Saturday, February 21, 2004

Taking the High? Road

As the battles rage in the latest culture war in the Home of the Brave and the Free, gays have gotten a taste of victory, and are feeling encouraged that we may soon join many of our friends in other modern democracies in acquiring the right to share in the institution of marriage. It is slowly sinking in that arguments against gays marrying the people they love can only be made from a religious bias, not a democratic one. The genie is not going back in the bottle.

Almost daily now, word comes that another country has seen its way to extend to its gay citizens this long-withheld right to marry, sometimes from surprising sources indeed – I’m thinking of Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia. And one of the side effects of the Spanish revolt against the Bush-directed policies of their former government is that a sharper line will now be drawn in Spanish schools between church and state, and gays may soon be adding Spain to an ever-increasing number of European nations supporting gay marriage.

Jubilation and jollity notwithstanding, there’s a long way to go. Massachusetts has just approved an amendment that would ban gay marriages, and has taken a different path from Canada’s three provinces marrying gays without hindrance by insisting those who marry in Massachusetts will not include anybody whose home states don’t like the idea. Fortunately, this foot-dragging will have to be voted on by the Massachusetts voters two years from now, and in the meantime, starting May 17, gays will be getting married, tra la, and the citizens of Massachusetts will have two years to observe the joy and celebration these ceremonies bring into the lives of their gay friends and neighbors before they will be asked to go to the polls and vote mean. A lot of serious thinking can go on in two years.

What especially caught my attention this morning was the parallel between anti-gay marriage focus groups and anti-desegration folk some forty or fifty years ago. I’m thinking specifically of Georgia’s Richard Russell. Russell was ruling class – one of the “fine folk” of Georgia, and destined for an illustrious political career. A hard-working democrat, he did a lot of good. It’s his name on the 1941 bill that Truman pushed through Congress bringing school lunches to kids for the first time. How’s that for something to be remembered by? Hell, he’s even got a Senate office building named after him.

Problem is, he will likely be better remembered as the cracker who drug his feet over integration. He fought the NAACP over an anti-lynching bill and wrote the final draft of the so-called “Southern Manifesto,” which attacked the Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education Topeka. Talk about being on the wrong side of history.

What people remember (those who read history) is that while wackos and morons were running around in white sheets and terrorizing black folk in the name of Christianity, more substantial damage to the rights of black citizens was being done by the good folk working within the system. In case white folk have trouble understanding why so many black folk focus on “the system” instead of individual miscreants, here it is, folks.

What Richard Russell did was to appear to take the high road. Rather than let the battle for integration continue to be fought by the ugly rednecks, he went to work making the case for states’ rights. National civil rights legislation, he argued, would erode the “sacred” (sic) rights of the states and shake the very “bedrock of American government.” Same result, less mess.

This time the tactic is the reverse. It’s not Democrats arguing states rights as a way of shutting off a minority citizen’s access to full citizenship; it’s Republicans like Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado arguing we need an amendment to do this, because the states are getting out of hand and going every which way over the issue. Not states rights, this time, but the right of civilization to protect itself from states.

Damn, sometimes these things get muddled. Blacks didn’t want to shake bedrock; they just wanted to live like Americans. Gays don’t want to tell you who you can marry; those outside your religious communities are not remotely concerned who your priests join together and whom they force to stay apart. We are just tired of having you force the rest of us apart!

As for threatening civilization, what kind of drugs are you on, girl?

Wonder if Marilyn Musgrave will look any better in the footnotes of history some forty or fifty years from now than old Dick Russell.

February 21, 2004

No comments: