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Sunday, March 24, 2013

The fight for equal rights: Too early to celebrate

Posted By on Sun, Mar 24, 2013 at 11:02 AM

The Sunday papers are full of news related to the struggle for gay rights. Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a couple of potentially landmark cases — a ban on gay marriage in California and a challenge of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to discriminate against those legally married elsewhere.

The New York Times rounds up the cautionary tale of Roe v. Wade. Rather than settle abortion rights for all time, the case became a lightning rod and the right to choose in some quarters (Arkansas for example) has never been more in peril. It is said that case could guide the Supreme Court and persuade it not to move too far in granting equal rights to gay people under the law.

Still, few on the gay rights side are pessimistic, whatever the court may rule in the two pending cases. They cheer the sea change in public opinion on marriage equality and other gay rights issues, particularly among young people (80-20 for same-sex marriage among people 29 and under in a recent major poll). They see no return to the bad old days as the old-timers with their old prejudices die off and the more enlightened younger generation supplants them.

Columnist Frank Bruni is typical. He writes of an "aura of inevitability" about the arrival of equal rights.

In an astonishingly brief period of time, this country has experienced a seismic shift in opinion — a profound social and political revolution — when it comes to gay and lesbian people. And it’s worth pausing, on the cusp of the court hearings, to take note of this change and to mull what’s behind it.

As for the change itself, look at the last month alone. Look merely at the Republican Party. Although its 2012 platform called for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, scores of prominent Republicans, including a few senior advisers to Mitt Romney’s campaign, broke ranks in late February and put their names to a Supreme Court amicus brief in favor of marriage equality.

That these dissidents can’t be dismissed as pure anomalies was made clear at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend. CPAC, mind you, is no enclave of moderation and reason. It’s more like an aviary for the far-right “wacko birds” whom John McCain recently called out.

But as BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner, who covered the conference, noted, “Opponents of gay rights spoke to a nearly empty room, while supporters had a standing-room-only crowd.” That observation came under a headline that said, “At CPAC, the Marriage Fight Is Over.” The article went on to quote a bit of counsel that the Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin gave her fellow conservatives. On the issue of same-sex marriage, she told them, the country was headed in one and only one direction. Republicans could either get with the program or get comfy with their image of being woefully out of touch.

Well. I think times are changing. I'd prefer to be hopeful. But I live in Arkansas. The only direction evident here — on gay rights and every other social issue — is full speed behind.

The New York columnist missed the headline Friday out of Arkansas, where the Republican legislative majority took a minute off from gun worship and advancing the rights of the zygote over those of living women to pass out of committee, without a peep of objection, a resolution endorsing state and federal law discrimination against gay people. The Republican Party's paid social media shill trumpeted the news and will certainly be standing by to preserve the vote of any who dare to vote in the roll call against support for de jure discrimination.

Arkansas by no means stands alone. The U.S. Supreme Court justices include the likes (at least threee others, in fact) of Samuel Alito. He was mentioned by former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in an interview with Terry Gross on O'Connor's new book on the court. It was quoted in today's Times.

Gross observed that O’Connor had once criticized a lower-court decision by Samuel Alito — the judge who eventually replaced her on the Supreme Court — upholding a Pennsylvania law that required women to seek their husband’s approval before getting an abortion: “You called that view repugnant to our present understanding of marriage and to the nature of the rights secured by the Constitution. Women do not lose their constitutionally protected liberty when they marry. Can you elaborate on that at all?” O’Connor’s terse reply showed she hasn’t lost her judicious instincts: “No,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll try.”

That's about how I feel in noting the legislative offerings of the pro-discrimination resolution author, Rep. Jim Dotson of Bentonville.

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