Tuesday, April 9, 2013

And Then There Were Three: The Three Democratic Holdouts on Marriage Equality and the States' Rights Argument

The four have now become three: of the four diehard holdouts among Democratic senators opposing marriage equality, Senator Johnson of South Dakota is now on board. That leaves Pryor of Arkansas, Landrieu of Louisiana, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia--the latter two Catholic, by the way.

As I think about the quandary in which these three senators now find themselves, how can I avoid thinking about the situation in which many elected political officials found themselves as demands for the end of legal segregation grew louder and louder in the 1950s and 1960s? To accede to those demands was the death knell for the political careers of public officials serving people in the bible-belt states of the Southeast, who were bitterly opposed to ending segregation. Unless, of course, those citizens happened to be African Americans . . . .

As I've said repeatedly on this blog, one reason I'm highly dubious about the states'-rights argument when it comes to resolving conflicts like the current conflict over the human rights of LGBT citizens is that I saw close up and at first-hand in my own state of Arkansas (and in the neighboring state of Louisiana, where my father was born and his family has deep roots) during the Civil Rights period how absolutely unwilling a large percentage of my fellow citizens were to accord basic rights to a long-stigmatized minority group. 

Putting those rights up to popular vote demonstrated the unyielding determination of most of my fellow citizens to continue withholding human rights from people of color. Relying on our elected officials, who were almost all too self-serving,  too cowardly, and in many cases, too ignorant to contravene the wishes of those they represented about a matter of human rights accomplished very little.

It eventually took concerted effort on the part of the federal government--at the legislative, judicial, and executive levels--to stop the nonsense. In places like Arkansas, we're actually proud of being behind the curve of history, and proud of going down in defeat over one major human rights issue after another. People at the bottom of ladders of educational and economic attainment can find some pretty twisted things to pride themselves on, when they have little else to be proud of . . . . 

You're not going to change that mentality of defiance, which is deeply entrenched in the Southeast and is as bitterly apparently with regards to the humanity and human rights of LGBT persons as it was in the past (and remains: let's be honest) with regard to the humanity and human rights of African Americans, by popular vote or by the benign application of principles of states' rights. You're not going to change it by appeals to conscience, since people intent on keeping discrimination alive often feed that intent by appeals to religious authority that leaves no room for what more enlightened people of faith call conscience--no room for questioning or for any formation of conscience beyond brutal dictate. And the dictates these folks derive from their "God" and their "bible" are all about targeting and discriminating against selected others.

As with the militant young Catholic attackers who have recently decided to try to brutalize me, the faith of a certain kind of believer thrives and feeds on attacking and hurting others. That's what it's all about at its very core--that, and the thrill of self-exaltation that such brutalizing of others provides to egos shaky about their self-worth on all other grounds.

None of this changed during the Civil Rights movement until Congress, the president, and, above all, the Supreme Court decided to intervene and uphold the basic principles of the Constitution--informing defiant states like my state of Arkansas that we could thump our bibles and bluster until the cows come home, but the Constitution is the Constitution and rights are rights, and the Constitution was going to be upheld.

And not much is different now, as we face questions of human rights for gay citizens of the U.S.

The photo of Landrieu, Manchin, and Pryor is from CBS News

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