This Valentine’s Day, Dawn and I joined a score of couples in suspending their vows (or vowing to suspend them!) in a solidarity ritual officiated by Rev. Billy at Central Park’s  Bethesda Angel.  With this mass “unmarriage,” we are hoping to send a strong message to elected leaders in New York City and the rest of the country that says that marriage (and that 1000+ legal rights and benefits associated with it) is a legal right — not a heterosexual privilege.

In the words of Savitri D., “We hope this ritual will be a starting point for all its participants and that it will send a message to other hetero people—let’s work together and get gay marriage done and legal so we can move on to the many other issues effecting the LGBT community disproportionately, like homicide, violence, wage and job discrimination, depression, homelessness, and suicide to name a few.”

On Tuesday, Dawn joins me in the studio to talk about our experiences at this action and our decision to put off marriage until it is a legal right for all.

>> Listen to this episode at our WVRB archives.

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There are a myriad of reasons to support Single Payer Health Care. We have the most expensive and wasteful insurance system in the world, and routinely end up on the bottom of most lists comparing overall health and health care.  There are currently 46 million Americans without access to health care. People are dying from completely curable diseases everyday in this country simply because they can’t afford to visit the doctor. All of these tell-tale signs that our health care system is fundamentally broken. The progressive movement has been in the trenches for nearly 30 years, fighting against the overwhelming influence of insurance companies to get real reform. But as we heard last night, the options that will lead to tangible improvement and change in healthcare have simply been pushed out of the debate.

The bill currently in the Senate is nothing but a hollow compromise. Put simply, it’s a bailout for the private insurance industry, offering no real solutions to the problem. Instead, it will force Americans to buy into a broken system or be penalized.  The mechanisms of the market are already anticipating huge profits. Since Oct. 27th, when Sen. Joe Lieberman announced that he would filibuster a Senate health care reform bill if it included a public option – a threat that caused Senate leaders to cave without much of a fight – the health sector’s stock prices have continually shot up.

Here’s a quick breakdown of major health insurance company stock performance from Oct. 27 to Friday’s market close:

  • Coventry Health Care, Inc. is up 31.6 percent;
  • CIGNA Corp. is up 29.1 percent;
  • Aetna Inc. is up 27.1 percent;
  • WellPoint, Inc. is up 26.6 percent;
  • UnitedHealth Group Inc. is up 20.5 percent;
  • And Humana Inc. is up 13.6 percent.

I could throw numbers at you for days, but it’s important to keep a very fundamental thing: SINGLE PAYER IS THE ETHICAL IMPERATIVE. It won’t just cover 94% or 96% of Americans — it covers everyone under the same insurance plan. Whether you’re a member of congress or the janitor sweeping in the hall, you have access to the same level of health care as everyone else. It embodies the idea that health care is not just a privilege for the wealthy, but a HUMAN RIGHT. International human rights law is unambiguous on the matter.

Article 25 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) reads (emphasis mine):

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Likewise, Article 12 of the U.N. International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) reads:

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;

(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;

(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;

(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

We need to recognize that adopting an all-inclusive, equitable health care system is just the right thing to do. It is insanely draconian to have people dying from curable diseases because they don’t have any access to health care. It is wholly unethical to deny 46 million people access to even a doctor’s visit.  Health care simply cannot be a privilege — it needs to be available to everyone.

If we’re going to adhere to international human rights law, as well as our own innate sense of ethical responsibility, health care has to come off the market. The so-called “free market” is the fundamental problem here. It has created a system of health care that seeks to make a profit by NOT providing health care. Private health insurance MUST GO.

Homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression. In November 2008 more than 36,600 homeless men, women, and children were sleeping each night in New York City municipal shelters, streets, parks, and in the subway system. Despite these ever increasing numbers of people without a place to call home, a recent study by Picture the Homeless reveals that there may be enough vacant lots and buildings in Manhattan alone to house the homeless population both in the shelter system and on the street.

On Tuesday we’ll talk with housing activist Michael Premo about the origins of this paradox, the human struggle it creates, and what groups around the city are doing about it. Michael Premo is a producer for Housing is a Human Right, an ongoing multimedia documentary portrait of the struggle for home in New York City.

Music (in order played):

“Where I End And You Begin” by Radiohead

“Heaven” by Talking Heads

“Searching With My Good Eye Closed” by Soundgarden

“Respiration” by Black Star

>> Listen to 12/1/09: Housing is a Human Right