(Title from Thomas Nashe, via Benjamin Britten.)

This has been quite a spring for marriage equality. The progress has been famously characterized as a gathering storm, but the Nashe quote I’m using for my title here puts a different metaphor in my mind: It’s fun to think of the spring as a giant Green Man romping about the country (after hopping over from Sweden) entraining verdancy, and among the tendrils and blossoms that leap up in his wake is the recognition that love and commitment between two men or two women are just as much to be celebrated and honored as when they arise between a man and a woman.

Sweden was the first place this spring to come to that recognition. On April Fool’s Day the Riksdag had a six-hour debate, and then voted nearly 12 to 1 to recognize marriage equality. It’s funny: They have 349 members in that body (not too very many fewer than the House of Representatives here in the U.S., although we’ve got an extra house in the national legislature), and with six hours of debate, they were able to pass marriage-equality legislation in a landslide. I doubt you could get anything through the House in six hours with a margin like that. (And, oh, Stockholm is a beautiful city. I have some wonderful memories of Ping-Pong in a house on a lake there.)

Then, on the 3rd, the Iowa Supreme Court released its opinion in Varnum v. Brien—as far as I’m concerned, the preeminent marriage-equality decision in the country. (It’s so good, I smile now at the sight of Bookman Old Style.) I got carried away writing up some of the ruling’s remarkable rhetoric, so I’m going to post that separately [Here it is.—Ed.], but the upshot is a unanimous, magnanimous recognition that queer folks are people, and not to be treated as anything less than full, equal citizens.

Four days later, the Green King visited the Green Mountain State and the district of his colleague Columbia. It was a short trip to D.C., just long enough for the city council to take its first vote (12–0) on recognizing same-sex marriages validly enacted elsewhere. (The final vote, this time with Marion Barry present and dissenting, was about a month later.) But Vermont—ooh, that was a story.

April 7 was the exciting conclusion of the process in Vermont; in the previous two weeks or so, Vermont’s Senate had passed a marriage-equality bill 26–4 and sent it to the state House of Representatives, which approved it 95–52. In between those two votes, though, Gov. Jim Douglas had announced that he would veto the law once it was passed—which he did. The very next day, both houses voted to override his veto (the House by the slimmest possible margin), and Vermont became the first state in the country to enact marriage-equality legislation.

Then there were a few weeks that felt a little strange. I and some of the bloggers that I read had been so bowled over by the expansion of marriage equality during the first week of April that we temporarily forgot the normal state of affairs, i.e., not gaining new jurisdictions at a rate of more than one a week. Perhaps King Spring was napping. It was a bit of a letdown, waiting for Maine to get the lead out. But it did, and almost exactly two weeks after a marriage-equality bill was introduced (with more than six times the number of cosponsors usually permitted), Gov. John Baldacci signed it within an hour of receiving it—making him the country’s first governor to sign a marriage-equality bill (a distinction, by the way, that my honored Gov. Hoover twice refused). Now if only the voters of Maine can see their way to rejecting the upcoming people’s veto

Now comes the still-pending excitement. A marriage-equality bill pushed by Gov. David Paterson scored big in New York’s Assembly, but the tradition in the state Senate is apparently for “leaders” not to bring a bill to a vote unless they already know it will pass. Since there was some maneuvering at the start of this legislative term in New York involving promises not to vote on marriage equality in the Senate, there’s some question whether it will even come up before the session ends next month. Let’s hope the necessary political pressure can be brought to bear.

New Hampshire is working on marriage equality right now, too, in a gripping struggle that has required proponents to overcome possibly fatal resistance at every stage of the process: committees, full-chamber votes, and even the governor’s desk. Right now we’re waiting for a conference committee to iron out the terms of a companion bill that Gov. John Lynch has demanded as a condition for his not vetoing the original bill that finally made it through both houses. (Rep. Jim Splaine ‘splains it all in detail at Blue Hampshire, a great resource for following this whole drama, although that post is not recent enough to cover the Senate’s concurrence in the companion bill and the House’s rejection of that same bill.) The roller-coaster ride continues.

And then there’s California. My adopted home takes the national spotlight tomorrow, when we see whether the year’s pleasant king keeps dancing or he trips over the Sierra Nevada and falls into the sea. Cross fingers.

(Title from W.H. Auden, via Benjamin Britten.)

I’m having a great deal of difficulty lately coming to grips with the fact that I live among brutes and torturers. We are in the middle of a public debate right now in the United States about whether torture is effective enough that we can excuse it. Dick Cheney and his squadron of soulless goons are taking to the television studios to argue that we obtained highly valuable information from the people we tortured, and that that makes it OK. They are lying. This is a monstrous debate, designed to distract us from the fact that torture is ineffective and illegal, and that torture is wrong.

But my heart sinks under the feeling that they are succeeding. I see surveys like the Pew Forum’s and am stunned with anguish that three out of four of my compatriots can imagine circumstances in which they’d approve of torture. It troubles me to look at those graphs and see that support for torture—let’s be direct: sadism and bloodlust—increases with religiosity, but that’s beside my main point, which is that I don’t know how to live among people who can’t understand that torture is wrong.

Perhaps these people are not monsters and ghouls; perhaps they’re simply uninformed and unimaginative. Perhaps they don’t know

Insects were used on a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old in order to find out where their father was; after locating their father, the CIA drowned him 183 times in one month. Prisoners were raped by way of gasoline enemas. A man was chained to the ceiling and kicked in the legs until he died. Young boys were raped in front of their mothers—on video. And this is only some of what’s already publicly known. I dread to think of what more is being kept from us.

But then, perhaps the torture advocates do know. As digby has come to realize, we are a torture nation: “The United States of America tortures its own children. It tortures prisoners. It tortures average citizens whom any policeman believes is failing to smartly comply with his orders and it tortures suspected terrorists.” I don’t know how to be a part of that society.

Let me approach the problem from a different path.

Ever since I became consciously aware of my own moral agency (when I learned about the Enlightenment in 10th grade, I’m pretty sure), I’ve made it a point to assume the best of people. I feel a duty of empathy, generosity, and openness to my fellow human beings, and the only way I can do right by them is to take a default attitude of care and optimism. This amounts to a general creed that people are fundamentally good. I know there are caveats to this assertion—I’m the one who brought up Dick Cheney before. But I see him and his kind as freaks, inevitable statistical outliers.

I have built my moral framework on this foundation. The ways that I relate to the people I know and the society I inhabit are rooted in my faith that all human beings are basically decent, under whatever fog of fear or ignorance or distrust may obscure that nature. But faced with a regime of torturers and their cheerleaders in my country, I am losing that faith. I am no longer blithely confident, as I was before, that if during a political discussion I bring up my strenuous objection to torture, I will find agreement. For all I know, the person I’m talking to may find the strappado a perfectly cromulent law-enforcement technique. And I don’t know how to recognize that person as a human being.

This uncertainty hasn’t yet infected all my interpersonal dealings, of course; I know, for instance, that my husband and my friends have moral compasses that don’t point “straight down to hell.” Unfortunately, for fear of what I may hear, I have not brought myself to confirm the same about all of my family.

The disorientation and paranoia I’m describing reminds me somewhat of the aftermath of Prop. 8′s passage. For a couple days, I felt like a character in a World War II movie who had parachuted in behind enemy lines and couldn’t tell the resistance from the secret police. I went to the grocery store and couldn’t help wondering whether the mother I saw digging through the tomatoes with her toddler had voted to revoke my right to marry the man I love, or whether the chef at the sushi counter had a Yes on 8 sign hammered into the ground in front of his house, or whether the high-school seniors sneaking wistful glances toward the liquor aisle had told their classmates to vote yes so that I wouldn’t come after their little brothers. As I said, that only lasted a couple days; it helped to have maps showing vote distribution, and to feel the palpable outrage at the proposition’s passage among everyone who is important to me. It also helped to have official support: Lawsuits to overturn Prop. 8 were filed immediately, and city and county governments from all up and down the state joined in. Both houses of the state legislature passed resolutions condemning the proposition. I felt like I was part of a community that recognized a wrong, and that recognition reached upward into positions of power.

And that’s missing, when it comes to torture. I know I am part of an anti-torture community: digby, Marcy Wheeler, Fred Clark (and his wonderful commenters), Christy Hardin Smith, Glenn Greenwald, Scott Horton, Jack Balkin, Marty Lederman, and Brian Tamanaha—these people are not monsters. These people are fundamentally good. These people are decent. But these people only represent about 25 percent of us, and I don’t know how I’m going to get back to trusting the other 75.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for dining with us, and we hope you’ve enjoyed everything so far. The next item we have for you is a nice civic consciousness, presented two ways. One is gristly, sour, and really kind of unpleasant; there’s a good chance it’ll put you off your feed completely. The other, though, is a beautiful example of what people can do when they really put their mind to it, and it’ll hopefully make you feel better about being a human being. This duo is an interesting showcase of the full contradictions and possibilities of the main ingredient. Because of how delicate the preparation is, it takes a little time to get it just right. We apologize for the wait, and invite you to enjoy some nice focaccia and olive oil in the meantime.