When good things happen, thoughts like this ripple out and you take heart that this long drawn-out process of extending civil rights to American citizens is still moving in the right direction, ultimately. God damned awful slow at times, but moving in the right direction.
The progress is not only slow. It’s sometimes two steps forward, one step back. North Carolina, already an anti-gay state, has added a redundant amendment to its constitution not merely prohibiting same-sex marriage, but demonstrating serious hostility by prohibiting civil unions as well. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – to be gained by this move, except to impose the views of the narrowest minds of alleged Christians in the country on the rest of us. Since there is no government interest in this move, it will undoubtedly be declared unconstitutional at some point and all they will have done in the end is squander tax payer money.
The talk surrounding these events is more of the same uninformed discourse that goes on in politics generally. “The will of the people should prevail over the will of non-elected judges.” Now there’s a thought that chills – not just the mind – but the whole body.
The excellent “alternate news” website “News Corpse” has posted a list of conservatives complaining of “judicial activism,” all of whom display an ignorance of how our government of checks and balances is constructed. At the top of the list is Mitt Romney, who said about the overturn of Prop. 8 in California, “Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage.” No, they didn’t “cast aside the will of the people.” They decided that the majority of people at any given moment in time could not pass laws removing constitutional rights. And the authority to determine those rights is given to the judicial branch of government – specifically the Supreme Court. Maybe when Romney was in high school if he had focused less on “pranks” and more on civics…
But Romney is speaking as a politician whose utterances showing a disregard for truth and accuracy are legion. He’s not so much wrong-headed as self-serving. For the seriously wrong-headed you need to look to the likes of New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie, who made the statement the other day that there had been no need for the courts to decide the civil rights of black Americans, that they could have been granted by popular vote. It’s not only participants in beauty contests whose ignorance of the world can stagger your imagination.
Speaking of staggering, consider this new low in chutzpah – the statement by Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, that Obama’s support of same-sex marriage is all wrong because “we know that in general kids do better growing up in a mother/father home.” Come on, Bristol, is that all you've learned from having a kid out of wedlock (such a lovely word, wedlock)? You didn't learn that some kids have rotten mother/father homes, and some kids raised by two moms, two dads, by grandparents, aunts and uncles, and single parents, prosper? Because it's not the status of their caretakers that counts but the ability of those caretakers to provide love and emotional security. Bristol, your lips and tongue are moving, but you ain’t saying much.
And while we’re focusing on “steps backward,” we have to remember that in “evolving” on the rights of gays and lesbians, Obama nonetheless threw a bone to the right wing. It’s still, he thinks, a question that should be worked out state by state.
I know what he’s getting at. He’s making a strong argument, that you need hearts and minds to effect change. Simply imposing the law on people wins short-term, but long-term people have to support their laws with conviction. And as gay rights are acknowledged slowly but surely, state by state, one at a time, we approach a point of no return. But Obama’s pragmatism, politically savvy as it may be, delays justice, and it’s becoming harder and harder to do that. Legal discrimination on the basis of sex went out when women began voting in the United States in 1920. Discrimination on the basis of skin color took another generation, forty-four years until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With the fall of DOMA and universal recognition of same-sex marriages, the end of legal discrimination against LGBT people begun with the Stonewall Riot in 1969, will be just about complete. That’s one great leap for human rights per generation, more or less. Considering the two and a half centuries it took from the introduction of slaves into British North America to the Emancipation Proclamation, that's lightning speed.
Now there’s another thought that warms the cockels of my heart as well as my mind. At the rate we’re going these days, this recognition of the dignity of gay and lesbian people could actually come in my lifetime. I think I’ll think on that for a spell.
photo credit: New Yorker cartoon by William Haefili, published May 2, 2011.