Friday, June 23, 2017

From the Archives: Revisiting a libertarian classic - Charles Murray's 'In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government'

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on June 23, 2010. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Revisiting a libertarian classic - Charles Murray's 'In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government'
June 23, 2010 9:41 PM MST

Question: If money can’t buy happiness, what can?

Answer: Read Charles Murray’s 1988 book, In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government. It may not provide the definitive answers to this question, but it certainly focuses the argument.

Preceding by a few years Murray’s What It Means to Be a Libertarian, this follow-up to his successful critique of Great Society social policy, Losing Ground, demonstrates that Murray is probably the most lucid and readable writer on questions of social policy since Jane Jacobs.

Accessible Writing
Charles Murray in pursuit of happiness and good governmentUnlike so many “scholarly” texts on this and related topics, Murray makes accessible to any interested reader the issue of the role government may have in enabling individuals to pursue happiness. And since the questions he addresses are those that have badgered us since the beginning of speech -- What is the ultimate meaning of life? What is virtuous behavior? Where do we go from here? -- it seems few readers could be uninterested.

Murray points out that simply giving money (or food stamps, or housing vouchers) to poor people will not break the cycle of poverty. Nor can it make people happy. Money is just one of a number of “enabling conditions” that allow people to put-sue happiness in their own fashions. The proper role of government, Murray argues, is to build the base for these conditions and then stand out of the way.

Murray draws on the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow for his categories of “enabling conditions for the pursuit of happiness, which is to say, if all of them were met, it is difficult to see how a person could claim that he was prevented by external conditions from pursuing happiness.” These conditions are: material resources or physiological needs (food, water, shelter, sex), safety (predictability, order, protection from physical harm), intimacy (friendship, relations with spouse or children). self-respect or self esteem, and self-actualization or, in Murray’s terms, “enjoyment.”

Government as Obstacle
In Murray’s argument, government is more likely to stand in the way after these enabling conditions are laid down, impeding the pursuit of happiness rather than facilitating it. The basic difficulty is that we deal with social problems in a fashion that either leads to no solution or to making the problem worse.

Charles Murray Statue of Liberty Rick Sincere Paris River Seine
Murray cites sociologist Peter Rossi, who has formulated the Iron Law of Evaluation and the Stainless Steel Law, which say, respectively, “The expected value of any net impact assessment of any large scale social program is zero,” and “The better designed the impact assessment of a social program, the more likely is the resulting estimate of net impact to be zero.” In other words, social planners are like dogs chasing their tails. They run and run and bark and bark, but they don’t get anywhere and they don’t catch anything.

Drawing examples from the real world -- the 55-mph speed limit and the task of attracting good teachers to public schools, for instance -- Murray demonstrates that conventional ways of thinking are wholly inadequate for the issues we confront. New questions must be asked, he says, questions that do not necessarily have quantifiable answers.

Individuals Alone
Much of what comprises “happiness” and the “pursuit of happiness” cannot be expressed in terms of dollars, gallons, or percentiles. The metaphor for their work used by social planners should be changed from engineering to healing. As a result, Murray says, “the world would not be perfect; it would just be better.”

The essence of Murray’s message is that individuals alone can best determine their own destinies and can best decide how they shall pursue happiness.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Guest Post: How families with 2 dads raise their kids

Andrew Leland, Rutgers University

Kentucky family court judge W. Mitchell Nance says he refuses to hold hearings on same-sex couples’ adoptions “as a matter of conscience.”

He’s not the only authority defying the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land. So-called “religious freedom” bills in Texas, South Dakota and Alabama could let private adoption agencies discriminate against same-sex couples. When pressed on the question, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently refused to tell lawmakers whether she believes the federal government should deny government funds to schools that discriminate against the children of LGBT parents – or LGBT students.




How families with 2 dads raise their kids

The number of men married to each other who have children is rising following legal rulings about marriage equality.
Shutterstock





Maybe these officials, judges and lawmakers should check out the research on how gay parents differ from straight parents. So far, most of this scholarship has focused on the social, emotional and cognitive outcomes of children they raise. (Spoiler alert: These kids turn out fine.)

As a former teacher who now researches gay dads and their families while pursuing a doctorate in education, I am studying how the growing number of men married to other men are raising their children. So far, I’m finding few differences between them and their straight peers of similar socioeconomic status – especially regarding their children’s schooling.

A growing population


Since the Census Bureau estimates but does not count the number of households headed by two fathers, it’s hard to track them.

Plans were taking shape for the Census Bureau to begin counting same-sex-parented households in 2020. They seem unlikely to move forward due to recent budget cuts, the census director’s recent resignation and the political climate.

Nevertheless, The American Community Survey, the Census Bureau’s ongoing demographic survey of approximately three million households, already follows same-sex parenting. It estimates that in 2015, almost 40,000 two-dad households were raising children, compared to about 30,000 in 2010.




Actors Neil Patrick Harris Gideon Scott Burtka-Harris Smurfs

Actors Neil Patrick Harris and Gideon Scott Burtka-Harris, who are married to each other, brought their twins to the ‘Smurfs 2’ premiere in 2013.
John Shearer/Invision/AP




Parenting roles


How do parents in these families settle into specific roles? In short, just like heterosexual parents do.

Research suggests that affluent, white, two-father households adhere to traditional parenting roles. One is the primary breadwinner, while the other earns either less income or none at all and handles most of the caregiving and chores.

However, two-dad households can challenge the 1940s Norman Rockwell image of gendered parenting – just like heterosexual couples can.

Households with two fathers working full-time rely on daycare facilities, babysitters, housekeepers and nearby relatives for support. Some of these men even take on responsibilities based on skills and strengths, rather than who fits the socially and culturally constructed mold of being more “motherly” or “fatherly.”



two-dad households families children gay marriage
Research suggests that two-dad households may not differ that much from the parenting patterns of heterosexual couples.
www.shutterstock.com




Community and school engagement


And that’s where the parenting of gay dads may differ from a traditional heterosexual household, as my research and the work of other scholars suggests.

While interviewing and spending time with 20 two-dad families living in the Northeast for my current study, I have learned that they’re apt to step up. Many become involved as classroom parents, voluntarily assisting teachers, reading books or leading singalongs. Some take leadership roles by becoming active PTA members or organizing events that go beyond their children’s classes. In some cases, gay fathers become PTA presidents or serve on school boards.

Like all civically engaged parents, gay fathers support their local museums and libraries and enroll their kids in camps and extracurricular activities. They sometimes do additional volunteer work for social justice groups.

The largest-scale survey to date was conducted in 2008 by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, an organization focused on the safety of LGBT students in schools. That study, which included 588 LGBT parents, suggested that gay fathers could be more likely to be involved in school-based activities than heterosexual dads.

Aside from the simple fact that they love their children just like all parents do, Abbie Goldberg, a Clark University researcher, and her colleagues have shown that increased presence may be due, in part, to fathers’ initiatives to counter bias and assert more same-sex visibility and inclusion in schools. My current study, indicates the same. Many of the men taking part have told me that being actively involved helps them preemptively counteract potential negative encounters with school personnel and other families.

The ConversationGay dads prefer schools and communities that are safe and inclusive. Beyond that, they want judges like Nance and lawmakers bent on barring them from fatherhood to see that two-dad families are for the most part just like any other family.

Andrew Leland, Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

From the Archives: 'Our Nixon' producer Brian Frye recalls discovery of White House 'home movies'

'Our Nixon' producer Brian Frye recalls discovery of White House 'home movies'
November 17, 2013 7:16 PM MST

Forty years ago today, on November 17, 1973, President Richard Nixon declared “I am not a crook” before a nationwide television audience. Less than a year later, he had resigned in disgrace rather than face impeachment as a result of a cluster of scandals remembered as “the Watergate affair.”

Earlier this month at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, film maker Brian L. Frye spoke about his new documentary, Our Nixon (co-produced by Penny Lane, who also directed). Frye participated in a panel discussion after a screening of the film with former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles and Miller Center scholar Ken Hughes.


Our Nixon, which has been aired by CNN in addition to having a limited theatrical and film-festival release, is built upon a treasure-trove of Super-8mm “home movies” shot by top Nixon aides H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin.

The films – which include footage of Nixon's historic trip to China and visits to the White House by foreign dignitaries, as well as more quotidian events – were preserved by the National Archives as part of a cache of potential evidence in the Watergate investigation but did not come to light until about ten years ago, when Frye learned of their existence.

After the screening, Frye – who teaches law at the University of Kentucky in addition to writing film criticism and producing movies – spoke with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about how he came into possession of home movies from the Nixon White House and the process of turning that material into a cohesive documentary film.

In the public domain
Brian Frye Penny Lane Richard Nixon DVD Watergate“Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin,” he explained, “were receiving free Super-8 film from the Naval Photographic Center and also free processing and printing. I'm pretty sure that what was happening was Haldeman was distributing the films and after they were shot, he was collecting them, dropping them off at the Naval Photographic Center and then providing prints to all of his friends, so he probably got three prints of everything, more or less.”

When Ehrlichman, the president's domestic policy advisor, resigned as a result of the Watergate investigation, “he left in his office prints of the Super-8 films -- second- and third-generation prints,” said Frye. “Those were confiscated and ultimately became part of the Watergate investigation collection that went to the National Archives, so they were placed into the public domain in that way.”

The movies remained far from public view, however, because “they don't really relate to the abuse of power issues that people are most interested in. They were relatively low priority on the preservation ladder” for archivists.

Frye learned of the films' existence shortly from the film preservationist who “told me about his preservation work and showed me one of the reels, which I thought was fascinating but I didn't have the resources to make a transfer at the time. These were preserved but there weren't access copies available.”

After writing an article about the newly discovered movie reels for the film journal, Cineaste, Frye met his eventual producing partner, Penny Lane, in 2008.

They decided to collaborate on a documentary based on the movies but they did not know what the entire content was. Taking a risk, they invested $20,000 to have the films transferred to video so they could examine them in detail.

Novel and compelling
Once they had a chance to look at all 25 hours of film, “we realized right away that the movie that we saw in those home movies was the story of the Nixon presidency as experienced by Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin,” Frye said. “That just struck us as a kind of an interesting, novel, potentially compelling way to look at the nature of a president.”

Gerald Baliles Our Nixon Brian Frye movies Virginia Film Festival
He analogized his film to how “people say you can learn a lot about a person by the way they talk to the waiter. Maybe you can learn something about the president from the way that he talks to his staff members.”

Of the three principal characters in the film, only Dwight Chapin is still alive. He has seen Our Nixon and appeared on a panel with Penny Lane after a screening at the AFI Docs festival in Washington earlier this year.

“As you might expect,” Frye recalled, Chapin is “critical of some aspects of the film. He feels like it focuses too much on Watergate and negative things about the president” and that it “doesn't reflect enough of Nixon's good qualities.”

At the same time, he added, “I hope he recognizes that we intended this to be a human, empathetic portrait of him and his friends, the people he worked for and with in the White House, and so, hopefully he can see that the film is a balanced and considered portrait of the administration.”

Goat testicles
Frye and Lane have intriguing projects that they are working on to follow up Our Nixon.

Lane, he said, “is working on a new film called Nuts, which is the story of [John R. Brinkley,] a quack doctor from the 1920s who claimed to cure impotence by transplanting goat testicles into men's scrotums” who also “went on to invent border radio [and] win the governorship of Kansas only to have it stolen away from him by the Kansas attorney general.” Brinkley “ultimately died penniless after being crushed by the predecessor of the FCC.”

Frye is working on two different projects on his own, a “documentary history of the representation of the gay rights movement” and a narrative film about the relationship of Andy Warhol and his mother.

Our Nixon will soon be available on DVD and is still being screened on the film festival circuit.




Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on November 17, 2013. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Guest Post: The Qur’an, the Bible and homosexuality in Islam



Christopher van der Krogt, Massey University

Neither the Bible nor the Qur’an (Koran) has a lot to say about homosexuality, and what they do say relates only indirectly to contemporary discussions about gay rights and same-sex marriage. Like pre-modern scholars of law and ethics, these books assume heteronormativity.





Peter Paul Rubens, Lot and his family escaping from the doomed city guided by an angel, circa 1615.


Peter Paul Rubens, Lot and his family escaping from the doomed city guided by an angel, circa 1615.




As a concept, homosexuality is relatively recent, even if there is plenty of evidence for homoerotic pleasure in the past – albeit illicit in religious terms.

Scriptures and later writers usually referred only to particular sexual acts and did not raise the issue of personal sexual orientation. For religious conservatives, though, both Muslim and Christian, the occasional derogatory reference to same-sex acts is enough to prove their inherent sinfulness in all circumstances.

More liberal interpreters point to broader ethical considerations such as compassion and empathy. They argue that the condemnations of scripture do not apply to committed relationships founded on love.

Such a perspective, however, is inevitably more common among believers concerned with human rights, influenced by gender theory, and trained in contextual and holistic methods of interpretation.

Homosexuality in the Bible


Leviticus 20:13 (cf. 18:22) declares it abominable for a man to lie with another man as with a woman, and both partners are to be executed. The possibility that one party has been coerced is not discussed: both are defiled. However, the offence seems to be no worse than other capital crimes mentioned in the same context, such as adultery and incest.

Paul evidently regarded the prohibition of sexual acts between men or between women as violations of natural law known even to non-Jews – at least if their minds were not clouded by idolatry (Romans 1:18–32; 2:14–16).

He seems to have reflected contemporary views that men should be sexually assertive and women passive, and that sexual activity must be at least potentially procreative.

Sodom and sodomy






Lot fleeing with his family, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1615.

Lot fleeing with his family, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1615.
via Wikimedia Commons




For Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, the story of Sodom is central to the traditional condemnation of male homosexuality. As recounted in Genesis 19, however, this is not a story about love or consensual sex between men: it is about rape and inhospitality.

The mob that gathers outside Lot’s house need not be exclusively male (the Hebrew plural anashim can include both genders), and the text says all ages were represented (Genesis 19:4, 11). When the crowd demands Lot’s visitors, he offers his two virgin daughters in their stead. Perhaps he considers the rape of his daughters a lesser evil than the rape of his guests.

The fact that the guests are male is not emphasised. After the visitors (angels in human form) rescue Lot and his family, God rains down fire and brimstone upon Sodom, Gomorrah, and other cities nearby.

Actually, he had already determined to punish all these towns and their inhabitants, male and female, young and old, before the angels’ visit and the attempted homosexual rape (Genesis 18:16–33). When the wickedness of Sodom is recalled in other parts of the Bible, homosexuality is not mentioned. Yet, despite this broader context, the story was often interpreted primarily as a condemnation of homosexual activity in any form.

In the Qur’an, the somewhat ineffectual Lot of Genesis becomes the Prophet Lut. The Arabic term for homosexual anal intercourse, liwat, comes from his name rather as English derived the term sodomy from the name of the town.

As in Genesis, Lut seems to argue with the men of Sodom over the relative propriety of abusing his daughters or his guests (11:78–79; 15:67–69). More often, though, the emphasis is on his condemnation of lusting after men instead of women (7:80–81; 26:165–66; 27:55; 29:29). In the Qur'an, Lut says:

Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.

Traditional Islamic perspectives


In the Hadith (thousands of stories reporting the words and deeds of Muhammad and his companions that are comparable in authority to the Qurʾan itself), there is some support for the notion that the principal offences of Sodom were idolatry and avarice. These led in turn to inhospitality and the rape of male visitors.





 Hadith Silsilat al Dhahab (Golden Chain Statue) in Nishapur, Iran.

Hadith Silsilat al Dhahab (Golden Chain Statue) in Nishapur, Iran.
Sonia Sevilla, CC BY



Nevertheless, the Hadith do unequivocally condemn male homosexual acts. The Qur’an (4:16) demands unspecified punishment for men guilty of lewdness together unless they repent.

Yet, the Prophet is supposed to have declared that both the active and the passive partner should be subject to the same penalty as for zina (illicit heterosexual sex, usually adultery), namely execution by stoning. Abu Dawud’s authoritative hadith collection records a report from Abdullah ibn Abbas:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done (38:4447).

It is doubtful whether any passage of the Qur’an refers to lesbian acts though the condemnation of women who commit indecency (4:15) is sometimes read this way. A few hadith warn women against seeing or touching each other when naked.

Traditional Islamic jurisprudence assumed strict gender roles. The 17th-century Muslim scholar Haskafi explicitly included “a male” in his list of those whom a man could not legally marry.

Marriage was understood in hierarchical terms, but although a man could have sexual relations with female slaves, he did not have the same rights over male slaves.

Pre-modern scholars who produced lists of “enormities” included liwat and sometimes tribadism (“rubbing”, that is, lesbian intercourse) after zina. Prescribed penalties for homosexual acts varied according to different schools and individual scholars. In any case, it was difficult to attain the required level of eye-witness testimony.

In practice, homosexual encounters, including with young male prostitutes, seem to have been quite common in Islamic societies. They were no more or less a cause for moralistic concern than other forms of illicit sex.

Reinterpreting the Islamic tradition


Without actually endorsing homosexuality, some Muslims in Western societies have recognised a parallel between the religious acceptance they demand and the acceptance demanded by gays and lesbians.

The New Zealand Muslim MP Ashraf Choudary (who did not realise that the Qur'an does not urge the stoning of homosexuals) observed that,

if the law allows one minority group in our society to be discriminated against then all minorities are vulnerable.

Some, such as Cambridge philosopher Abdal Hakim Murad (Timothy Winter), have accepted that a homosexual orientation may be innate but say that does not make homosexual sex permissible.

Deducing that it may therefore be legitimate remains a step too far for most.

Traditionally, if sins can be forgiven when repented, declaring forbidden acts not to be sinful has been regarded as heresy or even apostasy. Commentators such as Mehdi Hasan, after wrestling thoughtfully with the issues, have concluded that while they do not approve of homosexual acts, they cannot condone homophobia.

A similar message was offered by Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford, when he visited New Zealand: Muslims and others have to respect each other, which includes accepting that the law permits gay marriage.





Imam Daayiee Abdullah Reverend Dwayne Johnson

Imam Daayiee Abdullah, seen here with Reverend Dwayne Johnson discussing religion and LGBT rights in the U.S., is openly gay. He’s argued that ‘there is nothing wrong with Quran. The problem is with how people have interpreted it.’
East-West Center, CC BY-NC-SA




For Muslims generally, as for conservative Christians, homosexual acts are sinful. It is difficult to be openly gay or lesbian in predominantly Islamic countries, but in the West, there are even (a few) gay imams.

There are also support groups for gay and lesbian Muslims. Writers such as Scott Kugle (Siraj al-Haqq) try to reconcile Islamic identity with alternative sexual orientations. Like their Jewish and Christian counterparts, they seek the “original” meaning of scriptural texts obscured by generations of patriarchal, heteronormative interpreters.

They also question the authenticity of certain hadith – in the traditional manner by scrutinising their chains of transmission – and reopen past debates such as that concerning “temporary” marriage. The latter need not be short-term and may offer an alternative framework for co-habitation without formal marriage.

Christian gays and lesbians have had to work hard for a measure of recognition among fellow-believers; their Muslim counterparts are just beginning that struggle.





The ConversationAcknowledgement: The most useful source for this essay has been Kecia Ali, Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur'an, Hadith and Jurisprudence (Oneworld Publications, new edition, 2016).

Christopher van der Krogt, Lecturer in History, Massey University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

From the Archives: Woodward and Bernstein agree Ford's Nixon pardon was 'right thing to do'

Woodward and Bernstein agree Ford's Nixon pardon was 'right thing to do'
November 3, 2012 12:20 AM MST

At a Virginia Film Festival screening of Alan J. Pakula's 1976 movie, All the President's Men on Friday, November 2, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose investigative journalism formed the basis for that film and wrote the book of the same name, discussed the Watergate scandal and the legacy it left for American politics and culture.

Woodward and Bernstein answered questions posed by former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles, one of the founders of the Virginia Film Festival and now director and CEO of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, which describes itself as “a nonpartisan institute that seeks to expand understanding of the presidency, policy and political history.”

'Wrong answers'
Near the end of the wide-ranging discussion, Woodward pointed out that he and other journalists are not always correct in their judgments – “sometimes you get the wrong answers” – and thus need reassessment.


Woodward, who has remained at the Washington Post for more than 40 years as reporter and editor, recalled how he had learned about President Gerald R. Ford's pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, one month after Nixon had resigned in disgrace in August 1974.

Ford, he said, chose to announce the pardon on TV early one Sunday morning. Woodward was awakened by his reporting partner, Bernstein, who asked if he had heard the news.

No, Woodward said, not knowing what the news was.

“The sonofabitch pardoned the sonofabitch!” Bernstein exclaimed, and Woodward needed no further explanation.

'Aroma of a deal'
“For a long time, we thought the pardon was dirty,” Woodward said. “Why does the guy at the top get off? There was an aroma of a deal, an exchange of the presidency for a pardon. There was a question of justice: why one guy gets a pardon, forty people go to jail, and so forth.”

Bob Woodward Gerald Baliles Carl Bernstein Watergate Virginia Film Festival
Woodward asserted that Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter in 1976 “in large part” because of the pardon and suspicions about it among American voters.

About 25 years later, Woodward wrote a book about Watergate and the legacy it had on the presidencies of Ford through Clinton. He had never met Ford previously, but spent several hours with him, as part of his research, with a specific aim to learn about the Nixon pardon.

Ford told Woodward that Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig had, indeed, offered a deal, but that he had rejected it.

“I pardoned Nixon, not for Nixon, not for myself, not for the political system,” Ford said to Woodward, “I pardoned Nixon for the country,” because the United States had to get beyond Watergate. A criminal trial of Nixon would prolong the scandal by three or more years and would be “unacceptable.”

'Cold shower'
Years later the Kennedy family gave Ford a Profiles in Courage award for his pardoning of Nixon. This event, Woodward said, was “a very important cold shower to get, because we had it absolutely wrong.”

At this point, Bernstein interjected, with Woodward nodding his agreement, that “it was the right thing to do for the country. It cost this man the presidency, because he did the right thing.”

After the discussion, Woodward and Bernstein autographed copies of their various books, including All the President's Men, for festival attendees.


Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on November 3, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Friday, June 16, 2017

From the Archives: GOProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia talks about CPAC and gay conservatives

GOProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia talks about CPAC and gay conservatives
February 17, 2011 2:03 PM MST

Jimmy LaSalvia No Hope GOP GOProud gay RepublicanA minor controversy erupted in the weeks leading up to the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in regard to the participation of GOProud, an organization of gay conservatives. A handful of groups decided to sit out this year’s CPAC rather than be seen in the same room with gay men and lesbians.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, spoke to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner at CPAC about the controversy and about his organization’s mission and plans for 2011 and 2012.

GOProud, LaSalvia explained, is a national, 527 political organization representing gay conservatives and their allies.

“We started in 2009,” he said, “so we’re about a year and a half old. We’re growing, with about 10,000 members. We bring the perspective of gay conservatives to every issue that affects Americans.”

Federal issues
GOProud is based in Washington works only on federal issues, he said, “like a lot of organizations that you see here at CPAC.” He gave as examples Americans for Tax Reform and the Club for Growth as national organizations “that have a Washington presence.”

The issues that most concern GOProud, LaSalvia said, are “whatever comes up in Washington. The priorities of our membership are the same as the priorities of most conservatives and, in fact, of most Americans.”

GOProud, he said, wants to help the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives “to rein in the size of government, control spending, protect our borders, and protect us from the terrorists.” In that, he noted, “we’re just the same as everybody else in America.”

‘Biggest, best CPAC’
Despite the controversy and the absence of a few groups from the CPAC exhibit hall, La Salvia said, this year’s conference was “the biggest, best CPAC ever.”

GOProud gay Republicans homosexual conservatives Jimmy LaSalvia Rick Sincere CPAC
The message of CPAC, he pointed out, “is that the conservative movement is united. We’re united around those priorities that I just talked about, the priorities of the American people. It’s been a great CPAC so far.”

LaSalvia said the reception of GOProud by CPAC attendees has been positive.

“We’ve had a lot of people come up to our booth and tell us that they’re glad that we’re here, that they’re glad that we’re part of the discussion that’s happening here at CPAC to offer solutions to our country, to help get our country back on track. It’s great,” he added.

When reminded that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin had also spoken out in favor of including GOProud in CPAC, LaSalvia noted that she “went out of her way to say” that her own absence from the conference was due to scheduling conflicts and not because she wanted to endorse those who were shunning GOProud.

LaSalvia also pointed out the millionaire businessman Donald Trump spoke to CPAC because he was invited by GOProud and that he also favored an inclusive conference and conservative movement.

Support like that expressed by conservatives at CPAC, LaSalvia added, “has really been heartening.”

Differences in approach

Asked if there’s a difference between the way conservatives and other people approach gay issues, LaSalvia said there was not.

“There may be policy differences here and there among conservatives with issues relating to gay people, but conservatives aren’t any different than any other Americans,” he said.

“As you know,” he continued, “in the past couple of decades, more and more gay people are coming out and living their lives openly and honestly. The vast majority of Americans and the vast majority of conservatives have gay people in their lives, so as folks around the country think about issues that affect gay people, they think about people who are in their lives. They think about Joe and Bill and Sue and Lynn and their lives when they think about these issues.

The consequence of knowing gay people personally, LaSalvia explained, is that “conservatives are no different than anyone else [who] thinks about these issues.”

'Fun' plans for 2011 and 2012

GOProud’s plans for 2011 and the presidential election year of 2012, he said, are “to engage in the debate as it occurs on Capitol Hill and across the country.”

Noting that CPAC marks the kickoff of the presidential campaign season, LaSalvia said that “we’ll be very engaged in that.”

He hesitated to give more details and cautioned that “I can’t really tell you the specific things that we’ve got planned this year but a lot of them will relate to the presidential election.”

What he would say for certain is that, whatever GOProud has planned, “it’s going to be fun for everybody. It’s going to be fun for our country and the Republican party and we’re looking forward to engaging in it.”

Publisher's note: This article is part of a series marking June as gay pride month. It was originally published on Examiner.com on February 17, 2011. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Guest Post: A same-sex marriage ceremony in... Renaissance Rome?


Gary Ferguson, University of Virginia

Gary Ferguson same-sex marriage Renaissance RomeIn the late 16th century, the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote about two marriages between people of the same sex. The first involved women in eastern France, the second a group of men in Rome. At the time, same-sex marriages were not recognized by religious or civil law, and sodomy – a term that included a wide range of sexual acts – was a crime. As a result, when those involved were discovered they were usually brought to trial and punished, sometimes by death.

These episodes, along with many others, reveal that even in Renaissance Europe, marriage was a highly contested issue.

Marriage between two men or two women might seem like a concept that has emerged only in recent decades. For centuries, however, same-sex couples have appropriated marriage in their own ways. I investigate a particularly notable example of this – the second of the two cases recounted by Montaigne – in my recent book “Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome: Sexuality, Identity and Community in Early Modern Europe.”

An evolving institution


Throughout the Middle Ages, marriage involved not only two individuals but also their relatives, local communities, and secular and religious authorities. Each of these had different – sometimes conflicting – ideas, priorities and goals.

From the 12th century on, the Catholic Church considered matrimony a sacrament that required only the free consent of the spouses, in the form of an exchange of vows. As a social institution, however, marriage was usually based on a legal contract for the transfer of property (the bride’s dowry), which was signed in front of a notary.






Saint John at the Latin Gate in Rome gay marriage Gary Ferguson

French essayist Michel de Montaigne once described a ceremony between two male lovers at Saint John at the Latin Gate in Rome.
Gary Ferguson, Author provided




The 16th century was a watershed period that saw sweeping changes and the introduction of stringent new requirements designed to prevent clandestine (or secret) unions that heads of families opposed. In countries converted to one of the new Reformed or Protestant faiths, marriage ceased to be a sacrament, and laws were passed strengthening parents’ control over their dependent children.

In response to pressure from secular governments, the Catholic Church also modified its position considerably in 1563, when the Council of Trent decreed that a wedding must henceforth be performed in a parish church, by an authorized priest, in the presence of witnesses, and following the proclamation of “banns” (the public announcement of the ceremony).

Changes in legislation did not always translate immediately into changes in practice, however. Situations of doubt or dispute were common and frequently ended up in court.

On the margins of the papal city


This is the volatile background against which the marriages between men in Rome were set.

After piecing together information from several sources – diplomatic dispatches, newsletters, fragments of a trial transcript and brief wills – a much fuller, if incomplete, picture of what took place emerges.





Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne.
Wikimedia Commons



On a Sunday afternoon in July 1578, a sizable group of men gathered at Saint John at the Latin Gate, a beautiful but remote church on the outer edge of Rome. Many of them were friends who had met there on previous occasions. They were mostly poor immigrants from Spain and Portugal but included several priests and friars. They ate and drank in an atmosphere that was festive, yet strangely subdued. It turned suddenly to confusion and fear with the arrival of the police, who arrested 11 of those present. The rest fled.

The Roman authorities had been tipped off about the group’s plans to celebrate a marriage, perhaps not for the first time, between two of its members. In the end, the wedding between Gasparo and Gioseffe hadn’t taken place: The latter – reportedly ill – failed to appear. But Gasparo was among those taken prisoner, and, following a trial that lasted three weeks, executed.

The exact nature and purpose of the intended ceremony remain uncertain. Some sources describe a marriage celebrated after Mass. Others refer to the giving of rings, a hermit who officiated or adolescents taking part under constraint or even disguised as women.

What we know for sure is that the afternoon was to culminate, like most weddings at the time, in a celebratory feast and the consummation of the union – that is, in the couple (and, in this instance, perhaps others) having sex.

Like husband and wife?


Although the same was not true of all the group’s members, Gasparo and Gioseffe conformed to established gender norms when having intercourse: According to evidence from the trial, the latter took a “male” (penetrative) role, the former a “female” (receptive) one.

Gary Ferguson renaissance France gayIn other respects, however, their relationship didn’t resemble that of traditional spouses. Most importantly, Gioseffe was a friar, prevented from marrying in the eyes of the Church. Gioseffe’s attachment to a convent also means that it’s unlikely the pair planned on living together. This distinguishes them not only from men and women who married but also from the female married couples we know about from the period, who – like the women described by Montaigne – often did establish a common household, with one cross-dressing and living as a man.

In light of the group’s generally promiscuous behavior, it seems equally unlikely that Gasparo and Gioseffe intended to embark on a sexually exclusive relationship and thus that they believed the sacrament would remove the sinfulness that the Church attached to all extramarital sex.

Finally, the purpose of the feast following the planned wedding was not personal or religious but communal. Despite the fact that it greatly increased the chances that the men would be caught, it was clearly important to them as a way to express and build a sense of community. The socially marginalized friends at the Latin Gate had, in fact, developed several of the characteristics of a sexual subculture, like those that would later be found in large European cities in the 18th century. In a number of ways, they anticipated the networks of “mollies” in London and Paris’ “gens de la manchette” (“men of the cuff”), with their regular meeting places, social activities and a shared slang.

The evidence, then, points to a handful of motivations behind the Roman weddings. Since the friends took the ceremony seriously enough to put themselves at considerable risk, it very likely served to recognize and sanction Gasparo and Gioseffe’s relationship, claiming that such a union should be possible. At the same time, it may also have had a playful element, parodying and subtly criticizing elements of a traditional wedding.

An argument for marriage equality?


In one sense, the context for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples today is very different from the 16th century, when most marriages weren’t based primarily on love and didn’t establish legal equality between the spouses.

It was after the changes effected by the women’s rights movement in the second half of the 20th century to make the institution more equitable that gay and lesbian activists adopted marriage equality as their major goal.

Nevertheless, the stories from the 16th century show that marriage has never been a universal and fixed phenomenon. It has a contested history, one that both excludes and includes same-sex couples, who have claimed marriage on their own terms.

The ConversationWhen viewed through this lens, the ceremony planned that summer afternoon in Rome overturns the narrative that recent political victories were only the culmination of a modern, 20th-century campaign. The friends who met at the Latin Gate offer a striking example of how same-sex couples have long claimed the right to marry and, at the same time, challenged some of marriage’s traditional norms.

Gary Ferguson, Douglas Huntly Gordon Distinguished Professor of French, University of Virginia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.