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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

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A reframed, redemptive conversation about same-sex marriage with the subject before the Supreme Court. Coming to the gay marriage debate from two, predictable opposing directions, David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch both have an equal desire to strengthen the institution of marriage. They’re now showing all of us another way forward in grappling with the future of marriage.

This live event is part of On Being's continuing series, The Civil Conversations Project. Check it out. We are addressing all types of difficult topics, taking them head-on but from an angle.

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“Feeling Good” was the first Nina Simone song I heard.

I was 31, recently divorced, and I needed to find her. Her recordings became a frequent companion. Nina Simone gave me the sound of her soul — as an activist, as a woman want of love, full of wit, and hardened by pain. She deserves to be celebrated.

Joyeux anniversaire Mme. Simone!

~Stefni Bell, coordinating producer

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Jonathan Rauch talks to Krista Tippett and David BlankenhornThis week’s show on the future of marriage is one of those conversations that we believe adds to our collective imagination and understanding of how to work through the difficult issue of same-sex marriage. Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn came to the “gay marriage debate” from two, predictable opposing sides — but with an equal desire to strengthen marriage. They’re pursuing another way to talk about this difficult issue, and others, with civility and honesty.

Please listen in and share with your friends. We’d love to hear your feedback and wonder if the way these two men engage each other might possibly be a model for the rest of us to talk about other difficult issues with sincerity and openness.

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When a Jain Marries a Bengali: An Indian Love Story That Defied Tradition

by Benjamin Gottlieb, guest contributor

Ashok Jain and FamilyAshok Jain, his wife Neena, and family at their home in New Delhi. (Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb)

On the day of his wedding, Ashok Jain’s parents beat him mercilessly after he told them he married a Hindu woman.

“They didn’t accept my marriage,” said Mr. Jain, whose family practices Jainism, an ancient Indian religion that emphasizes non-violence. “They asked me to walk out of the home without anything… without even a toothbrush.”

Ashok Jain left his parents’ home in New Delhi 34 years ago with nothing but the clothes on this back. His marriage to Neena, a Bengali Hindu, tore his family apart; his parents, completely baffled by their son’s desire to marry outside his Jain religion, disowned him. He would not see his parents until his son’s first birthday, five years later.

In a traditional Indian marriage, partners are arranged for children by their parents, often at very young ages. The idea of wedding for love — let alone outside of one’s community — is seen historically as taboo. But Mr. Jain’s story of breaking conventional attitudes toward marriage constitutes a growing trend in India’s urban communities that rejects arranged marriages as the only acceptable union.

“The more important thing which spoke to me — above love and all that — was that I had to live for my own identity,” Mr. Jain, who works as a tour guide based in Delhi, said. “I wanted to stand on my own two feet and do what was right, regardless of any social pressure.”

A Complex System of Class in Castes

India's Caste SystemStrict laws concerning marriage in India are fortified by caste, a complex system of social stratification indigenous to the subcontinent. The system is demarcated by four major groupings, known as the varnas, and further stratified into subcastes or jati.

Mr. Jain’s family is from the third caste, known as the Vaishyas, which make up the merchant class of India. His wife, on the other hand, comes from a Brahman family, the highest caste.

“Surprisingly, the resistance came from my family, even though I was marrying up, so to speak, and she was marrying down,” Mr. Jain said.

Ashok and Neena met in Buenos Aires in mid-1970s while both of their fathers worked in India’s foreign service. At first, their families accepted Ashok and Neena’s friendship because, “we needed a fourth person for bridge,” Neena joked.

But when things became serious, Mr. Jain’s family, which he describes as more traditional, became very reticent to the prospect of them getting married. The thought of ripping apart their families forced the two to separate.

“We had decided that she would go her way and see boys and I would go my ways and see other girls,” Mr. Jain recalled. “We agreed to call each other when we decided to get married to someone else.”

After numerous failed attempts by their parents to arrange a marriage for each of them, Ashok and Neena decided to forego tradition.

“When we made the phone call, I said ‘I’m not getting married to anybody’ and she said the same thing,” Mr. Jain said. “And so we said, ‘What the hell?’”

Back in Delhi, the two wed at an Arya Samaj temple, a small sect in Hinduism that, among other progressive ideas, denounced the caste system in 1978. Unlike the typical Indian wedding, which boasts hundreds of guests and lavish party decor, Ashok and Neena’s marriage only included a few close friends; their wedding attendance, or lack thereof, would later exemplify the first few years of their lives together.

“Looking back, I was satisfied with whatever we had,” Neena, who works in Argentina’s New Delhi embassy, said. “It was hard to bring the kids up alone, especially the first year with my eldest son. Not having anyone to help me out, the frustration at times of taking care of our kids… that was hard.”

Intercaste Marriage in Rural and Urban Areas of India

In Mr. Jain’s India — which he describes as urban, educated, and modern — intercaste and interfaith marriages are becoming more commonplace. His two sons married sisters from the same Punjabi-Hindu family, and his close friends are made up of those who have either married outside of their faith or have progressive ideas about marriage.

“But my India is not the real India,” Mr. Jain said. “Changing norms, changing traditions, breaking traditions. This is not happening for a large part of the country.”

While India continues to modernize rapidly, more than 70 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people still live in rural areas. Attitudes toward intercaste or interfaith marriage in these rural areas continue to be traditional.

“Intercaste marriage is confined mostly to society’s elite,” said Sohail Hashmi, a writer and historian living in Delhi. “In [India’s] major cities, if you fall in love with someone from the wrong caste, it’s not so bad. But in rural parts of the country, marrying outside your caste could spell banishment or, in extreme cases, death.”

The killings Mr. Hashmi references stem from well-known horror stories in Indian khaps, or social councils in rural villages.

A common afterthought in an interfaith or intercaste marriage is the identity of the couple’s children. In a society that places great importance on one’s caste and religion for the purpose of identity, the children of interfaith marriages run the risk of being ostracized by society.

But that was never a concern for Mr. Jain and his two sons. When asked what his children’s caste or religion is, he responded emphatically, “No caste. No religion.”

“If you were to break it down, I’d say geographically I’m from Delhi but do I follow religion? No, I don’t,” said Sunny, Mr. Jain’s second son. “I had a very secular education as well, so until the end of high school I never really gave this a thought about ‘who is who’.”

When asked how he self-identifies, Sunny, a 30-year-old software entrepreneur, replied with a smile, “I don’t.”

Despite all turmoil associated with Ashok’s decision to marry outside his community, he admitted he now holds a more favorable opinion of arranged marriage.

“There have been cases when young people have come to my wife and I and said, ‘Oh uncle, you did this… so let us know what do you think?’ I tell them that it is not an easy decision, but it’s your decision,” he said.

“You have to decide what you want, decide what is right and wrong… and then, you have to face the baby.”


Benjamin GottliebBenjamin Max Gottlieb is a multimedia journalist and photographer from Los Angeles, California. He is currently a web producer at The Washington Post and the art director of InTheFray.org. Follow him on Twitter at @benjamin_max.

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Excellent Infographic Breaks Down Gay Rights in U.S. by State and Region
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The coolest part about The Guardian's dynamic graphic on gay rights in the United States may be its Facebook integration. The infographic illustrates the level of rights — from adoption and schools to same-sex marriage and employment — granted by each of the 50 states, grouped by region, and then proportionally breaks it down by the states in which your Facebook friends live.
Interestingly enough, this matters. The reconfigured breakdown is more relevant to one’s life because it personalizes the issues to a degree, giving one a sense that these issues matter differently depending on where many of the people you care about now live. (Mine’s heavily weighted with North Dakotans and Minnesotans considering I’m a Midwestern boy, but who knew I had friends in four-fifths of the country.)
A small quibble, though. The circular shape of the graphic inherently weights the importance of an issue depending upon which concentric circle it occupies. In this case, the more proximate the issue type is to the circle’s center, the less area it takes up and, therefore I wonder, seems less important. One way to balance this might have been to assign bolder, more aggressive colors to the more interior circles: schools might be assigned the red now designated for marriage and marriage be assigned that Columbia blue.

Excellent Infographic Breaks Down Gay Rights in U.S. by State and Region

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The coolest part about The Guardian's dynamic graphic on gay rights in the United States may be its Facebook integration. The infographic illustrates the level of rights — from adoption and schools to same-sex marriage and employment — granted by each of the 50 states, grouped by region, and then proportionally breaks it down by the states in which your Facebook friends live.

Interestingly enough, this matters. The reconfigured breakdown is more relevant to one’s life because it personalizes the issues to a degree, giving one a sense that these issues matter differently depending on where many of the people you care about now live. (Mine’s heavily weighted with North Dakotans and Minnesotans considering I’m a Midwestern boy, but who knew I had friends in four-fifths of the country.)

A small quibble, though. The circular shape of the graphic inherently weights the importance of an issue depending upon which concentric circle it occupies. In this case, the more proximate the issue type is to the circle’s center, the less area it takes up and, therefore I wonder, seems less important. One way to balance this might have been to assign bolder, more aggressive colors to the more interior circles: schools might be assigned the red now designated for marriage and marriage be assigned that Columbia blue.

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The Witness of True Love and the Grace of Loss (Video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The notion of contemplating mortality can be an abstract one for those of us not facing death. It can be waxed about in highly romanticized language, such as in a Wallace Stevens poem, or shown on television in the most inhuman ways, leaving us cold and unmoved.

While editing this week’s show on facing and contemplating reality, I suggested we ground our interview with Dr. Ira Byock, a leading figure in palliative and hospice care, with other people’s voices from StoryCorps. Annie and Danny PerasaTheir words, their stories, I hoped, would take Dr. Byock’s clinical experiences and complement the doctor’s ideas about dying well with the necessary pathos of those families facing death.

To close the hour, we included audio of Annie and Danny Perasa, a couple from Brooklyn, New York. They had been married for 27 years when Danny was diagnosed with a fast-spreading, painful form of terminal cancer. It’s a love story illustrating that the process of dying is not only a medical event, but a personal one in which “eloquence, grace, and poetry” can still be found. Danny passed away on February 24, 2006.

As a result, we’ve heard from so many listeners asking to hear this audio again. Here’s a wonderful animation extending the story you heard on the radio.

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Is Our Political Identity Overtaking Our Religious Identity When Choosing a Mate?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Stephanie Coontz’s provocative opinion piece in today’s New York Times touches on some interesting dilemmas facing men and women in modern America. It’s well worth reading and is a fun conversation starter with your spouse and parents. But, it was the above infographic accompanying Coontz’s commentary that caught this editor’s eye.
For the most part, the top five traits that men look for in potential wives have changed very little in 70 years. In 1939, the five most important qualities were:
Dependable character
Emotional stability, maturity
Pleasing disposition
Mutual attraction, love
Good health
And, in 2008:
Mutual attraction, love
Dependable character
Emotional stability, maturity
Education, intelligence
Pleasing disposition
The big mover: education and  intelligence. It climbed from #11 to #4. Good health dropped two positions, and I suspect will plummet further down the list in the coming decades. The romantic in me is heartened to see that love and attraction are sitting atop the field.
For the purposes of this blog, though, the precipitous drop in having a similar religious background and the slight rise in men seeking a woman whose political background is similar to his own is intriguing. It seems men’s personal identities are mirroring our larger cultural identity. As U.S. society has become increasingly divided and hyper-partisan in political terms, men are assigning more value to having a like-minded partner in the political persuasion department. Will this trait continue to rise in importance? I hope not.
Source: “Measuring Mate Preferences: A Replication and Extension” by Christine B. Whelan, University of Pittsburgh, and Christie F. Boxer and Mary Noonan, University of Iowa

Is Our Political Identity Overtaking Our Religious Identity When Choosing a Mate?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Stephanie Coontz’s provocative opinion piece in today’s New York Times touches on some interesting dilemmas facing men and women in modern America. It’s well worth reading and is a fun conversation starter with your spouse and parents. But, it was the above infographic accompanying Coontz’s commentary that caught this editor’s eye.

For the most part, the top five traits that men look for in potential wives have changed very little in 70 years. In 1939, the five most important qualities were:

  1. Dependable character
  2. Emotional stability, maturity
  3. Pleasing disposition
  4. Mutual attraction, love
  5. Good health

And, in 2008:

  1. Mutual attraction, love
  2. Dependable character
  3. Emotional stability, maturity
  4. Education, intelligence
  5. Pleasing disposition

The big mover: education and intelligence. It climbed from #11 to #4. Good health dropped two positions, and I suspect will plummet further down the list in the coming decades. The romantic in me is heartened to see that love and attraction are sitting atop the field.

For the purposes of this blog, though, the precipitous drop in having a similar religious background and the slight rise in men seeking a woman whose political background is similar to his own is intriguing. It seems men’s personal identities are mirroring our larger cultural identity. As U.S. society has become increasingly divided and hyper-partisan in political terms, men are assigning more value to having a like-minded partner in the political persuasion department. Will this trait continue to rise in importance? I hope not.

Source: “Measuring Mate Preferences: A Replication and Extension” by Christine B. Whelan, University of Pittsburgh, and Christie F. Boxer and Mary Noonan, University of Iowa

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"Lonely Old Widow" Eloquently Argues on Behalf of Same-Sex Marriage

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

In the state of Washington, a vigorous debate is taking place on the issue of same-sex marriage. A Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Maureen Walsh, offered this humble, passionate speech defending marriage equality on February 8, 2012.

Where she starts begins with the most human of stories: the death and loss of her husband of 23 years: “I’m a lonely old widow right now, looking for a boyfriend. Not having much luck with that. … And I think of all the wonderful years we had and the wonderful fringe benefit of having three children. I don’t miss the sex. You know. And to me that’s what this kind of boils down to.”

She proceeds to tell the story of a proud mother who thought she’d agonize over her daughter being gay, and was surprised she didn’t. She continues, “How could I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life? To me it seems almost cruel.”

Her speech and her story showcases the best of political discussion and civil debate, no matter what side of the issue you support. If we could all model that civility in our public and private lives.

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Some people I can sign a license for and some I can’t. But it’s exactly the same covenant commitment.
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Darlene Self and Katherine Hawker will travel to Iowa with others from their church to be married. (photo: Lori Rose)Katherine Hawker, minister of Webster Groves Evangelical United Church of Christ in Missouri, who, along with six other same-sex couples, will be crossing the state line into Iowa this weekend to be legally married.

Katherine Hawker, right, with her partner, Darlene Self. (photo: Lori Rose)

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

(via ripandread)

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Eager as I am to break a good story, I’d have wrestled long and hard about being first to publish this information. Isn’t it a private matter in the life of a man who is no longer a public official?
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Arnold SchwarzeneggerConor Friedersdorf

The associate editor at The Atlantic deliberates on the Los Angeles Times decision to be the first to publish the story about Arnold Schwarzenegger fathering a child with a household staffer ten years ago.

Is it a private matter? Would you have published the story?

About the image: Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at a lighting ceremony at the California capitol building in 2008. (photo: Lon R. Fong/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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China’s biggest strategic resource is not oil, not rare earths, not even pandas. It is young women.
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Luo Tianhao, as quoted in Damien Ma’s recent blog post in The Atlantic.

China valentine
A women looks at a bouquet of roses at a flower market in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province of China. (photo: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

by Susan Leem, associate producer

I couldn’t help but swoon a little when reading Ma’s piece. Luo Tianhao proposes a “mei nu" tax (read Ma’s post for more detailed explanation) on Chinese women who marry foreigners to prevent them from leaving the country. Though Ma meant to illustrate a comical bureaucratic solution to China’s longstanding concern about men outnumbering women, I saw it as a kind of backhanded love letter to China’s women.

An economist would see the quote above and weigh that claim against the proposal and try to parse out its potential for success (or maybe quickly denounce it based on moral principles). But, to me, it reads almost like a Hallmark card for the emotionally clumsy on Valentine’s Day, “Dear Jane, you are my biggest strategic resource, better than oil, rare earths, or even pandas.”

Damien Ma doesn’t give much credence to this proposal. But like the awkward, late valentine, maybe it is the thought that counts.

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A Mormon Example on Sexuality and Religion

by Krista Tippett, host

Elder Marlin K. JensenReligion Dispatches offers a riveting report of a recent meeting in Oakland in which a leading Mormon authority offered an apology for the pain caused by the LDS Church’s activism on California’s Propisition 8. To an emotional gathering of “LGBT Mormons and their allies,” Elder Marlin K. Jensen reportedly said:

"To the full extent of my capacity, I say that I am sorry … I know that many very good people have been deeply hurt, and I know that the Lord expects better of us."

I’m on record as saying that we should measure the public virtue of religious traditions not merely by the positions they take, but by the way they treat those with whom they agree and disagree along the way. It is, sadly, rare to witness religious authorities open up to this kind of human and seemingly searching encounter on an issue in which they have staked a theological and political claim. I say, “Bravo.”

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The Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadijah, proposed to him. What is that, if not a precedent?
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Ruqaya Izzidien—Ruqaya Izzidien, from "Muslimahs doing it for themselves" in today’s Guardian.

I’m currently editing Kate’s interview with Omid Safi, which focuses on his recent book about memories and stories of Muhammad. During the conversation he says that if you ask most people a story about Christianity they can tell you about a prevailing idea or parable about Jesus; ask about Judaism and you’ll often hear something about Moses; inquire about Hinduism and Gandhi will come up or the idea of non-violence. But, if you ask them about the Prophet, they most likely will have no concrete idea or story.

Later on, he shares a wonderful story about the Prophet and the “naked embrace” of his wife when he’s questioning the veracity of his divine visions. A concrete story that humanizes Muhammad, to be sure, but also a tale about women and their influential role within Islamic thought.

In the quote above, Ms. Izzidien gives another concrete example of the Prophet through an interaction with his wife — but, this time, by weaving it into her delightful and light-hearted, but sincere, take on young Muslim women assuming the lead in courtship. A modern-day perspective worth noticing, and look for the produced interview with Omid Safi later next week!

Trent Gilliss, online editor

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