This was a big week for the debate regarding same sex marriage and civil rights. While lawyers were arguing the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) at the Supreme Court, debates raged at dinner tables, on talk radio, from the desks of cable news shows, in boardrooms and bedrooms, and across social media. While most debates were between those on opposite sides of the issue, the question of extending civil rights to the LGBT community created a different discourse even amongst those in support of repealing DOMA.
Last week I mentioned he Loving vs. Virginia, the 1965 Supreme Court case that called laws barring interracial marriage unconstitutional. My point was that sometimes it up to the courts to establish what is right and not leave it to the populace and state legislatures. I was challenged by the usual conservatives, but also the religious left who claimed that Loving righted centuries of wrongs and that same sex marriage was about condoning sodomy and not civil rights. A strange argument regarding the latter as it focuses on the ‘sex’ issue but not the marriage.
But the extended debate continued to rage amongst progressives and between races. I detected a sense from many progressive Blacks that they were uncomfortable, even offended, by comparisons of LGBT discrimination to Jim Crow Laws. Making comparisons can be a difficult and dangerous, and often ill-advised no matter the intent. I identify strongly with my Jewish race; perhaps not on as much of a religious basis as much as a racial one. For this reason I am extremely sensitive to false comparisons to the holocaust because it diminishes the evil, sorrow, and horror. I can therefore appreciate an African American’s sensitivity to slavery and Jim Crow laws as they too are personal, specific, and recent.
From Biblical times though two millennia of the common era, Jews have not only suffered through discrimination, persecution, but also extermination. And while I have never experienced anything of the sort, I do understand and sympathize with all peoples that share the same history. I find any law, behavior, act, or otherwise that denies someone any natural right based on his or her race, gender, ager, creed, color, sexual orientation, religion, etc. abhorrent. It is why it is incumbent for legal rights to be established and enforced where natural rights are denied.
When I made my statement regarding Loving it was not meant to diminish those that were persecuted and oppressed by Jim Crow Laws, my point was that we are endowed with these inalienable rights not to draw comparisons in terms of pain and suffering. What our individual plights should teach us to be tolerant of one another and to fight discrimination and persecution. After all, didn’t Atticus Finch teach us anything? "One time Atticus said you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them."
Now that is American Exceptionalism.