Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'm so offensive!

It's come to my attention that some of what I post on my blog might be "inappropriate." Google allows you to put ads in your sidebar, which seemed like a good idea to me, considering the enormous amount of traffic my blog receives. Yesterday I got the following e-mail:
Hello Brandon,

Thank you for your interest in Google AdSense. Unfortunately, after
reviewing your application, we're unable to accept you into Google AdSense
at this time.

We did not approve your application for the reasons listed below.


- Inappropriate language


Further detail:

Inappropriate language: We've found that your website contains content
that isn't in compliance with our program policies. We don't allow
websites with excessive profanity or potentially offensive content to
participate in Google AdSense.

Is it bad that the e-mail made my day?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage - Op Ed from the New York Times

Published: February 21, 2009

IN politics, as in marriage, moments come along when sensitive compromise can avert a major conflict down the road. The two of us believe that the issue of same-sex marriage has reached such a point now.

We take very different positions on gay marriage. We have had heated debates on the subject. Nonetheless, we agree that the time is ripe for a deal that could give each side what it most needs in the short run, while moving the debate onto a healthier, calmer track in the years ahead.

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.

For those not immersed in the issue, our proposal may seem puzzling. For those deeply immersed, it may seem suspect. So allow us a few words by way of explanation.

Whatever our disagreements on the merits of gay marriage, we agree on two facts. First, most gay and lesbian Americans feel they need and deserve the perquisites and protections that accompany legal marriage. Second, many Americans of faith and many religious organizations have strong objections to same-sex unions. Neither of those realities is likely to change any time soon.

Further sharpening the conflict is the potential interaction of same-sex marriage with antidiscrimination laws. The First Amendment may make it unlikely that a church, say, would ever be coerced by law into performing same-sex wedding rites in its sanctuary. But religious organizations are also involved in many activities outside the sanctuary. What if a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner or else face legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status? What if a faith-based nonprofit is told it will lose its tax-exempt status if it refuses to allow a same-sex wedding on its property?

Cases of this sort are already arising in the courts, and religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage are alarmed. Which brings us to what we think is another important fact: Our national conversation on this issue will be significantly less contentious if religious groups can be confident that they will not be forced to support or facilitate gay marriage.

Gay couples have concerns of their own. Most, of course, want the right to marry, and nothing less. But federal recognition of same-sex marriage — leave aside what you think about the merits — is not likely in the near future. The federal Defense of Marriage Act forbids it. Barack Obama and most other Democratic presidential candidates opposed gay marriage. And most Americans continue to oppose it.

At the same time, federal law links many important perquisites to marital status, including Social Security survivor benefits, tax-free inheritance, spousal immigration rights and protections against mutual incrimination. All of these benefits are currently denied to same-sex couples, even those living in states that permit same-sex marriage or civil unions. But these same benefits could be conferred by federally recognized civil unions.

Yes, most gays are opposed to the idea that religious organizations could openly treat same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples differently, without fear of being penalized by the government. But we believe that gays can live with such exemptions without much difficulty. Why? Because most state laws that protect gays from discrimination already include some religious exemptions, and those provisions are for the most part uncontroversial, even among gays.

And while most Americans who favor keeping marriage as it has customarily been would prefer no legal recognition of same-sex unions at either the federal or the state level, we believe that they can live with federal civil unions — provided that no religious groups are forced to accept them as marriages. Many of these people may come to see civil unions as a compassionate compromise. For example, a PBS poll last fall found that 58 percent of white evangelicals under age 30 favor some form of legal same-sex union.

Linking federal civil unions to guarantees of religious freedom seems a natural way to give the two sides something they would greatly value while heading off a long-term, take-no-prisoners conflict. That should appeal to cooler heads on both sides, and it also ought to appeal to President Obama, who opposes same-sex marriage but has endorsed federal civil unions. A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.

In all sharp moral disagreements, maximalism is the constant temptation. People dig in, positions harden and we tend to convince ourselves that our opponents are not only wrong-headed but also malicious and acting in bad faith. In such conflicts, it can seem not only difficult, but also wrong, to compromise on a core belief.

But clinging to extremes can also be quite dangerous. In the case of gay marriage, a scorched-earth debate, pitting what some regard as nonnegotiable religious freedom against what others regard as a nonnegotiable human right, would do great harm to our civil society. When a reasonable accommodation on a tough issue seems possible, both sides should have the courage to explore it.

David Blankenhorn is president of the Institute for American Values and the author of “The Future of Marriage.” Jonathan Rauch is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights and Good for America.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

Another one bites the dust

The Story of My Life, a charming new musical starring the incomparable Will Chase and Malcolm Gets, closed yesterday after 18 previews and 5 regular performances.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience on Friday, February 13th. The musical features a unit set, simple orchestrations, touching and funny songs, and stellar performances by two of the best actors working in musical theatre. The critics major complaints: the story line was too cliché, the emotions too sentimental, and (my favorite) the songs sounded ripped off from Stephen Sondheim.

To be honest, there's some truth to the criticism. Yes, the story of a man exploring where his life-long friendship went wrong may be a bit cliché. And yes, the subject matter lends itself to heartfelt songs that might be a little too much for jaded New York audiences. As for ripped-off Sondheim, I would be astounded if the authors might haven't been influenced by the most influential musical theatre writer of the past 50 years. It's ironic that some of the most tuneful, accessible music is being compared negatively to Sondheim! I think critics talk just for the sheer enjoyment of hearing their own voices.

I thought the sound was familiar. Personally, I was reminded of Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown. But contrary to critical rhetoric, I believe the creators of The Story of My Life have used their training and musical theatre experience and found a voice all their own. Perhaps their stories are a bit naïve, but who says that has to be a negative thing?

The critics' pooh-poohing aside, I found this simple gem of a musical profoundly moving. I first discovered the show via an audio bootleg of the Canadian production in 2006. The sound was distorted but as the emotion of the music settled in, I found myself moved to tears. Knowing it was coming to Broadway and warily having some idea of the critical response it was likely to generate, I had to see it...and fast. And the experience was well worth the effort. For an hour and a half, I sat engrossed in a Broadway show stripped nearly to its purest essentials. No helicopters, no flying monkeys, no tap dancing on the ceiling...just two consummate performers telling a beautiful story. While the show is far from perfect (what does that mean anyway?), the concept is theatre at its best.

Sadly, such a short run will likely leave us without a Broadway cast recording...and it's a shame these two performances won't be preserved. Still I believe that this show has the potential to become a favorite among small theatres around the country. I sincerely hope that this show finds a life beyond what on the surface appears to be a Broadway failure. In my book, what I experienced in the front row of the Booth Theatre on Friday the 13th was anything but a failure. Bravo and best wishes to the inspired cast and creators!

P.S. To anyone wanting a small taste of this beautiful show, two songs appear on the show's official website: I don't know how long the website will be up, given the fact that the show is closed, so take a moment and go listen to Malcolm Gets and Will Chase sing two phenomenal songs from this show.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Best Facebook status update ever...

Saw this on facebook. "Depends" moment of the day.

Christopher is wondering why he has been killing himself at auditions when he is currently in a show that shows no signs of clothing.

Christopher is currently performing in the off-broadway musical, Naked Boys Singing.

(BTW, I know he's not in the above picture, and the illustration seems redundant given the title of the show. Still any excuse to include gratuitous nudity on my blog...)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just when you thought there was no hope

Go Salt Lake County!

S.L. County OKs adult-designees' benefits

By Jeremiah Stettler
The Salt Lake Tribune
Posted:02/17/2009 06:51:00 PM MST

For nearly two decades, David Turner has watched his colleagues provide their families with health insurance. But he couldn't do the same -- not even when his partner battled prostate cancer.

Why? Because his employer, Salt Lake County, wouldn't offer benefits to same-sex partners.

That's about to change. The County Council voted 6-3 on Tuesday to extend health insurance, dental coverage, extended funeral leave, life insurance and a variety of other protections to unmarried partners or other "adult designees" of county employees.

The vote is a political triumph for Democratic Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, who has fought feverishly for same-sex-couple benefits since taking office in 2005. She has argued that a more-progressive approach to health care and other job perks would reduce turnover, increase productivity and save long-term medical expenses by offering more expansive preventive care.

"The winds have changed," Wilson said, "I hope not just the political winds, but the winds of reason and fairness on this issue."

All five Democrats voted for her measure, along with Republican newcomer Max Burdick, who said the council's decision shouldn't be based on personal judgments about race, religion or sexual orientation.

But the move remains unsettling for other Republicans, who fear that it will erode the traditional family by recognizing, through legal status, an alternative to the husband-wife relationship.

"The principal foundation of our society, of our country and of our neighborhoods is the family," Republican Councilman Jeff Allen said. "As we start to attack it from different angles, we can, over time, denigrate it."

Despite those fears, the measure comes as a long-awaited step forward for Turner, who oversees senior-center programming for the county's Aging Services Division. The county's health-care coverage finally will reach his partner of 19 years, Marlin Criddle, who has shouldered sometimes-burdensome medical bills and avoided preventive care because of the price tag of private insurance.

"In this country," Turner said, "we should be covering as many people as we can with health insurance."

Wilson's plan -- which the council must adopt by a formal, and largely ceremonial, vote later this month -- will cost the county an estimated $275,000 a year.

It will unlock benefits for employees' adult designees -- a term that applies to any friend, family member or domestic partner who has lived with the county staffer for at least a year and demonstrated financial co-dependence.

While same-sex partners undoubtedly will benefit from the program, so, too, will unmarried heterosexual couples such as Dan Roper and Emily Fifer, who have lived together for three years while Fifer pursues a master's degree in fine arts and modern dance at the University of Utah.

Roper, meanwhile, has worked as a full-time program coordinator at the Magna Fitness and Recreation Center.

The two aren't yet ready to marry. But that could spell trouble this spring, when Fifer graduates and loses her school-sponsored health insurance. While the couple want to tie the knot sometime after graduation, Roper said, "We don't want to be forced on marriage by insurance."

Under the adult-designee program, they won't have to.

Salt Lake City adopted a similar setup in 2006, which officials suggested could include up to 96 employees at a cost of $225,000. Last year, Utah's capital had 63 people enrolled. The bill: $183,000.

The county's initiative comes during a high-profile push for gay rights on Utah's Capitol Hill -- an effort that so far is winning headlines but losing key votes.

Not so in Utah's most-populous county, with passage of Wilson's adult-designees' measure.

"I'm glad we are moving into a new dawn in Salt Lake County," Democratic Councilman Joe Hatch said.

"It's fantastic," added Will Carlson, Equality Utah's public-policy manager. "With gay and transgender people being pushed out of rural Utah, Salt Lake County is willing to welcome them. And we appreciate that."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Buttars and another rant

Chris Buttars is a douche. No, it's not polite to call people names. He's behaving like a paranoid infant with too much time on his hands. Someone in the Utah State Legislature should give him something to do. As it is, he's busy protecting traditional families from his own equivalent of radical Muslim druggie prostitutes: homosexuals. (No doubt he meant to offend the radical Muslim druggie prostitutes when he compared them to gays.)

His latest diatribe appeared on ABC 4 a couple nights back and garnered a lot of media attention. (Here's a link.) I'm frustrated. I've tried to be nice, and this blog has been a great place to vent, but as I recently said, I simply don't know that I care about being nice anymore.

The thing is, given the zeal with which Chris Buttars and Gayle Ruzicka (et al) pursue their anti-gay agenda, I've started losing my tolerance for differing viewpoints. I like to think of myself as level-headed and tolerant, but lately I've had a hard time getting beyond my anger at the lies and hypocrisy. It's so frustrating because everybody on both sides of the issue takes it so personally, when at the bottom of it all, it's just a tiny percentage of the population is actually affected. It's so infuriating! I want to shake my fist and say "If you don't like gay marriage, don't fu*king get gay married!" People are so worried that their way of life is being destroyed by some nebulous gay threat that they're willing to viciously trample the basic rights of their gay brothers and sisters.

"But if gays can share insurance coverage, what will I tell my children?" Okay, that's a little much. How 'bout, "But if gays can visit each other in the hospital, what will I tell my children?" Nope...still rings of the ridiculous. "If gays can be treated like human beings..." Laughable. "If homosexuality becomes widely accepted, what will I tell my children?" Frankly, I don't an ideal world you would tell them it's perfectly okay, but since you won't say that, tell them whatever you want. Tell them gays are space aliens with impeccable taste. Or tell them nothing at all. Just don't stand in the way of fairness!

Buttars keeps claiming gays are asking for "special rights." That's bullshit. Political rhetoric pandering to the uninformed, nothing more. Frankly, I think every gay employer or landlord should fire their straight employees and evict their straight tenants. See how that feels. If sexual orientation isn't a class protected from discrimination, then if I were a gay landlord or employer, I think I'd be entitled to discriminate based on the fact that people are filthy "breeders." I certainly wouldn't want heterosexual perversions happening in a residential property I own. Goodness knows, I would lie awake night thinking about the disgusting things they're doing in the privacy of their rented bedrooms. And those employees who openly flaunt their heterosexuality in my place of business don't deserve the right to their perverse self-expression, much less their privacy. I've got a reputation to maintain! I don't want my good name associated with that kind of debauchery. So the moment I found out, they'd be out on their pervert asses.

Does ANY of this make sense? At all? When did protection from arbitrary eviction or employment termination become a "special right?" Spousal insurance benefits, wrongful death compensation, hospital visitation the hell are any of these "special rights?" Under current Utah law, I can be fired or evicted not based on actions, but based solely on who I am. I could be a model employee and tenant, but none of that matters if my employer or landlord thinks I'm gay. I have no right to job security. I have no right to be judged based solely on my performance as an employee. The fact that someone suspects I might be gay is cause enough to end my employment and make me homeless. Does anyone still wonder why people are pissed?

The settling of the Salt Lake valley came about, in part, because of vicious religious persecution. The Mormons fled Illinois and Missouri for their lives. People openly challenged the validity of LDS marriages, and the infamous "Mormon Extermination Order" was on the books for nearly 150 years. The LDS people are no strangers to persecution. Yet so many good LDS people stand idly by while vocal religious zealots persecute an already maligned small segment of the population. I know there are good Mormons out there. I know this personally. Intensely compassionate, fair-minded individuals who helped shape my life into what it is today. People I'm profoundly grateful to every waking minute. So here are a couple things to think about:
  1. If you're not gay, denying basic human rights to gays will most likely affect you MUCH more than extending extending them. Gays amount to 2-3% of the population. If all of them married, which they won't, it's still an almost negligible fraction of the population. And when basic human protections are extended to the gay population, your taxes won't change, your ability to marry and live your religion won't change, and contrary to popular belief your family won't crumble. But when we classify any group of people as second-class citizens by denying them equal recognition under the law, the door of discrimination gapes wider. And who knows, maybe someone who hates you might just draw up a constitutional amendment invalidating your family. So really, what's the consequence of supporting gay rights? Well, you may have to explain to your children why those two men are holding hands in the park or on TV. Trust me, it's not the most difficult conversation you'll have with your children. Besides, it's called PARENTING. You made the babies, be a parent!
  2. If you simply sit by and let Chris Buttars and Gayle Ruzicka be the vocal spokespeople for the LDS views on gay rights, everybody in the world will think all Mormons are that repulsive. You're not. I know it because I know you. And you know I'm not a radical muslim druggie whore terrorist threat to anyones traditional family and society as we know it because you know me. So open your mouth! Tell your senator you think the words and actions Chris Buttars and Gayle Ruzicka are repugnant and that you don't support their hateful agendas. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining how you're a good Mormon and some of your closest friends are gay and that you hope their families can enjoy the same legal protections yours does.
When it boils down to it, this issue IS about the destruction of families. But not your family. It's about the destruction of mine. That's all.

Lisa and I were discussing the situation today. Here’s what she said:
The thing that bothers me is it is the radicals, on both sides of this, that are being heard. Not the people who actually want to come to an agreement and understanding. It's not people like you or I. It's the people who can't see either side that are speaking for everyone. I can't stand that.
It's like when there is a national disaster or something tragic in the news...who does the news interview? The one moron who has nothing important to say and can't tell his ass from his head.
In the disaster that is the 2009 Utah legislative session, I take comfort in the mental image of Chris Buttars in ratty overalls acting out "the one moron who has nothing important to say and can't tell his ass from his head." (No offense to the good hillbillies of the world.)

So go back and listen to his interview with THAT in your head. It’s infinitely more entertaining.

P.S. A couple links:

The ABC 4 Article
The Salt Lake Tribune Article

Monday, February 2, 2009

Put Up or Shut Up

To the well-meaning opponents of same-sex marriage:

Last fall you effectively blocked a basic human right in California. You invalidated the right of same-sex couples to legitimize their relationship in the form of civil marriage. I'm not going to get into separation of church and state issues or setting aside enforcement of one set of religious beliefs on people who believe differently here. Those are subjects for another blog...or several more blogs.

Instead, let me tell you a little about what can happen to long-term unmarried couples.

My roommates celebrated their seventh anniversary in October. In those seven years, they've each payed taxes at the "single" rate because they weren't and couldn't get married. A similarly married couple would have payed significantly less in taxes because the state gives joint filers a substantial discount.

Until a person is 24 years old, they are required to report their parents income on their federal educational financial aid applications. While there are several exceptions to this rule, the simplest is marriage. When a couple is married, they become exempt from this requirement and automatically become more eligible for federal student aid. Sadly, because my roommates couldn't get married, they ended up postponing their education because of funding difficulties. A similarly married couple would have qualified for grants and subsidized student loans simply because they're married and don't have to report their parents' income.

In the event of an accident, if any of their parents disagreed with their "lifestyle choice", that parent could bar his or her son's partner from his partner's hospital bed. Seven years of commitment, unprotected by government sanction, dissolved by a capricious parent. Marriage would have automatically bestowed hospital visitation rights as well as significant life choices in the event a partner becomes incapacitated.

A close friend of mine just bought a home with her partner of nearly four years. If the home is listed in both of their names and one of them suddenly died, the surviving unmarried partner would have to pay significant taxes on the portion of her home that she inherited from her non-legally-recognized spouse. Frequently this financial burden is extreme enough that the surviving partner loses the home. Yet married couples enjoy the benefit of tax-free inheritance. The estate passes to the surviving spouse, free from tax liability.

If a same sex couple has children, by whatever means, employers in the state of Utah aren't required to provide insurance benefits to the unmarried spouse. And because unmarried couples can't adopt here, yet single individuals can, employers have no legal obligation to insure the children of an unmarried spouse either. So the only option is for both parents to work, leave the children in day care, and pay higher insurance premiums because each spouse has to have his or her own policy.

In many states, joint adoption by same-sex couples isn't legal. (In places like Utah single people can adopt but have a hard time doing so if they're honest about their sexual orientation.) Numerous couples plan their vacations around these states to make sure they retain custody of their legally adopted children. Better to vacation in Oregon than go to Disney World and run the risk of having your children taken away from you.

The state of Utah doesn't protect GLBT people from employment or housing discrimination. This means that if your employer or your landlord finds out you're gay, you may be fired regardless of your job performance or evicted even though you're a model tenant. Ironically, this could go both ways. Personally, I think every gay employer and landlord in the state should fire all their straight employees and evict all their straight tenants, just to show how ridiculous it is.

While many of these issues are directly related to the fact that same-sex marriage isn't sanctioned by the state or federal government, most people agree that gay people do deserve basic human rights. In fact, during the Proposition 8 debate in California, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (one of Prop 8's most vocal proponents) repeatedly made claims that the church is not "anti-gay" and "does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights." On November 5th, Elder L. Whitney Clayton stated the LDS Church does not oppose "civil unions or domestic partnerships."

In response, Equality Utah extended the hand of friendship to the Church and penned its Common Ground Initiative. This initiative is being presented to the Utah State Legislature during the 2009 legislative session in hopes of securing some of the basic human rights that the LDS Church "does not object to."

We may not agree about same-sex marriage, but if the Church doesn't oppose hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, probate rights, or (gulp) domestic partnerships, maybe we can settle on that for now. Yet in the 81 days since Equality Utah announced its attempt to reach across the aisle, the church has remained silent. They fervently worked to stop gay marriage, paying lip service to basic human dignities that gay people deserve, then refuse to get involved when BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS are brought up. This isn't marriage. It's fair housing. It's not "undermining the family". It's job security. It's not "open rebellion against God". It's basic human dignity. And yet the church remains silent and its vocal members viciously attack.

There is nothing Christ-like about the efforts of Gayle Ruzicka, Chris Buttars, The Eagle Forum, The Sutherland Institute, or the host of religious "family-oriented" organizations to demonize homosexuals and strip us of rights. And, no offense intended to my family and friends who are active members of the LDS Church, but the Church's silence is tantamount to endorsement.

Apparently it can vocally support measures that strip gays of rights, but when it comes to making good on its positions regarding fair treatment in every-day life, the Church is content to wallow in hypocrisy, letting the rabid zealots do its dirty work.

Well I'm done with it. I've tried to be kind and understanding. I've tried to fairly listen to both sides of the argument. But no more. Frankly, I can't imagine how these people can behave like they do toward their gay "brothers and sisters" and still claim that they love them. When a person actively works to prevent the basic human dignity of another, that's hate, plain and simple. We love all God's children, we just don't agree with what they we'll enforce our own narrow-minded dogma on them till they all commit suicide. (Did you know Utah has one of the highest suicide rates among gay teens in this country?) I've tried to be sensible. I've tried to be respectful of other people's beliefs. I honestly DO understand where they're coming from. And it's all bullshit. They're wearing me down. How am I supposed to be nice when all that comes from the "moral opposition" is bile in the name of God?

So here's my challenge: Put up or shut up. If you truly believe that gay people deserve basic rights, write your senator. Utah has a constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. No law or "judicial activism" is going to change that. So the argument that giving rights to gays is a "slippery slope" toward gay marriage is bullshit. The church and its membership needs to get involved. You worked so hard to get Prop 8 passed on a platform of "we don't object to 'rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights'" so make good on it! Write your senator, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, talk to your friends and neighbors. Take the zeal you had for passing Prop 8 and work with the same zeal to secure the rights your church "does not object to" for your gay brothers and sisters...or reveal yourselves and your church hypocrites. Put up or shut up. If you can't support fairness for the gay brothers and sisters you claim to love, then at least get out of the political arena. You spit in our faces and then, when we extend the hand of friendship, would you spit on that too?

Again, I don't mean to offend. But I'm offended. And yes, I'm trying to deal productively with it. So maybe I do mean to offend. Now take that offense, study up on the issues, and deal productively with it. Now go write your friggin' letters!

For more info on Equality Utah's Common Ground Initiative, click here. And for a snapshot of the hurdles the initiative faces in the legislature, check out this editorial in the SL Tribune. And for a quick look at the opposition, click here. Here's another great link from Equality Utah.