Given the visceral homophobic attitudes which have historically dominated the African-American socio-political and religious dialogue, it is ironic that the two men at the forefront of America’s legislative and judicial campaign to end discrimination against gays are the nation’s first black Attorney General, Eric Holder, and president, Barack Obama.
Yesterday, Obama accepted a recommendation by Holder’s Justice Department, that the administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act which was passed by a Republican Congress in 1996, and signed by Bill Clinton. DOMA was specifically designed to deny federal rights and benefits to gay couples who were legally married under state law. Following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) last December, this decision represents the greatest milestone, and a teachable moment, on the path to equality for gay and lesbian Americans.
WATCH RACHEL MADDOW’S COVERAGE OF THE DOMA REVERSAL:
At a time when the global headlines are dominated by a call for democracy, by the revolutionary voice of a new generation of Africans and Arabs in the Middle East — America is being forced to consider its position as the de facto protector of freedom in the world. Just as President Truman saw the vast inequality evident for black soldiers returning from the European battlefields of World War II, only to be confronted by the ugly realities of a brutal Jim Crow South, perhaps it is time to clean house and right our own wrongs. Barack Obama and Eric Holder have seen the vision. The only question is whether their example will encourage other African-Americans to open their eyes.
Obama’s record on gay rights, though imperfect, has been the most progressive and exemplary of any of his predecessors. He successfully kept his promise to end the ban on lesbians and gays in the military. He signed the most comprehensive hate crimes legislation in history and expanded benefits to gay and lesbian federal employees — allowing provisions which permitted the most familiar of human dignities: visiting one’s partner in hospital, making decisions on their behalf at the moment of death, and having the right to the remnants of a life built and shared together. And he has appointed a record number of gay officials to government positions.
These efforts are perhaps most impressive, because of their simplicity: recognizing the humanity of every American. It may surprise some readers that these issues are being debated nearly 45 years after the aptly named Supreme Court case, Loving v Virginia, which upheld the marriage rights of a black woman and a white man to be recognized, regardless of individual state boundaries and restrictions.
But change still has its enemies; and as such, even in the 21st Century, we are still considering who has the right to love, and what kind of love is fit to recognized.It seems curious that the community which paved the path to international civil rights protections — by defining the parameters on the subject — and forcing the most powerful democratic government to embody its own principles, remains — both tacitly and verbosely — indifferent to the denial of rights for other vulnerable groups. Religious lies and misinterpretations are so commonly the basis for unfounded, rehearsed arguments, that the conversation becomes stale and useless.
The Bible and Qur’an are not, and should not, be admissible as legitimate evidence in an American court of law. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – outlining the separation of church and state – was designed explicitly to protect against such secular heresy. After all, both Christ and the Prophet Mohammed taught that to find the enemy of peace, we must first look within. How fitting a lesson on the matters of social justice.
The section of DOMA which serves as the greatest assault, and insult, to individual liberties is Section 2 which says, “No State…shall be required to give any effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State…respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage.” Holder’s statement has clarified the Justice Department believes that any justification for the denial of these rights and classifications must “be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny.” The Attorney General concluded that, “DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.”
Perhaps DOMA may have better served the interest of the nation by encouraging monogamy, instead of infidelity; promoting strong families, and a reduction in single-parent homes. Providing support to programs like Planned Parenthood which helps persuade teenagers and young adults to use abstinence as an alternative to abortion services. DOMA could have been a productive, progressive force in an American society, which spends too much time elevating the banal antics of Kim Kardashian and her cohorts, and too little time embracing the familial ideals embodied in first lady Michelle Obama. Instead, DOMA sought to deny individuals the right to love, the ability to form families and care for one another, and to live the life they justly deserve.
Could it be that after 300 years of the pursuit of freedom, much of which was tainted by the denial thereof, President Obama can lead the greater African-American community, in bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice?