Marriage, Texas, HHS, and “taking heart”

??????????????????????????????A Leaven reader texted me last week, “Please tell me you’re writing a ‘take heart’ blog this week.” She was referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage decisions.  Other matters forced their way into the news as well: a filibuster and a mob in Texas combined to block a bill restricting late-term abortions, and “final” word came down from Washington confirming that Obamacare’s HHS mandate is here to stay.

Quite an array of challenges right there. That was one head-banger of a week. Let me note that I found excellent short-term therapy in avoiding the news feeds for a few hours at a time. Seriously: you want to build a culture of life? Step awaaaaay from the smartphone.

But eventually, I have to face facts. It does me no good to see a glass as half-full when what it’s half-full of is poisoned Kool-Aid.

  • After wasting a lot of words in the Windsor decision explaining how marriage is a state matter (and thus a Tenth Amendment issue), which is what I thought for sure would get the federal Defense of Marriage Act thrown out, Justice Kennedy and four of his distinguished colleagues shifted gears. The majority decision was that federal refusal to recognize same-sex marriages was a “deprivation of liberty” under the Fifth Amendment. For good measure, Kennedy added that there is no public interest served by one-man-one-woman marriage. He gratuitously added that to hold otherwise is a deprivation of personhood and dignity of our neighbors who choose genderless marriage, designed to disparage and injure them.

(Personhood and dignity? Where has this man been when the life issues have been on the line?)

  • The Texas senate did not exactly cover itself in glory when it let a mob dictate the terms of a vote. The bill in question sought to stop late-term abortions and to require abortion facilities to meet the requirements imposed on every other ambulatory surgical center in the state. A vote needed to be cast by midnight on a certain date. The mob in the gallery caused enough of a disruption to hold up the vote until three minutes past midnight. That, and not the filibuster by now-lionized Senator Wendy Davis, was the key to shutting down the bill. See Leaven post here and the re-post from 400 Words for Women here.
  • In the White House’s Friday afternoon news dump came the word that the HHS mandate will be a done deal next January 1. The official HHS announcement says “hey, we listened to all you protesters out there.” Americans United for Life translates that for us here, saying “oh no, you didn’t.” Don’t look for this on the White House web page, which is filled with notes from the President’s trip to Africa and his speech on “climate change.”

So where do I take heart? In the fact that people are willing to write and speak and act in opposition to all this. Peaceful, reasoned, courageous dissent inspires me to try to be just as constructive in my own choices. Underlying all the bad news is an effort to marginalize and isolate each dissenter (hey! that’s me!). I ain’t a-gonna let anyone do that. People around us still speak with courage and conviction, and therein lies reason to take heart.

  • Governor Rick Perry (R-Texas) has called the legislature back into session this week to re-consider the bill on abortion and women’s health. No mob rule for him. This is why I’m glad his presidential campaign fizzled. Why on earth should I want one of the most effective governors in the country to leave his post before his term is up? Now, each pro-life senator – and there are plenty, which is how the bill got as far as it did – can resume defending life.
  • Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Windsor was a gem, giving his colleagues a rhetorical kick in the pants. There are still jurists who refuse to buy into nonsense; how is that not encouraging? Scalia did not defend any particular definition of marriage, but instead called his colleagues out for their torturous reasoning and their usurpation of state prerogatives. Scalia’s decision affirms that arguments against redefining marriage can be made with logic and fairness. The dissent bears quoting at length:

“But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” ”injure,” “degrade,” ”demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”

I hear all this, and I take a deep breath. Some balance has been restored. Standing on the sidelines and applauding  is not enough, of course. These people, these neighbors regardless of address, are extending a hand to me. Get up, already. Be strong and of good courage. Examples of stoutheartedness abound. I want to share the news about them. That’s where I take heart. Nothing’s been “settled” for me.

Thirty-five feet, in theory & practice

What would a First-Amendment-blackout zone look like around the Feminist Health Center in Concord? There’s a petition circulating in town to bar protesters, including those in silent prayer, from getting within 35 feet of .. of what? The doors of “reproductive health centers”? Their clients? Their property lines? Perhaps that’ll be cleared up when the City Council hears the petition. [An earlier version of this post indicated the petition would be heard in July. As of July 3, the petition was not on the Council’s agenda for its July 8 meeting.]

Today, I took a few pictures outside the FHC to get an idea of where a prayer witness would have to go to be more than 35 feet away from FHC property. The first thing I noticed was that there is currently no sidewalk across the street, because of construction on a Main Street building.

35 feet across from the Feminist Health Center: no sidewalk.
35 feet across from the Feminist Health Center: no sidewalk.

With that construction underway and that section of sidewalk currently closed, the nearest open sidewalk across the street from the FHC is in front of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce office. I wonder if the Chamber knows that.

The FHC is on the northwest corner of Main & Thompson streets in Concord, with a sidewalk on two sides of the building. The frontage on Main is 26 of my steps long, which by a very sketchy measurement is about 57 feet wide. The  property line on Thompson Street is longer: 80 steps, or about 175 feet, from Main Street to the fence at the back of the parking lot. (This assessor’s map from the City of Concord web site is more accurate than my pace-by-pace estimate.)

Thirty-five feet from that back parking lot, measured along the north side of Thompson Street, would put protesters onto a neighboring driveway. As a practical matter, a 35-foot “buffer” in that direction would put protesters on State Street.

The sidewalk on the other side of Thompson Street would be off-limits. The street is only 10 of my paces wide, or about 21 feet. (At January’s March for Life, walkers were able to use that sidewalk, under the watchful eyes of Concord police and FHC supporters, without incident.)

FHC supporters greet pro-life marchers, January 2013.
FHC supporters greet pro-life marchers, January 2013.

What about the sidewalk directly in front of the FHC? Today, two pro-lifers were praying quietly, careful to block neither the sidewalk nor the walkway to the FHC’s front door.

Peaceful protest, blocking nothing.
Peaceful protest, blocking nothing.

To remain on that side of the street, a thirty-five foot zone would force these peaceful protesters either north, putting them in front of a New Hampshire Employment Security office, or south, putting them in front of what appears to be a small apartment building. Here’s the view from the Employment Security office:

West side of Main Street, 35 feet north of FHC.
West side of Main Street, 35 feet north of FHC.

An aerial view of the block, with a 35-foot speech-blackout zone superimposed, wouldn’t convey the whole story of what a “buffer” would look like, especially with the ongoing construction across from the Feminist Health Center. Photographs and aerial views also can’t address the underlying question of why there’s an attempt in Concord to interfere with the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters.

Details announced for NH’s March for Life 2013

New Hampshire Right to Life, principal organizer of the state’s annual March for Life, has just released the schedule for next month’s event. The date is Saturday, January 19, in Concord. The main event is the rally on the State House plaza at 11:15 a.m. followed by the march itself beginning at 11:45. The route begins at the plaza and goes south on Main Street to St. John the Evangelist Church, passing the Feminist Health Center abortion facility on the way.

Lunch will be available after the march (donations accepted) in the St. John’s activity center, 72 South Main Street, and a program will follow from 1-3 p.m.

Earlier in the day, at 9 a.m., there will be a brief memorial service at the Concord landfill on Old Turnpike Road, commemorating the aborted children whose bodies are buried there with the trash. Some years ago, human fetal remains were spotted in the landfill and were quickly traced to a local abortion provider, who was ultimately reprimanded for improper disposal of “medical waste.” Pro-life activists were unsuccessful in their attempts to have the remains removed from the landfill to be given a dignified burial. Every year since then, people have come together on the day of the state March for Life to pray at the site.

For more information, go to www.nhrtl.org or call the Right to Life office at 603-626-7950.