Sunday, January 25, 2015

Arkansas Leaders Continue Foot-Dragging on Human Rights of LGBT Citizens, as Real People with Real Lives Are Caught in Crossfire

A friend of ours died recently in Little Rock. His obituary at the website of the funeral home handling the funeral says that he is survived by "his loving and devoted husband of 28 years" and names that husband.

When I read the same obituary (condensed) at the website of our local NBC affiliate Arkansas Matters and at the website of, I find that both have changed the word "husband" to "wife." Why? I do not want to cause more pain for a grieving friend of ours by being more specific about this story as he grieves. I have to ask, though why groups publishing obituaries add grief to grief by refusing to recognize marital relationships of a deceased spouse and surviving spouse.

Why would such changes be made in published obituaries when it's clear that the surviving spouse provided the information for the "official" obituary at a funeral home website? This seems beyond disrespectful to that surviving spouse and to the loved one she or he has just lost. When people have a great deal of sadness in their hearts already about the loss of a loved one, why add to the grief by altering an obituary in this way?

Perhaps the two websites in question simply made a mistake. But since this is Arkansas, I'm inclined to think otherwise. I'm inclined to wonder whether something else is going on here. This is a state, after all, in which a circuit judge struck down the state ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional on 9 May 2014. Marriages of same-sex couples then took place for several days in a few counties (including my own) that would permit them.

On 16 May, the state Supreme Court stayed these marriages with a one-sentence statement. Same-sex marriages continue to be stayed as the state Supremes continue to keep silent about this issue — unprecedented silence: their protracted refusal to issue a ruling in this matter is something almost unheard of in the judicial history of this state.

On 25 November 2014, federal judge Kristine Baker upheld the circuit court ruling striking down the ban on same-sex marriage in Arkansas as unconstitutional. This was six days after the state Supremes held their hearing on the same issue — and then did. Nothing. At. All.

With the 2014 elections and the Republican sweep of statehouses including the Arkansas statehouse, both the make-up of the state Supremes and of the state leadership became more Republican. That's to say, it became more conservative and more hostile to same-sex marriage, though Arkansas Democrats have hardly been a courageous, morally praiseworthy bunch, either, when the humanity of gay people is under consideration.

In a state whose entire culture including its political culture is heavily imbued with conservative evangelical values, in which gay folks are a tiny, despised minority, both political groups know there is little political price to pay if they refuse to recognize the humanity and human rights of that tiny minority. Both know that, in fact, they'll pay a high price if they do support the humanity and rights of that tiny minority group. They'll be attacked by the powerful lobby of evangelical ministers and their followers who intend to fight to the bitter end against any recognition of the humanity and human rights of LGBTI people in Arkansas.

And now this: the newly elected Republican attorney general of the state is calling on the state Supremes to re-hear the case about marriage equality. With a new and different court make-up from the one when the case was already heard on 19 November last year. 

Which will produce more delays. More foot-dragging. (And surely that is the name of the game.) With more human lives caught in the political crossfire as these games play out.

Human lives like the lives of people losing husbands and wives as the leaders of this state claim — citing Christianity as their reason — to be defending morality and family while they refuse to recognize the spousal claims of those losing these beloved family members.

Sociologist Richard Florida has convincingly demonstrated that creative, educated young people seeking a place to settle and strike down roots tend to choose locales that value creativity and education, and are tolerant and inclusive of those who are deemed Other. Places that welcome and affirm gay folks, and enshrine such welcome and affirmation in local laws, attract new, creative, educated residents, especially young ones.

Places that have an ugly history of targeting despised minority groups, of prejudice and discrimination, fail to attract new, creative, educated young residents. Places that behave this way tend to have little esteem for education. They tend to fall into cycles of intractable poverty as a result of their lack of education.

If I were advising any educated young person, especially a gay one, about places to think of living in the U.S. today, I'd advise them to strike the state of Arkansas off their list. The disgraceful behavior of our state's Supreme Court and its current leaders regarding the issue of gay rights sends a loud, clear message to creative and educated young people that Arkansas is not a place they should consider if they want a bright future. As a state, we've learned nothing at all from our similar disgraceful (and similar bible-fueled) behavior during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

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