It’s been eleven years since I wrote my first letter to the editor of the El Dorado News-Times (August 4, 2004). It, and my second letter, was in opposition to the Republican proposal to add a discriminatory amendment to the U. S. Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. My third letter dealt with a similar amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. There was a lot of local support for these amendments, and virtually no one else was pointing out the multiple reasons they shouldn’t be passed. (All three letters are still available on this website under the Constitution category or by clicking on the links above.)
In the mid-1970s, I was the history teacher at the American School of Quito, Ecuador. To get to know one another, several of my colleagues and I had dinner together at local restaurant. When it was discovered I was from Arkansas, I was surprised that the Central High School desegregation crisis was so well-remembered – and so was my presumed southern racism.
Before our entrees arrived, my co-workers were treated to a ten-minute dissertation on how Arkansas had been a leader in what we had hoped would be a New South. Arkansas’s post-crisis governors Winthrop Rockefeller (Rep.), Dale Bumpers (Dem.), and David Pryor (Dem.) led the state with distinction. Bumpers and Pryor went on to be the finest senators any state could possibly have at any one time. (Regrettably, neither of them could be elected in today’s regressive and irrational anti-Obama climate.)
So you can see how ashamed I was in 2004 when Arkansas voters were poised to place discrimination against specific citizens into our state constitution. After we had come so far to dig out of the stigma of Central High, we were taking a gigantic leap backward. However, without a national ban in the U. S. Constitution, which had no chance of passage, any state ban would be clearly unconstitutional.
Section 1 of Article XIV is not hard to understand. It states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the state wherein they reside.” That’s pretty clear and unequivocal.
It goes on to say, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A state can’t just decide to take away certain rights from some citizens while allowing others to still have them.
In the U. S. Supreme Court ruling in late June, the three die-hard radical-reactionaries (Alito, Scalia, and Thomas) and the occasional extremist (Chief Justice Roberts) were on the negative side. Apparently, the terms “citizens” and “person” were too general for them. They must have wanted terms like “gays,” “lesbians,” or “homosexuals” to have been specified in the 14th Amendment, which, of course, they’re not.
The leader of the majority was Justice Anthony Kennedy, who joined the court’s four moderates. I must admit that I had given up on him and presumed him to have become a blind follower of the court’s right-wing extremists. He had supported unlimited campaign spending by plutocrats and large corporations in the catastrophic Citizens United ruling in 2010. But, in this case, it was good to have a supporter of the plutocracy playing a more conventional, conservative role. Extremely rich individuals and large corporations generally do not share the Fox-Republican-TEA Party’s obsession with an anti-gay agenda. It’s bad for business.
Our Pledge of Allegiance includes the words “justice for all,” and our Declaration of Independence claims that “all men are created equal.” Those words still may not be entirely true about our society, but they do reflect our American ideals. At least on the issue of same-sex marriage, we seem to be trying to make them true. Mr. Kennedy seemed convinced that the American people were ready to accept gays as equal citizens and believed that living in the past could not morally be sustained.
As my late friend Moritz Thomsen wrote (on another topic: on why he gave up his California farm) in his Peace Corps memoir Living Poor, “It (gay acceptance) is the boredom that comes with familiarity.” Tom Hanks (Philadelphia), William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Sean Penn (Milk), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), and Hillary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry) have all won Oscars in homosexual roles. You can see why Republicans have historically hated Hollywood. Hollywood lets the public know about people and things that their party wants to keep hidden.
Following the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling on same-sex marriage, the Boy Scouts of America announced on July 27 that it would, at long last, allow openly gay men to be scout leaders. I was sufficiently impressed that while I was in Washington, DC, in early August, I sought out the Boy Scouts Memorial to pay my respects. It’s a fine sculpture by Donald De Lue on the National Mall east of the Ellipse. It consists of three bronze figures: a boy scout in full uniform, flanked by allegorical figures the Smithsonian described as “American Manhood and Womanhood and the ideals they will pass onto the youth.”
Thanks should be given to the current president of the BSA, Robert Gates, who insisted the organization should do the right thing before being court-ordered to do so. Remember that it was he as Secretary of Defense who presided over the demise of the deplorable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in our Armed Services.
Regrettably, some sponsors of scout groups, like the Mormon Church, may opt out of the new policy because of religious reasons. It’s always sad when religion is used for reasons of discrimination, but we’ve come to expect it. After all, slavery and segregation were defended for religious reasons – as are restrictions on women’s rights today.
On August 17, Jeopardy began its Kids Week series. The bright young winner of the first contest earned more than $25,000 (the minimum prize for the winner was $15,000). It was an eleven-year-old boy who defeated two twelve-year-olds. Viewers got to see his parents in the audience and on stage. They were his two mothers.
The year 2004 was a nightmarish year when gay bashing was the Republican ploy to get out a larger conservative and reactionary vote. The only good thing about the state bans was they made legal challenges possible and speeded up the processes of justice. It is now only eleven years later, and the Supreme Court has proclaimed same-sex marriage to be constitutional. All those anti-gay constitutional amendments that institutionalized discrimination in states like Arkansas are defunct. The Boy Scouts of America is finally practicing toleration and acceptance. The kid on Jeopardy is all right. And the Earth is still spinning smoothly on its axis.
By David Offutt
A version of this essay was published August 24, 2015, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.