUpload that is probably down too though I don't see stats on it partially because it is so hard to track). If you want to attribute the rise in apparent crime to anything, our population has gone up quite a bit, and there is lots of sensationalism about certain kinds of crime.

As for the selfishness issue, there is a major discussion as to whether or not Generation Y (the Millennials) are more selfish or more community minded (or both, do they have to be opposed?). The previous generations tried to teach us to be selfish with all that invisible hand in economics propaganda. They often still try to insist that we become doctors and dentists when we don't want to, though many of us are deciding we can take paths that we want to take (I would argue that is why we have seen graduate school enrollment go up a few times for our generation). I also think to all of the people I know who are going into programs such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps, or who want to do non-profit work. As a society, more people are volunteering. I think an apt description of our generation as a whole is the nickname "Trophy Kids." I would thus argue that we have this odd tension between being selfish and being community-minded, with the two sometimes being linked in weird ways. I don't want to say that there isn't a selfishness or entitled attitude to any of the current generations, but merely to say there is more argument over this topic then people portray (probably due to sensationalism of the topic and portraying what people want to hear). I'm not actually disclosing my opinion on this topic here (though I will discuss it with people if they want me to), but instead noting that it is more complicated than the posts I have seen are portraying it.

I think that we need to get away from a "Glory Days" way of thinking, where we discuss about why the past was far superior. The past had good traits, and the past had bad traits and we must accept that. The past is not the society we want to have though. We excel when we recognize our best days are ahead. While we have major challenges (climate change, water shortage, population maxing out), we also have huge opportunities. Our best days can and will be ahead if we recognize that they can be. Our current way of living may have to change, yes, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It might just make our lives better.

13 December 2012

100th Post!

Apparently This is my 100th Post
Seems like a pretty good reason to celebrate. I think the best way to handle such an occasion would be to look back at my first post, and then look at what are currently my five most viewed posts.

My First Post

In the Beginning
Yes, I really did entitle it "In the Beginning." Fantastic, I know. It is filled with great stories of spilling chemicals on myself, revealing :-DD! (The "Ultra Happy Face of DOOM"), botany battleship, and coordinating the Big Gay Callout (I chose a crazy day to start a blog!). After recanting these things, I go into the purpose of the blog, and something that I'm going to revisit:
All of the above comes together to finally form this - the blog I have been saying I would start. You see, I was a little worn out, and after a shower I finally felt the urge to start. I knew that my blog would be named, "The Walls Line the Void," because I feel that is what I do. The world is chaotic, but out of the chaos we have found order (pseudo-order? culturated order?). We have built up our lives, our societies, our cultures, and our ideas. We have essentially lined the great void with walls (and don't take this in a negative sense. We humans have plenty of room to add on in the void!). This house that we have built in the void has plenty of work to be done, and we humans will have to get hopping, but that is why we are all on this ride (that we call life?).
Yes, my blog is "The Walls Line the Void." It comes from me mishearing lyrics (which actually noted walls being lined with bullet holes, which is much less artistic in my mind). The point of my blog, as the above discusses, is to address the walls that we have built in this crazy life. There is no over-arching purpose in life, we get to define our own purpose. We get to make our own order out of chaos. Of course for me much of that has dealt with social justice (and there is some science and other assorted politics, though my writings under-represent the science aspect of my life). I think my top five most viewed posts fit nicely into this schema, as they deal with helping to fix up the walls that we have built in this void.

Fifth Most Viewed Post
Race-Based Vandalism at Purdue
There were multiple incidents of race-based vandalism while I was at Purdue. This one deals with a racial slur being written on the photo of a prestigious alumnus. The quote that I feel like pulling out of this post is the following:
What I want to see come out of this event of vandalism is something substantial. With the painted tree incident, CORE came to fruition. CORE has meant a lot of a number of minority student groups (I at least can speak from my own experience with LGBTQ issues). These bias events are far too common. The vast majority of them are just ignored, or not reported. What I really would like to see is this event being used to push out the new online bias reporting.
 I then proceed to discuss how Purdue NEEDS to advertise its online bias reporting system. As some may wonder, now that I have moved on the graduate school at the University of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota does have an online bias reporting form. Yet again, this is not well advertised. I only know it exists because I knew where to look for it and even had to go through a few links after a Google search. Clearly Purdue isn't the only one that has done an inadequate job of advertising bias reporting procedures.

Fourth Most Viewed Post
The Problem of God Symposium - LGBTQ Issues Session
Actually, of my two "Problem of God Symposium" posts, this is not the one I would like to have be most viewed. My The Problem of God Symposium - Religious Pluralism post was better (since I took detailed notes on that session and did not on this one), but the issues people read my blog for are clearly more LGBTQ issues than anything else, and so the LGBTQ Issues post has more views.

This post comes from me attending an event put on by a conglomeration of Christian groups on campus. It was an incredibly bias event, and if you want to find out more you can read the post. I will give you a quote though that I think typifies my reaction to the event, which was to state that there are places that are safe at Purdue even if this space didn't feel that way:
I want to remind people that there are safe places. The Atheist community is often welcoming of LGBTQ individuals. There are a number of churches (as well as synagogues, mosques, temples, et cetera) that are open and accepting of LGBTQ identities. At Purdue I feel safe in telling people that if they need help they can go to the Society of Nontheists, the Chapel of the Good Shepard (Episcopalians), the Wesleyan Foundation (Methodists), the Unitarian Universalists, and the Pagan Academic Network. These places are open if they need to talk through their sexuality and their religion (or lack thereof). The Queer Student Union (housed in Stewart G20) is also open to talk through problems. Many of the people in CAPS are open to talking. I also encourage people to report incidents of bias and discrimination. At Purdue gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation are all protected. In West Lafayette the same three are also protected. In all of Tippecanoe County sexual orientation is protected. People should not have to live in an environment where the fact that they are LGBTQ is held against them. Let's not let the misinformation from events like this go unchecked, and let's not tolerate heterosexism (or any form of prejudice for that matter).
Third Most Viewed Post
Response to Anti-LGBTQ Exponent Opinion
As you can imagine, anti-Queer letters occasionally made it into the campus newspaper. I actually respond to this line by line. Then, a bit later, Laura Blackburn (also a president emeritus of the Queer Student Union) and myself  wrote a post entitled Boilermaker Values. I think Boilermaker Values was one of the best pieces I have ever been a part of writing. Yet that isn't the post that made it into my most five viewed (my first post on an issue/event tends to do better than my second, I'm assuming due to reactionary responses). As I typically do, the thing I like to highlight about Purdue is its land grant history. I love that it was a land grant (I also love that the University of Minnesota is a land grant). I strongly believe in public, accessible education, which is why land grant universities were founded. Thus I am pulling the following quote from this post:
What are our Boilermaker values though? Is equality not a Boilermaker value? Is academic freedom not a Boilermaker value? Is inclusion not a Boilermaker value? Is fairness not a Boilermaker value? I could go on and on and on. When I think of Boilermaker values, I would like to think we strive to be a university where people can think, invent, create, and discover regardless of who they are or where they come from. I think of Purdue's land-grant history - something that is important to me. Purdue is meant to be for the common person. It is meant to make education accessible to the general public. Purdue is meant to be a diverse, inclusive environment where people can come and study, learn, discover, and grow. I think we need to fully embrace our land grant history, and our land grant values, and those mean being an inclusive campus that is open to everybody willing to learn and discover.
Second Most Viewed Post
Anti-Religion, Christian-Endorsed Board
Essentially, what happened here was a Christian group on campus put up a board to find out why people have problems with religion. It was an interesting idea, and I hope they were able to use it to help improve themselves. Quote I am pulling from the post:
Anyway, apparently they want to learn more about the qualms people have with their religion. They expected the hypocrisy, oppressive, and hate messages. I think this is a very noble idea, as trying to improve one's community is important.
Most Viewed Post
Purdue Board of Trustees Expands Nondiscrimination Policy
The most viewed post of my blog so far is the press release I wrote on Purdue expanding its nondiscrimination policy. I have written several posts on this matter, and I think it is quite appropriate that this is the most viewed post that I have written for my blog. Watching the Board of Trustees approve the additions of gender identity, gender expression, and genetic information to the nondiscrimination policy of the university is the proudest moment that I have had. Purdue took a huge step forward, and I think it really got the ball rolling to get Purdue to where it is now and where it is going (I have heard great things, and can't wait to check in on it when I finally visit Indiana again!). This post is a short press release, so I'm not going to take a quote from it.

It has been a great first 100 posts. Quite a lot has happened since I started the blog, and I don't even know if I feel like the same person as who wrote the first post. I started the blog my second semester at Purdue, and I am still continuing it. My posts are pretty erratic, sometimes I have several at once and sometimes I go months between them. LGBTQ issues are well represented in what I write about, but not exclusively. I do write about research after all (for example the two minute talk I gave as part of my grad program's lightening talks!), and have talked about off-the-wall topics as well (like a recipe).

Thank you for reading what you have, and hopefully I will have some interesting things to discuss in the future.

12 December 2012

Scientists Figure Out Gayness! Nevermind...

The other day I saw a press release stating, "Study finds epigenetics, not genetics, underlies homosexuality." This has now gone on to make it around some news agencies and onto the Queer Blogosphere. I'm getting frustrated by the discussion that I am seeing on it, so I am going to discuss this briefly.

First, let's address the issue being discussed. Same-sex sexual behavior is seen in a number of organisms, and is so prevalent and well-known I don't think I need to go into that. Evolutionary biologists often ask questions about why certain traits came to be and how they can be maintained. Trust me, I spent the previous two weeks discussing the evolution and maintenance of sex - evolutionary biologists love to argue these kinds of things. While this is pure science, it does help us understand quite a bit about biology and how living organisms works (so for the question of "why study it," it really is a legit and worthwhile thing to study).  Obviously, same-sex behavior is a bit of a puzzle, and so some people want to think about how it may arise. This has nothing to do with wanting to "cure" Queer people, but it is an interest of how a trait that lowers reproductive output of an individual could be so prevalent in so many organisms.

Judging by the press release, the study seeks to address this question (a question that could be generalized to traits other than same-sex attraction) by using a common technique - making a mathematical model. These models are interacting equations. We can modify what goes into the equations, based on assumptions or actual measurements we make, and change the numbers we used, based on assumptions or actual measurements we make. These models are to try to understand a complex world, and so they rely on us making assumptions. Often times, these models give us something to compare against, are thought exercises, or allow us to try to find the simplest model that has some actual explanation power.

This study was a model. They made some assumptions and tried to see if same-sex attraction being so common would be feasible, mathematically, under these assumptions. Based on their model and the assumption the authors made, they have seen that it is possible that epigenetics (markers on genes that help turn them on/off) could work.

Remember that the study relies on assumptions - assumptions that are often cultural in nature. The headline is misleading. It would be much more accurate to say "Study shows epigenetic cause of sexuality is feasible."

Many people study sexual behavior in biology. A lot of biology is influenced by sex, and it is quite complex. This doesn't mean that the scientists are seeking out a "cure" for being queer. It means they are doing what people do - asking questions and trying to find possible explanations. It is completely legitimate to ask these kinds of questions. It is also completely legitimate to question these studies. What assumptions are made? Are those assumptions based on cultural biases and not biological realities?

As an additional note, nature and nurture don't have to be mutually exclusive with sexuality. Regardless of what this study means, or the many other explanations for why Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual human and non-human animals exist, we should still demand our rights. It doesn't reduce who we are to know why we have the feelings we do, but the feelings we do certainly have a cultural component in addition to any biological component.

So yeah, just don't freak out about this study either way, okay? That's really all I'm asking for. Recognize it is a model. It makes assumptions. It is checking if an idea is feasible, and it certainly isn't looking to change people's sexual attractions and behaviors.

08 December 2012

Supreme Court Takes it all on Marriage

As you have probably heard by now, the Supreme Court will be considering whether or not DOMA [the Federal ban on recognition of marriages based on sex] and Prop 8 [California's ban on marriages based on sex] are constitutional. I have talked about what I expect to see earlier. Since Prop 8 is in the mix though, I think it is quite likely that the issue of whether or not Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual people are a suspect class will come up [since these laws are designed to discriminate against LGB people]. Instead of going through everything, I just wanted to show how a Focus on the Family quote is correct if you just flip their interpretation.

"The Supreme Court’s decision today to determine whether the Constitution allows state and federal government to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman is a welcome development. When the executive branch of the government is no longer willing to defend its own law, the final arbiter must be the highest court in the land. Today’s announcement sets in motion a process that may conclude with one of the most momentous decisions ever rendered by the United States Supreme Court. Will the Court affirm the basic design of the family that has stood throughout cultures worldwide for multiple millennia, or will it engage in a sweeping exercise of social re-engineering with profound ramifications for this and future generations? The justices and personnel involved deserve our prayers for wisdom and discernment." - Jim Daly, president of Focus On The Family (Taken from Joe.My.God).

The part that is backwards, at least in the sense that Focus on the Family doesn't know what they are talking about, is the statement, "Will the Court affirm the basic design of the family that has stood throughout cultures worldwide for multiple millennia, or will it engage in a sweeping exercise of social re-engineering with profound ramifications for this and future generations?" Anybody who has taken a moment to look at human culture beyond just our Euro-centric Western model will note that the "basic design of the family" is very different in different cultures. They probably haven't even looked at marriage laws across the world. Just to give you an idea, let's look at plural marriages today (more than two people). The map from Wikipedia shows (where dark blue and light blue mean it is allowed, and teal means they are recognized from other countries):

 Even in the West marriage hasn't been stable for the last 200 years, let alone millennia. The West certainly hasn't been stable with marriage. As one infograph from this website puts it:
This infograph doesn't even take into consideration some of the other changes, such as allowing felons to marry, but it at least gives one an idea of the changing history. So, the Supreme Court affirming the history of marriage would likely be following the 14 previous Supreme Court cases about it, and expanding it to include couples of the same sex. 

The next aspect of their statement, or the, "sweeping exercise of social re-engineering" is what has already been done. It is social engineering that many states only recognize marriages between one man and one woman, and would still be social engineering to restrict marriage to couples of the opposite sex. That is, in essence, the law saying that straight couples are superior to queer couples, which is definitely social engineering in my book.

06 December 2012

Rock Paper Scissors in R... Fail

I was trying to make a Rock-Paper-Scissors game in R. Unfortunately it appears one can't make the program wait for user input. I even tried to have a while loop that would keep one in the loop until a value changed from NA to something else, but even that didn't seem to work. The try() command was my latest attempt but that didn't seem to improve the situation either. I have posted the code below for reference when I talk to people about this issue:

# Rock-Paper-Scissors in R
# Author: Nicholas Goldsmith
# Date : 05 December 2012 to
#Program standards:
# 1 is Rock, 2 is paper, 3 is Scissors

#Steps for the algorithm
#1) Have a while loop
#2) Bring up the menu, asking if they want to play or exit
#3) If play, generate the computer's play OR exit the loop
#4) Ask for the user's play
#5) Compare the plays
#6) Declare a winner
#7) Restart loop

#Use this to generate the computer's move
#result=sample(1:3,1) #generates a random number for the result

#To get user input
#cat("\n","Enter a number", #Prompt user for input
#    "\n","Enter 1 for Rock, 2 for Paper, and 3 for Scissors","\n\n")
#y<-scan ets="ets" input="input" n="1)" p="p">

# Apparently this is a lost cause because you can't make R wait on input
# from the user

#The Initial Start of the code
cat("\n","Welcome to Nicholas' R Rock-Paper-Scissors", #Display Initial Menu
    "\n","Enter 1 to Play or 0 to Exist","\n\n")
play<-na p="p">try(n <- nmax="1)," scan="scan" silent="TRUE)</p" what="integer(),">wins=0
#The Game Loop
  computer=sample(1:3,1) #generates a random number for the computer's play
  cat("\n","Enter a number", #Prompt user for input
      "\n","1 for Rock, 2 for Paper, and 3 for Scissors","\n\n")
  user<- na="na" p="p">  try(user<-scan ets="ets" input="input" n="1))" p="p">  if (user==computer){
  if (user==1){
    if (computer==2){
      cat("\n","Computer throws Paper, User throws Rock","\n",
          "Sorry, You Lost.","\n\n")
    if (computer ==3){
      cat("\n","Computer throws Scissors, User throws Rock","\n",
          "Congratulations! You won!","\n\n")
  if (user==2){
    if (computer==1){
      cat("\n","Computer throws Rock, User throws Paper","\n",
          "Congratulations! You won!","\n\n")
    if (computer==3){
      cat("\n","Computer throws Scissors, User throws Paper","\n",
          "Sorry, You Lost.","\n\n")
  if (user==3){
    if (computer==1){
      cat("\n","Computer throws Rock, User throws Scissors","\n",
          "Sorry, You Lost.","\n\n")
    if (computer==2){
      cat("\n","Computer throws Paper, User throws Scissors","\n",
          "Congratulations! You won!","\n\n")
  cat("\n","Current Score","\n",
      "Wins: ",wins,"\n",
      "Ties: ",ties,"\n",
      "Loses: ",loses,"\n\n")
  cat("\n","Would you like to play again?", #Display Initial Menu
      "\n","Enter 1 to Play or 0 to Exist","\n\n")
  play<-na p="p">  try(play<-scan et="et" input="input" n="1))" p="p" user="user">}

30 November 2012

Lightening Round: Roadside Regional Heritage

The Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior graduate students put on a Friday Noon Seminar, which is essentially a fun/valuable seminar that is planned by a group of the graduate students. Towards the beginning of the semester there were lightening talks given by the professors and post-docs. In these, they had two minutes to give a talk on a question they are interested in. The talks were great, and I was amazed at how well they did with the time. Today, we graduate students have our chance to try it, and I was convinced to do one. The below is an approximation of my two-minute talk concerning a question I am interested in (my slide included below):

These are plants along the side of the road. Their life is complicated. They get mowed, scrapped by snow plows, bombarded by salt. In some cases invasive species have come in and proceed to fight with the system. Humans can make a pretty big mess. We do so with the side of the road. We do so socially with the people marginalized by our society.

One of the areas of a person's environment that they most encounter is the roadside. People associate this landscape with their region, part of their "regional heritage." Much of this regional heritage is based off of what they see out of the windows of their cars. Here in Minnesota much of that was prairie, which has been widely lost. On this map the red is the remaining prairie that used to occupy the whole yellow area.

Yet it isn't completely gone, and maybe, just maybe, we can restore some of it, some of our regional heritage. We also have land along the side of the road. That is what I want to be a part of, and my current little piece is figuring out how to ensure that these plants along the side of the road are able to adapt to these conditions, conditions that likely are in flux. Do they have genetic variation to adapt?

26 November 2012

Planned Parenthood Experience II

I'm titling this my second Planned Parenthood Experience rather than my first for a reason that will be mentioned later. Sorry if that is confusing...

What I want to write about is instead an experience that I had a few weeks ago. I visited the Planned Parenthood near where I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota to ask about volunteering opportunities. Outside there were three protesters. I obviously ignored them and did not take any of their propaganda, but just walked by them to enter the building. What struck me was one of the protesters called out, "Do you have a friend in there?"

It frustrates me how clueless the anti-abortion protesters are about Planned Parenthood. Abortions are a tiny fraction of what they do (3% to be exact). There are a number of reasons why I, as a male, might be there. One good reason, and the reason I have had a previous Planned Parenthood experience, is an HIV test. Everybody should periodically get an HIV test, and free tests were being offered one day so I took advantage of it. I should also note that HIV isn't just transmitted through sex. Contact with blood is another prime method of spread for the virus. In fact, screenings and treatments for STDs (including HIV) is 38% of what Planned Parenthood does.

Also, even if I did have a friend there, abortion is not the most likely reason for them to be there (as I said, 3%). Planned Parenthood offers a lot of medical services, particularly those of concern for women. What if I had been there about a friend's cancer screening (14.5% of what Planned Parenthood does)? I could also have been there to inquire about something as simple as birth control methods (which may potentially reduce the number of abortions performed). After all, contraception is 33% of the care provided by Planned Parenthood.

I didn't reply to the protesters, but it frustrated me. Do they think just because I am a man I would not be expected to be going to a Planned Parenthood? Do they think abortion is the majority of what Planned Parenthood does?

I strongly support women who choose to get an abortion. I also support women who choose not to get an abortion. When it comes down to the woman's body, she gets to make the choice. A fetus is part of the woman's body, and not its own independent human life, from implantation until viability (Roe v. Wade). If medically necessary, an abortion should be able to be performed after viability to save the life of the mother (which is just common sense). I would have no problem referring a friend or relative to Planned Parenthood to get an abortion for any reason she may have. After all, we on the outside will not ever know all that may go into a woman's decision to get an abortion, and I trust women to be able to make that decision for themselves.

That said, Planned Parenthood does not necessarily equal abortion either. Planned Parenthood provides a number of services that are vital (1) for the public health, (2) for quality of life, (3) for people who may be uncomfortable getting a test through a different channel, &c.

So, in response to the protester, no, I was not there for a friend. I was there for myself, and beyond that it is none of their business. It is none of their business what I or anyone else might want to do with our bodies. It is none of their business what medical tests or procedures I should choose to have. If I was there for a friend I would be saddened by the fact that my friend would have to wade through such flagrant misunderstandings in order to receive medical attention.

24 November 2012

Punctuated Equilibrium of University Queer Services

Combining my undergrad experience and my grad experience so far at two different Big 10 universities has led me to believe that Queer Services on campus follow a punctuated equilibrium model of evolution. In other words, campuses see a period of little to no change followed by a period of very rapid change. This has also led me to think that Purdue will soon be one of the most Queer friendly universities in the Big 10 due to it being the most recent to undergo the period of rapid evolution.

To give a brief background on Purdue, when I started at Purdue it was WAY behind the rest of the Big 10 on LGBTQ issues. It did not include gender identity and gender expression in its nondiscrimination policy. It did not have LGBTQ Affairs staff. Its bias reporting was a nightmare. It didn't have any sort of LGBTQ Studies program. It was definitely well behind the rest of the Big 10. A few administration changes, a change in strategy that got a big win to start the ball rolling, and all of a sudden Purdue changed drastically. I should also note that there seemed to be an earlier period of rapid evolution in which domestic partner benefits and sexual orientation in the nondiscrimination policy were achieved.

The University of Minnesota (UMN), from the perspective of somebody who doesn't yet know the history well, seems from the outside to be a fairly well-advanced campus on LGBTQ issues. It has a cultural center, ranks well on Queer issues, et cetera. For me though, coming from Purdue, UMN seems to be backward on a few issues, and I think that comes from me being involved with an institution that was going through rapid evolution and then going to an institution in a steady state.

Because Purdue was rapidly evolving, we were actively thinking about the issues students were facing. We were actively asking the question of "What would a Queer-friendly Purdue look like?" We also could repeatedly say "We have to catch up to our peers!!!" and this enabled us to ask for things that some peer institutions had and others didn't. Thus, in addition to getting staff and an updated nondiscrimination policy, we were also able to get bias reporting online, address single-use bathrooms, etc. Personally, I then turned around and went to the cities that invented protecting gender identity and gender expression, and was shocked to see things like segregated single-use bathrooms. I was shocked to not be able to easily find online bias reporting (I don't think it exists here). It seemed super backwards after coming from a campus that was behind.

I'm going to speculate about why this punctuated equilibrium exists. The first I am dubbing the Glory Years Issue. It is the switch from thinking "How can we be a Queer-friendly institution?" to "We are a Queer-friendly institution." I'm dubbing it the Glory Years Issue because I think it is similar to things declining when people start thinking that their best years have passed as opposed to thinking their best years are ahead (this happens at a national level too). If one thinks their best years have passed, they are less likely to be active about making sure their future years are their best. Thus, thinking the golden age of Queer Activism is behind them, campuses get stale. An alternative hypothesis for this same prediction would be a Fat and Happy Issue where the people pushing the issues feel they got what they asked for, and thus they sit back. This could particularly be an issue for places that got white Gay male issues out of the way, and then issues facing non-Gay white male Queer people get left behind. (I will touch on a bit more of this later).

After the Glory Year Issue and Fat and Happy Issue, I speculate that there is something I will dub the Maxed-out Administration Issue. Essentially the people who have the power to say yes or no have been taken as far as they will go. At one time for Purdue, the administration had maxed-out at adding sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. It thus took administration changes and new forms of activism (in this case using student government) to overcome this maxed-out administration issue. I think a lot of campuses are currently maxed-out with regard to gender-neutral housing. While we can ask for a lot of things, gender-neutral housing beyond a case-by-case basis is just too far for the people who have the power to say yes or no, and so progress stalls there. A similar, but potential alternative, hypothesis to this I will dub the Method Death Issue. With this issue, it is that a particular method of activism won't work anymore and a new method needs to be tried. In the case of the nondiscrimination policy at Purdue, asking administration behind closed doors had reached saturation, and a new method (going through student government) was needed. The Method Death Issue and the Maxed-out Administration Issue are potentially related in the sense that the relevant administration has been "maxed-out" for a particular method of activism, but a different method can change the no to a yes.

If these four issues: Glory Years, Fat and Happy, Maxed-out Administration, and Method Death, are creating the observed pattern of punctuated equilibrium on campus Queer concerns, the next natural step would be to ask how these issues can be overcome. I think a lot of this comes down to a leadership change. If the Chief LGBTQ Affairs Officer changes, then people are likely to be broken out of Glory Year thinking because the new person will likely bring new ideas. The new person bringing new ideas also helps to overcome the Fat and Happy Issue because for them there is likely still a need for something. They will also potentially bring new activism ideas and administration might view the new person differently. It is highly likely that LGBTQ Affairs staff will have specialties. There are probably people who are excellent inaugural LGBTQ staff who should set up solid programs and then head somewhere else to establish solid programs. Universities looking for inaugural staff should try to recruit these people, and these people should be conscious to move between universities after they meet certain benchmarks. There are also likely people who are great at getting certain issues to go through. Thus if housing issues are a major concern, somebody with a housing specialty should be sought out. For bias reporting there is likely a different person. While we shouldn't necessarily pigeon-hole people, we should be aware of where their strengths lie when recruiting, and they should be aware of when it is time for them to move to a new campus.

Another suggestion I have would be to be aware of who isn't at the table. I think with Queer issues it is typically the people who aren't at the table who have the greatest needs. While I could discuss this further, I don't want to start Oppression Olympics type of discussion, so I will instead just say that at Purdue to LGBTQ issue table was dominated by white Gay men, and I think that was both indicative of some issues and a potential source of others (either directly or indirectly). I will also note that I don't think many people would argue with me suggesting that people in the closet probably need the most services, and thus we should be aware of the channels they can and cannot use (aka online and anonymous resources are especially important and should be easy to find because some won't even be able to ask about them to anyone but Google or from a URL on a flier they have seen).

To address these issues I would also highly encourage conference attendance. Hearing the issues facing other campuses and how people are addressing them is important in becoming aware of the issues that may cryptically exist on a campus. This also makes me think that the Queer-rights focused people should find some way to talk to grad and transfer students who were active on other campuses about what is happening there. This might led to some unexpected insights.

tl;dr Going from Purdue to UMN has led me to think Queer issues on campus go through punctuated equilibriums. The period of little change can be brought about by thinking focused on past achievements, how far administration is willing to go, who is at the table, and the methods of activism used. I then suggest changing up LGBTQ Affairs staff occasionally, being conscious of who isn't at the table, going to conferences, and talking to grad and transfer students to overcome some of these obstacles.

03 November 2012

Election is Almost Upon Us and Such

Tuesday is the election, something I am sure we have all heard about ad nauseum.

In August I left Indiana for Minnesota to start graduate school, and the transition has been an interesting one. Minnesota is an odd state - and I don't mean that in the Midwestern "I don't like it" sense, but in a "How does a place like this exist?" sense. It has a bit of a working flavor, yet is strongly environmental. It still has the Midwestern non-confrontational passive-aggressiveness, but has a niceness that isn't like the privacy of Indiana. Oh, and red lights essentially mean nothing to them. These are digressions though.

A big difference between Indiana and Minnesota involves politics. The two states are night and day. Indiana is Republican-dominated; Minnesota is Democrat-dominated. Indiana has early voting; Minnesota does not. Minnesota has same-day registration to vote (you can register to vote at the polls on election day); Indiana does not. Minnesota has three major parties and a number of minor parties; Indiana has two major parties and one minor party. It is just a different political world here. While some things annoy me (aka no early voting), I rather like other details (same-day registration, many parties, ranked ballots for local elections, etc.).

Minnesota could be undergoing a transformation soon though. In 2010 Minnesota fell to the same trap much of the rest of the country did - the Republican wave. In that wave the Republicans took control of Minnesota General Assembly. They used this to try to pull a trick on the voters - a voter photo ID amendment. Currently Minnesota doesn't have a photo ID law for voting. People can bring in general forms of ID (government issued, a bill, being vouched for by a neighbor who can prove their identity) and vote. The system works pretty well in Minnesota, and helps a few groups of voters, particularly three - students, the elderly, and people of color. Students aren't likely to have a government issued ID with their current address because they are (1) living on campus and (2) moving frequently. A student ID is all somebody living in a residence hall needs (as the universities provide lists of these), and of course a bill works for those living off campus. While I went and got a Minnesota ID (my Indiana one expired in October), many don't need to so don't. The elderly and people of color are more likely to not have birth certificates. While state IDs don't require birth certificates, many of the documents that are an alternative to a birth certificate require a birth certificate to get. Thus, while the voter ID itself may be made free, one won't necessarily be able to get all the documentation together to get one for free. Also, the elderly, people of color, and students are less likely to drive/own a car, and thus getting a voter ID may not be the easiest. Thus a voter photo ID law can seriously hurt their ability to vote. I've heard the argument that an ID is needed to buy alcohol, so why not vote, but that argument is silly. Buying alcohol is a privileged (as the 18th Amendment should show us), whereas voting is a right. Plus, informed voting is important for our democratic republic to run, buying alcohol is not. Plus, the address issue is not an issue with buying alcohol.

Let's be honest, the voter photo ID law is an attempt to favor Republicans. By going after students and people of color, the Republicans can lessen the lead Democrats have in this state. I'm afraid it stands a good chance of passing too. People seem to think there is this huge voter fraud issue, but not very many cases exist. Headlines note things like, "Voter Fraud: It's Real, but Rare," and "UFO Sightings are More Common than Voter Fraud." In Minnesota, one election was noted for a number of ineligible felons voting. It was later realized that wasn't the case. It should also be noted that this issue would not necessarily be resolved with voter photo ID as the issue would be with the system to ensure people who register to vote are also eligible.

The other amendment on the ballot is the Marriage Discrimination Amendment. Minnesota is one of the states that have managed to avoid a marriage amendment issues, but Republicans probably sensed it was the last election they may be able to get a ban here in Minnesota and managed to get it onto the ballot. This vote has me incredibly nervous. I have been asked a number of times how I think it is going to go, and I just note I think it is going to be close. The polls are very close, within the margin of error. Another issue is the Bradley Effect. The Bradley effect is the idea that non-whites fair worse in elections than polls would suggest, and the Bradley effect has been expanded to explain why marriage discrimination amendments do better than they poll.

The Vote No forces have had a great campaign.
Unlike in California they have always acted from the standpoint of assuming we are going to lose, and working like crazy to change that outcome. Vote No stuff has been everywhere. Major politicians (like the Senate candidate) has been openly campaigning against it. When the US Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar and the Mayor of Minneapolis R.T. Rybak walked in the University of Minnesota homecoming parade, both of their contingents had Vote No signs and chanted Vote No. We have also raised WAY more money. The Vote No campaign has raised $10 million while vote yes has raised $3.6 million. Both campaigns have pretty frequent ads. The Vote No ads leave something to be desired, but aren't bad. They are essentially a bunch of straight couples talking about why they are Voting No. The most powerful of our ads is the one that is different - talking about a Gay soldier who died. The vote yes campaign has run the same ad they are running in the other states with marriage ballot questions. It is also an ad they have run in a few other states with the idea that same-sex marriage will be taught in schools. One of our ads that runs on TV was modified to point out the lies in this ad before the rest of the ad goes on.

I don't know how the ballot initiatives will go. I hope that Minnesotans reject both of amendments. I certainly will be voting against them. I'm nervous about the results though. I'm definitely glad my cohort for my grad program will be getting together to watch the results come in. I had planned on going to celebrate/protest, but I think being with my graduate cohort will be a healthier alternative for me. Granted I think it is likely we won't know the result of the marriage discrimination amendment that night, and a recount would not surprise me. Three other states will also have marriage equality on their ballot: Maine, Maryland, and Washington. These three states will have marriage equality depending on the outcome of these ballot questions. I hope that these states give me a reason to celebrate. It will all come down to time.

If the Minnesota marriage discrimination amendment passes, I'm pretty sure I will question why I came here. Grad school is already a large emotional roller coaster. Some days I absolutely love it and know I made the right choice. Other days I question why I am putting myself through this. It is a completely different world from undergrad. I had an amazing undergrad experience, and I'm still trying to find my grove in grad school, so I assume part of the roller coaster will even out. There are a few things I am working on that I know will also help me to feel more at home here. Also, the marriage discrimination amendment has been something that I have been aware of ever since I got here. Luckily I live nestled between the two cities (in Saint Paul, but only a block or two away from where Minneapolis starts). I'm surrounded by Vote No everywhere, and that is comforting. Commercials on TV haven't been all that comforting though (Nathan, Joe, and I have taken to watching the New Normal).

Also, since I can't end a blog about the elections without encouraging people to vote for Obama, I give the following hilarious video:

05 September 2012

The Walls Line the Void Stands with Blag Hag

Mario, my friend over at Episcopalian in Planet Earth, today wrote a post stating that he stands with Blag Hag. Jen, the blogger behind Blag Hag, has retired from blogging for an indefinite period of time. The reason for this suspension, however, is why Mario has noted that he is standing with Blag Hag, and is something I am joining Mario in doing.

I first discovered Blag Hag when she wrote a post discussing fliers for the Queer Student Union, Society of Nontheists, and Delta Pi Rho being vandalized. From that post on I have been following Blag Hag through twists and turns, and even joining in a few activist activities and events with her and the organization she founded. The work that Jen has done, her work in the sciences, her discussion of the handling of sciences and the various us'es, and her role in social justice activism have all been influential for me. If you want just the slightest glimpse of her brilliance as a thinker (beyond her scholastic work in biology), you need only read , "How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy's Club & Why It's Time for a New Wave of Atheism."

Unfortunately, brilliance and strength are sometimes liabilities. Over coffee with a former president of the Queer Student Unions, and a person I have considered a role model since meeting her, I was told that if there are rumors about you it means people feel threatened by you. A variation of this has hit Jen - people feel threatened by her and are thus lashing out. The vitriol that is being directed at her is uncalled for and unacceptable. Probably the worst part is the vitriol is because of the strength and power of her work.

These events remind us what we are fighting - a system that can't tolerate difference, and imposes its strict roles upon us without our permission while denying our right to question.

At times we can feel that there is so much weight on us, that we are carrying a burden for others who, for one reason or another, are currently unable to carry it. In social justice work there is a huge emotional burden. We fight through this burden because we know we must. If we don't do it, who will. We need a better support system, and I am stating this from experience. I don't know how that support system is to be done, and of course each person's strain in this work is different, but we need it. Remember that the vitriol means they feel threatened. Remember that the arc of history is bending towards justice and that it is because the us'es won't give up. We can't give up. No social justice work goes to waste.

I hope that Jen takes the time she needs to take care of herself, and will maybe even have some people realize what kind of an awful thing they have done. I also hope she continues to grace social justice blogging with her brilliance.

02 August 2012

Obamacare's 1 August 2012 Reforms

Yesterday, 1 August 2012, a number of new requirements went into effect on all health insurance policies that are new/renewed from then on. A number of these cover women’s health and relate to preventative care.

It makes sense to cover preventative care. How many women can we vaccinate against HPV for the cost of treating one woman with cervical cancer? (Yes, I know not all cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV, but there are also a number of health consequences of HPV. This is just an example). Just on this point, one study concluded that, “Implementing a prevention plan for cervical cancer that includes annually vaccinating Medicaid-enrolled adolescent females of the Appalachian region of Kentucky against HPV infection is cost-efficient for the Medicaid system when considering the total expenditures associated with the illness” (Prasad & Hill 2008). This cost savings would not come for several decades, sure, but the cost savings would come (not to mention the savings in pain and suffering). The question some might ask is why, if there is a cost savings, insurance would not choose to cover this anyway without regulation. I’m not an insurance company, but I’m guessing that bills several decades later, when this individual might not even be on their insurance, has something to do with it. In a health care system where we are trying to reduce costs as a country, however, it makes an awful lot of sense to cover these kinds of vaccinations. Note - This vaccination requirement began to go into effect on 23 September 2010, and since I am a big vaccine proponent I feel the need to share it often (Information of vaccines covered by insurance due to the Affordable Care Actcan be found here).

A number of preventative care requirements began to go into effect yesterday, however, and I feel the need to address them. These requirements, like the vaccination coverage, will ultimately save money. They should be quite popular, and they should prevent a lot of pain and suffering. Also, nobody is required to use them, insurance is just required to cover them (the government, after all, has the right to regulate interstate commerce which includes the ability to require insurance to cover certain transactions, but does not have the right to force you to participate in a commerce).

Some of the now covered women’s health preventative care include (information is available at the Health Resources and Service Administration’s Website):
1)      Well-woman Visits – insurance must cover annual checkups for women to receive age-appropriate health assessments and care. Well-woman visits include such procedures as (according to the University of Washington):
a.       General physical exams
b.      Mammograms
c.       Pap smears
d.      Colonoscopies
2)      Gestational diabetes screening – pregnant women with a high risk for diabetes must be covered to have a gestational diabetes screening. Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that coincides with pregnancy.
3)      HPV testing - women over thirty are covered for a DNA test checking for human papillomavirus once every three years.
4)      STI counseling – women’s counseling related to sexually transmitted infections is covered.
5)      HIV testing – annual HIV testing and counseling is covered by insurance.
6)      Contraception – contraception is covered as proscribed (this one has an exception for some cases where religion is involved)
7)      Breastfeeding – supplies, support, and counseling are covered for breastfeeding women.
8)      Domestic violence screening and counseling.

One talking point I hear frequently from those opposed to health care reform is that it does nothing to reduce health care costs. Covering preventive care, such those cost savings from covering HPV vaccination, does lower costs. It just makes sense to minimize the likelihood that health problems will crop up later in life, and to detect potential health problems earlier rather than later.

Contraception is probably the least clear on how it saves money in the long run, but it ultimately makes sense that preventing unwanted/unplanned pregnancies saves money. There are a number of studies performing cost-benefit analyses on birth control, examining the effects of unplanned pregnancies, etc. Just for somewhat of an idea, it is noted that, “family planning is documented to prevent mother-child transmission of human immunodeficiency virus [HIV], contribute to birth spacing, lower infant mortality risk, and reduce the number of abortions, especially unsafe ones. It is also shown to significantly lower maternal mortality and maternal morbidity associated with pregnancy” (Tsui et al. 2010). For example, one study looked into, “the estimated effects of mass media campaigns discouraging unprotected sex, teen pregnancy prevention programs, and expansions in publicly funded family planning services, and then present[ed] new research showing that expansions in these policies would likely lead to reductions in teen and unintended pregnancy, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and child poverty. The research also shows that each dollar spent on these policies would produce taxpayer savings of between two and six dollars” (CCF Report,2012). This study goes on to note that, “A third contributing factor to the high rate of unintended pregnancy is that the costs of the most effective forms of contraception are sometimes prohibitive and/or access to them is limited” (CCFReport, 2012).

I am of the opinion that people fear the health care reform law because they don’t know what is in it. As they learn what is in it, the law will become more popular. Yes, there are parts I don’t like. The individual mandate, in my mind, is a poor substitute for a single-payer system. I also understand that the individual mandate was a compromise, and the only politically viable (and constitutional) way at the time to lower the cost passed on to insurance purchasers and tax payers from people who are unable to pay their medical bills. It is one of those situations where it is the best option we have at this point in time with this political landscape.

The health care bill continues to enhance the kind of coverage many Americans have (and significantly expands those who will be covered). The 1 August 2012 regulations are just one example.

NOTE – As always, if I got something wrong, PLEASE make me aware.

01 August 2012

DOMA and the Supreme Court

I was asked to do a post about why I am okay with, and actually excited that, Section 3 of DOMA is likely going to the Supreme Court this year (2012-2013). I haven't studied law or anything, but I have been reading the briefs and opinions, and so am going to share my understanding of those opinions (and some thoughts of my own). If you notice anything incorrect in what I say, PLEASE point it out. This is based solely on my ability to read the opinions/briefs and not on a detailed understanding of law. I expect Section 3 of DOMA to go down 5-4 or 6-3, where the five are Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Kennedy (likely with Kennedy writing the decision), and possibly joined by Chief Justice Roberts (with either he or Kennedy writing the decision). My vote prediction is based on Lawrence v. Texas, Romer v. Evans, and National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Secretary of Health and Human Services (the healthcare ruling).

DOMA is the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" that defines marriage and spouse as strictly between a man and a woman for the purpose of Federal law. Since the law is super short, I'm just going directly post the three sections of the law (taken from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-104publ199/content-detail.html):

Section 1:
"This Act may be cited as the `Defense of Marriage Act'."
Section 2:
"No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship."

Section 3:
"In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word `spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

The cases that the Supreme Court has received requests to rule on are in reference to just Section 3 (which basically says whenever marriage, as far as the Federal government is concerned, is only between a man and a woman). From my perspective, with these cases there are essentially three questions happening at once:
1) Is sexual orientation a suspect class, thus requiring laws discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation to be judged with strict scrutiny, and thus violate the 5th and 14th Amendments?
2) Is the 5th/14th Amendment's due process/equal protection clause violated by DOMA?
3) Does DOMA violate the 10th Amendment, which leaves all powers not given to the Federal government by the Constitution to the state/public?
I have separated the first and second question because it is not necessary for sexual orientation to be a suspect class in order for DOMA to violate the 5th/14th Amendments. Before I get too far ahead on that though, I should probably go into the 5th and 14th Amendments and what a suspect class is. Also, I am including the 5th and not just the 14th because some court cases have noted it in passing in conjunction with the 14th.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states [emphasis mine]:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The part of the 5th Amendment that matters in this case is the due process clause (bolded above)

Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution states [emphasis mine]:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. 
 This part again repeats the due process clause (and clarifying that it applies to the states), and guarantees equal protect of the laws (laws apply to everyone equally).

The issue of suspect classes and heightened scrutiny comes in with the 14th Amendment. Laws have to distinguish between groups of people. We have to do things such as decide who is capable of driving, distinguish between different incomes for income tax, et cetera. Thus the question is when is making a distinction related to a legitimate government interest, and when is it not. If a law in question discriminates against a suspect or a quasi-suspect class, strict scrutiny must be applied (more on this below).

In order for a law to survive strict scrutiny it must pass three tests. It must have a compelling government interest, it must be narrowly tailored, and it must be the least restrictive means of fulfilling that compelling government interest. If it doesn't fall under strict scrutiny, then it just must concern a government interest.

In order to require strict scrutiny, there are four guidelines, two of which seem to essentially be required and two are a bit looser. The first (one of the essential) is that the group must have a history of experiencing discrimination. The second (the other essential) is that being a part of this group does not impair one's ability to contribute to society. The third (and a bit looser of a requirement) is immutability. This means the trait either can't be changed, requires extreme cost/pain to change, or is so central to a person's identity that asking for it to be changed is unreasonable. The final requirement is that the group is politically powerless. I have seen this defined in a few different ways, but it seems to mean that, at this point in time, the group is unlikely to be able to fix the discrimination they face through the standard political process (aka without using the courts).

Obviously discussing these four factors alone would take a lot of time, and could easily be the subject of another several blog posts. I'm thus going to gloss over this, and the arguments that have been used for and against sexual orientation fitting the categories. I think it is clear how sexual orientation fits the four categories, though there are some arguments that have been used against it.

The problem, at the level of courts that aren't the Supreme Court, is that there are cases (which might be) giving precedent to whether or not sexual orientation is a suspect class. One of those cases is Bowers v. Hardwick. This was a Supreme Court case ruling that sodomy laws were constitutional (and no, sodomy laws are not constitutional as the Supreme Court overruled that, but I will get to that later). The second is Baker v. Nelson, in which a Minnesota couple in the 70s took marriage equality to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court rejected the case as they didn't feel it had a significant federal question. In the 9th Circuit Court there is also the case High Tech Gays v. Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office in which the 9th Circuit ruled that sexual orientation was not a suspect class (though this is partially based on the previous cases I mentioned).

Obviously since those cases precedent has changed. Lawrence v. Texas overruled Bowers v. Hardwick (Note - Lawrence v. Texas was written by Justice Kennedy). The other case is Romer v. Evans, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Colorado Amendment 2 was unconstitutional (Note - Romer v. Evans was written by Justice Kennedy). The amendment would have prevented protection of minorities on the basis of sexual orientation. These cases did not test whether or not sexual orientation was a suspect class (the fact that the Supreme Court did not address this issue is part of the reason why courts are still wary of answering this question). Instead, they dodged the question with the reasoning that the laws were unconstitutional under a lower level of scrutiny, and thus they didn't even have to figure out if the higher scrutiny would have applied. Even with the lower scrutiny they still decided no government interest was involved with these laws, and it was instead motivated by animus (which is not a legitimate government interest). This is part of the reason why I list the suspect classification as a separate question. The Supreme Court could, again, not decide suspect classification and yet still strike down Section 3 of DOMA.

From my perspective, if the Supreme Court takes the 5th/14th Amendment route, they would first weigh if Section 3 of DOMA passes a low level of scrutiny. If it doesn't, then they dodge the suspect classification again (Justice Kennedy wrote the previous two decisions that did just this). If it does pass a low level of scrutiny, then they will have to decide if sexual orientation is a suspect class.

My guess is that they will again try to dodge deciding the appropriate classification level for sexual orientation, and either decide the case on the grounds that it doesn't pass low scrutiny and so no reason to even look to higher scrutiny, or that it fails the 10th amendment argument. They could also do as the First Circuit court did and hybridize the 10th Amendment and low scrutiny arguments and thus still not consider the classification.

Why I think they will again try to avoid the classification of sexual orientation is essentially that it is the conservative thing to do (and because Justice Kennedy, often regarded as the swing justice, has done this before). It, in a way, shows judicial restraint as they are narrowing their ruling to just the issue at hand and using as little as possible to do so. If sexual orientation is a suspect class, laws dealing with sexual orientation would essentially start to crumble (likely including all of the marriage discrimination laws). If they avoid the issue, they can instead say that the Federal government must refer to a state's definition of marriage rather than implement its own. The Supreme Court makes a narrow though significant ruling, and again leaves other issues to be addressed on another day (though this could also be viewed as kicking the can down the road when they may eventually have to face the issue of sexual orientation's classification). The Supreme Court can pick and choose what questions they answer (or can answer an entirely different question that still settles the case). For this reason, I think there is a good chance they won't touch the 5th/14th Amendment arguments at all, and instead will rule solely on the basis of the 10th Amendment (this is also where I see a 6-3 ruling to be the most likely). There is precedent that domestic relations are solely the jurisdiction of the states and not the Federal government (Hisquierdo v. Hisquierdo is cited as stating this in the 1st Circuit ruling), which would strike down Section 3 of DOMA.

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
This amendment essentially sets up our Federalist system. The Constitution essentially lists what the Federal government can do. Everything else is up to the states (with some of the Amendments putting limits on what both the Federal and State governments can do). The constitution doesn't give the Federal government the explicit ability to regulate domestic relationships, in fact that seems to be something that is a prime example of  a power the state government has that the Federal government does not. With DOMA the Federal government, for the first time, disregards what the state has to say on marriage, and instead implemented its own definition. The Federal government would have to justify which enumerated power gives them the ability to do this. Note - if you want to read more about searching for an enumerated power that grants the government the ability to do something, the health care ruling is a great example, where the court examined the arguments on the individual mandate under both the commerce clause and tax power clause and finding it did not have the power under the commerce clause but did under the taxing power (Note - Chief Justice Roberts wrote this decision).

The 10th Amendment argument is really only argued in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services. This is mainly because the entity that can argue that a state's rights are being violated is a state.

Each topic, and each court case, can easily be its own post. I'm mainly just trying to hybridize it all from my understanding (plus there is a chance all of the cases will be combined and heard by the Supreme Court at one time). My prediction is 5-4 or 6-3 overturning DOMA. I think it will likely be on 10th Amendment grounds, or also fairly likely in my opinion on 14th Amendment grounds but avoiding the suspect class question. I think Kennedy is the most likely justice to write this decision. The reason I think the 10th Amendment grounds is slightly more likely is because it doesn't touch the issue of if there is a right to marry regardless of sex, and the Supreme Court would thus keep this case from being precedent in overturning state marriage bans. It is just a much narrower case, and the Supreme Court pushes off the state marriage issue to a later date.

Below are the court cases that I have seen, along with a short statement on each. Also, since I haven't mentioned it, there are a bunch of separate cases in various courts at the moment. Because they all question Section 3 of DOMA, the Supreme Court can bundle all of the cases into one hybrid case, and thus rule on them all at once. The paperwork has been done to make this realistic. There is an issue if they are not bundled, however. Justice Kagan did some work before she became a justice for President Obama on DOMA. For this reason some of the cases, though not all, would likely see her recuse herself. If they are all heard then she was a part of some but not others and thus the thinking is she would not feel the need to recuse herself. A 4-4 decision leaves the lower court ruling in tact, but could then cause the issue to be different in different circuits.

1) Gill v. Office of Personnel Management & Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services (Note - these cases were bundled in the 1st Circuit)
Last deciding entity was: 1st Circuit (which covers Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island)
Next deciding entity would be: Supreme Court
Last ruling issued: 31 May 2012
Found: Combined the 10th Amendment argument with the 14th Amendment argument to rule Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional without using heightened scrutiny.
Full Text

2) Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management
Last deciding entity was: District Court for the Norther District of California
Next deciding entity would be: 9th Circuit (which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington)
Last ruling issued: 22 February 2012
Found: Heightened scrutiny should be applied to sexual orientation, but Section 3 of DOMA fails even the lower forms of scrutiny.
Full Text

3) Windsor v. United States
Last deciding entity was: District Court for the Southern District of New York
Next deciding entity would be: 2nd Circuit (which covers Connecticut, New York, and Vermont)
Last ruling issued: 6 June 2012
Found: Finds that DOMA violates even rational basis review (the lowest standard of review), and because of this does not address the issue of heightened scrutiny.
Full Text

4) Pederson v. Office of Personnel Management

Last deciding entity was: District Court for the District of Connecticut
Next deciding entity would be: 2nd Circuit (which covers Connecticut, New York, and Vermont)
Last ruling issued: 31 July 2012
Found: Heightened scrutiny should be applied to sexual orientation, but Section 3 of DOMA fails even the lower forms of scrutiny.
Full Text

19 June 2012

Mitch as Purdue Pres? My Thoughts.

On Thursday, Purdue will announce who its next president is (source). Today, rumors began to fly by the media that Mitch Daniels (who other rumors had suggested was probably being considered) was leaked as the candidate (source). Mitch Daniels is the outgoing Republican governor of Indiana.

Regardless of who the next president is, but especially if this rumor turns out to be true, my advice is the following:

1) Don't Panic. It won't do any good to panic. Try to remain calm and rational. If you have to, take some time to sit on this before doing anything. I would suggest people not protest right off the bat - Purdue is not receptive and we may have to deal with this person as president. Stay calm. This will help the processing of my further advice. Use the reaction energy to try to stop something bad from happening if we are dealt the hand we think we might be.

2) Prepare to Justify Some Recent Advances. I'm going to target this response to the LGBTQ community at Purdue. I think the expansion of the nondiscrimination policy is likely safe if Mitch Daniels is president. He renewed the nondiscrimination policy considering state hiring that included sexual orientation and gender identity, and this leads me to believe it is safe. What I think we are going to have to be heavily prepared to justify is the Director of LGBTQ Affairs. I want to remind everybody that the LGBTQ community has more than earned everything it has at Purdue. We have to continue to earn our seat at the table. This position is so heavily needed that I think we can do this. I know it is unfair that we have to do this, but that doesn't mean it won't be the reality. We must be vigilant, and continue to ask for more.

3) Be Clear That We Expect Purdue to Continue Progressing. We can not accept moving backward, and that should be clear. The standards set, particularly in Spring 2012, should continue to hold for the university (with the hope that we demand more). We expect Purdue to continue to move forward regardless of who the president is. Purdue must move forward if it is to compete with its peers, to stay relevant, to complete its own mission, et cetera. Purdue is a land grant institution - a university for the people. We should be clear that We accept that we will have to earn everything that we get, but in return we expect to get everything we earn.

4) Deficiencies Can Be Dealt With If That Person Is Willing. Any candidate has deficiencies (of course some more than others). We will have to work with the hand we are dealt, but because of our history at Purdue we know we CAN work with the hand we are dealt. We should make it clear that we are worried about certain areas. Hopefully, whoever is president will deal with what they are good at, and leave the rest to people who are good at the rest. We have people at Purdue who are good at what they do. With support, and with recognition (whether openly or tacitly) that deficiencies exist in certain areas, those deficiencies can be overcome. We thus have to be open about the fact that we believe the deficiencies exist, and we have to demand that they are dealt with. My fear is that the president / board of trustees / university senate will not accept and/or recognize and/or demand the deficiencies to be covered. This will require activism. Activism we should not have to do, but activism that is the reality of the situation.

We should use the reaction energy to be productive, however. I think we can begin to address points three and four by an action suggested by Jennifer McCreight over at Blag Hag:
If you’re a Purdue student or alumni [or community member], please email the Presidential Search Committeeand trustees@purdue.edu and let them know why you don’t support Mitch Daniels as President of Purdue.
The situation may be a done deal, but if it is clear that people feel there are serious deficiencies, maybe one of the groups that has the power to try to address or blunt these deficiencies will (or at least move in the right direction so we have less ground to make up).

I'm going to avoid spending the time discussing how I would feel about the appointment of Mitch Daniels as president of Purdue because I don't know that it would do any good. I will thus just leave the advice above, and I can talk about that with people if asked to.

Also note, with this piece I am trying to deal with how we (and by we I really mean the Purdue community, which I will in some ways be a part of as an alumnus but in some ways will not be as I'm leaving) may have to deal with the reality, even with the very real and legitimate reasons why that reality is problematic and why we can and should be upset. I also know it is partially easy for me to say this stuff as I am leaving for the University of Minnesota in August.