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Sunday, June 28, 2015
My 2015 volume of my cultural memoirs is about issues if identity, and therefore has major sections on racial, gay-lesbian, transgender, and religious hostility from the before the first World War to the present day. These are fraught issues, each with their very dark histories. But I thought I would, with the news Friday about gay and lesbian marriage, post that section of my Introduction to My Year 2015.
In films such as Love Is Strange it was apparent that the scars of past sexual prejudice were not yet healed. And The Imitation Game, the latter of which, in turn, challenged me to read Andrew Hodges’ brilliant study of Allan Turing, The Enigma, brought up, once more, the horrible effects of the varying societal restrictions concerning sexual behavior.
The Turing works coincided with a whole slew of new titles in 2014-15 which called up significant issues in the early 20th century that led up to World War II, which simultaneously had brought into being all sorts of evils concerning narrow individual and cultural identities and the inability to accept others outside narrow boundaries of religion, race, sex, and cultural concepts.
Yet, Friday, June 26, 2015 also brought about a major cultural change when the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional to deny gays and lesbians the right to be married, a decision that would completely transform one aspect of identity forever in the US. While we celebrated, however, a latent hate for homosexuals and lesbians and a denial of what Justice Kennedy, in the ruling decision, described as “dignity,” was perpetuated even in the dissenting jurists’ statements, wherein Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stated that while gays and lesbians might celebrate the day, they should not celebrate the constitution, suggesting that he strongly felt that gay marriage was not a constitutional issue. The nearly always mean-spirited Antonin Scalia also argued that the right to marry was against the founder’s notions in writing the Constitution and the principles on which the country was founded and spent a great deal of time mocking Kennedy’s language and reasoning; while the most dense-minded of the jurists, Clarence Thomas saw the decision as a defeat for democracy, and turned even the word “dignity,” which Kennedy argued was implied in the 14th Amendment, on its head, arguing that the government cannot give this quality to a people, nor take it away:
The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be
taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity
(any more than they lost their humanity) because the government
allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps
did not lose their dignity because the government confined
them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do
not lose their dignity because the government denies
them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity,
and it cannot take it away.
Was he actually suggesting that these detestable government actions had had no effect upon those who suffered these decisions? For, in fact, I would argue that institutions and the government that supported them, allowing slavery, internment camps, and the denial of governmental benefits did precisely take away the dignity of these individuals who not only suffered their effects, but by permitting them to be perceived as slaves or prisoners of lesser value instead of equal and beloved beings in the larger society, denied their humanity and even threatened their lives.
In the end, however, it is not “dignity” that I sought in the Court’s decision but the assertion of what I fell is a right, a fundamental right allowed me already by the Constitution, while continually denied by a few bigots who are determined not to permit the change that most Americans have already come to accept. Living in California, Howard and I have been given a permission that some of my peers are denied, simply because of the place where they reside. Yes, we might wait for several more decades for the attitudes to further change and for lower courts to chip away at the determined homophobes and religious fundamentalists, but the law can also help us to perceive where we have been mistaken. Blacks might still be waiting today to attend white schools and interracial couples might yet be waiting to marry, had it not been for the recognition that to deny these rights was no longer just.
Each of the four dissenting justices argued as if law was something written into stone, and could only be changed by the electorate and congress; but in fact, law is a living organism that must be interpreted, reinterpreted, and, on occasion, pushed forward not as a political agenda but as a vision whose time has come. The Constitution is not a set of frozen words put upon parchment by a group of founders into whose minds we must crawl each time to interpret what they meant, but a breathing collection of language whose significance must be expanded to include the present and the future, not simply the past.
If democracy and our Constitution do not permit gay marriage, I argue, I don’t want to live in the nation imagined by the conservative justices. And now, fortunately, I do not have to—at least with regard to this issue.
Anyone like me, who has lived through so many decades of some his countrymen’s hate for simply being who he or she was, knows, moreover, that there still will be many attempts by states and communities to defeat, ignore, and water down the new decision. Surely we can expect strong negative reactions, some already promised by Republican presidential candidates, none of whom could still allow for the Supreme Court decision. Governor Scott Walker promised to push for a constitutional amendment which would actively take away those new-found rights; others, such as Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee vowed to continue to fight the decision. Louisiana governor and GOP candidate, Bobby Jindal went so far as to suggest that we “get rid of the Supreme Court.” Many state legislatures will attempt to override such marriages with bogus state-rights bills; and we can expect hundreds of attempts to provide religious exceptions for all sorts of refusals to participate in or even permit gay and lesbian marriage, particularly in outlying rural areas. Only two days later, gays who applied for marriage licenses were turned down in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
As I predicted in my essay, “Second Hand Rose” in My Year 2013, “I truly believe that inevitably the whole US will have to come to the conclusion—as they have had to concerning so many other issues—that marriage quality for lesbian and gay couples is the only choice.” But the question I then posed still remains: “But why are those so intent on delaying and ending that choice still so adamant?” Surely if the Republican candidates cannot rid themselves of their dinosaur notions, they will find it hard to survive among the broader and younger American electorate.
The President’s White House portico speech was slow and polite without any true passion, presenting us with a figure who was caring perhaps, excited for the news, but not totally involved with the polite and totally appropriate remarks he was making. One got the sense that he was incredibly exhausted.
The remarkable fact that a few hours later President Obama delivered a eulogy at the funeral for the black pastor at the Emanuel AME church and South Carolina senator, Clementa Pickney that embraced the rhetoric of Southern church going blacks and commitments to a new racial future, was astounding and thoroughly exciting, particularly when the formerly politically nuanced President began to speak with the repeated antiphonal responses of black church preachers, letting loose in a way that most Americans and I certainly have never heard him speak, relying on his back and forth vocal encounters with his audience to speak about issues such as the Confederate flag and the numerous other changes necessary for true black equality and racial redemption.
And then, suddenly, when you might have expected it, he began to sing the old Southern hymn Amazing Grace in a voice a bit frail, that became stronger with each bar as he sang it, lilting into true vocal surety before, finally, the other ministers, the parishioners, and the choral singers of the church joined him, at the very moment of which, he shouted out the names of the “amazing” family members who had determinedly spoken out with “graceful” love against the violent actions of if murderer, Roof. No American president had ever done this before, and one might imagine that it would be hard for any future president to repeat it. This was perhaps one of the most significant moments, particularly within the context of the other news of the day, in American history, an event that would certainly define Obama’s presidency. I cried with complete abandonment; and it was clear, when the reporter Don Lemmon and others on CNN reappeared on the screen to comment on events, they too had been utterly moved by the speech. Something significant had happened, and when I quickly noted by feelings on Facebook, hundreds of my “friends” quickly confirmed my own emotions. In a single day, Obama had been able to connect the issues of identity of the LBGT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender) community with the country’s continued problems with racial violence.. And that night the White House was lit up with the colors of the LBGT coalition. For a moment the country seemed blessed.