The need for disclosure is the wrong lesson from Tuesday’s execution.

The disaster in Oklahoma is the clearest example of why capital punishment in this country must end immediately – we can’t trust the government not to fuck it up. Obviously, the catastrophe on Tuesday night is part of it. It doesn’t matter if it was a faulty IV or the drugs that caused Lockett to writhe on the gurney, experiencing the onset of his own heart attack. It certainly shouldn’t persuade us either way when the state conducts their own review and ascribes blame to an unidentified “medical technician” (DEF was not the drugs, you guys!!!! Srsly.). Viewing the chaos of last week as a symbol of the need for transparency is understandable, but myopic.

What happened in Oklahoma is much larger than the events of Tuesday night and the state’s incompetence isn’t limited to inserting an IV wrong or using guesswork to execute an inmate. When you zoom out from the unsettling details and untangle the procedural labyrinth leading up to the execution, a larger picture of systemic failure appears.

All the familiar evils were present – politics, opportunism, human error, cowardice. As Oklahoma reminded us, sometimes judges abdicate. Sometimes the other branches bully an insolent judiciary into submission, or manipulate procedural rules so they technically can’t lose. It doesn’t matter if it’s a capital case or if a fundamental right is at stake. After denying the defense any meaningful access to the courts for their appeal and witnessing the disastrous outcome they specifically fought to avoid, governor Fallin had the balls to look into the camera and say “Due Process has been served.”

To her credit, I believe that she believed that. Over the past months it’s become evident that Due Process in Oklahoma really means pandering to the electorate while maintaining the appearance of Due Process. This revelation shouldn’t be shocking, considering all the gatekeepers in Oklahoma–executive, legislature, and even the ‘neutral and detached’ judiciary–are also seasoned politicians, fighting to keep their seat at the table. As OK state rep, Mike Christian, explained after filing impeachment proceedings against the Supreme Court  – “the voters didn’t put [him] there to sit on his hands!”

When a high profile capital murder case is so blatantly manipulated, complete with a “rogue” state rep’s public admission that he doesn’t care if the men die from lethal injection or if they’re fed to lions, it’s time to look at what we’ve become. This is the process and these are the people empowered to decide life and death. People who focus on the specific heinous crimes of the two men or their certain guilt forget that there are other capital cases in Oklahoma, other people whose lives are in the hands of this government.

We know that our system can be deficient and produce the wrong outcome. I’d like to believe that in a vast majority of cases, we get it right. But you would have to be completely removed from reality/the internet/American history/’annoying friends like me who are always bitching about the government’ to believe the system always gets it right.

Cameron Todd Willingham, sentenced to death by a Texas jury in 1993 for purposefully setting fire to his house, killing his three little girls. The prosecution charged him with three counts of murder and concocted a meritless tale about how he was trying to cover up child abuse. The only evidence against him came from two men – an arson expert, who gave various reasons for his belief that the fire was set purposefully, and a jailhouse informant, who claimed Willingham confessed to setting the fire while they were cellmates. The prosecutors watched silently as the informant took the stand and claimed he’d received nothing from the state in exchange for his testimony. By 2000, he’d recanted every word – expressing guilt that his lies put a man on death row. Later evidence showed he did strike a deal with the state, they were all lying (some still are).


By 2004,  every piece of the arson evidence against Willingham had been disproven. But when all this information reached governor Perry’s desk in an 11th hour appeal, it fell on deaf ears. With zero evidence against Willingham and, by now, a chorus of supporters in the public and mainstream media, Texas knowingly executed an innocent man who sat on death row for over ten years, grieving the loss of his three little girls.

In 2009, a Texas judge drafted an order for a posthumous exoneration. In his written opinion, he blasted the courts and Perry, writing that Governor Perry’s decision to proceed with the baseless execution “exemplifies either a gross negligence when reviewing the evidence or a callous disregard for human life.”  But the order never saw the light of day. A higher court determined that the judge didn’t have the authority to review capital cases. Unsurprisingly, no other court ever pursued the matter and the TX Board of Pardons has repeatedly rejected Willingham’s family’s pleas to issue the exoneration. They never will.

This is the process and these are the people empowered to decide life and death.

This is only one example, there are others that we know of and I’m sure some that we don’t. The point is, our system will never attain the proficiency necessary to prevent another Willingham – look no further than the highjacking that just occurred in Oklahoma. If they behave this badly with an audience, imagine how they function in the cases that garner less attention. Little has changed in Texas since Willingham. The Court of Criminal Appeals is still a rubber stamp for the state and they still execute five times as many people as the second runner up. Guess who that is?

Since 2000, DNA evidence has completely exonerated 18 people from death row. That’s not a testament to our system – it was technology. Before those advances, due process determined they were guilty as charged. Mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes prosecutors lie or whithold evidence, valid arguments fail. Sometimes entire state governments fail. That’s a reality of even a well-functioning system, but the stakes are far too high here.

If each year, forty truly evil people are allowed the ‘privilege’ of living out the rest of their days in an 8×10 cell in order to be absolutely certain that what happened to Willingham and others never happens again, then that’s justice. Not the other way around. Justice doesn’t require sacrificial lambs as collateral damage.  It doesn’t require us to stick our heads in the sand and temporarily unlearn the realities of what it takes to achieve and keep high level office in this country. Enough is enough. We’re better than this, as people and as a nation.

I Support Arizona’s Discrimination Bill.

Everyone’s in a tizzy about Arizona’s new “faith-based refusal of service” bill. Headlines, newsfeeds, twitter…all alight. Many are concerned that this validation will embolden grotesque behavior. I agree, and that’s precisely why I’m in favor of it. Let’s forget for a moment that Arizona state law already permits a business owner to refuse service to a gay person simply because they are gay. And never mind the almost comical incongruity of using a constitutional amendment, designed to prevent discrimination, as a device to protect discrimination. Oh yeah, and just for a hot minute, we’ll pretend that the language of the bill, bestowing this “new right” upon corporations, doesn’t contravene the Supreme Court’s current opinion that corporations can’t have religious beliefs (Hobby Lobby, holla!). Despite the deficiencies; this bill, in all of it’s perverse glory, will be a catalyst for evolution.


Just a few days ago a little pizza joint in Tucson put that sign on their door and posted the photo on Facebook. It now has over 20K likes and the owner is being quoted in the New York Times. Since the post went viral, there has been a line out the door of the restaurant. While the frenzy will probably subside over time, Rocco’s pizzeria has almost certainly created more long-term business than they would have had otherwise. Now, in the age of Yelp and social media, imagine the wrath destined for the poor soul who “exercises his new right” to refuse a customer because he is gay. I say, if a person is so bigoted that he rejects the strain of serving a gay person food in his establishment, then out with it, man! I, and probably many others, want to know who you are. Reflect on your virtuous life in the cardboard box you just moved into.

So what? Good people are rewarded, intolerance is punished…blah blah blah. The bill still sucks, you say. But, alas! The rewards and backlash are only a secondary asset of this work of art. More importantly, the bill focuses the national discourse on the sole argument against homosexuality evincing any semblance of legitimacy. Can one person’s sexual preference interfere with another person’s fundamental right to exercise their religion? All that equal rights talk the Court used when they struck down DOMA indicates that they (and anyone else firmly rooted in reality) are no longer buying the “traditional marriage/preserving the family unit” nonsense. In holding there is no legitimate purpose for treating same sex couples differently, they’ve made same sex marriage bans a tough sell. Challenges to the ban so far have been pretty unstoppable…and contagious.

Given the ever-increasing likelihood that gay marriage will soon be (officially) entitled to constitutional protections, opponents are bracing themselves for the loss of nearly every weapon in their arsenal. The only authority powerful enough to challenge the Constitution is the Constitution. Religion won’t justify a state’s right to ban same sex marriage, that’s a lost cause. But, religion may justify a different cultural deformity – treating gay people like shit! This is a much more productive conversation than assessing whether or not gay marriage is a fundamental right. Of course it is. Don’t delude yourself.

By assuming religion justifies discrimination, Arizona legislatures and supporters of the bill are finally being forced to put their money where their mouth is. Previously, people rejecting homosexuality because they love Jesus (and not because they dislike gay people) and supporting their position with text from the Bible (and not archaic delusions) have faced relatively less scrutiny than their secular counterparts. Most of us love our freedoms, our religion or both and  feel everyone is entitled to their beliefs. Period. But just because their position is more palatable, doesn’t mean it’s valid…or benign.

Now, Arizona lawmakers and (if signed into law) anyone who invokes this new right, will be forced to explain just how, exactly, a person’s sexual preference interferes with another person’s fundamental right to exercise their religion. Is it possible that a person’s religious integrity could somehow be sullied by the mere act of serving a gay person food in their restaurant? Does religion justify intolerance? More importantly, if a person refuses to serve a gay person in the name of religion, does it make them a better Catholic/Christian/Jew/Muslim etc.? Or a worse one?

The evisceration of most of the anti-gay arguments and this bill will put the religion versus gay rights logic under a microscope. The dialogue that follows will amplify those fundamental questions with the greatest potential to impact the treatment of the gay community. Before, such questions were shielded from intense collective scrutiny by the mire of competing arguments with greater legal relevance. But, as the Court implies, legislation that denies gay rights under the guise of avoiding some destructive force was and is merely the product of homophobia. As such, the hard fought battles challenging those laws have had enormous legal significance, but less of a cultural impact. You could craft the single greatest, most airtight legal argument in this entire universe; expounding on the virtues of gay marriage and homosexuality so powerfully that it makes Justice Scalia grab Clarence Thomas and kiss him on the mouth. But it wouldn’t make a difference to your opponent, because you can’t convince a homophobe to be more tolerant with logic or reason. Their revulsion is not grounded in either. It’s emotional. A hard-to-define (thankfully receding) cultural discomfort, hastily dismissed as a moral failing.

On the other hand, those who truly believe that they are serving their faith by throwing a gay person out of their restaurant may be more effected when their contentions are scrutinized by the collective national conscience. Especially when faced with a thorough examination of whether refusing service to gays actually makes you a worse Catholic/Christian etc. Sure, the Bible supports the notion that homosexuality is a sin. But that’s a big book, and it says a lot of stuff. It also says to love thy neighbor. Not love only thy neighbors who don’t sin. Judge not lest ye be judged? Premarital sex, swearing, lying, arguing, being drunk, evil thoughts, adultery – all of em’ sins! Wrath and hatred? Oh no you didn’t! If God exists in the way they say–monitoring over 7 billion people, simultaneously, every minute of every day for their entire life; marking his enormous notebook with every swear, argument, lie, wine-night-with-the-girls, evil thought, confession etc., then consulting this data (which is hopefully online by now, for His sake) upon every person’s death to decide where they go next–then I have a feeling quite a few people trying to “save the gays” will have some ‘splainin to do themselves. And if their derision towards gay people stems from anything other than a genuine concern for the person’s immortal soul, then guess what! You’s a sinner!

Besides, the Bible has been used to justify terrible conduct throughout history. That’s nothing new. It certainly supports the position taken in the bill, but it also supported Hitler, the KKK, and the 12th century crusaders in their endeavors. The Bible says I can go to other countries and take slaves. But am I gonna do it? Noooooooo. Because when people inform me that my religion permits me to act like an asshole, I politely decline. You can’t be a good catholic if you’re not a good person. Shaming and humiliating a stranger in front of his company, simply because you suspect he is gay is not being a good person.

My hope and belief is that this scrutiny will lead to the ultimate conclusion that snippets of the Bible aren’t as important as the overall message of love and respect. Religion is supposed to be a force for good, not a vehicle for cultural regression and intolerance. I can’t think of anything that elucidates that point better than a bill that knocks us back to the civil rights era by “clarifying the law” so a business owner can more freely discriminate against a customer based on a socially objectionable, but uncontrollable, personal attribute. I’m guessing that even if this bill does pass, there won’t be many takers. Many will fear the backlash, sure, but hopefully others refrain for different reasons. Hopefully, telling a person who is out to eat with their co-workers or friends that his mere presence is so offensive to you that he doesn’t have the right to eat a meal in your establishment just feels like a cruel thing to do. And if it doesn’t, you’re probably doing religion wrong.

Actually, I retract my headline. I don’t support this bill, because I just realized that the practical effect of this legislation would be experienced mostly in the minds of gay people afraid to go to any restaurant or the bank or anywhere. I’m sure few bigoted business owners would be harmed because few would actually have the guts to bust out the 1950’s “we don’t want your kind around these parts” line. Not only because one or more people might knock him out, or at the very least make a scene; but because business owners typically tend to be business people. I was raised by the profit margin of a restaurant, it’s small. But imagine the anxiety any ordinary outing would create for gay people faced with even the possibility of that humiliation, never mind the larger, hateful message. Anyway, I digress. But I’m not changing my headline because more people will read my blog this way. I support (some of the detrimental effects of) Arizona’s Discrimination Bill. There.

This misguided attempt to codify discrimination is the frantic, last-ditch effort of a group who would rather self-destruct than acknowledge reality. Religion and reason aren’t incompatible, but you can’t argue with speculation as if they were certainties and you can’t preach one way and behave another.  That is incompatible with reason. The catholic church has taken a beating in recent years. It’s hard to subscribe to an institution that would rather save face than punish sexual deviants or heal victims of the abuse. Not even the Bible can justify that. Religion isn’t under attack, hypocrites are. And the more the deeply religious right cling to the dubious proposition that practicing their faith not only permits, but requires, them to be awful to people, the less credibility they have.

I don’t blame people when they accept the false choice that you must either be intolerant or acting contrary to your faith. A lot of people, understandably,  are more inclined to denounce religion than judge a person for being gay or getting an abortion. I would too if I thought those were my only two options. But religion, as we know it, is no more organic than a political election. A manmade construct, tweaked and distorted to suit the various needs of powerful interests over the years. How much validity can we reasonably assign to dogma produced by a global, centuries-long game of telephone?

Doubt hasn’t made me question my faith, rather decide it. My religion compels me to try my hardest to be a good person and treat people well. Help them when I can. I can’t conceive of a God who would disregard every good deed I’ve ever done in my life because I swear or occasionally drink too much vodka. Does casting judgment on homosexuality mean in God’s eyes you’re superior to those who don’t? I don’t know. But, I certainly wouldn’t take it as a given. Who knows? Maybe God evolves too. I don’t think that idea is any more insane than throwing someone out of your restaurant for not adhering to a cultural norm created more than two thousand years ago.