Count me among the millions of people around the country–if not the world–who are gratified that President Barack Obama has come out today in support of marriage equality. I was similarly overjoyed when Don’t ask, Don’t Tell was repealed this past December, as I explained in the post, “With Liberty and Justice for all: DADT and Civil Rights.”
While millions of us are cheering, I imagine millions of others are dismayed, believing that their cherished values have been dealt a huge blow.
I was a child when Harry Belafonte (African American) and Joan Fontaine (Caucasian) were the lead actors in the movie Island in the Sun. The film was hugely controversial and they were not allowed to kiss, because an interracial couple kissing would have violated many people’s cherished values about keeping the races separate. Miscegenation (“race-mixing”) was against the law in my state.
So while I recognize some people’s dismay at the President’s stand, my memory of what it feels like to be viewed as less than a full citizen is still too vivid for me to do more than acknowledge that this may feel like a setback to them. For me, though, this is an important victory in the march toward equal rights for all in this country.
Others have noted the similarly between the history of civil rights for Blacks in this country with the unfolding history of civil rights for gays. A stirring presentation about this was made by Dr. William J. Barber, Pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro North Carolina, the evening before the popular vote yesterday on whether to ban same sex marriages in that state.
He rightfully noted the dangers of putting the 14th amendment regarding equal protection under the law to popular vote. As he explained, today’s Fair Housing laws (for example) probably wouldn’t survive a popular vote today. So, again and again, he asked, do we want to put up people’s rights to a popular vote? Click here to view the video.
A few years ago, an older White couple sat at dinner with my husband and me and basically apologized for the segregationist views that they had held for decades. “We just didn’t know,” they explained. We nodded sympathetically as they talked, and replied that we did understand that that was the way it was then. Yet here we were all now, having dinner together.
Yesterday, North Carolina passed the state ban on same sex marriages, making it the 30th state to done so. Despite that setback, I still agree with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said “the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.”
Maybe 30 years from now, some heterosexual couple who today is fervently against marriage equality will sit down to dinner with a gay couple, apologize for their stance of today, and tell them, “We just didn’t know.”
This is my prediction and my hope.