Cleaning House for the New Year

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Among the list of year-end chores (taking down the Christmas decorations, clearing out old emails, reading some of the books that have stacked up), I thought to look over the columns that appeared in this space during 2013.

What seemed important this past year? What, if any, progress have we made, as a community, a state, a country, on the issues that compel us?

There were celebratory pieces about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, jeremiads about the lack of sane gun control policy and Hoag Hospital’s decision to affiliate with St. Joseph, some baseball reflections, and a plaintive column entitled “Can We Talk?”

One of the encouraging signs this year has been the growing acceptance of the gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people who have always been part of humanity.

Nationally, the oddly titled Defense of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional, freeing legally married same sex couples to be treated equally for federal tax purposes.

In California, Prop. 8, forbidding same sex marriage, fell on a technicality. Seventeen states now recognize gay marriage.

I respect those who disagree with my views on gay rights because of their religious faith, but the U.S. is not a theocracy. As an Orange County Register editorial dated October 24, 2013, said so well: “Conservatives should realize that using the force of government to impose moral choices on others assaults the liberty that makes the United States historically and socially unique in the world.”

Besides, people of faith differ. Newport Beach is home to two thriving Presbyterian churches. Conservative St. Andrew’s does not ordain GLBTs as deacons and elders and will likely leave the denomination this coming year, in part over this issue. Progressive St. Mark does ordain GLBTs as deacons and elders, and in January will welcome a new senior pastor out of Iowa, Mark Davis, who also happens to be a jazz aficionado. Good to have a choice.

On other fronts, progress was less than encouraging.

Gun control? Since the Newtown massacre of 26 children a year ago, 194 children have been shot to death, report Bill Moyers and Michael Winship in the article, “The NRA has our children’s blood on their hands” in salon.com. That’s not likely to change any time soon given the NRA’s lobbying power.

Healthcare? Obamacare continues to move along, and nicely in California, despite the appalling efforts by Republican politicians to denigrate it when they ought to be working to improve the system.

Meanwhile, the California Attorney General’s office has yet to complete its review of Hoag Hospital’s affiliation with St. Joseph. If you wonder what’s taking so long, consider that the controversy over the trend to affiliating with Catholic hospitals has grown into a national story. On Dec. 2, the ACLU announced that it had filed a lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “on behalf of a pregnant woman who miscarried and was denied appropriate medical treatment because the only hospital in her county is required to abide by religious directives. The directives, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, prohibited that hospital from complying with the applicable standard of care in this case.”

The list of unresolved concerns goes on: immigration reform, global warming, pollution, perennial warfare, citizens’ rights to privacy, the gap between haves and have-nots.

One wonders—why bother to write about these things? It’s overwhelming. Makes you want to escape into “Downton Abbey” when it returns to PBS in January, though of course early 20th century England had its own lengthy list of issues.

Yet we Americans thrive on optimism and hope and controversy. It’s embedded in our history. After all, we’ve been opinionating in pamphlets, gazettes, and newspapers since before we became a nation.

Can we talk?

Oh, yes.

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]

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