Barring some unforeseen disruption, today it will be legal for gay couples to marry throughout Florida. It is a difficult issue for many, one that can bring into conflict individual rights, religious beliefs, cultural traditions and rapidly changing social attitudes.
It is useful to remember only a little over six years ago, more than 60 percent of Floridians voted for the amendment that limited marriage to a man and a woman. Views have dramatically changed since then, and it is doubtful it would receive that kind of support now.
In any event, the courts have found, understandably, gay citizens are entitled to the same rights as all others and the ban on gay marriage violates the “due process” and “equal protection” provisions in the U.S. Constitution.
Those who have religious objections deserve respect, and it would be appalling if activists mounted legal attacks on organizations affiliated with religions that view marriage as being only between a man and a woman. But those troubled by the ruling should remember government allows many other activities proscribed by various religions.
The marriages began on Monday in South Florida. Today, many other same-sex couples will be able to obtain marriage licenses at courthouses around the state. That should represent no threat to anyone’s personal faith and can be seen as a healthy development if you believe stable, committed relationships are good for society.
— Tampa (Florida) Tribune
Obama’s college rating system unnecessary
The Obama administration has taken on the admirable but tricky task of rating colleges based on real-life factors that might matter the most to working families. If they’re going to scrape up the money for a four-year education, these families tend to worry foremost about how much it will cost, whether their children will graduate and get a job, and whether the new graduates will be able to pay off student loans. Less important to them might be what professors elsewhere think of a college, or how many applicants it rejects, factors that weigh the rankings produced by various publications, most notably U.S. News & World Report.
It was obvious from the start, though, a government ratings system would run into complications that might render it meaningless or unfair. Unfortunately, a preliminary sketch of the system, released to solicit public feedback, does little to allay those concerns.
The U.S. Education Department is rightly trying to avoid what one official called “false precision” — parsing minor variations among colleges and universities that make no real difference. But as a result, it is going so broad the ratings would be all but meaningless. It intends to divide schools into three categories, essentially: excellent, bad and in-between. Most colleges and universities would fall into the in-between category, which means very few would receive a low rating. In other words, the only information families would get is most schools are fine. That may be reassuring, but it isn’t especially helpful.
And it’s even unclear how useful the information would be on schools with low ratings, which might turn off applicants for reasons that aren’t relevant to their situation. Does the school have a low graduation rate, or does its focus on fine arts mean graduates have trouble finding jobs soon after college? Would students intent on a career in the arts care about the latter, or figure the less robust job market in arts is still a better fit for them than one in, say, petroleum engineering?
The Obama administration has pledged to avoid simplistic comparisons that don’t reveal the real value of a college education. That’s to its credit, but so far, the ratings appear to oversimplify complex information and compare too many apples with oranges and bananas. Worse, administration officials are considering linking federal funding for colleges to their ratings, which would be a terrible decision. Once a college’s funding depends on its graduation rate, it can simply lower its standards to the point where almost everyone obtains a degree. The administration has given this an honest try, but it would be better off abandoning the project now than creating a shallow and misleading ratings system.
— Los Angeles Times
Better national leadership can restore Americans’ trust
American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has scaled down the list. Concerns over the economy have, as well.
For the past decade, these were the two most significant, long-standing issues garnering public concern in the U.S. They’ve been replaced, at least to some degree, by the increasingly exasperating vacuum of leadership that exists in Washington, D.C.
In a Gallup poll published on Jan. 2, Americans that were surveyed listed poor leadership in government as the most important and troubling issue in 2014, a noticeable shift in the answers given in the same poll over the past 10 years.
The dissatisfaction with government isn’t anything really new. However, it’s intriguing to note as the economy shows signs of improvement and the U.S. looks to scale back operations in the Middle East, Americans are becoming more and more concerned about whether Congress, the president and even government in general can get anything done.
The U.S. clearly has serious challenges ahead of it, and while government never should be the ultimate problem solver, policy makers do have a vital role and responsibility in making sure the country stays on a steady path. Years of gridlock and inactivity in Washington, D.C., have rightfully shaken the confidence of Americans when it comes to fulfilling that duty. Both sides have been at fault. The mishandled rollout of the Affordable Care Act by President Barack Obama and his administration certainly contributed to confidence levels diminishing. The failures of the Veterans Administration and its inability to properly take care of American veterans was certainly an eye-opener. The uncovering of the NSA’s secretive and dubious surveillance of Americans had to add to that slippage, as well.
Obviously, however, polls such as these are just a snapshot of the moment. The upcoming term in Congress should offer a number of chances to at least partially restore some of that faith in government.
Additionally, the positive economic news of the year’s end — with job growth, lower gas prices and a strong stock market — thankfully show it’s not all doom and gloom ahead of us. Moving forward, however, there has to be some type of bipartisan movement among federal lawmakers for confidence in government to start to trickle upwards. Let’s hope there’s a healthy appetite for consensus and progress on the part of national leadership in the year ahead. Otherwise, the chance at a rosier future for the U.S. turns bleaker and even more troubling.
— Aiken (South Carolina) Standard
U.S. should help Lebanon with Syrian refugees
Responding to stresses and pressures from the arrival of 1.5 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon, with a population of 4.5 million, has taken steps to stem the flow.
War in Syria over the past four years has sent a flood of 3 million asylum seekers into Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Turkey is big enough to absorb its share. Jordan is accustomed to refugees, having accepted Palestinians and Iraqis prior to the Syrian onslaught. Iraq has received the fewest among Syria’s neighbors, given its own strife.
Lebanon has been hit hardest. Its border with Syria has been open for the most part. It also has a reputation for accepting refugees, notably Palestinians, with occasional catastrophic results for its domestic tranquility. The arrival of Sunni Muslim Palestinians in the 1970s created an imbalance among Lebanon’s religious groups that helped set off a bloody civil war between 1975 and 1990.
When Syrians started fleeing into Lebanon in 2011, the Lebanese did not want them settled in camps, which are more easily served by nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The reason is Lebanon feared that phenomenon would lead to more permanent settlement, as had occurred with the Palestinians. An estimated half-million Palestinians are still in Lebanon more than six decades after having left Palestine to await a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
The Lebanese government has now imposed controls on the entry of Syrians into Lebanon, which has alarmed refugee advocates, international authorities and Syrian refugees themselves. Lebanon’s new policy will require Syrians to state a reason for their visit and to apply for a visa of limited duration.
Given the U.S. role in provoking and prolonging the conflict in Syria, there is reason for America to help Lebanon meet the challenge presented by the Syrian refugees. After all, they now constitute one in four people in that small country.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette