Science and Sarcasm
31 March 2005
Let's see how the Whitehouse spins this one...
The timing of this tragedy could not be better for highlighting one of the many holes in the current Wingnut-Republican-erring-on-the-side-of-life charade. From CNN:
Baby at center of life support case dies

HOUSTON, Texas (AP) -- A critically ill 5-month-old was taken off life support and died Tuesday, a day after a judge cleared the way for doctors to halt care they believed to be futile. The infant's mother had fought to keep him alive.

Sun Hudson had been diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder called thanatophoric dysplasia, a condition characterized by a tiny chest and lungs too small to support life. He had been on a ventilator since birth.

Wanda Hudson unsuccessfully fought to continue her son's medical care. She believed he needed time to grow and could eventually be weaned off the ventilator.

"I wanted life for my son," Hudson said Tuesday. "The hospital gave up on him too soon."

Texas law allows hospitals to end life support in cases such as this but requires that families be given 10 days to find another facility to care for the patient. No hospital was found to take the baby.

The ethics committee at Texas Children's Hospital reviewed Sun's case before recommending that life support be stopped. Hospital officials also recommended the case be taken to court and offered to pay Hudson's attorney fees.

"Texas Children's Hospital is deeply saddened to report that Sun Hudson has died," the hospital said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Right. Terri Schaivo was 'killed' and this little guy 'died.'

Wow, I think we need to order one of these for the lab...
World’s most sensitive scales weigh a zeptogram

The world’s most sensitive scales can now detect a cluster of xenon atoms a billion, trillion times lighter than a gram. A zeptogram (10^-21)g) is roughly the mass of a single protein molecule and its detection has set a new record.

Widen the columns in all your data sheets...

28 March 2005
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
58 degrees and clear sunshine today. I've been out soil sampling a bit. Nothing major just a few shallow samples to direct our fertility details. It's nice to have mud on my boots and dirty hands again after a long northern winter. The field where my experiment will go is still quite wet - too wet for tractor traffic. I'll need to remove a few stones. Tilling and planting are a ways off. That's OK as there are still design plans to be finalized...
23 March 2005
Another great Lansing State Journal editorial on Proposal 2 and its ramifications...

Shameful: Cox's ruling on Proposal 2 affirms state's bigotry

Attorney General Mike Cox's ruling on the effects of Proposal 2 is a shameful commentary on life in Michigan.

But don't blame Cox. The attorney general and his staff just read the language of this mean-spirited constitutional amendment. It was clearly designed not to "protect" marriage, but to discriminate against whole classes of Michigan citizens.

For that, blame Prop 2 advocates and the 59 percent of voters they conned last fall, opening the door for the kind of onerous ruling such as the one Cox gave; the one that is legally binding on the state until the courts weigh in.

What voters really did with Prop 2 was say that their neighbors and friends and family members - who are hard-working, law-abiding people - are second-class citizens. They were saying that they don't deserve to have a retirement plan or health benefits if they work for the people of Michigan.

They were saying that they're not as good as the "rest of us."

All through the summer of 2004, it was pointed out - in this space and others - how the ballot language on Proposal 2 was designed to be confusing at the ballot box and specific in the law. Proponents wanted to ban any benefit for same-sex couples; but they didn't want to admit it.

Proposal 2 was never about "protecting" marriage. Michigan already has a law, which the LSJ supports, designating such. This amendment's targets were civil unions and domestic partner benefits that we support to treat gay couples and their children fairly.

Prop 2 advocates relied on confusion and obfuscation. They relied on citizens' desire to uphold marriage to advance their goal of discrimination.

Check that. They didn't rely on it; they fostered it.

Consider these comments during the campaign by Prop 2 supporters, culled from a Nov. 18 commentary in the Detroit News:

"This has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman."

"There's nothing in this amendment ... that will erase anything on the books."

"(T)he proposal will not affect benefits offered to people living together or in same-sex relationships."

Yet as Cox has noted, Proposal 2 does go beyond marriage. It does bar public agencies from extending benefits to same-sex couples. And it does bar benefits to opposite-sex couples who are not married.

Now, these folks will try to explain away their deceit by claiming that Prop 2 does not end any existing contracted benefits. Technically true, since, as Cox said, constitutional amendments are not usually retroactive.

But when contracts with these benefits expire, that's it. What existed before cannot be renewed.

That sure sounds like "taking benefits away."

And the utter shame of it falls on the majority of Michigan voters who should have known better.

Detroit Free Press editorial
The Free Press ran a good editorial on March 18:

BENEFITS DENIED: For same-sex couples, court challenge is important

Between the language of Michigan's new constitutional amendment and the language of Kalamazoo's domestic partner benefits, state Attorney General Mike Cox had little choice but to call the city's plan unconstitutional. That leaves the courts as the only recourse to preserve domestic benefits, at least for public employees. The sooner a challenge comes the better, before more difficult precedents get set.

Cox's official opinion carries the force of law unless a court rules otherwise. That means government entities in Michigan cannot offer such benefits in the future, at least using the type of language Kalamazoo used, and benefits written into existing union contracts cannot be renewed.

Cox decided partnership benefits "characterized by reference to the attributes of marriage" fall within the scope of the amendment, which says that "the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose." It passed Nov. 2 by a 3-2 margin.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the state's previous attorney general, reached a similar conclusion last December, when she suspended domestic partnership benefits in state contracts that were to take effect after the constitutional amendment did. So Cox was hardly forging new ground.

His opinion does seem to leave room to define partnership benefits separately from those offered to married couples, but that would be difficult and open to challenge.

Meanwhile, it's far from clear that Michigan voters intended to deprive public employees of the benefits, especially when, during the campaign, proponents of the gay-marriage ban kept stressing that it was about preserving marriage, not denying benefits.

But the damage is done, making Michigan a less welcoming place and now depriving some families of much needed health insurance. Same-sex partners have almost no legal rights; the opportunity to obtain benefits for their household members, as offered by a few employers, is only a modicum of decency toward loyal employees.

No one need fear that a court challenge will threaten the sanctity of marriage. State law restricted marriage to one woman and one man even before the constitutional amendment. This is about fairness in employment, and equal access to benefits for all working families.

22 March 2005
Editorial by LSJ's Jon Schneider

Jon does a very nice job putting a human face on a public issue:

Meet two faces behind Proposal 2 and state Attorney General Mike Cox's subsequent ruling that same-sex benefits are unconstitutional:

Sally Burns and Karen Quinn of Lansing.

Burns is 49; Quinn, 52. They've been a couple for 17 years.

Quinn has ovarian cancer. Between the disease and the chemotherapy, she's too sick to hold down a job. But Burns works for Michigan State University, which offers health insurance to the same-sex partners of university employees.

Because of that, Quinn gets the health care she needs. For the moment, anyway.

Proposal 2, approved in November by Michigan voters, wasn't supposed to interfere with that.

Remember? Its job was to "protect marriage." It had nothing to do with taking away anybody's benefits. That's what its supporters said - again and again. Live and let live.

Different story

Now comes the state's chief law enforcer ruling that Proposal 2, sold to voters as a narrow ban on gay marriage, has EVERYTHING to do with the loss of benefits.

Under Proposal 2, the state and local governments, Cox said flatly, CANNOT extend benefits, like health insurance, to the partners of employees.

The ruling won't trump existing labor contracts, but would take effect when they expire. The courts could ultimately overrule Cox.

MSU, like other universities, claims its autonomous status under the state constitution gives it immunity from Proposal 2. But that claim has not been tested.

Meanwhile, not everybody is dismayed by the difference between how Proposal 2 was sold and what it has wrought.

In a recent State Journal story, Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan, said he was pleased with the ruling:

"The chief law enforcement officer is now on the record that a public employer cannot formally recognize and treat homosexual relationships among its employees as being similar or equal to marriage."

Unintended result

Burns doesn't believe that the 59 percent of Michigan voters who approved Proposal 2 truly intended to yank anybody's health insurance.

"I don't think people are that nasty," she said. "I think many of them just didn't know what they were doing."

Quinn's ovarian cancer was diagnosed in July 2001. She underwent chemotherapy, and the cancer went into remission for about a year. It returned in 2003. When she could no longer work, she lost her health insurance.

Both Burns and Quinn feel lucky to have the benefits MSU provides. Aside from the coverage of medical expenses, the women are grateful that Burns can, as part of her benefits, take time off to help care for Quinn.

Burns and Quinn are OK for the immediate future. But the implications of Cox's ruling disturb them. In an e-mail to me, Burns wrote:

"I don't get those who, in the name of morality, want to take health insurance from someone who has cancer.

"If they think gays will rot in hell because of whom they love, what will happen to those who are mean-spirited?"

Burns added: "We really don't need the stress of having to fight for health care benefits while we fight for Karen's life."

Lansing State Journal Article about ACLU suit

ACLU sues for benefits for gay couples
Lawsuit says Prop. 2 never intended to withhold health care

By Bree Fowler
Associated Press

DETROIT - A lawsuit challenging a recent attorney general's opinion that bans public employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples in future contracts was filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The lawsuit, filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, asks the court to rule that Proposal 2 does not bar government employers from providing health insurance and other benefits to employees' same-sex partners and their children.

"We are filing this lawsuit today on behalf of the many men and women in Michigan with children who very much need health care but who stand to lose their benefits because supporters of Proposal 2 are pushing to make (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) families into second-class citizens," said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director.

Those bringing the suit include a Washington-based AFL-CIO group called National Pride at Work that backs gay rights; Kalamazoo city employees; workers at state universities; and employees at various state agencies and departments.

All 21 of the couples represented in the suit currently rely on domestic-partner benefits for health care coverage, the ACLU said. Six of the couples have dependent children, and three chose to relocate to Michigan because the employer offered domestic-partner benefits.

Proposal 2, which Michigan voters approved 59 percent to 41 percent in November, said a union between one man and one woman "shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose."

The ACLU says in the lawsuit, which names Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm as the defendant, that U.S. courts have held that providing health insurance to same-sex domestic partners does not constitute recognition of a marriage or a similar union and is necessary for employers to attract qualified workers.

The ACLU also argues in the suit that the intent of voters was not to deny the families of gays and lesbians health insurance or other benefits. The suit says the ballot committee that sponsored Proposal 2 "consistently and repeatedly" assured voters that the initiative was only about protecting marriage.

Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation, a gay rights group, said same-sex benefits should be protected because domestic partnerships are not equivalent to marriage. Same-sex couples do not get more than 1,000 rights and protections that married people receive, he said.

"Just six or seven things are afforded is a domestic partnership arrangement," he said. "I don't see how anybody in their wildest imagination could describe that as similar to marriage. It just isn't."

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued his first legal interpretation of the amendment, saying that Kalamazoo's policy of offering health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners violates the amendment.

Kalamazoo's policy gives domestic partnerships a "marriage-like" status, Cox said. Given the constitutional amendment's broad language, conferring benefits recognizes the validity of same-sex relationships, he ruled.

Cox spokeswoman Allison Pierce said Monday she could not comment because she had not reviewed the lawsuit.

In the absence of a ruling from a court, Cox's interpretation of the law generally is binding.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals could hear a Proposal 2-based challenge to same-sex benefits early next month.

Gary Glenn, president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan, said the Cox opinion validated what his group had said before and after the election.

It is unclear how Cox's opinion might affect universities that offer same-sex benefits.

Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said Monday the governor was pleased the issue had reached the legal system. "We will now await an interpretation of this matter with the hope of an outcome that allows us to provide health care to all of our employees and their families," Boyd said.

WLNS news clip and article on ACLU suit
ACLU Files Same-Sex Benefits Lawsuit

March 22, 2005, 06:32 AM

The Michigan ACLU files a lawsuit, saying the State has no legal right to cut domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. The lawsuit comes 5 days after Michigan's attorney general declared that same-sex couples can't receive benefits in future public contracts.

That decision the result of growing uncertainty over the meaning of last November's proposal 2. Proposal 2 stated that marriage was the union of 1 man and 1 woman, a nd the language clearly stated that unions similar to marriage would also be banned. Supporters of prop 2 say a domestic partnership and the benefits associated with that partnershipis equivalent to marriage, b ut opponents filed their lawsuit, saying that's not what they were told last November.

Chris Swope, Lansing ACLU board member: "A law can't tell you whom to love.

"For months, opponents of proposal 2 have simply voiced their displeasure. Now that disapproval has been put down in writing.

Chris Swope: "I would call it deceitful."

Chris Swope sits on Lansing's ACLU board. He says prop 2 supporters were lied to.

Chris Swope: "They said it would not effect benefits, they said this isn't going to take benefits away from the people."

But in Swope's mind benefits have been taken away. Still, supporters of prop 2 disagree. T hey say the voters knew what they were getting into when they stepped into the ballot box, and they say the 60% mandate in favor of prop 2 speaks for itself.

Brad Snavely, Exec. Dir. Michigan Family Forum: "T hey knew what they were voting on. They voted on marriage and all the other unions simulating marriage, and said they should not be recognized.”

But no matter the intention of voters, the ACLU says the result is a loss of benefits.

Chris Swope: "If domestic partnership benefits are taken away, children will lose health insurance."

That's one area where the ACLU says prop 2 supporters misinformed voters. In a November forum, they said no child is in danger of losing benefits. The ACLU says that's a broken promise.

Chris Swope: "How anyone can say that's pro family is just beyond me."

But the Michigan Family Forum points out no existing benefits for children will be cut.

Brad Snavely: "Those people would continue to have benefits until such time as they have a new contract."

But when new contracts do come, unless the courts intervene to change the current constitutional amendment, Swope believes same-sex couples will be hurt down the road.

Chris Swope: "It's not taking them right away, but as soon as the contract is up, the benefits can't be renewed."

The lawsuit names Jennifer Granholm as a defendant. Her office says, "the governor continues to support domestic partnership benefits. We are pleased to see it back in the courts where it needs to be."

They say they were surprised by Attorney General Cox's decision last week. We did try to reach the attorney general, but we did not hear back from his office.

21 March 2005
ACLU of Michigan files lawsuit on Proposal 2
Here's ACLU of Michigan's press release:
DETROIT - At a news conference this morning, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced the filing of a lawsuit requesting that court to declare that the amendment passed by Michigan voters in November 2004, regarding same-sex marriage, does not prohibit domestic partnership (DP) benefits offered by public employers.

The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of National Pride at Work and twenty-one same-sex couples who receive health insurance from their public employers or who would have received DP benefits as part of a new state contract.

"We are filing this lawsuit today on behalf of the many men and women in Michigan with children who very much need health care but who stand to lose their benefits because supporters of Proposal 2 are pushing to make LGBT families into second-class citizens," said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.

State and local governmental agencies, represented by the Michigan Corrections Organization, Michigan State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union, AFSCME and UAW, had successfully bargained for a jobs benefits package that was scheduled for ratification by the State Civil Service Commission on December 15, 2004. The package included medical benefits and family medical leave for their families, including domestic partners and their children.

But in December, Governor Granholm announced that a "legal cloud" exists and DP benefits for employees and families would be withheld pending a judicial decision interpreting whether the language of the constitutional amendment, which limits marriage to a man and a woman in the State of Michigan, prohibits the provision of benefit packages.

On March 16, Attorney General Michael Cox issued an opinion that the marriage amendment bars the City of Kalamazoo from offering DP benefits in future contracts. While the attorney general opinion is not binding in court, the couples who filed the suit fear that, without a court decision, they are in danger of losing or being denied the same health insurance and other benefits that their co-workers’ families receive.

"Compensating employees with health care coverage does not constitute recognition of a marriage," said Joe Darby, a member of National Pride at Work. "What is does do is provide equal employment opportunities to lesbians and gay men."

"Hospitalization, medical and health benefits extended to a worker's family benefit employers, in addition to ensuring essential safety and health for all employees," added Darby.

Throughout the campaign to pass Proposal 2, Citizens for Protection of Marriage, the organization driving the constitutional amendment, consistently and repeatedly advised the voting public, through media and campaign literature, that the intent and purpose of the proposed amendment was to limit marriage to a man and a woman and would not affect DP or same sex partnership benefits. Their brochure, widely distributed, explained the limits of the reach of the proposed constitutional amendment as follows:

Proposal 2 is only about marriage. Marriage is a union between husband and wife. Proposal 2 will keep it that way. This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their lives. This has to do with family, children and the way people are. It merely settles the question once and for all what marriage is-for families today and future generations.

All of the twenty-one couples named in the lawsuit currently rely on DP benefits for health care coverage. Six of the couples have dependent children; three have re-located to Michigan because the employer offered DP benefits and several specifically chose their place of employment on the basis of the DP benefits.

18 March 2005
Katha Pollitt rocks

I'm thinking about hairy vetch right now.
Starting a germination test on a new variety. Rivteting, no?

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