Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Posted: 8:03 p.m. Saturday, May 12, 2012
Indulge me for a moment. We’re going back in time.
It’s 1861, and I want to tell you that my thinking on racial equality has evolved. I used to think that white people deserved to have an elevated status under the law. But now, as I’ve gotten to know some black people, I’ve come to believe that they’re no less of a person than me, and they should have the same rights I do.
And I know in my heart now that the slavery of black people is wrong.
But slavery is an issue that should be left up to individual states to decide.
And now, we’re zooming forward to 1919.
My opinion of women has evolved regarding their quest for equal status in the voting booth.
Some of those women I’ve come to know are pretty smart, and I’ve come to realize that it’s reprehensible to hold them down by excluding them from full citizenship rights as voters.
But women’s suffrage is an issue that should be left up to the individual states to decide.
I’m guessing by now you’ve come up with an apt description for my hypothetical time traveler.
“Moral coward” would be an apt description for somebody who understands a gross injustice in civil rights and then chooses to do nothing about it.
OK, our time traveler has reached the present time.
My position on gay marriage has evolved over the years. I used to think that gay people should be excluded from the multitude of benefits and protections that straight couples get through marriage.
But I have come to know many gay people who have loving, committed relationships that represent exemplary family values. And I can’t in good conscience still conclude that they should be legally subjugated to second-class citizenship in their quest for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But gay marriage is an issue that should be left up to individual states to decide.
Since when do states make individual decisions on equal-protection rights? Claiming to be for marriage equality, but qualifying that by saying equality in America has geographic boundaries, isn’t saying much.
So don’t count me among the awed that President Obama announced that gay people ought to be able to get married but only if a majority of voters in their states approve it.
If something is a civil right, it ought to be a civil right in all 50 states. And your right to marry the person you love shouldn’t be conditional on the aggregate amount of bigotry in the state where you live.
Democrats have owned this form of cowardice on gay rights, and in a way, it makes them far more annoying than Republicans, who at least have the decency to be openly hostile or indifferent on the issue.
Remember, the repulsive Defense of Marriage Act was passed under the Clinton administration, not a Republican administration.
And Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage is coming at a time when he’s more of a follower than a leader. Public opinion on the subject has already reached the tipping point, with half of Americans favoring gay marriage, according to the most recent Gallup poll.
So I don’t see any great act of courage here.
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida typified the limp-noodle essence of Democratic leadership in his reaction to Obama’s announcement on gay marriage last week.
“I have a record fighting against discrimination and standing up for people’s civil rights based on their sexual orientation,” Nelson wrote The Miami Herald.
And then he added: “I believe marriage should be left to the states, and Florida voted on same-sex marriage in 2008.”
Yes, Florida did. A group of religious fundamentalists bankrolled by the Republican Party of Florida engineered a comically misnamed “marriage protection” amendment on the ballot to ban gay marriage in the state constitution, even though it was already banned by Florida law. And then 62 percent of the voters approved this double-bagger effort.
In other news, it took Florida until 1969 to ratify the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote 50 years earlier.
And it wasn’t until 2008 that the Florida Legislature got around to apologizing for slavery.
In 1861, Richard Keith Call, the territorial governor of Florida, wrote that the black slave was “an animal, in the form of man, possessing the greatest physical power without one principle of his nature, one faculty of mind or feeling of heart, without spirit or pride of character, to enable him to regard slavery as a degradation.”
Waiting for states like Florida to lead the way in America’s long march toward equality is a cop-out. And I suspect that future Americans are going to look back on the leaders of today and marvel at their timidity or callousness in the face of this century’s civil rights struggle.