Saturday, September 1, 2012

Banning Reparative Therapy - A Proper Restriction On Parental Rights


A few days ago, the California Assembly passed SB1172, a bill which bans reparative “ex-gay” therapy for minors. It now goes back to the California Senate for a concurrence vote then to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. The full text of the bill can be found here.

Personally, I am pleased with the decision of the California legislature to prohibit reparative therapy by licensed professionals to minors. As one who went through reparative therapy, both before and after I turned 18, I find that such a law is essential in protecting those children whose parents think they “know” what is best for their child and seek to subject them to this form of abuse.  Yet not all have been pleased with this development – and no, I am not just talking about those on the religious right. A few days ago, I was on twitter, and was having a discussion with a gentleman who was more cautious than overjoyed about the California legislature’s passage of the law. Though he understood the damage that reparative therapy has upon individuals, he was more libertarian in his views and did not believe that it was appropriate for the California legislature to pass a law dictating that parents could not seek such therapy for their children. He also wondered where we draw the line when it comes to what parents can or cannot do to their children.

Though I appreciate that critique, and I am one of the first people to say that adults should be able to undergo such therapy if they choose too, I feel that children should be treated just a bit differently. There are a few reasons why I feel this way.

First, we allow adults to undergo things that may not be “good” for them, because they have the ability to make that personal decision. In the case of minors, it is often not them making the decision to go and see a doctor who practices reparative therapy.  Instead, it is their parents making that decision.  The protection of autonomy that is essential from a libertarian/small government point of view, does not apply to a minor, because the minor is not truly autonomous.

Yet, some would argue that through this law we are restricting a parent’s right to raise their child how they see fit.  That is correct, yet that denial of parental rights sounds worse than it actually is. We have many laws which do not allow a parent full control over their child; they cannot beat them, allow them to drive when they are under 16, or buy them alcohol. We have these laws because we as a society have recognized that parents have to have certain limits upon how they raise their children. Parents do not raise their children in a vacuum, but instead society has to deal with the repercussions of how that child was raised.  Thus, though society cannot, and should not, dictate how a parent raises their child, there are limits – very few limits – to what a parent can do with their child. In my opinion, reparative therapy should fall into this limitation. It should not be the parents right to force their children into a program that demeans and causes psychological damage to their child, especially because that child has done nothing wrong.

Second, this restriction has another affect, yet one that is not readily apparent. Under this law, when a parent seeks out professional help for their child’s “sickness”, they will be informed that licensed professionals do not engage in therapy that seeks to change a minor’s sexuality. This is a good thing because parents often do not realize that reparative therapy is a form of emotional abuse. They often don’t realize the consequences of such therapy and instead think that being LGBT is just a “phase” that can be dealt with through therapy.  Though it may be my optimism, I hope that when that parent seeking to change their child’s sexuality hears that a professional counselor does not practice reparative therapy, it may cause them to second guess their position and maybe even do a little more research into exactly what it is they want to put their child through. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Actually You Didn't Build It


Each evening this week, I have sat and watched the Republican National Convention.  Though such a focus upon the RNC might be construed as a large waste of my time – as I know that I am voting for President Obama – watching the event allows me to focus in upon what drives the Republican Party. Though I could talk all day about my perceptions of the GOP, one aspect of the Convention has really stood out at me, and surprisingly, it is not the party’s stance on LGBT issues. Instead, it is the popular catchphrase that Republicans have been using for the past month that has irked me, the phrase “We Built It”. This phrase which conjures up the rugged individualism of “pulling one up by their bootstraps” to do something great and hearkens us back to an era when the government was little and the world was much, much smaller.  Yet, even though the speeches at the RNC have all echoed this theme, the rugged individualism that is the underlying premise of this theme is actually an extremely arrogant position to take.

All of us depend, in some way, upon other people as well as government. We might not like to admit that, as it may pop the bubble of belief in how we create our own success, but a denial of this reality does not make that reality any less true.

I can use my own story to emphasize this point. By any objective level of analysis, I am doing pretty well for myself. Yes, I am still a student, yet I graduated from undergrad with absolutely no debt and am currently a student at one of the United States’ great law schools.  To achieve this result, I put time, energy, and countless hours into my studies. While other friends were having fun, I realized the future goal of what I wanted to accomplish and I focused upon that instead of the temporary benefits that I would receive from spending time with my peers.  I also, during that period, worked almost full-time hours to support both myself and my husband. By Republican standards, I should be considered a “model”…I worked hard and am being rewarded for that work.

But…

My story is not a complete picture of the successes that have accompanied my pursuits. Each portion of my tale has parts that can be conveniently left out if I chose to do so. But to do so is not only intellectually dishonest, it is unfair to all who have assisted me in being where I am right now.  Two things stand out at me when I look back at my life over the past five years.

First, I would not have been able to succeed academically in University without two things. 1. A mother that taught me how to study, what to focus my energy upon, and how to apply my knowledge and 2. Professors and Administrators at Memphis, Saskatchewan, and Brock (I did a few exchange programs) that had interest in me as a student and dedicated time and energy in ensuring that I was successful in my studies.  But, some might say, that is not what we are talking about, because the RNC position is not that other people cannot help you succeed, but that Government does not help you succeed. This gets to my second point.

After I did my months in “gay camp”, I thought that a college education was a pipe dream. I had no idea how I could afford to go to the University of Memphis, work full time, and still survive; in fact, I was struggling just to make ends meet.  Additionally, I was not able to get student loans to go to school because my parents would not fill out their portion of the FAFSA.  But what happened? I was given a scholarship by the University of Memphis so that I might attend their university – and subsequently, the Universities that I went on exchange too.  Though this scholarship did not cover the entirety of my tuition, it was a substantial amount, and allowed me to go to school debt-free for all four years.  Without this scholarship, which should actually be considered “government money” as the University of Memphis is a public institution, I would not have been able to prove myself academically, and be where I am today. 

What the GOP miss in their claim of “We Built It”, is that Democrats and Liberals do not believe that Government should be able to take the credit for what individuals, small businesses, or corporations achieve. Instead, Democrats and liberals recognize that government investments – whether they are roads, bridges, police, military, research, or yes, even scholarships – allow each of us to achieve our full potential.  Governmental investment is just that, investment. It is our society – through our tax dollars – investing in our nation’s future.  Without investments in things such as higher education, many Americans would not have the ability to achieve their dreams. I know that I wouldn’t have. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Religious Liberty for Me - But not for Thee


Religious Liberty is a buzzword within conservative circles, with organizations like the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family, and the designated hate groups the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, attempting to assert that granting full equality to LGBT people would infringe upon individual religious freedom. Though there can be a robust debate on this topic, the issues that such organizations bring up are more peripheral to the religious liberty issue (eg. A focus upon public accommodation and public financing of discriminatory organizations). Interestingly, though the Right screams about religious liberty, LBGT people and our allies are the ones, based upon their conservative religious logic, that have a more persuasive argument for religious liberty than those who oppose our full  equality.

I will preface this discussion by saying that this is not a legal argument. In fact, I would assert that the Courts would probably find the following argument of governmental favoritism not especially persuasive. Yet, not all arguments that we have in our arsenal need to be arguments that are “legally powerful”. Instead, we can have arguments that are powerful in the moral force that they bring to the discussion.  For as I like to tell people that I talk with about LGBT rights, our battle is not only for the legal equality of LGBT people, but instead is also for our full moral and social equality.  The former, is important for our participation within the legal sphere and with our governments, yet the latter are important for our participation within our families and religious/ethnic communities.  Only through an intense discussion of the latter, can we show our friends and family the hypocrisy that drives their animosity towards marriage equality.

Currently, in the vast majority of States, the only legally recognized marital relationship is between one man and one woman.  This exclusionary definition of what marriage is has narrowed the definition of marriage to what certain religious sects believe. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints officially believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Episcopal Church, Reformed and Conservative Judaism, and the Unitarian Universalists (just to name a few) perform and bless marriages between same-sex couples.  On the surface, it would seem as though the Government has chosen to abide by the exclusionary SBC and LDS definition of marriage rather than the more inclusive and equal definition of marriage offered by the latter groups. And if you stopped here, that would be correct to an extent, yet not necessarily a powerful moral argument on how that harms religious liberty. Instead, we go must go further, and see what the Governments definition of marriage actually does.

Right now, a Southern Baptist minister will only marry a man and a woman. Thus, in theory, 100% of marriages that this minister performs as an agent of the State will be considered legal (yes, I know there are tiny flaws in this hypothetical, such as if one person is already married, but bear with me).  On the other hand, a Conservative Rabbi will marry both heterosexual couple as well as homosexual couple.  Yet when he marries the heterosexual couple, he is considered an agent of the State, yet when he marries the gay couple,  he is not.  The State is, in essence, telling the Rabbi that some of the marriage ceremonies performed and blessed by him are not “actual marriages”.  The State is not telling this to the Baptist or LDS ministers, for their own religious definition of marriage lines up with what the Governments definition is, but it is telling the Rabbi and the Episcopal Priest what marriages that the State considers “actual marriages”.

You see, a large percentage of conservative opposition to marriage equality is religious in nature, with many believing that marriage is a religious institution established by God. If we accept this perspective of our conservative friends and family, that the underlying essence of marriage is religious, then it seems as though religion should be the main overseer of what is considered marriage – not the State.  If that is the case, then the main thrust of the above argument – that the State is telling religious groups what is considered marriage – should be an anathema to these individuals.  If not, and these religious conservatives stay stuck in their opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples based upon these religious reasons, they are showing that they believe that the State should be an arm of the Church, enforcing their own religious dogma at the expense of others who believe differently.  
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