Quick note: I’m still doing Infinite Summer, but it’s Little League World Series time right now, which means posting, if it happens, will be sparse. See you after the championship!

I see the NY Phil is likely to visit Cuba this fall. Good for them. I was fortunate enough to take a similar trip with the Oakland Youth Orchestra when I was in high school, and Havana was one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been to. (As for that photo… Yikes. I plead adolescence in the late ’90s as my excuse, and beg the court’s mercy.)

Looking back, it’s strange for me to realize that I was almost 17 and had no idea about any of the political or humanitarian aspects of the trip. I was too busy being a teenager, taking my second international tour with a music group, strategizing how to turn a flirty friendship into a real-life boyfriend situation, worrying about hitting that F-sharp in the second-movement solo of Brahms’s First Racket, spending two weeks away from parental supervision—I’m saying I had lots of other things on my mind. Even so, it seems like I should have understood some kind of message from the orchestra administration’s request that we fill any extra space in our luggage with things like aspirin and toilet paper and strings. I’m pretty sure they even told us outright that one of the purposes of going to Cuba was to give our host orchestra things they didn’t have enough of, things that we took for granted—like aspirin and toilet paper and strings for instruments. We changed our money for special Cuban money that exchanged at a 1:1 ratio with U.S. American currency, that we could only use in certain places (where actual Cubans were generally prohibited from shopping or eating). For goodness’ sake, we even went to a beach in Cuba that we were told Cubans weren’t permitted to go to. But little of that seems to have sunk in. I left Cuba pretty much just as entitled and clueless as I was when I arrived.

What did stick with me was an impression of Havana as beautiful and old, tropical, decaying, and generous. We were only there for two and a half days or so, and it was over a decade ago, so some of my memory is spotty or gone, but what remains is vivid. We stayed in a magnificent colonial hotel, genteel and welcoming, with high-walled rooms and a beautiful atrium. It was the most elegant place I had ever been in my life. In the morning we walked through the steaming air down the Paseo de Prado, toward the Gran Teatro, for rehearsal. The buildings all looked at least vaguely crumbling, and the scent of the city’s surrender to permanent humidity hung in the air. It certainly didn’t smell fresh, but it was somehow pleasant. Even more pleasant were the Habaneros we passed in the street. Almost to a person, they were outgoing, friendly, always interested in however much conversation we could manage between English and Cuban Spanish. More than one was willing to interrupt their morning business and follow along with our convoy, curious about who we were, where we were from, what we were there for. (I’d like to think some of the folks we met on our walks to and from the hotel ended up at the concert—it sold out, after all—but I’m not sure what kinds of rules were set about who got to attend.) Who knows how much our interactions with people in Havana were stage-managed by chaperones or functionaries; what I know is that I don’t recall a single rude encounter. I don’t remember anyone ever being less than polite, and in fact I remember lots of people being warm and open and friendly. The audience at our joint concert with the Amadeo Roldán Youth Orchestra was perhaps the most enthusiastic I’ve ever played for.

And hardly anyone I know has had the opportunity I had to meet these large-hearted people, because of el bloqueo. I’m glad to see the embargo softening, and I’m thrilled for the NY Phil. They’re going to meet some wonderful new friends on this tour.

(Title from Harry Partch’s US Highball.)

I’ll do a post sometime comparing Goodridge, In re Marriage Cases, Kerrigan, and Varnum v. Brien—the four decisions by state supreme courts mandating marriage equality—but for now I just want to note some of the standout features of the Iowa decision (Varnum). (Chris Geidner covered the substance of the ruling in a clear, nontechnical post worth reading.) The primary salience, of course, is that it is the first unanimous decision by any court of final appeal in the country finding that equal protection requires recognition of the right of same-sex couples to marry. It’s the first time an entire supreme court has found me equal to my sister. From the get-go, that’s a powerful statement for a court to make.

More than that, though, it’s a shockingly comprehensive and generous ruling. The opening insists again and again that the plaintiffs in the suit are no different from other Iowans. “Like most Iowans,” it says, “they are responsible, caring, and productive individuals.” “Like many Iowans, some have children and others hope to have children.” “Like all Iowans, they prize their liberties and live within the borders of this state with the expectation that their rights will be maintained and protected—a belief embraced by our state motto.” “Despite the commonality shared with other Iowans, the twelve plaintiffs are different from most in one way.” (They’re gay.) “Each maintains a hope of getting married one day, an aspiration shared by many throughout Iowa.” “As other Iowans have done in the past when faced with the enforcement of a law that prohibits them from engaging in an activity or achieving a status enjoyed by other Iowans, the twelve plaintiffs turned to the courts to challenge the statute.” They are us, it says repeatedly—the original empathic move from which all the rest flows. I’ve never seen a court decision that so warmly embraces a minority group, and so concretely claims that group as part of the whole of society. As a gay man, I don’t just feel vindicated by the ruling; I feel valued.

Then the court situates the ruling in a line of important civil-rights cases it has decided over the past 170 years: the abolition of slavery in Iowa in 1839, cases in 1868 and 1873 that struck down racial discrimination in schooling and public accommodations, and the 1869 admission of the country’s first woman to legal practice. It makes the point that, although sometimes stumbling, the Iowa Supreme Court has consistently aimed to be in the vanguard on equal protection. This decision arrives well ahead of societal consensus on the matter, but when it comes to equality before the law, that has long been the court’s practice.

The fireworks begin when the court takes on the state’s proffered justifications for discriminating against same-sex couples. In arguments, the state gave five reasons for the law: maintaining traditional marriage, promotion of optimal environment to raise children, promotion of procreation, promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships, and conservation of resources (nonparallelism sic). The court slaps every one down like a game of Whac-a-Mole. On maintaining traditional marriage: “The County has simply failed to explain how the traditional institution of civil marriage would suffer if same-sex civil marriage were allowed.” Whac!

On promotion of optimal environment to raise children: “If the statute was truly about the best interest of children, some benefit to children derived from the ban on same-sex civil marriages would be observable.” Whac!

On promotion of procreation: “While heterosexual marriage does lead to procreation, the argument by the County fails to address the real issue in our required analysis of the objective: whether exclusion of gay and lesbian individuals from the institution of civil marriage will result in more procreation?” Whac!

On promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships: “While the institution of civil marriage likely encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships, we must evaluate whether excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships. The County offers no reason that it does, and we can find none.” Whac!

On conservation of resources: “The trait of sexual orientation is a poor proxy for regulating aspiring spouses’ usage of state resources.” Whac!

The court then takes the surprising step of addressing an issue not actually raised by the parties to the case: religious opposition to marriage equality. It makes the point that many religious people understand their faith to forbid the solemnization of marriages between two loving, committed people of the same sex—but that many others understand their faith to require it. In any case, though, that’s none of the court’s business, because the law deals strictly with marriage as a civil contract. And with this decision, “civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law.”

In all, it’s a deeply thoughtful, thorough, and fair decision. It could serve as a model for any court facing the same issue. Say, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Dee dee dee dee blessings be upon you…

(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.