Mar 16, 2011
The cause of marriage equality in Maryland was dealt a surprise setback last week when the state House of Representatives unexpectedly failed to pass a bill that had already passed in the more conservative Senate. Lacking enough support to pass, the bill was sent back to the Judiciary Committee -- a committee that had almost killed the bill the week before.
From an editorial in the Washington Blade:
A couple of political careers likely imploded during this process, including those of Dels. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) and Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County). Carter and Del. Tiffany Alston stunned backers of the Civil Marriage Protection Act by staying away from a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee in which a vote on the marriage bill was scheduled to take place, and announced they would not vote on the measure until Democratic leaders paid more attention to other issues they feel are equally important. Both Carter and Alston are co-sponsors of the marriage bill. Where was House Speaker Michael Busch when we needed him to keep these selfish renegades in line?
And Arora, who campaigned as a supporter of marriage equality and accepted financial contributions from LGBT people across the state and beyond, also yanked his support, triggering a flood of angry responses on his Facebook page and calls for him to refund those donations. Arora represents liberal Montgomery County. And his betrayal represents the end of his young political career.
A major factor in the debacle was the opposition from African-American delegates, pressured by clergy in their districts, who took offense at LGBT claims that marriage equality is a "civil rights issue." From the Baltimore Sun:
Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. delivered the day's longest speech, blasting same-sex marriage supporters for calling the issue one of civil rights.
"Those who want to ride on our coattails are historically incorrect," said Burns, an African-American Democrat from Baltimore County. He said gay people had not endured the struggles of blacks, had not had crosses burned on their lawns or been thrown in a police wagon.
I drew about this argument several years ago:
To comment on race relations is to step into a mine field, at least if you're a person of no color; no less if one is a cartoonist putting words into the mouths of other people. The United States has a shameful history of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, segregation and pervasive discrimination against African Americans (which continues today in the stubborn refusal of many people to accept the overwhelming evidence that Barack Obama is in fact a natural born citizen and duly elected President of the United States). But I cannot accept the idea that my civil rights are not civil rights because the term "civil rights" is the exclusive property of African Americans. Are women's civil rights "historically incorrect" because crosses weren't burned on their lawns?
The U.S. Supreme Court has had to address marriage equality before. Within my lifetime (and the lifetime of President Obama and every member of the current Court), it was illegal in many states for persons of different races to marry. If Loving v. Virginia was not a civil rights case, what was it?
The Court rejected the state's argument that the statute was legitimate because it applied equally to both blacks and whites and found that racial classifications were not subject to a "rational purpose" test under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court also held that the Virginia law violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. "Under our Constitution," wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren, "the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State."
Each struggle for civil rights has something to differentiate it from other struggles -- gas chambers, rape, employment discrimination, having one's land taken away or being taken away from one's land. There are also things that we have in common. Contrary to Rev. Burns, we were indeed thrown in the backs of police wagons. Likewise, antebellum laws did not recognize slaves' marriage rights. To focus solely on the differences is as pointless as suggesting that the experiences of African-Americans in Hawai'i made them less deserving of civil rights than African-Americans in Mississippi.