Obama, Slavery, States Rights, and Same-Sex Marriage

Mildred Loving holds a photo of her husband Richard as a young man. The Lovings were codefendants in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned state bans on interracial marriage. The Lovings' children stand in the background:

Mildred Loving holds a photo of her husband Richard as a young man. The Lovings were codefendants in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned state bans on interracial marriage. The Lovings' children stand in the background.

Last month, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans and our allies celebrated New York State becoming the sixth and largest state to allow same-sex marriage.

And, of course, it sent an urgent message to Obama.

But what does it signal to us LGBTQ citizens when the first African American president wants to employ states’ rights, which once upon a time in this country federally mandated racial segregation and sanctioned American slavery, to address the issue of same-sex marriage?

As a civil rights attorney, Obama knows that employing states’ rights violates our full constitutional rights as well as reinstitutionalizes the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. As a result of that case, the “separate but equal” doctrine became the rule of law until it was struck down in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The fight for marriage equality in the U.S. is similarly to my ancestors’ fight for freedom. In their day, before the Civil War in 1861, the U.S. consisted of nineteen free states and fifteen slave states. As a matter of fact, in the 2004 presidential race between John Kerry and George Bush where marriage equality was a hot-button issue, the election map results between Kerry’s blues states and Bush’s red states corresponded to the pre-Civil War free states and slave states, respectively.

As LGBTQ Americans, we’re not in slavery, but we certainly will be in a civil war as each state battle this issue. Whereas President Lincoln acted on behalf of my ancestor’s civil rights, we need to call on Obama to move on ours.

“The President has staked out a cynical political position aimed at not rocking the boat,” said Richard Socarides, who advised President Bill Clinton on gay rights issues. “This states’ rights argument is a separate but equal argument. Would the President have thought it right to let the states decide on the issue of interracial marriage, or on whether or not women should be allowed to vote?”

Mildred and Richard Loving

Mildred and Richard Loving

In 2008, a blogger on Pam’s House Blend was prescient and saw the painting on the wall about Obama’s as a full-throated LGBTQ civil rights advocate and wrote:

“Obama not only thinks that separate-but-equal is just ducky for LGBT couples. It was a gimmick from an era in which Obama could have aspired to no position in the White House higher than that of head janitor. …Once he’s in office, LGBT citizens will be forgotten. Obama is also in favor of the ’States Rights’ approach to the whole marriage equality issue. This was a principle sacred to the White Citizens’ Councils a half-century ago and is just as unconstitutional now…”

Obama needs to remember that an African-American woman named Mildred Loving not only set the precedent for same-sex marriage, but also allowed Obama’s parents to marry by challenging states’ rights.

Loving gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor that anti-miscegenation laws executed by the state are unconstitutional. Married to a white man, Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958 for violating the state’s ’Racial Integrity Act of 1924.’ The trial judge suspended their sentences on the condition the Lovings leave Virginia and not return to the state together for 25 years. The Lovings initially agreed and left, but returned soon after and decided to fight their case.

In advocating that same-sex marriage should be left up to the states, ABCNews reported that Obama stated, “I think it’s important for us to work through these issues because each community is going to be different, each state is going to be different.”

Perhaps, after nearly one full term in office, Obama is still unaware of deleterious effects of how the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the federal government from fully protecting same-sex nuptials. DOMA denies us a government-issued civil marriage license, and over 1100 federal rights and benefits, including social security benefits, the ability to file a joint federal tax return, and the right to petition for a spouse to immigrate, among other benefits and responsibilities conferred upon heterosexual married couples.

But how many sides are there to a politician’s mouth eyeing toward 2012?

“If Obama were to come out for marriage equality today, nothing could happen tomorrow,” said one Democratic strategist close to the administration who spoke on condition of anonymity to ABCNews.com. “The Defense of Marriage Act still needs to be repealed, and that won’t happen soon with a Republican-controlled House in place.”

“I was reminded that it is my obligation not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society, but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided,” Obama wrote in his recent memoir, The Audacity of Hope.

Rev. Irene MonroeWhile our President states his opinion is still “evolving” on this issue, he needs to know that we LGBTQ Americans and our families want to sample what he and Michelle and every heterosexual married couple take for granted — marriage, not marriage-lite.

Our democracy can only begin to work when those relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable right. For that to happen people, like state lawmakers, have to step in to make the democratic process work for us all.

And so, too, our President!

Rev. Irene Monroe

Comments

  1. Lou says

    What an asinine article! Gimme, gimme ,gimme,gimme, gimme! President Obama has done more for gay rights than ALL other presidents combined — and at great cost to himself. And what is your response? You relentlessly bash him for more, more, more, more, more! The gay and lesbian community doesn’t seem to give a damn about anybody but themselves. What are you trying to do: make him unelectable? I live in an overwhelmingly “gay” city but not even a literal handful of gays came out for several rallies on healthcare in this city of a half million. I went to two such rallies supporting healthcare reform and not even 20 people — total, gay or straight — attended either of them. Where is the gay communities’ support of the president? Are you so busy pursuing your goals exclusively that you have no time to support your greatest presidential supporter of all time? Why don’t you send him your checks?

    And all the BS about state’s rights is a crock. Saying that he wants to employ states’ rights is demagogic. You write: “…the first African American president wants to employ states’ rights, which once upon a time in this country federally mandated racial segregation and sanctioned American slavery, to address the issue of same-sex marriage?” The president has repeatedly spoken out against DOMA and has set in motion a legal process to repeal it. You claim that he wants to “…employ states’ rights, which once upon a time in this country federally mandated racial segregation and sanctioned American slavery, to address the issue of same-sex marriage? ” States rights never “federally mandated” ANYTHING — that’s EXTREMELY oxymoronic. So the president is like American slavers? REALLY? By that logic, nobody should belong to any church since it ACTIVELY promulgated the Inquisition, sanctioned slavery, and burned witches at the stake, etc., ad nauseam. What has President Obama EVER done to ACTIVELY OPPOSE what you want?

    Besides, the gay and lesbian community has its own flaws. You have often proven just as racist at the society at large; few ever fought for equal access to medical treatment end education for blacks during the AIDS crisis — the vast majority of the money went to support affluent white gays. Where were you then? And where are you now? Does your sense of racial entitlement affect your support of this Afro-American president who has been your best presidential friend, ever? Do some soul-searching and get back to me. As things stand, YOU DON’T COME CLOSE TO DESERVING THIS PRESIDENT! Be ashamed — or better, still, get up off your lazy, complacent, privileged asses and go out there and support him, not because he’s black, but because he’s the best friend you (and the country) have ever had.

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