Two Judges who have unique places in history were rememberedby me as I followed the deliberations of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices as they considered the Constitutional merits of California's Proposition 8 on Tuesday, March 26, 2013. First was a judge known as Pontius Pilate who presided at the trial of Jesus. The coincidence of the proceedings regarding marriage equality for same sex couples taking place during the week when Christians re-visit the Biblical description of the trial of Jesus during the week Christians call Holy, cannot be over looked.
Second was Chief Justice Taney who on March 6, 1857 issued the infamous Dred Scott decision.
The Gospels in the Christian (New Testament) Bible offer these impressions of the role of Pontius Pilate as he presided at the trial of Jesus. Book of Matthew: Pilate washes his hands as a way of avoiding responsibility for the execution of Jesus. Book of Mark: Pilate believes in the innocence of Jesus and is reluctant to send him to be executed. Book of Luke: Pilate agrees that Jesus did not conspire against the Romans. Book of John: Pilate asks the crowd if Jesus should be released.
Chief Justice Taney said this as justification for the Dred Scott decision: "They (Negroes) had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit..." *
Some of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices during Holy Week 2013 seemed to manifest a bit of Pilate who presided at the trial of Jesus. They believe for a host of reasons that same sex couples are innocent of any charge of conspiracy to weaken "Traditional Marriage" (One man, One woman). Nor were they for reasons of rationality, intelligence and common sense willing to accept the argument that the major purpose of marriage was for procreation. But there seemed to be hints of reluctance among some of them to acknowledge and/or admit that equal access provisions of the Constitution require an immediate embrace of the right of marriage equality for same sex couples.
One hopes that this reluctance will not be reflected in their decision that will be announced in June. The oft-repeated words; "Justice delayed, is Justice denied" cannot be avoided as the Justices make their decision. My often-remembered Grandmother Mama Irene, who over and over again brought forth her South Carolina "mother wit and folk wisdom" before those of us who were her grandchildren, used to begin some sentences with these words, "When push comes to shove...." It was her way of saying that there are times when pushing is not enough because that which is being pushed does not move. She suggested that when that happens, shoving is in order. Many of us hope that if the Justices are serious about all they have said and written about the Constitution and its pre-eminence in describing/defining ways the nation and we must act, they will make a decision affirming Constitution-based rationale for the rights of same sex couples to marry. May their language in doing that, "push, pull and shove," if necessary, the nation to respond to their decision.
Any semblance of "gradualism," in their decision, will diminish the importance of the Constitution. We as a nation are "pregnant" with the equality provisions of the Constitution, or we are not. Partial equality, as is true for partial pregnancy are both non-existent. Same sex couples have been present from the very beginnings of the experiment named "The USA". It is time for them and all of us to celebrate the "birth" of the child called Marriage Equality".
I do not have more to say about the words of Chief Justice Taney. I simply ask the reader to insert "same gender loving couples (SGL)" wherever the word Negro appears or where it is implied. SGL couples "have had no rights" worthy of respect by the nation and its practices. The U.S. Supreme Court of 2012-2013 has the opportunity to declare that the right of marriage equality for same sex couples is valid and worthy of respect by all of us.
Next week, on April 4th, many of us, particularly those of us who knew him and marched with him will acknowledge the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. I, as a straight ally/advocate of gay rights in society AND church have allowed his words to become almost a mantra for me; "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." My hope is that the Supreme Court in its decision-making believes that as well.
* "The Negro in the South" by W.T. Couch in CULTURE IN THE SOUTH, Edited by W. T. Couch (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1935)