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March 22nd, 2014:

Saturday video break: Amazing Grace

This may be the most covered song of all time. Here’s a traditional rendition from The Rogues:

I once said on Facebook that all bagpipes come with three songs preinstalled: Scotland The Brave, The Minstrel Boy, and Amazing Grace. Hearing this tune on the pipes always gives me a chill.

For a slightly less traditional but still stirring rendition, here’s Chris Squire of Yes doing it on his bass guitar:

Both of these are in my collection. I could find a zillion more that aren’t, and I could go on the usual tangent about how you can sing this song – and many others – to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song, but I’ll refrain. Instead, here’s a song inspired by Amazing Grace by Texas celtic band Jiggernaut called Amazing Grace (Again):

I think that’s a good way to wrap this up.

Michigan, come on down

You are the next state to have your anti-same sex marriage law thrown out by a federal judge.


In a historic ruling that provided a huge morale boost to the gay-rights movement, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman today struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, making it the 18th state in the nation to allow gays and lesbians to join in matrimony, just like their heterosexual counterparts.

And unlike other federal judges who have decided similar cases across the country, Friedman did not stay his ruling, prompting Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to file an emergency stay request to prevent gay couples from marrying right away. That includes the two plaintiffs in the case: Hazel Park nurses April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who fought for the right to marry and adopt each other’s special needs children.

“It’s just amazing,” said DeBoer, who wiped tears and hugged her parnter after learning of Friedman’s ruling. “This is what we’ve wanted for our family and families like ours…we are just so happy … We got our day in court and we won.”

Rowse was overwhelmed.

“We’re going to actually be a legalized family, a recognized family by everybody,” she said.

In his 31-page ruling, Friedman heavily criticized the state’s position that the will of the voters should have been upheld, noting that just because voters approve something doesn’t make it right, especially when it violates the Constitution.

“In attempting to define this case as a challenge to ‘the will of the people,’ state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people.

“No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples,” Friedman wrote.

“It is the court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up to ‘understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.’

“Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.”


Unlike most federal judges who have taken up the gay-marriage issue, Friedman opted last fall to hold a trial and give both sides the chance to present their arguments and scientific evidence – the bulk of which focused on same-sex parenting studies and child outcomes of children raised in such family structures.

The state’s experts said that their studies show that children of same-sex couples have poorer outcomes than kids raised by married moms and dads.

Friedman didn’t find the state’s experts credible, stating in his ruling that the testimony of one state witness was “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” He said the states four witnesses “clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majroity of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.”

You can read a copy of the ruling here. You may have heard of one of the state’s witnesses:

University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, who authored a 2011 New Family Structures Study, testified during the trial that children are better off being raised by a mother and father. Regnerus testified that the “odds are against” gays and lesbians raising children and that the state of Michigan should be “prudent” before changing its law because research into the area is too new.

This is why you might have heard of Mark Regnerus.

Opponents of same-sex marriage say [the Regnerus study is] the best evidence yet that children raised by gay parents suffer a disadvantage. Most experts take a different view—like Darren Sherkat, the sociologist who was tasked with completing a definitive review in 2012, they think “It’s bullshit.”

The study’s formal title is “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?”—and it set off a storm of criticism almost immediately upon publication in 2012. The New York Times’ Erik Eckholm summarized it neatly on Friday, but the story is worth revisiting here—primarily because, no matter how many times and ways other scholars try to discredit the study, it continues to shape policy in state legislatures and amicus briefs. Michigan is only the latest example.

It’s been the same bullshit used by defenders of these awful laws in case after case, and in case after case they’ve gotten their rear ends handed to them. Couldn’t have happened to be a better bunch of people. As this ruling wasn’t stayed, expect a whole lot of couples to show up at their county clerks’ offices on Monday seeking marriage licenses. I wish them all the very best. Daily Kos and Freedom to Marry have more.

So you want the federal government you keep suing to enforce that law you don’t support?

That would be Greg Abbott’s position on equal pay.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott has let himself be out-wrestled on the sensitive issue of equal pay for equal work by Texas women.

His answer, according to a statement Wednesday from his campaign staff, is that women in the Lone Star State who are victims of employment discrimination can turn to the federal government for help.

As governor, he would veto any bill to provide as much help through state courts.

Abbott, remember, is “one of the nation’s leading advocates for stopping the federal overreach of the Obama Administration.” That’s the administration responsible for passing the law that helps victims of pay discrimination recover damages in federal court.

Now Abbott has made himself look like someone who either doesn’t care about Texas women who are paid less than men for similar work or who believes that his federal arch-enemy has done such a good job that Texas can’t make things any better.

I suppose Abbott’s still slightly better on this than Dan Patrick, who thinks that the ladies should just suck it up and trust the magic of the free market to ensure they get paid what they’re worth. Because that’s been such a great strategy for them historically. It sure has been marvelous watching the Abbott campaign squirm this week, hasn’t it?

Tesla and Texas

Tesla Motors currently can’t sell its cars in Texas via its preferred model of direct sales to consumers. Its attempts to modify state laws to allow for direct sales went nowhere last session, blocked by fierce opposition from the Texas Automobile Dealers Association. They’re now looking for a place to build their new batteries. Why would they choose to do that in Texas given all that?

Now, those restrictions, which rank among the country’s strictest, could harm Texas’ chances of landing the $5 billion lithium-ion battery plant Tesla plans to construct by 2017.

In late February, the company announced that Texas was one of four states — along with Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico — in the running to house the wind- and solar-powered “gigafactory,” which Tesla says would span as many as 1,000 acres and employ about 6,500 people.


Tesla officials, however, have indicated that Texas’ tough restrictions on the company’s sales do not help the state’s case.

Alexis Georgeson, a company spokeswoman, said she could not specifically address how Tesla would weigh various factors in its selection process, but she said comments from Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president of business development, properly sum up Tesla’s view of Texas’ restrictions.

“The issue of where we do business is in some ways inextricably linked to where we sell our cars,” O’Connell told Bloomberg this month. “If Texas wants to reconsider its position on Tesla selling directly in Texas, it certainly couldn’t hurt.”

Texas laws prevent car manufacturers from selling directly to Texas consumers, and they require manufacturers to sell their cars through tightly regulated franchised dealers.


Tesla currently showcases vehicles at “galleries” in Austin and Houston, but state law prohibits employees from discussing the price or any logistical aspect of acquiring the car. That means prospective buyers in Texas must order the car from Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. The cars are then delivered in a truck with no company markings, per Texas law, and customers even have to unwrap their new automobiles themselves, because the law prohibits Tesla’s in-state representatives from doing, saying or touching anything related to selling or delivering cars.

“It’s incredibly inconvenient,” Georgeson said. “Really what they are doing is making it tougher for customers.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I drew an analogy to microbreweries and their multi-session fight to get antiquated beer distribution laws changed. I still think that’s an apt comparison, but if it takes Tesla as long as it took the microbrewers to achieve their goal, it’ll be well past the time Tesla intends to have that factory up and running before they succeed. My guess is that they’d like some assurance of a quicker resolution before they’d be willing to commit to building here. To his credit, Rick Perry supported HB3351, the bill that would have done the overhaul Tesla wanted. Wendy Davis did not say she would support such a bill in 2015 – I seriously doubt she’d veto it if it passed on her watch – though she supported the general idea. Greg Abbott typically had nothing to say. So we’ll want to keep an eye on what individual legislators and candidates are saying. My guess is that Tesla is in for a fight that will take more than one more session to resolve. Whether that affects their decision about where to put that battery gigafactory remains to be seen.