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    Ann Rostow: Halfway Measures

    By Ann Rostow–

    Halfway Measures

    I was reading an article about John Roberts the other day and the writer described his decisions as “Solomonic,” referring to his alleged tendency to find narrow rulings that split the difference between legal arguments. Hello, editors! Solomon was specifically known for suggesting that he split a baby in half as a strategy to determine the infant’s rightful mother. He did not intend to follow through, and indeed, he delivered the baby intact to the woman who was willing to give up the child rather than see it killed. Here, the adjective is not just misplaced, it’s completely wrong. I hate things like that.

    Meanwhile, I bring this up because we are on the verge of a slow crescendo into the main theme of our half-century old civil rights movement. Is sexual orientation a morally neutral aspect of humanity? Or is gayness a slightly kinky sexual preference that has gradually become tolerated as no big deal in 21st century America? If the latter, we can split the difference, let gays live their lives to a large extent, but draw the line when they come too close to the people who still object. What’s the harm in that? Everybody wins because the Christian business owners can keep the faith while the gay people can simply go down the street to the next bakery. Surely that’s not too much to ask.

    (I’ve written this several times before, but I’ll do so again. It’s not the baker, per se. It’s the taxi driver who threw two lesbians out of his cab at one am in the middle of an interstate highway because they offended his religious views. I’ve long forgotten where or when this happened, maybe in Oregon a few years back. But this is what discrimination looks like. If the baker has free rein, so does the taxi driver and the restaurant owner and even the EMT.) 

    Next session’s High Court cases don’t involve the bakers and their ilk. Instead, they focus on discrimination in the workplace. But it all comes down to claims of religious freedom in the end, because religion is the only remaining “legitimate” excuse for hating gays in this day and age. Yet no one believes faith can justify racial discrimination in the workplace or anywhere else. So, if sexual orientation is a morally neutral aspect of humanity, it should be protected, like race, from public prejudice. There’s no middle ground here, but sadly, we might end up with a dead baby none the less. 

    By the way, oral arguments for our major gay rights case next fall have just been set for October 8. A second case will examine workplace discrimination against transgender men and women.

    Twenty-Three and Me

    I don’t believe Pete Buttigieg will win the Democratic nomination, but Mel and I sent him some money early on because we want his voice to be heard. He’s young and smart. Further, he’s not just gay; he’s apparently very, very religious as well. It’s important for people to witness that combination, because it puts the lie to the mindless assumption that very religious people automatically oppose gay rights. 

    Honestly, I admit that very religious people make me uncomfortable. I don’t think that anyone can begin to understand the cosmic mystery that much of organized religion pretends to interpret. That said, I find it infuriating when conservative courts respectfully give credence to someone’s “deeply held faith” in the context of some toxic display of antigay behavior. That’s not faith. It’s prejudice, and Buttigieg illustrates the distinction by his very nature.

    Speaking of the Democrats, I think I mentioned that former Congressman Joe Sestak joined the race last month. His entry went completely unnoticed, so much so that I just had to check whether or not he really did file as a candidate. Apparently, it’s true, because I found him on a recent list. 

    You know, of course, that Eric Swalwell dropped out the other day. Sensible man. And the latest white male egomaniac to decide that he alone can rule the free world is Tom Steyer, he of the TV commercials urging us to impeach Trump. I’m torn over the pros and cons of impeachment, evaluating everything through the lens of how best to defeat Trump. I don’t like to admit it, but I even have the unpatriotic thought that I wouldn’t mind a recession next year if it means we can rid ourselves of this dangerous buffoon. 

    As for Biden, sigh; if he continues to enjoy the largest margin of theoretical victory over Trump, I will support his bid. But Christ, the guy is old. He sounds old; he looks old; he seems mentally engaged in an earlier era. The other day he told a Seattle audience that, five years ago, a homophobic joke would have been overlooked in a business meeting, while today it would be condemned. I see what he’s saying, but he’s implying that the general acceptance of gay men and women is only a few years old. Not true. Plus, the comment suggests that Joe himself is a fairly recent convert to our cause. I’m not sure that this is accurate or that he meant to give that impression, but why meander into this fraught territory to begin with?  

    It’s still early days. Mel and I are torn between Warren and Harris for now.

    Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

    Was Melania deliberately wearing a rainbow dress at the July 4 festivities the other night? Who can tell? She’s a cipher. I strangely find myself liking her, for reasons unclear. Mel hates her and calls her “Melanoma.” I don’t know. Doesn’t she seem trapped and making the best of a bad situation? 

    Moving right along, singer Lil Nas X came out of the closet during Pride month, telling the press that he intended to take the secret of his sexual orientation “to the grave,” but recognized that he wanted to live his life in a more authentic fashion and open some doors to kids who might take courage from his example. My recent stint taking care of the grandchildren in Connecticut was set to a nonstop soundtrack of “Old Town Road,” as the kids relentlessly ordered Alexa to play the hit song over and over again. I liked it the first twenty times I listened.

    And speaking of grandkids, we took them to Toy Story 4 at one point, and we missed the scene that has drawn the ire of the antigay group One Million Moms. The eagle-eyed activists noticed that in one part of the movie, two mothers appeared to drop their child off at school in the background. 

    “Later,” said Million Mom honcho Monica Cole, “the moms return to pick up their child, who gives them a hug. The scene is subtle in order to desensitize children. But it is obvious that the child has two mothers, and they are parenting together.” 

    Toy Story 4 is the last place parents would expect their children to be confronted with content regarding sexual orientation,” she said in a press statement. “Issues of this nature are being introduced too early and too soon. It is extremely common, yet unnecessary.”

    After writing about Monica and her million moms, I just did a little research into her previous observations. I could list a dozen of her most amusing complaints, but my favorite involved Maxwell the pig who advertises for GEICO. In one commercial, his car breaks down while he’s on a date; he calls GEICO for a tow and his (human) girlfriend seems unhappy when she realizes how quickly GEICO’s truck will arrive. Here’s Monica, alerting us to the implied bestiality:

    “It was just a pretty sleazy type of commercial because the girl [in the commercial] was really disappointed when she realized they wouldn’t be able to pass the time alone together … . Kids are drawn to animals. That’s normal. Animals are cute. That’s why movies have animals that play the lead roles and the main parts,” she observed. “And it may be over their heads in terms of understanding the meaning behind it, but there’s a big concern when kids are being desensitized to this kind of thing.”

    And that’s not all. Monica accuses the insurance company of a pattern of promoting unnatural animal/human relations. “A bridesmaid was flirting with the gecko in a different commercial, so this is just becoming a norm for GEICO it seems,” she warned. 

    Golly. I had no idea.

    Commission, Heal Thyself

    I don’t know what to make of Mike Pompeo’s new “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” an in-house offshoot of the State Department’s Policy Planning Council (I think) that Pompeo says will “provide the intellectual grist of what I hope will be one of the most profound re-examinations of inalienable rights in the world since the 1948 Universal Declaration.”

    What? 

    I think it’s advisory, so it’s possible that it won’t be able to do much damage. But if that’s the case, where and why did it emerge? The 10-member commission will be chaired by Harvard Law Prof Mary Ann Glendon, a conservative (of course) who has opposed abortion rights. I’m not clear on her GLBT views, but I’m assuming that she’s not particularly supportive. That said, this commission was previously going to be run by Robert George, a co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, a venomous foe of our fight for marriage equality. George won’t be in charge of the group, but he will still be a member of the commission.

    According to the Washington Post, quoting the Federal Register, the commission is designed to provide “fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” 

    “What does it mean to say or claim that something is in fact a human right,” mused Pompeo? “How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim, that this or that is a human right? Is it true and therefore ought it to be honored?”

    I’m guessing that Pompeo and his fellow thumpers are unconvinced that, say, health care is a human right, or that gay and trans people deserve equal treatment. According to Politico, the panel was conceived without any input from the State Department’s human rights bureau, veterans of the subject who have presumably thought long and hard about America’s moral posture in the world. So much for them. 

    But I return to my original confusion. We are no longer a principled role model for the world to begin with. We hold asylum seekers in abysmal detention centers, hobnob with dictators, turn our backs on allies, impose punishing tariffs, threaten violence. Our credibility on human rights has evaporated. What further harm can this commission really deliver? 

    (For the record, the preferred term appears to be “inalienable,” although “unalienable” was used in the final, but not the draft versions, of the Declaration of Independence. Both adjectives have the same meaning.)

    Should Old Acquaintances Be Forgot?

    What a turgid column I’ve written this week. Sorry.

    Do you think Trump will get himself caught up in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal? I’ve sometimes thought that Trump’s downfall could come out of the blue, not from Russians or money laundering or groping, but from one, single, new, easy to understand, unexpected incident that will prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

    An unforgivable comment on tape. An undeniable crime. An inexcusable rally rant. An indefensible blunder that collapses the house of cards, leaving his base at odds and the Republican senators speechless. A girl can dream.

    Speaking of Epstein, I briefly worked as a consultant to crazy British press magnate Robert Maxwell, an odious bully who intimidated everyone who crossed his path. To this day, one of my deepest regrets is sitting through a lengthy meeting with about six other people, while he railed insanely against us all and made cruel phone calls, excoriating other employees and calling them into the office on a holiday weekend to reexamine corporate decisions from years earlier.

    Why didn’t I just stand up, tell him what I thought and walk out? I was only a consultant! At any rate, his daughter Ghislaine, whom I saw from time to time, was apparently in charge of finding young girls for Epstein’s amusement. I remember several obsessive conversations with her about dieting, at a time when she weighed nothing and I was a size six. 

    I think of that period of time when I consider the people who work for Trump, tiptoeing around and trying to maneuver around his tyrannical outbursts. I did that. 

    But Ghislaine Maxwell! She recommended no breakfast, a salad for lunch and white wine in the evenings with a small and balanced dinner.

    arostow@aol.com