Whenever I hear the acronym DOMA, I immediately think of “Dummies in a Coma.”
Whatever the Supreme Court decides about the Defense of Marriage Act is going to affect large numbers of Tennesseans and other Americans. Not just those who are gay but also their relatives and friends.
According to a study by the Williams Institute, a think-tank devoted to LGBT research at UCLA, 11 percent of the population acknowledges some same-gender sexual attraction. This suggests that out of every 10 people we know, one is not as “straight as an arrow” sexually. And because no man or woman is an island, that one person may be emotionally connected to any number of other people — parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends — who long to see the day when true equality will be a fact, not just another American myth we brag about without actually “walking the walk.”
The DOMA case makes me think of the Dred Scott vs. Sanford case of 1857. One would think that because the American Declaration of Independence so very clearly says that all men are created equal, with self-evident rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all nine Supreme Court justices couldn’t help but find in favor of Dred Scott’s right not to be bought, owned and sold as “property.” But in 1857, unthinkably, seven justices found that slaves were indeed “property” and that their owners had the “right” not to be deprived of their “property.” That 7-2 ruling is now considered to be the worst decision in the history of the Supreme Court.
Will the current high court’s supreme dummies (er, “conservatives”) make the same type of mistake and ignore the far greater imperative — true equality — by focusing on something much less important, “states’ rights.” Did it make any sense whatsoever to say that states could create contradictory laws about slavery, when the great founding principle of the United States was the idea that all human beings are created equal, and thus all are entitled to equal rights and justice? Did it make any sense to say that when a white man and his black companion crossed state lines, the black companion’s legal status could change in an instant from “slave” to “free” or “free if I flee”?
Of course it made absolutely no sense then, and it makes absolutely no sense today that a non-heterosexual couple’s marital status and rights can change every time they cross state borders.
But it seems quite possible that the conservative justices will once again err, by failing to hold the far greater imperative in the proper regard. During recent arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, seemed to find non-heterosexuals guilty until proven innocent, by questioning whether there is sufficient data to show that children raised by same-sex couples are not adversely affected. (Surely the burden of proof should fall on the accusers, not the accused.)
Justice Samuel Alito said that the concept of gay marriage is “newer than cell phones and the Internet,” as if we would be better off if we were still using smoke signals and stone tablets, since older is better. But Sappho of Lesbos was writing poems about women living together and having sexual relationship more than 2,500 years ago. And it goes without saying that new ideas can be much better than prehistoric ones. In 1776 the idea that commoners were as good as kings and had the right to establish representative governments was shockingly new, at least to King George, who rejected the idea as treasonous madness. But the newer idea proved to be the far better idea. And whether gay marriage is a new idea or an old idea, it is obviously the right idea: an idea whose time has come.
But conservatives want to conserve the status quo, so they tend to resist progress like the plague. There should have been no debate about slavery in 1857. We clearly understand that now. And there should be no debate about LGBTs having equal rights today, including the right to marry. Can anyone doubt that the Supreme Court justices who vote in favor of DOMA will go down in tomorrow’s history books like the ones who voted for slavery in the Dred Scott Decision?
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.