On Tuesday, North Carolina voters approved Amendment One, which strips unmarried couples of all legal recognition of their relationships under State law. Billed as a simple gay marriage ban, the amendment actually goes much further, as Patrick at Popehat describes, and voids all other legal protections unmarried couples, gay or straight, might seek for themselves, including wills, adoptions, medical powers of attorney, and possibly even joint tenancy in realty. [Part 2 and Part 3 in the Popehat series on Amendment One] It also prohibits North Carolina from recognizing these non-marriage relationships when they’re formed and governed by the laws of other states. If your unmarried partner is on your automobile insurance policy, your unmarried partner probably should not drive in North Carolina.
In response—or at least so it seemed to me, Obama got on ABC and did this:
Vapid, election year puffery. What serious opponent of anti-miscegenation laws would go around saying he’s in favor of mixed-race marriages, but that the states should be allowed to ban them if they want? Shameful and extremely pragmatic. Nothing more than a campaign speech. This is his “personal” “opinion” (insofar as he can be said to hold opinions of his own for any length of time) and will not translate to national policy.
In 1947, the year before the California Supreme Court struck down that State’s anti-miscegenation law as unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, 30 states (of 48) had such laws in effect: California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana, and Maryland repealed theirs between 1948 and 1967. Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Delaware had theirs struck down with Virginia’s when the US Supreme Court found the latter violated the 14th Amendment (Loving v. Virginia).
As of Tuesday, 39 States now ban same-sex marriage (as such) by one means or another, although the law is complicated in a handful of them.
No Only one [see update below] State ever banned mixed-race marriages by constitutional amendment, while the majority of States with same-sex marriage bans have chosen this route. Except in North Carolina, anti-miscegenation laws weren’t put in place by popular initiatives. And no State ever reenacted a ban on mixed-race marriages after a repeal, c.f. California’s Prop 8.
So when others talk about how hopeful things look on the gay marriage front, I can’t help wonder if they’re looking at the same country I’m seeing. “A majority support gay marriage,” they say. I see no evidence of such a majority, and cannot help but question the polling methods. Frankly, the “majority support” angle is offensive to me, because it is dishonest and because it concedes the whole moral argument over democratizing these things to the opposition.
A Supreme Court ruling à la Loving at this point would be disastrous, both for how it would happen and for the reaction. Such a ruling would create both good and bad law, and the good would be wiped out by the subsequent amendment to the US Constitution. A Gay Loving would add so much fuel to the amendment-pushers, and only 38 states need to ratify. Too much of the country opposes the idea of gay marriage for a Gay Loving to work.
In sum, I am not optimistic at all about this fight on the national level. Don’t look for it to be over for a decade at least.
PS: I wrote a portion of this post in response to a thread on the OList:OHomos mailing list.
UPDATE: Trey points out that North Carolina once amended its constitution to include a ban on mixed-race marriages. Indeed, at the 1875 constitutional convention, the people in convention ratified, among 29 other alterations to the State constitution, a provision providing that
All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the third generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited.
This provision remained in the North Carolina constitution until the people replaced the entire constitution with a new one in 1971, despite Loving in 1967.
Our first production assignment in film school was to film and edit together a silent short, then give it a soundtrack that completely altered the emotional response of the viewer. It was a demonstration of the equally-matched emotional power of picture and sound. It was a challenging exercise.
Today, I present you with two videos, both of which use nearly the same soundtrack, but with different pictures. This inverts the exercise. Watch them both, then tell me how each made you feel. Don’t think too much, and don’t try to limit yourself by thinking which is better. Just watch and observe your automatic response to each.
I had very different emotional responses to these two videos. Tell me in the comments how you reacted to them.
Former governor of New Mexico and best of all possible candidates for the Republican nomination for president Gary Johnson was so thoroughly and systematically excluded from the nomination process that he dropped out of it. This is disappointing on a number of fronts, one being Johnson’s decision to instead seek the Libertarian nomination. This decision in particular has caused a great deal of consternation among those of us who supported Johnson enthusiastically as a Republican and who also recognize the substantial cultural threat the Libertarian Party poses to the cause of liberty in America. Consternation to the point of choosing sides and denouncing as traitors those friends who chose differently.
There’s a right answer to the question of whether to continue to support Johnson as a Libertarian Party candidate. But I have ten months’ worth of data yet to collect. I will make a decision before I vote, but not much before. I’ll be happy to defend my decision at that time. But for now, I intend to wait and learn more about the probable consequences, including to my long-term happiness and my short-term survival, my vote will have.
Deciding for myself how I will vote is more important to me right now than deciding whether people who disagree with my decision are people I care to keep as friends. I’d like to think most people have friends that provide numerous and diverse values to them. If I’m going to lose half of my friends each election cycle, I’m seriously going to stop talking about politics.
And people ask why I left advocacy for good.
I wanted to open this blog with the actual clip from Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader, episode 107 (S01E08), but I could not find a copy anywhere on the Internets. This was way back when that show was brand spanking new and I thought I’d watch a few episodes to see how it was. This was the last one I ever watched. Awful show.
Anywho, I’ll have to describe it. The second contestant of the episode, a man, eventually got asked the following question:
In the Southern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox occurs in which month?
Already, there are major, major problems with this question. The contestant bailed out rather than trying to answer. After, the host revealed that the expected answer was “September.” There are even more problems with that answer.
First, no American, public school 5th-grader would know the answer to that question, no matter what it’s meant to ask. Second, no American, public school 5th-grader would even know what the words “vernal” and “equinox” mean on their own, let alone used together. These are just not subjects on the public school 5th grade science curriculum anywhere I can find.
The difficulty of the question alone was enough to turn me off the show right there. But the major problem–the one of celestial nomenclature–really put me over the edge. I was fuming about it for weeks. I remember talking to many people about it at the time. I thought I blogged about it, but I can’t find any such post.
“Vernal equinox” is a term of art. It means a very specific thing. It is the traditional name for a point on the (geocentric) celestial sphere. It is not synonymous with the more modern term “spring equinox” or the even more modern “March equinox.” It is synonymous with the old naval and astrological term, “first point of Aries.”
Allow me to explain.
The celestial sphere is a fictional spherical surface astronomers use to locate objects in the sky. For our purposes, we can assume that the distant stars are fixed points on the inside of this sphere, and that the local objects (the Sun, Moon, and planets) move around relative to the stars.
There are two very important planes that intersect this sphere and delineate imaginary circles in space where they intersect the sphere. The first is the celestial equator. This plane is coextensive with the Earth’s equator. It is just extended from the equator out into space. The second is the ecliptic. This is the plane on which the Sun appears to travel around the Earth. Because the Earth has a tilt to its axis of about 23.5°, the celestial equator and the ecliptic intersect at about 23.5°. Wikimedia Commons has this lovely graphic:
The ecliptic is a very important plane for a number of reasons. It traces an imaginary arc across the sky. The sun will follow this arc as it moves from East to West over the course of a day. At night, the planets can be found on or very near this line. The constellations of the Zodiac lie along this line. Your “sign” –insofar as you put stock in such nonsense– is the constellation of the zodiac the sun was in on the day of your birth.
Hold up, back up, wait, what? I thought I just told you that the sun moves along the ecliptic from East to West each day! Now I’m telling you it stays in one zodiacal constellation all day long? Yes. The Sun doesn’t move around the ecliptic daily; it moves around it yearly. The stars are pretty much fixed relative to the ecliptic.* The sun appears to “trace the line of the ecliptic” during the course of the day because the Earth rotates relative to the Sun in its relatively stationary position on the ecliptic. The Sun creeps along the ecliptic over the course of a year.
As you can see from the diagram above, some parts of the ecliptic are “above” (North of) the celestial equator, and some parts are “below” (South of) it. It crosses at two places. The places where two celestial planes cross are generally called “nodes.” One of these nodes will be called the “ascending node” and the other the “descending node.” Which is which depends on the relative motion of the two bodies that define the planes. In this system, the two bodies are the Earth (defining the celestial equator) and the Sun (defining the ecliptic). That diagram doesn’t indicate any directions, so I’ll have to tell you that, viewed from celestial North down through the plane of the ecliptic, the Earth revolves counter-clockwise about the sun. Viewed relative to a stationary Earth, the Sun appears to move along the ecliptic counter-clockwise around the Earth. That’s left-to-right in the front of the diagram and right-to-left in the back of the diagram.
So you can see that, as the year goes along, the Sun will first pass through the node in the front of the diagram, labeled γ, and, six months later, through the rear node, labeled Ω. When the sun appears to pass through γ, it moves from the celestial Southern hemisphere into the celestial Northern hemisphere. This is the ascending node. When it passes through Ω it moves from North to South–the descending node.
The Sun/Earth system has nodes. So does the Earth/Moon system. The nodes in the Earth/Moon system are important for calculating eclipses. Other orbital systems also have ascending and descending nodes. But the Sun/Earth system has a special name for its nodes. These names date from quite long ago. In Western astronomy, the oldest such names make reference to the zodiacal constellations in which these nodes appeared to early astronomers to be fixed. The ascending node was at one time (approximately 2,000 years ago) right at the boundary between the constellations of Pisces and Aries, with the sun moving into Aries. So it became known as the “first point of Aries.” Likewise, the descending node was just between Virgo and Libra, with the sun moving into Libra. So it became the “first point of Libra.”
The first point of Aries remained a useful astronomical landmark for centuries. If one knows where the first point of Aries is in the sky, one can, using a clock, a calendar, and a sextant, determine one’s longitude on the Earth. This was very useful in seafaring. The nodes were known by these names (in various languages, allowing for differences in zodiacs) from antiquity.
The word “equinox” enters English very early, before 1391, when Chaucer used it. When it entered English, it bore only one meaning. It referred to the nodes of the Sun/Earth system. They were differentiated at that time as the “vernal equinox” and the “autumnal equinox”, for their association with the seasons in the Northern hemisphere. The ascending node, or first point of Aries, became the vernal equinox because the sun crossed it during Spring in the Northern hemisphere, the exclusive home of English at the time. The descending node likewise became the autumnal equinox.
The word “equinox” did not gain meaning as the moment at which the sun passed through one of the nodes until at least 1588, and the phrases “vernal equinox” and “autumnal equinox” didn’t gain such meaning until about 1664. For some time, the phrases properly held meaning as both the points in space and the moments or dates on which the sun passed through the points. I say properly, because, during those years, English-speaking astronomers were confined almost exclusively to Northern hemisphere cultures. There was no need to differentiate the seasonal words from the celestial meanings.
When English became prevalent in Southern hemisphere cultures, the terms became very confusing. Astronomers still referred to the ascending node of the Sun/Earth system as the “vernal equinox”. But in the Southern hemisphere, the sun passes through this node in Fall, not Spring. In the mid-18th Century, the phrases “Spring equinox” and “Fall equinox” appear, describing only the moments or days. Vernal and Autumnal retained the celestial meanings, but began to lose their seasonal meanings, despite being words with seasonal origins.
That brings us to today. Today we have a set of terms to refer to the celestial positions (the ascending and descending nodes) and another set of terms to refer to the dates on which, or moments at which, the sun passes through those nodes:
|Position on celestial sphere||Vernal Equinox||Autumnal Equinox|
|Moment or day when the Sun passes through||Spring Equinox (Northern hemisphere)
Autumnal Equinox (Southern hemisphere)
|Autumnal Equinox (Northern hemisphere)
Spring Equinox (Southern hemisphere)
So you can see the phrase “vernal equinox” refers to the same point in space no matter where on Earth you happen to be. But the phrase “Spring equinox” refers to a different moment or day depending where you are. Use of “vernal” to mean “Spring” in this context is archaic and inappropriate because, as English is spoken in both hemispheres, it is ambiguous. Because “vernal” has properly retained only a celestial meaning, using it to refer to a moment or day can only mean some time on or about March 21, no matter where you said it or your listener heard it.
The vernal equinox is in the same place, and the sun passes through it on the same day, in the Northern hemisphere as in the Southern hemisphere.
The Spring equinox can be on or about March 21 or September 21, depending on where you are. But it doesn’t add any new ambiguity to the language. It piggybacks on the already ambiguous term, “Spring.” That’s a concept (and an ambiguity) that has been in the language much longer and is already well-established.
Another interesting feature to note is that, at about the same time “Spring equinox” split the date/moment meaning off of “vernal equinox”, the concept of “Summer” also underwent a significant shift in meaning. Up until about the mid 18th Century, “Summer” and related seasonal terms described local meteorological conditions with strict adherence to celestial events. “Summer” was the warm period centered on a solstice†. It changed at that time to take account of temperature lag, so that “Summer” would actually describe the warmest months of the year instead. These lag behind the celestial summer centered on the solstice by a month and a half in the temperate bands between the tropics and the arctic/antarctic circles. So today, “Summer” begins on what used to be Midsummer’s Day (the local Summer solstice).
Given all this discussion, you should now see that Are You Smarter’s question is defective in a number of ways. It should have asked “Spring equinox”. Then its answer would have been correct. But it asked “vernal,” which has lost the meaning they intended. As written, the answer to the question is March, not September. If they’re going to use “vernal equinox” to mean a moment or date, then it is going to refer to the moment or date when the sun passes through the vernal equinox, nothing else. The histories of astronomy and English point strongly to this conclusion, and continuing to use “vernal” to mean “spring” is, prescriptively, incorrect now that English is spoken in both hemispheres. Most importantly, the question is defective because there is no way a 5th-grader could be expected to know what “vernal equinox” really means. Is the point of this show to answer the questions as if the contestant were a 5th-grader, or is it to give the correct answer?
*Actually, they move very slowly. This is why the astrologers recently “corrected” everyone’s signs. The dates for the traditional Western Zodiac got set a long, long time ago, based on even older astronomy going back to when the vernal equinox really was at the “head” of Aries the Ram (hence “first point of Aries”).
†Interestingly “solstice” never had a “point in space” meaning, and it hasn’t ever acquired one.
Edit: The shift from celestial seasons to meteorological ones happened in 1780, not the 1800s. So use of “vernal equinox” to refer to one date in the Northern hemispher and another in the Southern is even more archaic than I thought. Please stop it now.
The modern, and very clear convention is to use “March equinox” and “September equinox” for the ascending node transit and descending node transit, respectively, because March is March in both hemispheres. This practice even more clearly differentiates meteorological from celestial phenomena, and reinforces the conceptual difference between the moment and the point-in-space.
This phrase is always redundant. Please use either “period” or “time.” Do not use both. The phrase “point in time” is also redundant, and based on a poor understanding of physics. Likewise “moment in time.”
As a general rule, the “in time” modifier is easily dropped without affecting clarity. This will tighten your prose, making it easier to consume quickly.
I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old, and I’m the man who’s gonna save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that? — , Voyage of the Damned