Judging What Matters
If she’s approved by the state Senate, Judge Sabrina McKenna will become Hawaii’s first openly gay Supreme Court Justice. That’s interesting, historic—and newsworthy. Yet it’s also delicate. Emphasize Judge McKenna’s homosexuality too much and you risk overshadowing her qualifications (she’s spent nearly two decades in Hawaii’s district, family and circuit courts). Ignore it, on the other hand, and you just look silly.
That dilemma was on display in a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser dispatch, which declared in the headline, “Judge Secure With Sexual Orientation,” but didn’t mention what, exactly, the Judge’s sexual orientation was until the end of the third paragraph.
Meanwhile, in a press release announcing McKenna’s nomination, Gov. Abercrombie called it “the most important decision” of his career—but never acknowledged the fact that McKenna is gay.
Certainly it would be nice to live in a world where these things don’t matter, where a person’s gender, race and, yes, sexual preference are no more important than the color of her eyes. But let’s get real: we don’t live in that world. The world we do live in is one where it takes years of wrangling to secure basic rights for minority groups, where people are still discriminated against, attacked and even killed simply because of who they are.
In this world, the fact that Judge McKenna is gay matters. It’s not the only thing that matters. But to pretend it’s immaterial diminishes the significance of the moment—and buries the lede.
Bag Things To Come?
Maui County’s plastic bag ban is less than a month old, and already it’s earning praise from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with a similar measure passed on Kauai. “The leadership shown by the counties of Maui and Kauai in banning these bags will help keep their environments pristine,” said EPA official Jared Blumenfeld in a statement.
Numerous other American cities and counties have enacted bans, and several states are reportedly considering them. Meanwhile, on January 1 Italy became the first country to institute a nationwide ban. Could the U.S. follow suit? Seems unlikely—the petroleum lobby fights token battles against regional bans, but they’d surely pull out all the stops if a serious effort got rolling in D.C. At the same time, if polythene satchels have taught us anything it’s that small things can have surprising staying power.
Last April, Mitch Kahle, founder of the group Hawaii Citizens For the Separation of State and Church, was arrested at the state Capitol after publicly declaring his distaste for the mandatory religious invocations that open all legislative meetings. And he’s not alone; ACLU Hawaii has also threatened legal action.
Looks like the message got through—as the 2011 session opened, the Senate adopted new rules that do away with official invocations and the House may take similar action. Some Senators have continued to hold informal prayer circles, something Senate President Shan Tsutsui told the AP is a “matter of free speech.”
Naturally, atheists and true believers across the blogosphere pounced on the story, branding it a resounding victory for secular rationality, a perilous step toward spiritual darkness and everything in between. Mostly it’s a symbolic gesture. Then again, when it comes to religion (and politics, for that matter), symbols count.