He Can Marry, She Can't Vote:Another Day in Deranged America
He Can Marry, She Can't Vote: Another Day in Deranged America
Five years ago, I donned my best suit and took my lady out to a fancy restaurant on Copley Square. I wined her and dined her, and when the moment was right, I presented her with a small diamond that had passed from my grandfather to my grandmother to my mother to me, and asked her to be my wife. A year later, we were wed in a small ceremony in a plain white church in New Hampshire.
...and nobody thought twice about it, because I am a man and she is a woman, and we were therefore spared the tyranny of religiously-justified apartheid. Our right to marry, to join our lives together in a moral and legally-binding contract was never disputed, because I am a man and she is a woman, and the hateful interpretation of an ancient, outdated text did not apply to us.
That hate is still here, and will never really go away. The same ancient text that condemns unto death same-sex unions also condemns unto death those who work on the Sabbath, those who plant different crops side by side, and those who wear clothes made from different threads, with nary a word of condemnation for the institution of slavery or the brutal subjugation of women...and as long as there are people whose personal hypocrisy moves them to cherry-pick lines from that ancient, outdated text to justify their hatred (while wearing cotton-polyester blend shirts at the office on Saturday after fiddling with the beans and carrots and potatoes and cucumbers in their garden), we will never truly be free of it.
But on Wednesday morning, two surprising rulings from a conservative-leaning Supreme Court sent the legal justifications for America's anti-gay apartheid into a death spiral from which it will not recover.
The Court's 5-4 ruling on California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage did not name the proposition unconstitutional, but instead declared that its defenders did not have legal standing to appeal the lower court ruling that struck the ban down. In essence, the Court punted the issue back to California officials, who will almost certainly rely on that lower court's ruling, opening the door for same-sex marriages to commence in California in as little as one month's time.
After the Prop. 8 ruling was handed down, two of the plaintiffs in the case - Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami - spoke passionately about the importance of the court's decision, and its meaning to them personally. "Today is a good day," said Katami, who then proposed to Zarillo right there on the courthouse steps, because he could, because the apartheid that declared him less free than me was gone.
The Court's other ruling on Wednesday will have dramatic, far-reaching implications all across the country. In another 5-4 decision, the Court struck down the 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, one of the most disgraceful pieces of legislation the last century had produced. In essence, DOMA made the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman a matter of Federal law, thus nationalizing the religiously-justified apartheid that demanded some Americans be deemed less free than others. The case in question was titled United States v. Windsor, and was originally brought by lesbian widow Edie Windsor, now 84 years old, who was required to pay more than $300,000 on the inheritance she received from her late wife's estate.
Specifically, the Court struck down the part of DOMA that prohibited same-sex couples from receiving federal retirement, tax and immigration benefits, thus granting Edie Windsor and millions of other Americans a tremendous, life-altering victory. By not striking down the part of the law that declares marriage to be between a man and a woman, presumably that part of the law still stands. Lacking the teeth that were removed by the Court on Wednesday, however, that "definition" has about as much power as a mouse fart in a thunderstorm.
A number of voices were immediately raised in defense of same-sex apartheid. Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissent, was particularly scathing. "As I have observed before," wrote Scalia, "the Constitution does not forbid the government to enforce traditional moral and sexual norms. However, even setting aside traditional moral disapproval of same-sex marriage (or indeed same-sex sex), there are many perfectly valid - indeed, downright boring - justifying rationales for this legislation. Their existence ought to be the end of this case."
In other words, we hate you because an ancient, outdated text tells us we can, and that should be the last word.
Not so much, Tony.
Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took to Twitter to voice his vast disapproval of the Court's decisions. Tweet the first: "My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay: 'Jesus Wept.'" Tweet the second: "5 people in robes said they are bigger than the voters of CA and congress combined. And bigger than God. May He forgive us all."
Challenge for Mr. Huckabee: find for me, please, any syllable, word, fragment or sentence uttered by Jesus in the text you so adore that speaks against same-sex marriage. You can't, because it isn't there. You have to reach all the way back to the bedlam of Leviticus to find a basis for your hate. Better check the tag on your shirt, hoss.
So that was Wednesday, a bad day all around for hate, and for the apartheid that hate would enforce on a segment of the American populace that has the crazy idea they should have the same rights I do.
But there was also Tuesday, when the same Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by striking down Section 4, an action that allows any number of counties across the nation notorious for suppressing minority voting rights to slip the federal leash.
Within hours of the ruling, Texas declared that it would "immediately" enact a vicious voter ID law previously banned by federal law. "With today's decision, the state's voter ID law will take effect immediately," read a statement by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government."
Condemnation of the VRA decision came just as swiftly. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) reacted with horror and sorrow:
"Although the court did not deny that voter discrimination still exists, it gutted the most powerful tool this nation has ever had to stop discriminatory voting practices from becoming law. Those justices were never beaten or jailed for trying to register to vote. They have no friends who gave their lives for the right to vote. I want to say to them, Come and walk in my shoes. I disagree that because the incidence of voter discrimination is not as 'pervasive, widespread or rampant' as it was in 1965 that the contemporary problems are not a valid basis for scrutiny. In a democracy, one act of voter discrimination should be too much."
Again, Justice Antonin Scalia is informative. In his rage against the Court's DOMA ruling, Scalia wrote, "We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation." He took this position on Wednesday, one day after voting to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, another piece of democratically-adopted legislation passed in 1965 and renewed by a massive congressional majority in 2006.
One segment of the nation is lifted out of apartheid, another is shoved back down into it, and a Justice of the Supreme Court can't remember his justification for the latter a day after ruling against the former.
Just another day in deranged America.
William Rivers Pitt is a Truthout editor and columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know," "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence" and "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation." He lives and works in Boston.