The moon — long time, no see — called me out last night, and then I witnessed the rest of the celestial splendor: Venus twinkling large and low in the west, preparing to drop behind the mountains; Mars, glowering in the southwest, and Saturn, high overhead.
By morning, they were all gone, but the gray-green summit of Waialeale — long shrouded in clouds, but now just dappled with their shadows — had come into glorious view instead, causing me to stop and give it my full attention. Koko, however, was far more interested in the dog biscuit offered by my neighbor Andy.
We hadn’t encountered Andy on the road in quite a while because there’s a much wider walking window now that the sun is rising early. But he obviously still reads this blog, even when he’s not featured in it, because he was curious about how my radio show on civil unions and discrimination against gays and lesbians had gone.
The show was poignant at times, and also chilling, with one of my guests describing how she’d been approached by two men while walking in Waikiki, and when they asked her if she was gay and she said yes, they beat the crap out of her, leaving her with physical and psychological scars that she carries to this day. Another guest said that when he and his then-partner were living in Alaska, the people who lived in the apartment above them had a party. One of the revelers came downstairs, knocked, and when his partner answered the door, the guy beat him up.
He said the police did nothing, so they hired an investigator to find the man and filed a civil suit against him. The woman said nothing ever happened to her assailants in Waikiki.
But she said even that horrific incident isn’t as bad as the unkindness, negativity, stink eye, stink talk, bad vibes and other ugliness she experiences every single day simply because of her sexual orientation.
As she so astutely observed: “People love to hate ‘the other.’”
I was struck by how damaging it is for people to be continually getting the message, especially from religious leaders, that they're bad, weird, creepy, sick — fundamentally unacceptable, and so unlovable. Society forces a terrible, soul-crushing burden on "the other."
The guests made a good case for why they want and need civil unions — benefits, hospital visitation rights and other legalities — and also why civil unions aren’t enough. For one thing, they’re recognized only by certain states, so gay couples still aren’t entitled to the tax breaks and other federal benefits and protections offered to married heterosexuals.
But most important, they said, civil unions create a separate mechanism for recognizing gay partnerships, and separate, as we’ve learned in dealing with race-based discrimination, is not equal.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely we’re even going to get civil unions in Hawaii because our legislators are so wimpy. Still, Citizens for Equal Rights hasn't given up the fight, and if you'd like to join their effort to show lawmakers there is "mainstream community support" for civil unions, check out their web site.
It’s pretty hard to believe that we’re still discriminating so blatantly against gays. Yes, we all know that despite progress in recent decades, discrimination continues against non-whites, as evidenced most recently by the new Arizona immigration law, and women, who still earn less then men and put up with a lot of sexist crap.
But non-whites and women are not systematically denied basic rights afforded to other people, the way gays are, and no one would dare make a legal or moral case for depriving them of such rights, as is continually done with gays.
Much of the discrimination is couched in talk about protecting the sanctity of marriage, but what is that, really? As someone who has been through it twice, I can’t see any reason to get married other than the legal benefits, and I can’t see how we can legitimately deny those benefits to gays.
While I wouldn’t deprive anyone of the right to experience it for themselves, marriage is a highly overrated institution, much like motherhood. I was very interested to learn, while reading a book review in The New Yorker, that many activities that people think will make them happy do not, including having kids:
Studies have shown that women find caring for their children less pleasurable than napping or jogging and only slightly more satisfying than doing the dishes.
I suspected as much.
The review of Derek Bok’s new book, “The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being,” also laid rest to the idea that more money and stuff brings happiness:
Indeed, the average level of self-reported happiness, or “subjective well-being,” appears to have been flat going all the way back to the nineteen-fifties, when real per-capita income was less than half what it is today.
America’s felicific stagnation shouldn’t be ignored, Bok argues, whatever the explanation. Growth, after all, has its costs, and often quite substantial ones. If “rising incomes have failed to make Americans happier over the last fifty years,” he writes, “what is the point of working such long hours and risking environmental disaster in order to keep on doubling and redoubling our Gross Domestic Product?”
I’ve often wondered that myself.
The question now is how to extricate ourselves from flawed belief systems that don’t bring us happiness and cause others great unhappiness, like prejudice against people who are attracted to those of the same sex.
I think my radio guests were on to something when they said the answer — or at least part of it — lies in love.