States’ Rights. What are they? Constitutional Amendment X defines them as: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” In our country, so divided by the issues of slavery and race, these words have been heavily freighted with history.
Back in the day, not so long ago, those words, uttered in the wrong company, were enough to start a bar fight. Those two words, spoken by a Lester Maddox or Bull Connor, were the equivalent of a codified rebel yell signifying a resistance to Federal dominance over state power and all that went with it: voting rights for African Americans, civil rights, secularism, public school integration. President Ronald Reagan made hay out of those words, condemning Big Government and taxation with a sub-textual message of lazy, black welfare queens living off the dole. Ronald Reagan, with his promise to keep hands off the the traditions and internal workings of the South, converted a reluctantly Democratic region into an enthusiastic and pivotal Republican stronghold. For African-Americans states’ rights meant no rights. It was the power of the federal government to broadly enforce equal accommodation, ensure voter rights and reject the concept of “separate but equal” that began the slow erosion of racial discrimination. See here.
Now it’s the Democrats’ chance to take a turn at bat creating a permanent majority party. And well, the states’ rights issue is back, but with a twist. This time it’s about marriage. The issue of marriage, who may and may not marry, was explicitly a state matter until the 1967 legal challenge of Loving v. Virginia. In this case, the nation’s interest in equal protection to marry triumphed over a State’s interest in upholding community or traditional views surrounding the marriage contract.
The Defense of Marriage Act, passed by a Republican congress and signed in 1996 by Bill Clinton usurped state authority again, this time permitting anti- gay marriage states to ignore legal gay marriages in other states, a clear reversal under the Loving v. Virginia rule. Presidential candidate Obama, self-described “fierce defender” of equal rights for gays, himself defined marriage as between one man and one woman and went a step farther with Rick Warren at Saddleback declaring, that for him, “God is in the mix”‘. Notwithstanding the vague and pandering nature of the comment, if “God is in the mix” then gay marriage is transformed from a secular, civil rights/equal rights issue into a moral one, determined by a majority of Christian “believers”. That’s exactly where Obama, the Democratic Party and many evangelicals want to keep it. If gay rights are not civil rights the states can deal with them as they choose, mostly in an uncivil manner, without the struggle over personal liberties and “lifestyles” which are the bugaboo of national presidential politics.
Many African-Americans would prefer that LGBT rights were de-coupled from the civil rights struggle. Many find gays tagging along under “their” banner on the continuum to equality to be “insulting”. Why? because, they say they believe being gay is a “choice”, not an immutable condition, and if they are fundamentalist Christians, which the majority are, an immoral choice. Yes, marriage is a choice but hey, so is practicing any of the multitude of religions in the country. And we all know choosing the wrong religion historically was, and in some places still is, a risky and punishable choice.
President Obama is pandering to this nonsense to win the humanity-challenged hearts of the religious right.
Before 1967 most white voters in the states upholding miscegenation laws would have argued that marriage is a choice and so is selecting the marriage partner. Anyone deciding to chance wedlock with a person of a different race, understood the risks and consequences, and deserved them. Many would have argued, too, that it was an immoral choice, based upon their interpretation of the Bible.
What many African-Americans and other evangelicals forget is that freedom to love whom one will and receive the same rewards and benefits of the loving legal contract is what America is all about. It’s equality stupid.