Friday, May 28, 2010

Expanding Visitation Rights to Gays and Others

The headline reads “Obama orders most hospitals to grant gays visitation rights”.

But read on, the article later reads that this would also allow visitation by un-married heterosexual couples, people of religious orders that may not allow marriage, elderly people with deceased spouses and others.

President Obama issued a memo to the Health and Human Services agency ordering the secretary to ensure that all hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid money to honor all patient’s directives about visitation privileges. This means that the patient can list people he or she would like to have visitation privileges without regard to family status.

A senior fellow at the conservative Family Research Council, Peter Sprigg, insists that, “The memorandum undermines the definition of marriage and furthers big government takeover” of the health care system.

It is difficult to find a compelling reason why government or hospitals should allow visitation rights to only family members when the patient requests non-family members visitation rights. Government should only act when there is a risk to the secure and safe environment. Then, it should act in the least intrusive way. No valid argument can be made that proves this is a takeover of the health care system or undermining the definition of marriage. Just the opposite. First, this is getting government and policy out of the health care system. Second, if a patient requests someone to have visitation rights, why should those rights be denied?

This is a big step for gay couples who in the past have not been able to see their loved one because of outdated hospital rules and cultural norms. But, it is important to understand something even more fundamental. When one person has less rights, all do. These same outdated rules excluded plenty of other people.

People in ill health need the support of people they share an emotional bond with. This move helps assure that they will be around when needed.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kilpatrick Received Equal Justice Under Law

“Equal justice under law”, which is written over the entrance to the Supreme Court building, means that all will be held accountable to the same law, it doesn’t mean that all will receive the same sentence. It has never been that way and should never be that way.

The words “Equal justice under law” were used yesterday by Kwame Kilpatrick’s New York City-based spokesperson Mike Paul. He didn’t think that the former mayor received a fair sentence yesterday in a Detroit court for violating his probation.

Kilpatrick, who admitted to lying under oath to a grand jury and other charges, spent 120 days in jail before being released on probation. He still had to make restitution to the City of Detroit of a $1,000,000. Then, Kilpatrick moved to Dallas, Texas and lived a very comfortable life style to say the least. For a few months he kept up with his restitution payments but then began to default. After a long legal battle, Judge David Groner sentenced Kilpatrick to one and a half to five years in prison. After the sentencing, Paul said that the Ex-Mayor was, “Clearly not treated equal to all citizens under the law. As a result, treating him differently is unconstitutional.”

Kilpatrick was held accountable to the same law as everyone else. This wasn’t any special law that was created just for his case. He even admitted to the crime and accepted a punishment that saved him from jail time other than the 120 days.

The Judge Groner may have indeed sentenced him to more time than the average for violating his parole, but judges have wide discretion on most cases, as it should be. As a community, we would like everyone to be held accountable to the same law. But, if there are circumstances that lead a judge to believe that they are not fully responsible or the accused has fully accepted his responsibility, then sentencing should be lighter. On the other side, if the judge believes a stronger punishment is due, then it should be done.

A politician that violates the trust placed in him by the voters should be held accountable to a higher standard. As an example to other people in the same position, harsher treatment of Kilpatrick was justified.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Pontiac Man Challenges City on Right to Carry Handgun

Ben Shattuck of Pontiac carries his side arm with him in open view. He carried it with him when he made a statement about Pontiac’s gun law to the city council. It certainly is his right, but not necessary.

In a Responsible Community we did not give up the right to own weapons. But, if the community has a compelling reason to restrict gun possession and use, then it has the responsibility to act in a reasonable and limited manner to protect the community. This means, with some exceptions, it can act unilaterally from any higher governmental body. It could require a permit to even carry the weapon in the open as Shattuck does, or make it illegal to carry a weapon anywhere in public.

This is where the responsible community parts with the constitution. But since we live in a community that has an excellent constitution, we must stand by its standards. That doesn’t mean that the understanding of the document can be clear at all times or that we can all agree with that understanding. We must search for middle ground.

The Second Amendment has wide interpretation across the political spectrum. One viewpoint says that individuals have the right to bear arms in a limited way because of the statement about a well regulated militia. Others believe in a more open understanding, that individuals have the right to bear arms regardless of their membership in a well regulated militia. In either extreme, it is clear that individuals have at least some right to own and bear arms. So Ben Shattuck does have the right to own firearms in his home and on his person with reasonable restrictions.

But, no right is absolute even in an open interpretation. The Constitution never meant to guarantee any right beyond the point of safety. Government, with compelling reasons, can and should restrict ownership and use of firearms. Some examples might be requiring training on use and safety, surrendering the weapon when requested by a police officer or proper holstering.

The current interpretation of the Constitution does allow Mr. Shattuck to own a weapon and carry his weapon around with him. The City of Pontiac can’t stop him from owning but it should be able to restrict its use for compelling reasons.