Why Marriage Matters

By Evan Wolfson of New York, NY. Evan is founder and director of Freedom to Marry, the national gay and non-gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide, and author of "Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry".

Christopher and Patrick, an Oregon couple, registered for a domestic partnership so they would be protected in the event of a crisis. But earlier this year, when Christopher was gravely ill in the hospital, Patrick was told that he couldn’t be at his partner’s bedside. Why? Because they were not married. The hospital staff said Patrick was not considered “family.”

One of the reasons partnership laws like Oregon’s aren’t good enough is that they pointedly – and pointlessly – withhold one of the main protections that comes with marriage: being married.

Marriage matters. When you say those simple words – “We’re married” – there’s no doubt what it signifies. It says “we’re family” in a way that no other word can. It’s a universally understood expression of love, commitment, and the heartfelt desire to take responsibility for the ones we love. Marriage is a building block for strong families and strong communities and, for most of us, a personal commitment so important and defining that we wear its symbol on our hand.

This is the common-ground starting point from which Oregonians can begin a meaningful conversation about why marriage matters to all couples in loving long-term relationships – including Oregon’s caring, committed gay and lesbian couples.

I’ve been all around the country and talked to thousands of gay and lesbian Americans and their families. I’ve seen gay couples raising great kids, struggling to make ends meet, worrying about their aging parents, and caring for one another in sickness and in health. They share everyone’s hopes and dreams, including the dream of a legal commitment to match the personal commitment they live out day-to-day, doing the work of marriage with the person they love.

Denied the freedom to marry, these families are denied the safety net marriage brings, touching every area of life from birth to death, with taxes in between. Yet legal protection isn’t the only concern; there is also the question of fairness. At its heart, the conversation about why marriage matters is as basic as the golden rule: Treat others as we would want to be treated.

Fairness and respect for each other are basic American and Oregon values. We honor these values when we ensure that all our neighbors have the opportunity to create a family with the love, commitment and protection that the freedom to marry offers. In America, we simply don’t make one set of rules for some, and another set for others.

These values of family, freedom, and fairness are why we need to start a conversation in Oregon – now, today – with our families, friends and neighbors, about why Oregon’s exclusion of committed couples from marriage must end.

This upcoming week, I am joining with Basic Rights Oregon to launch a grassroots effort to get Oregonians talking to each other about extending civil marriage to same-sex couples. The more we talk with the people around us – each of us the most effective ambassador to those in our lives – the more we help them think through how they’d feel if they were denied the freedom to marry the one they love, and how unnecessary this harmful exclusion is. Each one of us can, and should, engage people in conversation about why marriage matters. After all, there is no marriage without engagement.

Join me and Basic Rights Oregon in kicking off this important dialogue Monday night (November 2) at SEIU Local 49 in Portland, 3536 SE 26th Ave, at 6 p.m. [Editor's note: Due to a fire at SEIU HQ, the event has been moved to Portland State's Smith Center in the Vanport Room, #338.]

Tuesday night, I’ll be in Bend at Old Stone Church, 157 NW Franklin Ave, at 7 p.m. -- and if you’re in Eugene I hope you’ll join us at the Public Library, 100 W 10th Ave, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. More event details here.

And join the dialogue at MarriageMattersOregon.org. Let the conversations begin.

Comments

  • Greg D. (unverified)
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    I understand the desire for better access to hospitals, fairness, etc. but it seems to me that the real benefit of marriage (other than tender feelings, etc. etc. etc.) is the built in advantages that hetero married people like me currently enjoy under the IRS Code, the Social Security Act, and ERISA. If my partner / spouse was deprived of survivorship rights under Social Security, joint tax return filing rights by the IRS, and ERISA protections, I would be fighting mad. While I understand the state by state approach endorsed by Basic Rights Oregon and its supporters, it seems that somebody needs to get the federal government moving in the right direction. Maybe the California federal lawsuit will help, but it is tough to see how the Supreme Court with its current membership is going help out.

    Will be interesting to see what happens with Ballot Measure 71 in Washington next week.

  • Oregon Bill (unverified)
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    All true - and eloquently stated.

    But the usual suspects - religious groups, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, the Mormon Church, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance - raised money and preached against marriage equality in the past, viciously demonized our families and erased our access to a basic American civil right.

    ** And without a doubt, they will do it again. In fact, religious groups are busy working hard right now to selectively deny civil rights to our families in Washington and Maine.

    The question is: when will Oregonians who truly care about the American promise of equality for all quit giving money to religious groups that work hard and publicly to deny us basic civil rights?

  • Misha (unverified)
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    For anyone who is skeptical about the premise that the title "marriage" matters, there's an excellent law journal article about this very subject (written by the handsome and distinguished scholar, yours truly).

  • Brian Collins (unverified)
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    I think this is a good plan. We need to have these conversations and do the groundwork to build public support before this hits the ballot again.

  • Aaron Cady (unverified)
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    This is a great example of an issue that separates Democrats from progressive liberals. Using the formula that conservatives say, "I've got mine, screw you", Democrats say, "Let's identify a group and help them get ahead", and progressive liberals say, "Nobody gets ahead until everybody gets ahead", this is a classic Democratic Party solution.

    Granted, that marriage most definitely matters, particularly when it comes to the law. THAT, my good friends is the major injustice to be corrected. Where a progressive would address that basic injustice, Democrats identify another group to extend the privilege to.

    There are a lot of valid reasons for rejecting the institution of marriage. The government should not be in the business of trying to shore up the institution. Let it sink or swim based on its usefulness to society. In the meantime, no one should be persecuted for declining marriage, and it doesn't advance society much to extend the privileged treatment to gays, while still persecuting everyone else that makes a different choice. Sure, it's an advance. One less persecuted group is one less persecuted group. It's nowhere near the solution we need, though.

  • Pope Pieass LXIX (unverified)
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    Bill of O says: But the usual suspects - religious groups, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, the Mormon Church, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance - raised money

    I can't find good facts on this, but, I can tell you that I wouldn't be best pleased if a major competitor of mine filed for Federal Bankruptcy protection, then turned around and started competing with me in a way that assumed solvency.

    So, what's the deal here? How can they be bankrupt and not responsible for the civil settlements which courts have handed down against the Catholic Archdiocese, yet have enough to fund every issue declared to be a Christian social cause? The whole rationale for the tax breaks our tax code gives to religious entities holds no water when they are directly trying to influence the outcome of ballot measures. At the very least, how about if some of our "progressives" started fighting fire with fire? If the Catholic Archdiocese wants to influence politics, I think Mayor Adams it wholly within his rights to comment when it comes time for the Vatican to pick a successor to the current archbishop. It's certainly an issue that he could speak to in terms of making Portland a better city. Once again, liberals show total deference to conservatives who demonstrate no similar restraint in return. If the Mormon Church are not environmental terrorists and actively involved in the abuse of women and children, who is? It's time a hard line was drawn that what your God tells you does not entitle you to be anti-social. We'd be doing better with Jihadists if we weren't such hypocrites.

  • tl (in sw) (unverified)
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    And to preempt the folks who want to quote the bible to justify discrimination/hate/oppression against gays, I invite them enforce the Old Testament's directive to stone to death any bride who is not a virgin when she gets married.

    (thanks to Dan Savage for pointing this out)

  • Rick (unverified)
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    Misha,

    I find it interesting that much of your article is attempting to raise the feelings one has, either for oneself or for another, to a constitutional level. It is strange that there is an assumption that the word marriage is the only panacea to the feelings people on both sides of this issue have.

    I'm not sure I would like any legislation that's intent is to change people's feelings. Nor any constitutional challenge. But still thinking about it.

  • Rick (unverified)
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    tl,

    I suggest that you find anyone who thinks this passage still applies today. In fact, as you may know, or Dan Savage may know, it is deceitful to claim this is the belief of those who value the Bible. In fact, nearly the entire Old Testament is seen by the Christian community as historical, and not as current spiritual law. The New Testament is the story of someone who laid aside the laws of the Old Testament and provided new laws. That is why no-one who is religious is practicing sacrifice, or eye for an eye, or stoning (except our Muslim brethren).

    I'm always surprised at how the religious on BlueOregon allow these attacks to pass unchallenged. The reference to homosexuality is Old Testament, as is the references to stoning as law. Why do people claim to find things in the Bible and use them politically, when they just get them wrong?

  • Misha (unverified)
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    Rick, I'm not sure what you mean by "feelings". Of course, Brown v. Board of Education, as well as its predecessor and successor cases, was decided based upon the inequality created by branding a disfavored class with an inferior status, thereby depriving that class of esteem. But beyond Brown, it is well settled that such intangible deprivations -- what you dismissively call "feelings" -- are cognizable in law. See, e.g., Heckler v. Mathews, 465 U.S. 728, 739–40 (1984) ("[W]e have repeatedly emphasized [that] discrimination itself, by perpetuating 'archaic and stereotypic notions' or by stigmatizing members of the disfavored group as 'innately inferior' and therefore as less worthy participants in the political community, can cause serious noneconomic injuries to those persons who are personally denied equal treatment solely because of their membership in a disfavored group.").

  • Thomas Wheatley (unverified)
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    Greg D. makes a good point about needing to pursue a national solution, not only a state-by-state strategy.

    Thus far, the marriage equaliy movement has focused strategically in the states, in order win vicotories and build momentum. We need to keep winning in states (including Maine and Washington next week!) in order to make the case to Congress and/or the Supreme Court.

    Only when we have a significant number of states that embrace the freedom to marry will we have enough power to win at the federal level.

    Really, the state strategy and the federal strategy have to work together - we can't have one without the other!

  • (Show?)

    Misha,

    Interesting article. I noticed that it only tackles arguments by those proponents of Civil Unions who want (for whatever reasons) to keep Marriage as a legal contract for heteros.

    As you may or may not know, there are those who favor Civil Unions for everybody regardless of sexual orientation.

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    What an understatement in the intro -- it's my understanding that Wolfson, who Time once named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, basically came up with the idea of gay marriage as a political initiative. (I'm sure it's probably not quite that simple, but my point is: this guy's a big deal!)

  • Jason (unverified)
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    "And to preempt the folks who want to quote the bible to justify discrimination/hate/oppression against gays, I invite them enforce the Old Testament's directive to stone to death any bride who is not a virgin when she gets married."

    First of all, unless you were a Jew, a member of the Hebrew people, The Law never applied to you in the first place. So, for those of us who are called gentiles, it's a moot point.

    Secondly, unless you have a thorough understanding of the Torah from a Hebraic perspective - both in culture and language - it's quite arrogant, in my opinion, for anyone to use that verse (or any verse for that matter) to validate a political or social point.

    The Talmud, a compilation of Rabbinic discussion on how to apply the law (which is necessary to know and understand before making assumptions about OT biblical truths) mentions this:

    The Talmud limits the use of the death penalty to Jewish criminals who: (a) while about to do the crime were warned not to commit the crime while in the presence of two witnesses (and only individuals who meet a strict list of standards are considered acceptable witnesses); and (b) having been warned, committed the crime in front of the same two witnesses.

    A person could NEVER be stoned to death without two witnesses. Jesus said to the crowd in John 8, who wanted to stone a woman supposedly caught in adultery, "Ye without sin cast the first stone." Why? Because he was referring to this very law. There were no witnesses!

    A woman who lied about previous relationships to her husband (or future husband) could not be convicted without two witnesses. So your application of the scriptures, tl, assumes any woman whose husband "thought" she wasn't a virgin, could just automatically be stoned. That's not factual.

    You many not like what the Bible says; you may think it's stupid or silly. That's fine. But I think we all need to be careful (on both sides of any issue) to refrain from randomly throwing out biblical references and scripture to make a point. It only adds fuel to the fire, and in my summation, most applications are without merit anyway.

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    I don't completely agree with your argument, Jason. But I wholeheartedly agree with the caution in your summation. Wise words indeed! Well said!

  • tl (in sw) (unverified)
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    In fact, nearly the entire Old Testament is seen by the Christian community as historical, and not as current spiritual law.

    If only that were so. Many self-identified Christians immediately point to Leviticus as the biblical justification for the unequal rights afforded gays.

    They claim that any quaint or archaic rules (e.g. forbidding wearing clothes made from multiple fabrics, keeping Kosher, eating rare meat, all the prohibitions surrounding menstruation, etc.) do not undermine the validity of the condemnation of homosexuality they find in the bible.

    I personally believe people will find what they are looking for, whether it be in the bible, based in fact or fiction, and will ignore any inconsistency or hypocrisy which would blot their otherwise spotless escutcheon.

  • Rick (unverified)
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    tl,

    You are correct. Like I said, "Why do people claim to find things in the Bible and use them politically, when they just get them wrong?"

    This reference was as much, or more, to the silly quoters on the right as the left. Remember that the central member of the New Testament had a really hard time with people who quoted laws and used them for mostly evil means. Jesus hated the hypocrites actions, and so do I. Both for the right and for the left.

    So, I understand that you refer to the stoning passage. It is an effective response to those who claim the Leviticus passage. My point is that neither is really valid. Not the point, but the passage as law.

    I suppose that I am just tired of the "religious" bashing that many here seem to engage in. And tired that there aren't more people asking them to stop it. Why are so many on the left very concerned with making anyone feel bad, or marginalized, or attacked, UNLESS they disagree politically. Defend ALL religious people, like you do ALL people. Defend those who disagree with you as much as those who don't. That's my feeling, and I believe exactly how I comport myself. But, as long as I am respected, I enjoy the conversations.

    Perhaps it isn't possible.

  • tl (in sw) (unverified)
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    Why are so many on the left very concerned with making anyone feel bad, or marginalized, or attacked, UNLESS they disagree politically. Defend ALL religious people, like you do ALL people. Defend those who disagree with you as much as those who don't.

    Some of my favorite conversations and discussions are with those of opposing viewpoints. It's so much more interested and thought-provoking than talking only with those with whom one agrees...if there is respect and at least as much listening and attempt to understand (if not agree) with the other side. Sadly, this is rare as many incorrectly believe the louder and longer they talk, the more persuasive they become.

    I respect and defend anyone regardless of his or her views and beliefs...as long as she or he makes an effort to respect and defend mine. If their views and beliefs support what I see as unjust discrimination and oppression of a group, I have no trouble calling them out on it - especially when I see hypocrisy. Why do you think conservative self-identified "family values" politicians are roasted so much hotter when caught in the compromising situations than those caught on the left? I believe it has much more to do with their hypocrisy and being judged as they have "judged" others.

    I don't believe "bashing" is an effective way to communicate, but I empathize with those who are singled out for judgement and discrimination and need to express their frustrations and feelings in such a manner.

  • Absolute Acai Berry (unverified)
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    This is good topic discuss .after a curtain age of life every one marriage.I think should get marriage .

    Absolute Acai Berry

  • Jim (unverified)
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    Rick wrote: "That is why no-one who is religious is practicing sacrifice, or eye for an eye, or stoning (except our Muslim brethren)."

    Yes, I have noticed all the lilies and birds we exported to Iraq and Afghanistan. And certainly, President Bush never made any note of revenge--say like "He tried to kill my daddy"--as a rationale for going to war. Sounds like eye for an eye, and god knows he was a religious man. Religious as fuck, as they say.

    And why stone people when you can bomb them with drones?

    Speaking of people getting things in the Bible wrong, for starters, your analysis of what Jesus came to do only explicitly applies to the Gospel of Matthew. Only in that gospel does Jesus mention coming to lay aside the Old Testament--hence why it is the only of the three synoptic gospels in which the Sermon on the Mount is given on a mount and not on a plain, as the reference was to Moses and the Ten Commandments.

    As is, I presume we both want to go with the golden rule, which is really what separates, in my mind, Jesus from the Old Testament. Volume 1 is of a vengeful god. The gospels of mercy. I suppose that is why we needed Paul to balance it out.

  • Paul Cox (unverified)
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    Posted by: tl (in sw) | Oct 30, 2009 12:46:01 PM

    And to preempt the folks who want to quote the bible to justify discrimination/hate/oppression against gays, I invite them enforce the Old Testament's directive to stone to death any bride who is not a virgin when she gets married.

    And what, pray tell is wrong with that? It's totally consitent with scripture as a whole, "the wages of sin are death". I would remind you that your hero put is hand on that passage and swore when he was inaugurated. If you don't like ti, stop being fucking hypocrites and using it when it suits you.

  • anon (unverified)
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    I would remind you that your hero put is hand on that passage and swore when he was inaugurated. If you don't like ti, stop being f** hypocrites and using it when it suits you.

    Huhhh?!? Do you want to give that another try? I have no idea what you are trying to say. I see no reverence to any president in tl's posts so I don't know where the "your hero" comment comes from.

  • Paul Cox (unverified)
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    OK. I'll try again.

    Liberals constantly explain how passages in the bible are outdated and bad social policy. Then you elect someone that is to represent "hope and change". After appearing with a monetary-signs-of-election televangelist, he swears on the very archaic passages you despise to take office.

    If you believe what you say, he should ask to take the "atheists oath". If you put your hand on the Book and swear it means you accept what it says.

    Your complete inability to process such a basic point is proof that population density has reached the point where you only can judge anything based on how everyone around you traditionally reacts. You are a sheep, and are actually proud of how loud you can bleat!

    The sheep, every one of them, end up in the slaughter house. Maybe that is your role. Our Lord accepted the corrupt will of His generation and went to the cross, "as a lamb unto the slaughter". Either leave the heard, or stop bleating.

  • Aaron Cady (unverified)
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    I am constantly amazed by the credibility that most feel they have to give Rome or they're being rude. Why should their views on marriage be credible when their brain trust is daily producing gems like today's warning that Halloween is the Work of the Devil ?

    At least be consistent. Pavel Goberman makes more sense. Next time take him point by point if you're going to do so with the equally insane Catholic Church. Benedictus XVI is the biggest troll around. Moderates cowtow most to authority.

  • Oregon Bill (unverified)
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    I am constantly amazed by the credibility that most feel they have to give Rome or they're being rude.

    Did anyone notice that the Catholic Church, in addition to its strenuous efforts to deny basic civil rights to gays and lesbians - is now fighting Democratic proposals for health care reform?

    http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/10/30/priests-urged-to-speak-out-against-health-care/

    So they deserve respect for...what?

    Come on, Blue Oregonians! The heck with gays and lesbians - but health care?

  • tl (in sw) (unverified)
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    Paul, why such hostility and anger?

    If the President wishes to place his hand on a bible, let him. Makes little difference to me. What I do object to, however, are choices and limitations dictated to me or others based on a particular religious belief. My objection become more strenuous went facing the possibility of making religious doctrine into actual laws for all.

    Less than a generation ago, my parents' marriage would have been illegal in most states. Today no one would think anything odd about it (other than a 14 inch height difference between the two).

    My initial posting was not to ridicule all religious teachings of the bible, although I can see how that might have been how it came across - for that I apologize.

    What I meant to do was to point out that many people justify their beliefs based on sections of the bible which seem to fit, while ignoring those that do not. I do not "despise" the bible. I differ with many in what I think its lessons mean and whether those lessons should be made into public policy or laws.

    I welcome people to find inconsistencies in my logic. I do find attacks based on supposition and generalization tiresome, however (e.g. where do you find any indication whether I voted for Obama?). Oh, and I won't assume Paul believes "Halloween is the Work of the Devil" unless he says so.

  • Paul Cox (unverified)
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    If the President wishes to place his hand on a bible, let him. Makes little difference to me.

    So, if a major climate change denier kept holding up a copy of "Silent Spring", while promoting all kinds of conservative BS, you wouldn't be outraged?

    The fact that he can show repect for the book, then turn around and fight every word, is the kind of everyday hypocrisy that gives you a Mayor Adams.

    I don't claim to be privy to Satan's workings, like the Pope does. I do know that the institution of Halloween is built into retailers' bottom line. As such, it is patriotic to celebrate it.

    Bill, that's the difference between Dems and liberals AND conservative progressives. Real progressives don't care if they have the votes; they vote their conscience. Dems vote whatever it takes to get 50%+1 vote. 1/4 of registered Democrats are Catholic. They will prostitute every position and pander after every papist to retaint those votes. It will cost them climate change leg., and that will cost them their existence. They'll be around, like the aging whore in the back room, but inability to lead in areas that are critical to their base will be the end of their high living.

  • anon (unverified)
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    The fact that he can show repect for the book, then turn around and fight every word...

    Yeeaaah. Okay. If you say so. This from the guy who calls others f** hypocrites...using [the bible] when it suits [them].

    It is easy to throw out hyperbolic and histrionic aspersions. You have that right. But that doesn't make it right or true. How about some evidence?

  • Paul Cox Responds to a Liberal Hypocrite (unverified)
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    anon, do you have that on a function key, or are you just thick? I'm talking about the freaking obvious, obviously...

    Or maybe you're serious. You see no contradiction in a man placing his hand on a text to swear that says, "it is an abomination for a man to lie with another", then OK openly gay service personnel in an organization where the individuals are supposed to be of the highest moral character?

    There's a million other examples. They're obvious. I suppose you would like to go case by case and spin it? I'm asking about the whole phenomenon. The Bible is not a liberal's plan for life. Noam Chompsky, Daniel Quinn, Tibetan Buddhism, Ansel Adams, maybe, but definitely not the Bible. A large, near majority feels differently. Now, which is the President? Does it stretch your mind to the limits of its comprehension that a quintessential Chicago pol is talking one side while holding the scriptures of the other to capture maximum votes?

    If he's so proud of his lib credentials, then he can put the Book down. If he's proud of the Book, he's not the hope and change most on the left voted for. Which is it?

  • anon (unverified)
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    Paul,

    So you don't see any incompatibility between the actions and choices of the previous administration and the teachings and laws of the bible that former president swore upon? If you wish to hold this administration and president to that standard, why not do the same for the former? Or do you claim the former president followed the letter of the (biblical) law during his entire term?

  • Paul Cox (unverified)
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    Keep on like that, anon, and Kari's gonna make you a job offer! How did this go from being about Obama to Bush? I can't tell if you really don't get it, or you're a Dem automaton. If the latter, you really need to write a piece for BO. But, since you ask, Bush was an anti-Christian, and a hypocrite. In the end times the anti-Christ comes from right as well as left.

    So, I guess you would agree with those that say there has been no change?

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    How did this go from being about Obama to Bush?

    Well, Paul Cox, you brought up the Bible, and you brought up hypocrisy. Any lively brain would have noticed your biblical hypocrisy.

    In case you have not noticed, most Christians do not believe in biblical fundamentalism. Most Jews do not believe in Old Testament fundamentalism. You may consider that hypocrisy, but most folks consider it an attempt to preserve religion in the face of science and reason. Believe as you will, but do not expect to sway many to your way of thinking.

  • tl (in sw) (unverified)
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    Paul,

    I don't agree with your beliefs and am not swayed by your arguments. However, I respect you for at least showing consistency between your judgement of the current president and the former. -tl

  • Peri Brown (unverified)
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    So where would you score this on the hypocrite-o-meter?

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints made a surprise announcement by backing up a Salt Lake City ordinance stopping discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) in housing and employment.

    A week after Maine voters repealed a state law allowing gay marriages, the endorsement was seen as a boost for gay rights advocates.

    “The church supports this ordinance because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage,” Michael Otterson,the church’s spokesperson stated.

    The issue however is that the church does not need to make a stand since the ordinance itself has stated that “the city has granted commonsense rights that should be available to everyone, while safeguarding the crucial rights of religious organizations.”

    The church however is still opposing gay marriage reminiscent of its decision to urge members to contribute money to support the Proposition 8, which is the 2008 law that overturned a state supreme court ruling allowing gay marriages in California.

  • Tiffany Jewellery (unverified)
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    <h2>The question is: when will Oregonians who truly care about the American promise of equality for all quit giving money to religious groups that work hard and publicly to deny us basic civil rights?</h2>
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