Somehow it’s fitting that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to consider states’ bans on same-sex marriages just as the nation started the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.
It’s become a cliché now to say that the fight to secure equal rights for gay Americans has become this generation’s civil rights struggle. Clichés, though, often become clichés because they have some basis in truth.
Certainly there are parallels between this battle and the ones in which King was a central figure. In both cases, an initially small minority confronted barriers of bigotry and oppression and managed to tear them down through a series of political, social and legal campaigns. And, in both cases, the resistance to their efforts was fierce and at times irrational.
Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that they oppose it on religious grounds. Doubtless, that’s true, but it ignores the fact that segregationists – and even slaveholders – found and used biblical passages to argue that some human beings shouldn’t have the same legal rights as others.
This civil-rights struggle is likely to parallel earlier ones in another important, but disquieting, way: Even when the question is decided, the fighting won’t be over.
For all practical purposes, the Brown v. the Board of Education decision in 1954 sounded the death knell for legalized segregation. That didn’t stop Americans from fighting, often savagely, over matters of integration and inclusion for the next 60 years.
In fact, as the arc of King’s life and tragic death demonstrate, the warfare over ending apartheid in America increased in viciousness once it became clear the segregationists were going to lose.
All evidence suggests the Supreme Court will make same-sex marriage across the country. The nation’s highest bench already has struck down a federal ban on gay unions, and the justices declined to act as same-sex marriages became legal – and tens of thousands occurred – in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
Most likely, a divided court will rule in a close vote that bans on same-sex unions are dead in America and that gay Americans will be able to enter into matrimony anywhere they live in the United States.
And that will only ratchet up the intensity with which opponents of gay marriage fight on.
Already, we’ve seen examples here in Indiana of the extremes to which they will go.
A misguided and misnamed “religious liberty” bill authored by state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, has earned most of the attention so far. That bill would allow business owners the “right” to refuse service to gay Hoosiers on religious grounds.
A measure introduced by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, has received less attention but is even more troubling. Delph introduced a bill that dusted off the “nullification” doctrine of 19th-century Vice President, Secretary of War and U.S. Sen. John Calhoun, a South Carolinian.
Calhoun’s theory of nullification argued that a state had the right to overrule and refuse to honor any federal law, policy or court ruling it considered unconstitutional or an abuse of power. It was upon that premise that the Southern states determined they could secede from the nation when Abraham Lincoln was elected president and the bloodiest civil war in human history soon ensued.
Calhoun’s theory was the intellectual basis for much of the bloodshed.
Delph’s bill would grant the Indiana General Assembly the authority to declare any law or policy of the federal government it thought unconstitutional null and void in the Hoosier state.
Delph seems to think the wrong side won the Civil War. The fact that he belongs to the party of Lincoln is what’s known as irony.
The chance that such pandering and malicious measures would survive legal challenges is non-existent.
But they show how desperate the opponents of same-sex marriage are to resist both change and justice.
The Supreme Court soon will settle the question of same-sex marriage in the United States for good.
But the fighting over equal rights for gay Americans likely will continue for a long and ugly time.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.