Click here to go to the Home Page Cover Story: What Will It Take to Bring Obama Home? - Obama Harkens Back To Slavery With “States' Rights” For Same-Sex Marriage - Moving Left – Part 15 By The Rev. Irene Monroe, Editorial Board

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Note: This commentary is in place of Rev. Monroe’s “Inclusion” column.

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 BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?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 similar 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 battles this issue. Whereas President Lincoln acted on behalf of my ancestor’s civil rights, we need to call on Obama to move on ours. Or else we’ll use our gay dollars on another candidate.

"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?" 

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.

On June 12, 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the high court:

"Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State. These convictions must be reversed."

Civil Rights leaders such as the late Coretta Scott King, Representative John Lewis, NAACP Chair Julian bond, and Reverend Al Sharpton have long supported equal marriage protection for LGBTQ citizens. In fact, John Lewis filed a friend-of-the court brief in the Massachusetts case that led to the state becoming the first in the country to legalize marriage equality.  And the California State NAACP filed an amicus brief, as did the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York City.

In advocating that same-sex marriage should be left up to the states ABC News reported Obama stating, "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  the 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 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 "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."

While 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 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!

Click here to read any commentary in this BC series.

Click here to send a comment to all the participants in this BC series. Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is Click here to contact the Rev. Monroe.

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July 7, 2011 - Issue 434
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