Tag Archives: ethics

THE TELLTALE HEART

Publicly, Thomas Jefferson believed in the principles of freedom. But privately, he grappled over whether the worst white man was still better than the best black man.

Ultimately, Jefferson’s failure to champion equality left his own illegitimate child enslaved, opening the wound which has since defined – not the competency of his mind – but the capacity of his heart.

We are once again at a crossroads governing the use of fine print to qualify equality.

But this time, the Jeffersonian paradox challenges whether we, as a nation, believe the worst heterosexual is still better than the best homosexual.

Because all the worst heterosexuals can marry anywhere in America. But even the best homosexuals cannot.

As the high court strips away all righteous rhetoric and political posturing, it’s possible they’ll recognize a raw reality, i.e., even when heterosexuals commit the most heinous crimes (murder, rape, child molestation, spousal abuse, terrorism, treason, and crimes against humanity), their known deviant behaviors are ignored by American marriage laws.

However, even when homosexuals are model citizens, their single, aberrant activity is prepossessed.

The court must then question whether this speaks to the heart of who we truly are, regardless of what we profess ourselves to be.

On the one hand, we insist the purpose of marriage is a belief in the sanctity of family.

On the other, we ignore the fact that millions of felons sitting in high security prisons are predominately heterosexuals possessing marginal moral character at best. 

Yet each has a right to marry.

In some sit the suspects and convicts held for complicity in the 9/11 and Boston marathon attacks. And even they have the legal right to marry in every state.

But Lily Tomlin doesn’t.

Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, David Berkowitz, the Menendez brothers, Theodore Kaczynski, James Eagan Holmes and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can.

But Ellen DeGeneres can’t.

The former, loathsome, dictator Saddam Hussein, terrorist leader Osama Bin Ladin, and even Chancellor Adolf Hitler could have.

But Kate Smith, an American icon of our anthem, God Bless America, could not.

If the court entertains the position that “sin” is the foundation on which law is defined, will it validate the proponent “hate the sin, not the sinner” premise?

Can it then ignore evidence that it isn’t “sin” being shunned, profiled, attacked, ridiculed, denied equal rights and murdered? 

Only American citizens are.

Will the court ask why there are no marches planned, political wars being waged, or state constitutional amendments being drafted against the seven deadly sins? Will it demand to know why it’s only a singular, Bible referenced, declared abomination being targeted? And, if it’s determined the sin/sinner assertion is an inflamed edict, could it set precedence for other inflamed edicts as just-cause to alter constitutional law? 

Should the court recognize the Ten Commandments governing the worship of other Gods, building graven images, working on the Sabbath, blasphemy, dishonoring parents, murder, adultery, stealing, coveting, and bearing false witness as written-in-stone, will it be compelled to admit that being gay is not?

Politicians and pundits insist same-sex marriage is un-American, implying we can’t remain “America The Beautiful” if we allow marriage to be maligned. They contend – like that esteemed song – the institution of marriage has been declared our national heritage and pride.

But only the Supreme Court can decide which American citizens qualify as entitled to inalienable rights, and which (regardless of their American birthright and exemplary character) do not.

Before then, the justices may be forced to reflect on citizens like Katherine Lee Bates, a woman who spent 25 years in love with another woman and her entire life as one of America’s finest homosexuals. Who felt, authored, and gifted our nation with those cherished words, “And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.”

History is upon us. 

Come June, America as we know it will be forever changed. 

The Supreme Court will decide it’s time we stopped cherishing a broken institution that denies equality to our totality and, in so ruling, bind us by law to cherish each other, instead.

Or, it will not.

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This freshly edited, updated essay was first published in 2004 to benefit L.I. Pride. Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine © 2004 & 2013.

What’s your stand the issue of equality? How will the Supreme Court decision on DOMA affect you, personally? 

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I’m all eyes and heart.

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A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION

B1

The preliminary police report rendered me dead upon impact.

A drunk driving a Marathon cab fitted with an extended, reinforced steel bumper had broadsided us. He was clocking up to 70 in a 30-mph zone when he ran a red light and collided with the VW Bug I was easing into a parking spot as Liz sat next to me in the suicide seat.

The impact was ferocious. While peripheral vision allowed me a glimpse of my killer, there was no other warning. No screeching of brakes. No screaming of pedestrians. No sense of impending doom. Just a mild feeling of astonishment before whispering, “Oh my God, I’m dead.” That’s what I said.

Our car was ripped apart (lengthwise) from hood to trunk, welding the sheared pieces to the front end of the taxi. Twenty feet away, our flung wreckage had come to a halt at the entrance of a branch bank. I hung down twisted and broken through the remains, my face hovering just above the pavement, my auburn curls resembling a red rag mop.

Most gay couples are drawn and quartered by such tragedy. They’re impeded by laws awarding jurisdiction to distant family members. They’re intimidated by protocol and prodded by propriety. Their feelings and wishes are summarily dismissed as irrelevant. Barred from the ambulance. Excluded from intensive care. Denied decision-making.

“She’s my sister,” Liz lied emphatically. It instantly ended any question of her authority.

The first time she lied was to the officers who barricaded the wreckage, then tried to restrain her from reaching back for me. They’d dragged her clear, insisting I was beyond help.

How she broke loose, and what transpired is a wonder.

I must have responded to the energy of her touch. I must have been warmed to the blending of her tears in my stone-cold eyes. I must have sensed the silent incantations of her heart imploring mine to hold the course of ‘us’ as one, against all obstacles and odds.

“Hey, babe!” I breathed.

Her second lie was to the ambulance attendants. The third, to emergency room doctors. The fourth, to nurses. And then to technicians, aides, and investigators. She didn’t hesitate to claim me as her sister, knowing involuntary deceit had long been coerced from gays in lieu of being banished and public humiliation.

Lies were once our only conceivable lifeline.

Fortunately, I was a corporate executive for a large conglomerate. It gave me special insurance privileges that provided her with unlimited hospital access. She stayed in my room. She partook in every detail of my care and was privy to all my medical information. My doctors consulted her. My nurses kept her updated.

Nevertheless, when it came to certain courses of action, not everything suggested was automatically allowed.

It’s because (even now) most lesbians mistrust the medical profession. We cringe at the prospect of contact with male doctors. We shy to probes pertaining to our personal lives and intimate behavior. And, even though many older women entered conventional relationships in an effort to hide their true sexual identities, there are vast numbers of lesbians who have never engaged in intimacy with a man. Women who know being gay goes far beyond an aversion to heterosexual sex; that the differences in our genetic codes include a wiring that circuits a deep-seated aversion and basic incompatibility with all dominant aspects of the opposite gender.

It’s as if (equivalent to the distinction found between Asian and African elephants trumpeting in the night) science will someday discover that we, too, are a similar — but different — species.

So it came as no surprise to Liz when I refused to be catheterized, even though catheterization was necessary to save me. Regardless of the brutal total body trauma I suffered, this perfectly natural anomaly had triggered my sense of dignity, demanding decorum. Only the empathy and courage of a surgical nurse named Christine could clear the emergency room of male doctors and provide me with the symbiosis I needed to survive.

Forty-one years have passed since the crash that forever altered our lives. I insist the change was for the best, even though I pass each day in fluctuating degrees of pain, and walk with a cane, and sleep with my neck and left leg braced. My brain still spasms on rare occasions, jerking my head violently to the left. My hand sometimes trembles. My body sometimes buckles. My ears burn shades of crimson whenever my emotions run high, or my energy runs low.

And, even though I can no longer sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch, nor walk for longer than 20 without resting, nor stand on cement surfaces for any length of time, from all outward appearances you’d never suspect there was anything amiss with me.

No criminal proceeding ever materialized since, back then, drunk driving was a misdemeanor. And it took well over a year before the civil action found its way onto a court docket. By then the driver had vanished, while both the taxicab company and its insurance agency filed for bankruptcy.

That left the state to assume jurisdiction over the proceedings, and it would only approve payment of a dime on every dollar litigated, with a preset ceiling attached.

My lawyer told me to settle for $30,000 against bills that would total 10 times that in just 10 years.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you lied about being sisters,” he said. “And if we went to court, that lie will come up. It’s a character issue. You’ll have no presumed credibility.”

“A character issue?” charged Liz. “Whose character?”

My attorney remained silent except for his shuffling of documents.

“The drunk driver?” she asked. “His employer? The insurance broker? The court demanding a decision?”

“Settle,” he suggested a second time.

“And if I don’t?” I challenged.

“I’m not certain my firm can work a trial date into our calendar. I’m afraid, if you don’t settle, you’ll have to find other representation.”

So I settled.

Honestly? I was just so damn happy to be alive, grateful for every second of every extra day.

“And, when you think about it,” Liz reasoned as we left the courthouse heading home, “for the rest of our lives they have to be them. But we get to be us.”

It’s a cause for celebration.

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This freshly updated essay by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in the third person in The St. Petersburg Times (2008) and Venus Magazine in the first person (2010).  Copyright by M. Quantaine © 2008 / 2010 / 2013.

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I’m all eyes and heart.

Miss Edna’s Heartifacts

New Edna Window

I never danced on a grave, but did steal something from the dead, once. I spied it, pried it loose, flattened it against the belly beneath my blouse and walked away without contrition.

It happened one sultry late-summer day when ocher leaves are as omnipresent as the sun a half-hour before high noon. I felt myself liquefying in line while waiting my turn to take a number.

“Who was she?” I asked the fidgeter in front of me.

“Nobody,” he said.

“Everyone is somebody,” I suggested.

“Name was Miss Edna,” drawled the clerk recording the details off my driver’s license. “You be biddin’ on the house?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Cuz it hasta be moved. Otherwise, it’ll be bulldozed in two weeks time. Land ain’t fer sale. Yer number seventy-six. Next?”

The house was one of those classic Cracker shacks built on a farm axed out of a forest that encroachment slaughters and sacrifices to almighty developers. Where highways supplant front yards claimed by eminent domain.

Miss Edna’s epitomized such woe, its slats of ill-fitted wood slapdashed together and embalmed in asbestos shingles that the sun blistered into coarse curls. Rust stained the ridged metal roof, inside and out. You could peer through her windows and peek through her walls.

“Did you know Miss Edna?” came a voice.

I turned to see a wisp of a girl, all blond and bowlegged in mismatched plaids and stripes, with dangling plastic beads being balanced on broken fingernails.

“No, I didn’t. Did you?”

“Of her, mostly,” she conceded, evading my eyes as she spoke in halting speech as broken as her spirit. “Mom died birthing her. Dad made her pay for it ‘til he croaked.”

“Never married?” I asked.

She sighed. “Eloped on horseback to the forest. Honeymooned, camped down by the Silver River. But the old man hunted them with dogs. Beat the boy bloody. Strapped his broken body to a horse and jest whipped it on away.”

“Dead?”

“So’s been said. Dragged her back and got a judge to — you know — wipe all records?”

“Expunge.”

“Expunge,” she nodded. “After that, he treated her like scum. Least is, that’s how I heard it.” Sniffling, she turned away and ambled off. “A kind woman. Always kind.”

The contents of Miss Edna’s home were displayed without a modicum of dignity. Dozens of handmade patchwork quilts had been unceremoniously dumped on makeshift tables. The balance of her belongings were heaved from windows, shoved off porches, or dragged by the brown paper bag full into the red clay yard and left to decay until sold to the highest bidder. Some were busily rifling through the offerings, looking slyly around for watchful eyes before switching contents from one numbered boxed-lot to another, intent on stealing a better buy.

Feeling vicariously forsaken, I found myself standing alone in Miss Edna’s pillaged kitchen. The fusty stone fireplace yielded remnants of charred chair legs, rags and rubbish sprawled onto gnawed linoleum, exposing holes in sagging floorboards. A rubber hose running through an outside wall was tied to a wire clothes hanger, nailed to an overhead beam and aimed at a gray metal washtub. It was flanked by a contaminated toilet and corroded sink, all exposed in shamefaced view of anyone entering unexpectedly.

The rest of the house was bone bare, except for an unsung satin dress bequeathed to the back of a closet door, a laundry tag dating from 1931 still pinned to its mother-of-pearl buttons. And there, above it, thumbtacked flat to the wainscoting above the lintel, hung a small, cardboard, sideshow sign with bits of silver glitter flecking off an embossed exalted face and two words.

“Jesus wept.”

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JWept longshot

This freshly edited, updated essay by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in the St. Petersburg Times three years ago.  (Copyright by Quantaine © 2010/2013)

Please share your thoughts, here, by selecting Reply.

I’m all eyes and heart.