Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "2009 Books Issue," July 4, 2009

In nearby Lower Dir, the Taliban set fire to three schools June 16. According to a private TV channel, the schools-Government Girls' High School in Sangolai, Government Girls' High School in Chinar Kot, and Govern-ment Middle School in Sherkhanai-were all targeted for destruction by the radical Islamic militants. Pakistani news sources report that the Taliban destroyed at least 10 schools in one week in an ongoing effort to prevent the education 
of women.

Gay marriage penumbra

New Hampshire became the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage after a protracted battle over the bill's provisions to protect religious freedoms. Those provisions mean religious organizations under the law do not have to "provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges" to an individual if it is related to the "solemnization of a marriage, the celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage" that violates their religious beliefs.

A battle over adoptions by same-sex couples across the Atlantic highlights the need for such provisions.

Catholic Care, a British adoption agency, lost its case to refuse adoption services to same-sex couples. The U.K.'s Equality Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but makes an exception for persons acting "in pursuance of a charitable instrument." Catholic Care, which has never provided adoption services to same-sex couples, tried to change its stated purpose to fit under that exception, but the Charity Tribunal ruled that it could not change the language. Catholic Care's chief executive Mark Wiggin told the Charity Tribunal that refusing adoption services to same-sex couples "is a principle that we would like to stand on," and that if it proved impossible, "then we will close our adoption agency." Catholic Care is the oldest established adoption agency in its area, placing children with families since 1926.

Defending the defense

Obama administration lawyers recently filed a brief on behalf of the Justice Department (in the case of Smelt v. United States) that defends the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which forbids the federal recognition of same-sex marriage and allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Congress passed the legislation in 1996.

President Barack Obama called the law "abhorrent" during his campaign to become a U.S. senator-and gay activists accuse him of softening his position. A DOJ spokesman issued a statement saying that "the Justice Department is defending the law on the books in court."

John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Manage--ment and the highest-ranking Obama appointee who is openly gay, recently told the LGBT news site Advocate that the administration is moving forward to repeal both the "don't ask don't tell" policy for the military and DOMA. However, the administration will face resistance in Congress to repeal either. "[The president] has to enforce the laws that have been enacted appropriately and that he has inherited," Berry said. "He's doing his job."

Unfair competition

President Barack Obama faced down a tough crowd in delivering a speech on health care to an assembly of the American Medical Association in Chicago June 15-while pro- and anti-gay-marriage advocates rallied outside. With plenty of applause lines, he appeared to win over many in the skeptical medical bunch, offering enough rhetorical sugar to make the medicine of sweeping reform go down. He'll need at least as much sweetener to convince the broader American public on the merits of his plan to expand government control in the massive health care industry, which makes up nearly 20 percent of the national economy.

Obama sought to alleviate fears over the ills of socialized medicine with talk of added competition and customer choice: "No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period." But such assurances offer little comfort to privatization advocates who say Obama's plan will disrupt the free market. As Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, "There's a lot of us that feel that the government is an unfair competitor."

In his speech, Obama insisted that the public option would "put affordable health care within reach for millions of Americans," and that the only impact on private plans would be lower prices. He argued that the low rates of Medicare would not carry over into the public plan because of reforms in reimbursements. Of that, AMA President Nancy Nielsen is unconvinced: "We're not sure that the government is very good at running a health plan."

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