Friday, October 27, 2006

A Rose by Any Other Name: New Jersey and Same-Sex Civil Unions

On October 25, 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court rendered its decision in the case of Lewis v. Harris. The case involved seven same-sex couples who sought to marry. The couples, who had been denied marriage licenses in their municipalities, brought suit challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s marriage statutes.

The Court decided, 4-3, that the state of New Jersey had not articulated a legitimate public need for continuing to deprive committed same-sex couples of the full range of benefits and privileges enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. The Court relied upon the equal protection guarantee of New Jersey’s Constitution.

The ruling exponentially increased the legal benefits available to same-sex couples in New Jersey. Same-sex couples could previously form "domestic partnerships" but that only afforded them a relatively small percentage of the rights conferred by marriage.

Here’s where a line was drawn in the proverbial sand, however.

The Court went on to state that the “name to be given the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.”

In other words, we’re not touching the issue of whether the union we’ve just described is a “marriage” or something else.

If you think this looks like “separate, but equal”, I agree with you completely.

The Court was actually unanimous on the equal protection aspects of the case. The split was over the issue of defining same sex unions. Ironically, the four justices who held that it should be directed to the legislature were Democrat-appointees. The dissenting justices, Republican-appointees, argued for full marriage rights, including the right to the term “marriage”.

Marriages, from a legal standpoint, are simply legally recognized partnerships. When I see a heterosexual married couple, I don’t feel that the government is necessarily endorsing any other aspect of their relationship. They may be getting married because of an unplanned pregnancy. They may be getting married because she feels her biological clock is ticking. They may be getting married because one of them is wealthy and the other is a gold-digger. The government really takes no position on the dynamics of the relationship itself . . .unless and until one of them sues for divorce.

Still, when the issue of homosexual marriage is raised, counter-arguments either imply or explicitly state that recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry would be tantamount to a government endorsement of specific sexual acts. Huh?

When a heterosexual couple gets married, the state is simply recognizing the desire of two individuals to form a legal partnership, with the attendant rights, privileges, and responsibilities. The government is not, to my knowledge, endorsing any aspect of their sexual activity. They can have as much sex as they want (and probably less than he wants). It’s no one else’s business (again, until it comes time to get that divorce).

I have several acquaintances who, while they support the notion of state-recognized same-sex civil unions, adamantly draw the line at referring to such a union as a “marriage”. One friend of mine even told me that it would cause confusion as to which person would be referred to as the husband and which would be referred to as the wife. I told him that the use of “spouse” or “partner” to refer to both might solve this confusion. I forget how he responded to this, but the sentence started with the obligatory “Yeah, but . . .”

Those who speak of preserving the "sanctity of marriage" usually fail to recognize that churches can still decide whether to grant their blessing or not. This is the same way churches have always handled marriages between heterosexual couples. I admit I am amused when I hear someone who was married by a justice of the peace or a ship captain refer to marriage as a sacred institution.

Still, the distinction (i.e. between marriage and civil union) carries a tremendous amount of weight for a great many people. It will continue to do so, as it touches upon issues of tradition, psychology, language, and behavior.

Here comes the spouse, all dressed in . . .

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Art of Being Roger Federer

(Despite his accomplishments, Roger Federer, the best player in men’s tennis, is not a household name in the United States. English is one of the many languages in which he is fluent, so the language barrier does not explain it. Those who claim that the public finds dominance “boring” seem to disregard the fact that Tiger Woods’ dominance has in no way diminished either his popularity or that of his sport. So, as a die-hard tennis fan, I thought I’d do my part and try to place the man and his accomplishments in a greater historical perspective.)

On Sunday, Switzerland’s Roger Federer defeated Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez in straight sets to win the Tennis Masters Series Event in Madrid. For Federer, who has already clinched the year-end world’s number 1 ranking for a third consecutive season, it was his 10th tournament victory of 2006. He became the first man in tennis’ “Open Era” (post-1968) to win at least 10 tournaments in three straight seasons.

According to tennis great Ion Tiriac, no player in tennis history has been as technically proficient as Roger Federer.

Federer won three grand slam tournaments in 2006. He captured the Australian Open in January, Wimbledon in July, and the U.S. Open in September. He also won three slams in 2004. He is the only player in the Open Era to accomplish this feat twice.

Roger Federer is the only man to ever defeat a brick wall in a tennis match.

This year, Federer won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open for the third consecutive season. He is the only player to have accomplished this feat. He only lost two sets (one in each tournament) over the course of 14 matches played in both tournaments.

Roger Federer is not capable of hitting a target on the broad side of a barn with his forehand. Every time he tries, the whole damn barn falls down.

In 2006, Roger Federer has lost a total of 5 matches. Only two players have defeated him: Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. One of Nadal’s victories over Federer occurred in the finals of the French Open. It prevented Roger Federer from capturing his fourth consecutive grand slam tournament, and, as it turns out, prevented him from winning all four slams in a calendar year. Neither feat has been accomplished since Rod Laver won all four grand slam tournaments played in 1969.

The worst moment in a professional men's tennis player’s life is not when he finds out Santa Claus does not exist. It’s when he finds out that Roger Federer does.

Federer has now appeared in 6 consecutive grand slam finals. He is the first player to accomplish this feat in the Open Era and only the second in the history of men’s tennis.

Roger Federer’s forehand is the only hand that can beat a Royal Flush.

I first saw Roger Federer play at Wimbledon in 2001. He met 7-time (and 4-time defending) champion Pete Sampras in the 4th Round. I had heard about Federer, but, at that point, he was a promising player with a history of inconsistency. Federer defeated Sampras in 5 close sets. It proved to be the only meeting between the two players.

Someone once tried to tell Roger Federer that his forehand wasn't the best shot in the history of tennis. Many now believe this to represent the worst mistake in the history of mankind.

Speaking of Sampras, he is, in many ways, the primary player against whose career Federer will be measured. Pete Sampras owns the most career grand slam titles with 14 as well as the record for most years ranked number one on the ATP Tour (Sampras finished 6 consecutive years ranked number 1 in the world). Both players possessed exceptional movement and blistering forehands.

There are no steroids in men's tennis, just players Roger Federer has breathed on.

The careers of the two players, to this point, contain some eerie parallels. The two are exactly 10 years apart in age; Sampras was born in August 1971 and Federer was born in August of 1981. Sampras turned professional in 1988 while Federer turned pro in 1998. At this point in Sampras’ career, he had 8 grand slam titles. Federer has 9. In 1997 (2007 for Federer) Sampras captured the Australian Open and Wimbledon to bring his haul to 10. In order to remain ahead of Sampras’ “pace”, Federer must win at least two grand slam tournaments. It would be foolish to bet against his doing just that.

If tapped, the power generated by a Roger Federer forehand could power the country of Switzerland for 44 minutes.

The one glaring hole on Sampras’ resume is that he never captured a French Open title. Sampras’ best finish at Roland Garros was reaching the semi-finals in 1996, where he lost to eventual champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Federer already has one appearance in the French Open finals to his credit. Unlike Sampras (whose powerful serve was blunted by the red clay), Federer is an accomplished clay court player.

Everybody loves Raymond. Raymond loves Roger Federer.

Heading into 2007, the only serious challenger to Federer’s dominance remains Spain’s Rafael Nadal. Nadal is a 20-year-old left-hander who owns a winning career head-to-head record against Federer. After defeating Federer in the French Open final (the second consecutive year he defeated Federer in Paris), Nadal made it to last year’s Wimbledon final. Here, he lost to Federer in 4 sets. Nadal had a disappointing hard-court season, however, and has recently admitted to being both physically and mentally drained at this point in the ATP season.

Roger Federer once hit a forehand so hard that the tennis ball broke the speed of light, went back in time, and struck Amelia Earhart's plane while she was flying over the Pacific Ocean. Mystery solved.

So, as the 2006 tennis season winds down, I hope more of you will start tuning in. If you don’t, you may miss more of the stellar play of the man whom many feel will go down in history as the greatest player the sport has produced.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My New Fantasy League

I’ve tried them all (except for hockey). I am either currently participating in or have at one time participated in fantasy football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and even golf. Ever since I was old enough to understand that “March Madness” was not a reference to the furor over my birthday, I’ve filled out a tourney bracket, as well.

Now I’m trying something different: Fantasy Congress. I signed up for a public league yesterday, and, yep, I’m waitin’ to watch some legislatin’.

Here’s how it works: I drafted a team of legislators (yes, real-life legislators) from the United States Congress.

My team is composed of:

2 senior Senators, called “upper Senators”;
2 junior Senators, called “lower Senators”;
4 senior Representatives, called “All-Stars”;
4 mid-range experience Representatives, called my “Supporting Lineup”; and
4 junior Representatives, called “Rookies”

According to the league’s blurb, Fantasy Congress offers me, a humble citizen, the power to “play politics.

I compete against other citizens in my league. The goal is to accrue points based upon the legislation passed by our respective Members of Congress (MCs). As the coach of my “team” of legislators, it’s my decision which MCs should be playing at any given time and which should be “benched”.

Every bill is supposed to represent an actual piece of legislation. My MCs have to push legislation through, from introduction in their respective chamber to approval by committee in the opposite chamber to the President’s signature. Point values are assigned to each stage in the legislative process. For example, I get a whopping 50 points if a bill sponsored by one of my MC’s is signed into law by President Bush.

Selecting my team was quite difficult. All current members of Congress are listed and there’s an election coming up. I regard myself as fairly politically savvy, so I avoided the obvious pitfalls. For example, I did not select Cynthia McKinney. I also steered clear of MCs who are locked in pitched battles for their seats. If they lose, I don’t want to get stuck with a “supplemental” selection.

Once I separated the wheat from the Chafee (heh-heh), I still found myself faced with some difficult choices. Should I go for a bunch of insiders or should I choose a group of idealists? Should I stick to my principles or should I cynically go solely with those politicos who I felt had the best chance to get legislation through? As much as I was tempted to select Zell Miller, it doesn't appear that "pistols at dawn" garners me any points. Sorry, Sen. Miller.

In the end, I balanced the two, though my line-up is extremely Democrat-heavy. I’m banking on the Dems winning both houses on November 7. So, if the mid-term elections do not see such a transition, several political pundits will be getting nasty e-mails from me on November 8.

Anyway, here’s oba’s starting lineup:

House of Representatives:


John Murtha; Barney Frank; Charles Rangel; Nancy Pelosi

Supporting Lineup:

Mary Bono; Spencer Bachus; Jesse L. Jackson; Patrick Kennedy


James Langevin; Rodney Alexander; Joe Wilson; Bobby Jindal

United States Senate:

Lower Senators:

Evan Bayh; Hillary Rodham Clinton

Upper Senators:

Joseph Biden; Edward Kennedy

So, that’s my team. Needless to say, I’ll be tuning into CSPAN on a far more regular basis.

Um, I feel almost guilty saying this (but, hey, I’m a very competitive person) if you’re reading this, and have no other reason to vote for or against any of the legislators on my team . . . well, I think you know where I’m going with that one.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Let's Go Mets!

The year was 1983. In January, President Ronald W. Reagan proclaimed it “The Year of the Bible.” He also signed a bill creating a federal holiday on the third Monday in every January to honor American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Iran invaded Iraq. Tom Brokaw became lead anchor for NBC News.

Whatever. I was ten years old, and had other things on my mind. I was waiting for “Return of the Jedi” to come out, and, even more importantly, I needed to choose a baseball team.

My mom and I had moved to New Jersey from Illinois in 1981. I had been too young to really have a team when we’d lived in Evanston. I’d rooted for the Phillies in 1980, the Dodgers in 1981, and the Cardinals in 1982. I was a front-runner, first and foremost, and still young enough to get away with it. Now, sadly, my age had reached the double-digits and childhood was over. I needed a “real” team to root for. I decided that team was going to be a local one.

In my mind, every other kid in my neighborhood was a Yankees fan. Their uncles, older brothers, and fathers were Yankees fans, too. Even at that age, I had a strong contrary streak. I was attracted to what I already knew of the pinstripes and their tradition, but I didn’t just want to follow the crowd. I’d also watched a few of their games on WPIX, and, frankly, something about Phil Rizutto’s voice disturbed me. Greatly. Still does.

So, at the start of the 1983 baseball season, I decided I was going to root for the New York Mets. From that moment forward, I no longer referred to the Mets in the third person; I referred to the Mets in the first person plural. “They” became “we”.

Shortly thereafter, I decided I’d better learn what a “Met” was and who was on the team.

Armed with this knowledge, a 23-year love affair began.

We finished that first season with a record of 68 wins and 94 losses. George Bamberger started the season as manager, and Frank Howard finished it.

A young slugger named Darryl Strawberry hit 26 home runs and was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year. We’d acquired perennial All-Star and former League MVP Keith Hernandez, who hit .306 on the season and won a gold glove playing first base. Oh, yeah, I also heard some good things about some pitcher named Dwight Gooden.

What a long, strange trip it’s been: the highs, the lows, the laughter, the tears; the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat; scandal, controversy, failure and redemption. But, that’s enough about 1986.

The 20 years in-between have been odd, as well. We somehow found a way not to win in 1987. That team had the best pitching staff in baseball, a solid defense, and two 30-30 players (back when 30 home runs actually meant something). The end result will mystify me to the end of my days.

The 1988 team was a juggernaut. All we had to do was get past the Dodgers (a team we’d owned during the regular season) and we were all set for a showdown with the A’s in the World Series.

We lost in seven games, and I’ve hated the Dodgers ever since. I’m still convinced Orel Hershisher was an alien impersonator and that Mike Scioscia made a deal with the devil. I will admit to a few dark fantasies in which I attempted to prove to Tommy Lasorda that he did not, in fact, bleed Dodger blue.

Still, as upset as I was, I got over it pretty quickly. I’d gotten used to our winning. Surely there’d be other chances, right? Wrong. We suddenly found ourselves unable to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates. For those of you too young to remember, this is the Pirates squad that boasted an outfield of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke.

After the Pirates succumbed to the fate which awaits all successful small-market teams, someone in major league baseball’s front office finally looked at a map and realized that having the Atlanta Braves play in the N.L. West really didn’t make any geographic sense. Yeah, who knew that Georgia didn’t abut California? Sadly for us Mets fans this also coincided with the Braves’ going on a run of unparalleled regular season success.

We missed the playoffs by four games in 1997 and one game in 1998. 1998 was really tough. We went 0-5 against the Braves and the Montreal Expos to end the season.

We didn’t get back to the post-season until 1999, and we didn’t even win the division. I did take pleasure in the fact that we beat out the Cincinnati Reds in a one-game playoff to win the Wildcard.

We ended up advancing to the N.L. Championship Series, and, after spotting the Atlanta Braves 3 games, we roared back to force game 6. In that game, pitcher Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to force in the winning run. Contrary to what I said at the time, it was not the first walk issued to the free-swinging Jones that season. It sure seemed that way, though.

The next year, after again winning the N.L. Wildcard, we made it to the World Series. We faced off against the hated New York Yankees in the first subway series since 1956. We lost four games to one.

Now, though, we’re back. It’s been 20 years since that 1986 team. I know that china is the traditional 20th anniversary gift, but I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this 20th anniversary than by winning the World Series.

We won our division for the first time since 1988. We’ve also taken a commanding lead in our N.L. Division Series against the Dodgers. This team is not a juggernaut, but we’ve got a good blend of power and speed and a pitching staff that has a bend but don’t break attitude.

So, Let’s Go Mets.