Despite the moniker of “the melting pot” of the world, the United States has a storied history of non-inclusion and intolerance.
It’s easy to sweep slavery under the rug — a messy, history-altering civil war took care of that (so the argument goes), but unfair discrimination of people groups doesn’t know bounds of time, geography or demographics.
This week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases that keep pace with the pulse of American society and address what some call modern discrimination.
Beginning Tuesday, the justices will take on Hollingsworth v. Perry, better known for it’s ties to California’s controversial Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and woman. Additionally, justices will hear arguments against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996.
Advocates of same-sex marriage call the cases a milestone for an attempt to end what they call marriage discrimination against the LGBT community.
While supporters pitched tents and camped out to get a seat in the courtroom during the proceedings, others argue that the Prop 8 case doesn’t even belong in Washington. According to them, Californians rejected same-sex marriage by a vote, and the Supreme Court shouldn’t supercede the will of the people.
There are so many arguments for or against gay marriage that I could write a column each week for the rest of the year on the topic, but it’s the notion that the state has the ultimate decision to dictate the course of civil rights that falls flat in my opinion.
Nearly every minority group throughout American history — women, Irish, Puerto Ricans, Catholics, etc. — experienced discrimination to some degree.
What’s more troubling is the multitudes of legalized discrimination over the years — examples where the people voted in favor of discriminatory behavior.
Beginning in 1879 for 47 years, voters in California denied Chinese natives the right to vote, even if they had received U.S. citizenship until the state constitutional amendment was repealed.
Chicago practiced restrictive housing beginning in 1927, lasting for more than 25 years.
Into the late 1950s, miscegenation (intermarriage) laws existed in most states.
Reading these examples, one might think that states repealed legal discrimination by the 1960s, but in 2004, voters in Alabama voted to uphold restrictive, inflammatory and downright archaic verbiage in their own constitution that, legally, allowed segregation to continue.
Alabamians eschewed the Supreme Court’s decision in landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, preferring to revert to the precedent of “separate but equal” established in Plessy v. Ferguson, decided in 1896.
Page 2 of 2 - Sometimes voters just don’t get it right. More often, government doesn’t get it right. Who can forget Orval Faubus, the Arkansas governor who ordered National Guard personnel to block the entrance to Little Rock Central High School from black students in 1957?
As difficult as it might be to accept, sometimes changes must be unwillingly foisted upon culture to achieve a better outcome. How would the landscape of U.S. society look today if the Supreme Court hadn’t ruled in Brown v. Board?
Although some citizens might not like it (by the way, who says everyone is supposed to like EVERY law and EVERY Supreme Court ruling?), should the Supreme Court justices rule against the passage of Proposition 8 and DOMA, they will strengthen our nation and align the country more with the moral vicissitude of the founders: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Time will tell if the Supreme Court will yet again prove to be the vehicle that turns the tide of history forward.