Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Supreme Court’s Decisions and the New Mason-Dixon Line

I have not posted here for several months and I will address that in my next post; however, I want to resume my blog commenting on yesterday’s significant developments.

Yesterday the long awaited decisions from the U. S. Supreme Court were finally announced. The first decision on DOMA was a substantive, although only a partial, victory. It was substantive because Section 3 of DOMA was struck down. The practical effect of this is that couples who are married in one of the states that recognizes full marriage equality for all of its citizens, will now have their marriages legally recognized by the Federal government.

Real world, this means they can file joint tax returns; in fact, they can amend their tax returns for the last 3 years, provided of course that they were legally married in a state that legally recognized their marriage. It means Social Security benefits for married partners. It means health care benefits. It means that persons married to someone in the military will now have access to base housing, spousal benefits and can be buried next to their husband/wife in a military cemetery. It means BI-national couples will not suffer the deportation of their other half by the INS. All of this and a myriad of other rights and obligations too numerous to list here.

For Californians, Prop 8 is finally dead, well almost. It will take 25 days for the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision to be officially communicated to the Ninth Circuit Court. Upon that official communication, the Ninth Circuit will then lift its stay on the decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. Governor Jerry Brown and the California Attorney General have already instructed all 58 counties in our state to immediately begin to issue Marriage Licenses once these legal technicalities are fulfilled. We should have Marriage Equality practically restored in California by the middle or end of July.

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) had predicted a “HUGE” victory at the Supreme Court. He was correct, but for Marriage Equality and not for continued legal discrimination against LGBT people.

All of these developments are cause for joy and celebration. I recall being there at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vincente in 2008 when the evil, and now defunct, Prop 8 was declared legal. We marched from that corner up to Sunset Boulevard and then on to Crescent Heights and back down to Santa Monica. In a humorous aside my partner and I found ourselves at the head of the crowd. We decided to walk back to the parking lot where our car was, not realizing that thousands of people were following us up the small side street. That little gaff provided a much appreciated, and needed, moment of laughter in an otherwise difficult night.

Yesterday streets were closed down here in LA, and other places across California and America. This time it was not to protest an evil injustice; but rather to mark and celebrate the achievement of a milestone for justice and human dignity. Such celebrations were more than warranted, as Thea’s partner and survivor said to journalists: “If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do so!” Her love and wife were FINALLY recognized as valid and full citizens with the same equal rights and dignity that we all deserve! FINALLY!

Therein, however, lies the rub. Not everyone is equal. Proponents of injustice and inequality bellowed that 37 states deny those very rights to their subjects (citizens). They love to count their seemingly superior numbers; however, they conveniently overlook the populations of marriage equality v. discriminatory states. There are TWO Americas. I thought back to my 5th grade history class with Mrs. Martse, she explained the Mason-Dixon line to our class. It was an arbitrary line across America. A compromise, a way to accommodate two desperate views of humanity within a divided political reality.

The idea that an entire group of human beings can be abused, dehumanized, vilified and denied fundamental civil rights is not a new idea. The fact that other human beings can be so devoid of both empathy and wisdom, and create artificial justifications for such abuse of others, is a recurring tragedy within human history. Yet, here we are-again and so, while I rejoice that I live in a “Free” state, I lament that we live in a nation that is still half enslaved.

The words of President Lincoln speaking to this reality in his day, came to mind yesterday:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.

His words provide comfort and hope; but simultaneously they are a call to action until all of us in all 50 states, and internationally, are free. A Yale law school professor yesterday commented that the Supreme Court decision on DOMA will inevitably lead to full equality throughout America within five years. In principle that seems true; however, it takes blood, sweat and tears to translate principles into laws. It takes generations of such perseverance to then translate laws into social attitudes. Other people in other ages have overcome injustices and malicious prejudices, we will too and for the very same reason: because we have no other choice.

1 comment:

Tal said...

Fr. Geoff, good to hear from you again. Definitely been a while.

The dissents to the majority opinion in United States v. Windsor I thought quite illuminating. I'm all for judicial conservatism (i.e., the principle that the courts should effect the smallest decision possible). But when the dissents' language could read, in a slightly different context, to support segregation or racial purity laws, maybe it's time to reconsider?

The idea that the federal government, in a classic "tyranny of the majority," can reach into a sovereign state and disapprove the democratic will of its citizens in an area exclusive to the state is odious to our federal system of governance. And thanks to Kennedy, that is undone and much of the groundwork laid for challenging anti-equality laws on the grounds of equal protection.