ColumnistsRyan Shattuck

Civil Rights May Not be Popular … But They’re Still Right

One night in 1958, Mildred Jeter, a woman of African and American Indian descent, and her husband Richard Loving, a white man, were awoken in their bed by police officers acting on a tip. The couple was arrested and later charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia code, which prohibited interracial couples from returning to Virginia after being married in another state. The couple plead guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison.

Several years later, their case ended up before none other than the United States Supreme Court. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that:

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 … is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.

Because of Loving v. Virginia, my sister married a man of a different race 37 years later, and hasn’t been woken up by the police. Not once.

On Aug. 4, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in the landmark case Perry v. Schwarzenegger that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. His ruling stated that:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license … Because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

The overturning of the controversial 2008 California proposition was immediately met with a vociferous gnashing of teeth by conservatives and religious groups. Chuck Donovan of the Heritage Foundation accused Judge Walker of “extreme judicial activism” and “judicial tyranny,” while thrice-married Newt Gingrich complained that “Judge Walker’s ruling overturning Prop 8 is an outrageous disrespect for our Constitution and for the majority of people of the United States who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife.” Even the American Family Association went as far as to call for the impeachment of Judge Walker: “This is a tyrannical, abusive and utterly unconstitutional display of judicial arrogance … It’s inexcusable for him to deprive the citizens of California of their right to govern themselves, and cavalierly trash the will of over seven million voters.”

Never mind the wonderfully ironic fact that this supposedly “activist judge” was nominated by Ronald Reagan, appointed by George H.W. Bush, opposed by Senate Democrats for being too conservative, and was even accused by Nancy Pelosi of being “insensitive” to gays.

Opponents of same-sex marriage are fond of pointing out that 52 percent of California voters (or approximately 7,000,000 people) voted for Proposition 8, supposedly proving that the ‘majority’ of California residents oppose same-sex marriage. America prides itself for its democracy, but does the majority always act in the best interests of private citizens?

In the year 2010, the majority of Americans take no issue with interracial marriage, as proven by the election of none other than the current biracial President of the United States. Yet in 1958, a Gallup poll showed that 94 percent of Americans disapproved of interracial marriage. In fact, in 1968, only one year after the Supreme Court ended all race-based legal restrictions in the United States in Loving v. Virginia, a Gallup poll found that 73 percent of Americans still “disapproved” of interracial marriage.

Some may argue that such discriminatory views are simply a reflection of a segregated era that is now long gone. So has our society progressed since 1958, in its view of interracial marriage and civil rights?

In November 2000, Alabama residents went to the polls to vote on Amendment 2 which would remove the outdated Article IV, Section 102 from Alabama’s Constitution. The controversial article decreed: “The legislature shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a negro, or descendant of a negro.” Removing antiquated, racist wording from a state constitution 33 years after the federal government made interracial marriage legal — surely this must have been a no-brainer, right?

The amendment barely passed with 59 percent of voter approval.

Does the majority still act in the best interests of private citizens?

As I mentioned earlier, my sister married a man of a different race six years ago. Had they married in Virginia in 1958 — or even in Alabama in 2000 — their marriage would have been illegal. Nevertheless, marrying a person of a different race is a constitutional right protected under the 14th Amendment, regardless of whether the majority of the American public agrees or not. Opinion polls are irrelevant where constitutionally backed civil rights are concerned.

We live in a country in which the Supreme Court has ruled that even prisoners have the constitutional-given right to marry. Nevertheless, the constitutionally given civil right of marriage is given to gay men and women in only five states because the supposed ‘majority’ finds the idea offensive.

Opponents of same-sex marriage may complain that “the majority of Californians … have just had their core civil right — the right to vote — stripped from them.” What these opponents fail to recognize is that Judge Walker did not strip civil rights from American citizens, but simply followed the progressive trajectory set up by history by restoring civil rights to American citizens. Many complained when the government freed black slaves, gave women the right to vote, and legalized interracial marriage. Despite these backwards-facing objectors, time has proven and will continue to prove that those who oppose the civil rights of others — whether in the name of politics or in the name of religion — will always end up on the wrong side of history.

Regardless of what the majority thinks.

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