Thursday, May 30, 2013

So Lesbians Cannot Love their Children?

Sometimes coincidences are so spooky.  At the very time the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) asserted a week or so ago that gay marriage and their inevitable progeny are akin to the Stolen Generation of indigenous children, I went to dinner with my lesbian relatives and spent the night listening to their uplifting tales of their two loved and loving kids.  It was an experience of stark contrasts. The inspiring encounter with parental love in full flight contrasted with depressing, nasty and wicked views of the ACL.  It was truly an evening of coincidence and contrast writ large.
But it is not just enough to say the Christian Lobby are malicious and mean. We ought to unpick the arguments. Senator Penny Wong (a Christian) correctly labelled them bigots but we must do more than call them names.
The ACL position appears to be this: a child from a gay/lesbian couple is analogous to an indigenous child being stolen from his/her family when outdated and cruel white views on the nature of family mandated forced theft of kids.
The analogy is wrong. The heartache and pain caused by the forced separation of indigenous families was shameful, was documented by a Royal Commission and was accordingly the subject of a dramatic apology. The heartache of the many kids of gay or lesbian marriages that I know is nil. They revel in their special status. Empirical evidence shows that children of gay parents do not suffer any poorer outcomes as a result of their parenting. 
ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said “Kevin Rudd’s change of mind on redefining marriage ignored the consequence of robbing children of their biological identity through same-sex surrogacy and other assisted reproductive technologies… Thus there will be another generation of stolen children.”
The analogy is also wrong because it equates biological identity with cultural and familial identity. Analogies are a powerful tool of argument but are often misleading because the comparisons do not equate like with like.  So it is here.  Biological identity does not need to be lost merely because the sperm donor donates to rather than marries a lesbian (mutatis mutandi the donation of a womb and ovum to a gay man).  Donation does not mandate loss of biological identity.  I am not saying that biological identity is unnecessary. One only has to listen to the terrible longing of adopted kids to know their birth parents to see that biological identity has power.  Indeed, I know a case where the mother of a gay man who donated sperm to lesbian woman travelled from Europe just to see her progeny. I concede that the call of biological identity is powerful. The tug of ancestors and personal history is compelling. It is just that one cannot assume that it is absent in gay and lesbian couples. Certainly, in the couples I know, everyone, including the kids of course, knows who did what to whom.  The children of gay parents will usually be raised by at least one of their biological parents (I haven’t read research about this but imagine this is almost always the case). The ACL is wrong to link gay/lesbian children to loss of biological identity.

Biological identity in this era of donated building blocks of life and DNA testing is a matter for State governments to protect and promote.  I advocate that.  But in no way is the question of biological identity comparable with the cultural and familial identity that was broken in indigenous families in the first few years after that identity was established at birth. 
They’re conflating marriage and procreation. While during some of human history the 2 were closely entwined, that’s certainly far less so the case since the stigma of being an unwed mum has largely disappeared in western societies. LGBT couples are having children despite them not be able to marry …so preventing gay marriages won’t prevent gay people from having and/or raising children.

The ACL is also being hypocritical. Where is their concern for biological identity when they advocate adoption over abortion?  Some of their members are anti abortion and the whole issue of biological identity is never addressed when they demand adoption over abortion. It was church welfare groups who were often implicated in pressured adoptions in the early post war decades.  No concern of a loss of biological identity there. The ACL have unfairly deprecated adoption and fostering.
Apart from the bogus issue of biological identity, it is also clear that gay and lesbian families have great success in rearing children. The wiki entry on LGBT parenting discloses the empirical data that corroborates my anecdotal evidence.  Why undermine success, love and happiness? That in my view makes the ACL position immoral.
Love arises in several ways. Let me illustrate by a friend who is not gay.  She had a child with a donated egg inseminated by her husband.  So there are three possible parts of her motherhood, genetic bequest, pregnancy and rearing.  She has no genetic relationship but has borne the child and reared and loves that baby with a ferocity I have yet to see equalled. The biological link seems to be irrelevant and the loved child will have the biological certainty she might crave because there will be no secrets.  Love arises from nature, from nurture and now from the clinic. We need a moral canvas that is flexible and not mired in pre industrial situations.
And this is the rub. Christianity and other faiths like the certainty of rules etched in tablets of stone. Unchanging and unyielding rules have popularity because of their clarity and simplicity. But certainty sacrifices humanity and progress.  The ACL position shows why I cannot be a believer. Not only can I not believe but the archaic rules of faith come to repellent positions when faced with change unforseen by the authors of the bible.
What is your view?
·         Are lesbians having kids analogous to the Stolen Generation?
·         Is biological identity important or just an occasional bout of curiosity?
·         Are Christian ethics too unyielding? Too archaic? Just right?
·         Are atheistic ethics too uncertain and captured by the issue de jour?
Over to you...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Racist Taunts and Adam Goodes

Adam Goodes has won a victory for every minority in the country and in doing so redressed pain I endured as a kid. In one blow he both fought racism and expiated every adolescent like me who failed to fight every fight that presented itself.  I sit here barely stifling the tears of gratitude and guilt. The man is an inspiration. 
The indigenous Sydney football great was straying near the boundary when a 13 year old called him an “ape”.  This epithet is clearly racist and Adam has testified since that he was often called a monkey or an ape.  An appalling situation for it was a clear defamation of his background.
As we all know, he identified the girl, she was removed from the ground and Adam, reeling from the insult left the oval too upset to celebrate the victory with his team mates even after his heroic best on ground performance.
His stand galvanised the country. For this was the round of footy designated as a celebration of indigenous people.  To sully this round with a racist taunt was awful and the football community acted as one to support him and condemn the verbal abuse.  Let me tell you that we have come a long way. Racial vilification was de rigueur in my day. Homophobic ridicule was expected. Adam’s refusal to accept the abuse galvanised the rest of us. The footy community spoke as one to support him and his stand.
But Adam performed even better the next day when he mixed articulation and wisdom with compassion.  He called for compassion for the girl. He blamed the social context not the individual. And he confessed that many times as he grew up, he lacked the confidence to confront his tormentors. He had now grown in confidence and would not put up with those jibes that soiled his youth.
This resonated with me for as I was growing up in the sixties, anti Semitism was everywhere. If you stooped to pick up a coin you were labelled a Jew. Those with beards and yarmulkes were abused. The word “Jew” was used as a common insult even though the Holocaust was still in living memory. And when someone wanted to attack me they called me a “bloody Jew”.  Seldom did I confront these atrocities.  Occasionally I did remind my peers that I was Jewish.  They would say either “But you’re different” or “So what?”  There were fights that I inevitably lost. So deep within me is this personal history of not taking on prejudice. That is why Adam’s confession so resonated with me. His story gave me absolution. It was a gift.
We need heroes to share their vulnerabilities for it strengthens us. When he said that as a younger man he lacked the confidence to confront bigotry, I was mightily consoled for all the times I suffered in silence.  Give that man every respect you can muster. 
His words and deeds will be compared to the Nicky Winmar moment when once again, the Collingwood supporters galvanised an iconic moment.  In Nicky’s case it was one of the most moving photos in Australia’s history. In Adam’s case it was his words and wisdom.  Both showed how leadership and guts can change the world.  And the world has changed but not yet enough.

What is your view?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Venting Rage

The sexual abuse stuff that is being played out in inquiries across the land is gob smacking. There is now a virtual inquiry industry happening after decades of neglect and indifference. We are seeing a fundamental shift in social power.  Once a potent religious institution was above the law.  This has mercifully been reversed.  The mighty are falling.  The stories are shocking. My rage is simmering.  The rage of innocent Catholics must be wild. How about yours?
Let us first document this new inquiry map.  In addition to the many belated individual committals and trials there are three main inquiries going on concurrently. 
In NSW there is the Special Commission of Inquiry concerning child sexual abuse allegations in the Hunter region raised by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox in an ABC Lateline interview. This is an interesting tale for it is examining how another institution, the police, may be culpable.  The police and the Church, partners in imposing moral order now stand accused of collaborating to subvert that order. Complementary institutions sometimes have a habit of supporting each other.  This can be a great thing.  It could be evidence of social harmony.  Or it can be selfish incumbents protecting their rear ends.  Time will tell. 
In Victoria, there is a Parliamentary Inquiry.  This Inquiry probably only saw the light of day because of the mass suicide of victims in the Ballarat  area of between 35 and 50 young men damaged by the Catholic school they attended.  These suicides numbers are appalling.  The not only demonstrate the frequency of abuse suggesting utter organizational cruelty but also dramatically exemplify the pain of abuse. Victims sometimes would rather die.
Nationally, the Queen issued Letters Patent for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.  This was mirrored with the issue of 6 State Letters Patent. So if you include the 6 States, there could be said to be 9 inquiries of various different flavours. 
Don’t think however that they 9 inquiries are overkill. They are belated response to bipartisan indifference. Governments of every hue have turned a Nelsonian blind eye to the widespread ruination of children’s’ lives. 
Several overwhelming issues strike me. 
The Ballarat mass suicide is so significant one must ask whether there is a case to be made for seeing whether anyone who failed to act should be charged with manslaughter.  The slaughter is there, but are there the elements for criminally negligent manslaughter? Time will tell. It is a shocking event. Unlike other sorts of disasters where the death toll occurs at one moment in time, this was played out over years of abuse and subsequent silent suffering.  So as an event of alleged mass manslaughter it is invisible.  But it is a disaster nonetheless with more  suffering and death than say the Port Arthur massacre of 1996 or the West Gate Bridge collapse of 1970 where 35 people died in each.  But not many of us would see it that way.  I hope that this perception will change and that the group killing is recognized for the serious (and avoidable) disaster that it has been.
Another issue is nature of the Catholic expression of contrition.  Upon the announcement of the Royal Commission, Cardinal Pell, whilst welcoming the Commission, blamed a smear campaign against the Catholic Church and a persistent press campaign. Since then, the leadership of the Church have put on their professional sad faces, clasping their hands in front of them in their magnificent robes at healing ceremonies. I feel anger that these hypocrites have never, I repeat never, dobbed in an offender to the police. They have never called for assistance in weeding out abusers. They set up programs populated by good people (an uncle of mine included) but no one I know of gets sent to the independent criminal justice system.
The final issue for today is the role of the kinky anti sex rules of Catholicism.  The promotion of abstinence never gets a mention in the Letters Patent.  We respect faith no matter how bizarre.  The overwhelming issue appears to be the hierarchical nature of those faiths where miscreants can flower.   Obedient hierarchies suppress complaint and give the leaders a sense of being untouchable. But no one is investigating the role of sex and faith.  Sexual dysfunction in the form of no sex for the leadership is mandated by Catholicism. This kinky rule needs to be addressed but is not.
I need to acknowledge that the Catholics are not the only ones involved – Jews and Anglicans get a mention too.  But they are only mentions by comparison. I am a Facebook friend of Manny Waks who is a crusader on the Jewish abuse issue. At least Manny is a voice from within.
I could go on and on and indeed will.  I will try to avoid being a self-righteous atheist. Such complacency is tempting but must be resisted.
We are all angry I am sure.  For those of the faith, they must be appalled and embarrassed.  For those of no faith, we must guard against smugness and make sure we do not opportunistically delight in the suffering and death of others.  Several issues need your contribution:

  •  Are you as angry as I am? Are you Catholic and angry?
  •  Am I merely a sleazy opportunist?
  •  Will this taint Catholicism forever or will the Church recover quickly as I suspect it will?
  •   What do you think of the Church’s repentance?
  • What do think of the 35 to 50 Ballarat suicides? Mass manslaughter or a tiny problem easily ignored?
Over to you guys…

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Opera Pimp on Prostitution

Sorry I have been a bit absent but I have been playing an Opera Pimp in one of the saddest stories of prostitution that our culture has thrown up.  Verdi’s La Traviata (or the fallen one), first performed in 1853, tells the tale of a courtesan. She has a glamorous life that quickly sours and ends in early death. It is the opposite of the mendacious myth, Pretty Woman, where prostitution merely prepares the main protagonist for a long and happy life.
Our production was performed in The Men’s Gallery, Melbourne’s largest and most famous strip club replete with runway, dancing poles and decorous nudes on the walls.  This was a version of the opera where the subject matter was reflected in the venue. Whilst The Men’s Gallery is both lawful and not involved in prostitution, it is part of the sex industry, the same industry as Violetta’s bordello in La Traviata.  For details see
In this atheist ethicist, I opine on the morality of regulation of prostitution.  For the opera was not my first collision with the ethics of prostitution regulation. Long ago in my municipal past, when my responsibilities included the Mayoralty of the area that encompasses the street sex work market of St Kilda, I served on a ministerial advisory committee on street prostitution.  So I have had many brushes with the issue of the regulation of prostitution.
The time honoured response of legislators is the prohibition model. When one deems a behaviour to be unworthy, the knee jerk reaction is to ban it. This is particularly the case with sex and drugs. So in the past alcohol, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, pornography and prostitution have all been banned.  But the prohibition model is riven with disastrous unintended consequences. Prohibition calls forth an illegal market. The illegality of the market is inevitably associated with violent crime, exploitation of the vulnerable and higher prices.
The vulnerable whom suffer or die might include the addicts of the heroin market, the women in the unlawful abortion markets and the sex workers in prohibited prostitution markets.  La Traviata sought to champion the position of the latter. Bans counter intuitively seem to harm the weak and promote the interests of the criminal. Therefore I always champion the opposite of the prohibition model, which is the harm minimisation approach.
Faiths and religions are a problem in this moral debate.  For these archaic relics from the past are full of prohibitions.  Let’s start the Divine Decalogue.  The 10 Commandments might as well be the 10 Prohibitions. But more than prohibition, religions routinely glorify those who go beyond obedience and embrace hair shirt self loathing. Ascetic behaviour is lauded. Temperance in food, drink and particularly sex is found in most faiths.  Take the monastic vows of poverty, obedience and chastity versions of which can be found in the faiths of East and West. These are appalling commitments to self deprivation deserving of a volume on their own.  And the vow of obedience has silenced evidence of priestly crimes that now dominate our news. 
In the context of prostitution, the damaging legacy of prohibition and self deprivation is that open discussion of prostitution is clouded and difficult.
On the other hand, the harm minimisation model does not make a “moralistic” judgement on the activity but merely seeks to understand the consequences for the community.  For those who have been following my moral pontificating for some time, this Consequentialist approach is consistent with the atheist morality I follow called Utilitarianism. I believe that Consequentialism is one of the great moral contributions of atheism.  It takes out all of the archaic moral judgements that cloud the assessment of complex social situations. It looks at the impact on the humans involved and seeks to minimise the harm and maximise the good. 
Prostitution when it is an equal bargain struck between two consenting adults, must be seen as moral. Prostitution in a prohibition model though, inevitably involves an unequal bargain. The transaction is an illegal one with unregulated violence.  It is a situation where the victim (the sex worker) cannot easily be protected by the police because the sex workers are committing a crime.  In the illegal sex markets, the women are often incredibly vulnerable with sexual abuse and drug dependence often part of the story.
La Traviata is a prescient work. It acknowledges that prostitutes often have nasty outcomes. It also recognizes the hypocrisy of moralistic judgment. The parochial and the bourgeois father who denounces Violetta the courtesan, come across as cruel and hypocritical. 
In the contemporary world, the traditional foes of law reform in the drug, prostitution and related markets are cruel. They allow their prejudices, formed in the Sunday Schools of their youth, to be a barrier to humanitarian reform.  Have they learnt nothing since 1853?  Have they learnt nothing from the current paedophile crisis? 
Progress from the religious taboos and ascetic practices of the faiths is slow but necessary.
What is your view?
·         Do you like the certainty of rules and prohibitions or do you like the humanity of the harm minimisation model?
·         Should prostitution be banned in all circumstances?
·         What is the moral position of those who use prostitutes?  Do you use prostitutes?
·         Why is prohibition such a popular regulatory regime?
·         Why does the prohibition of drugs still remain in the face of decades of failure??
Over to you guys.