Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Arc of History is Long But It Bends Towards Justice

The Supreme Court of California ruled that the ban on equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian citizens violated the state's constitution. (Link via) The ruling goes into effect in 30 days.

Everyone of good will will be celebrating this today. A step forward for justice in the midst of dark times.

But whether the ruling will stay in effect is in doubt. An amendment to the California constitution is primed and ready to go on the ballot in November, which would overturn this ruling. In 2000, when the last ballot initiative in California on equal marriage rights was on the ballot, the side of bigotry and injustice got 63% of the vote. As Kevin Drum says: "In November we'll see how far we've come in the past eight years." (Update: In a follow-up post, he offers some evidence for pessimism on this front.)

Justice took a step forward today; but whether the arc of history has to go around the long way this time remains to be seen.

Incidentally, one point worth remembering when conservatives start to cry judicial activism: the California legislature already passed an equal marriage rights bill: it was vetoed by the Terminator, who said that it should be a judicial decision.

So far, one state in fifty allows its gay and lesbian citizens equality (or as near as they can get given the discriminatory effects of DOMA: as long as DOMA is in effect, even state-level marriage rights won't be equal, since the many federal marriage rights that exist are denied legally married Massachusetts couples who happen to be gay or lesbian). It's nice that we will -- at least for the moment -- go to two. It'd be nicer if we could stick with it past November.

This election is really going to be the ultimate clash of symbolism and substance. On the one hand, we have the now-undeniable fact that the Republicans have made a total disaster out of our foreign policy, shredded the constitution, wrecked the economy and fiddled while the environment burned: conservative policies have put this country in absolutely disastrous shape. Against that, the Republicans will offer the fact that the Democratic candidate is a Scary Black Man who wants to let Scary Gay Couples get married. It's all they've got left. Come November, we'll see if it's enough -- whether they'll be able to sign the public up for four more years of ruinous war, torture, illegal spying, executive power grabs, economic disintegration and ongoing environmental ruin as long as the President's white and wears a flag pin, and two men can't get married in California.

Update (on the Title): Yeah, I smegged up the quote: it should be "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice". (Maybe because what I really should be doing right this second is grading history exams.) Teach me to quote from memory, I guess.

Also, it turns out that this was not first said -- as I'd always thought -- by Martin Luther King, Jr. (who did quote it often), but by Unitarian minister Theodore Parker (1810 - 1860). News to me. (Hat tip to Meteor Blades, who had the same thought I did, but A) got the quote right, and B) knew who first said it.)

No comments: