Now that the Supremes have handed down what President Barack Obama called the “thunderbolt” ruling allowing gay marriage, it is the law of the land, and it’s kinda fun to watch the various Republican candidates try to suck up to their conservative — make that ultra-conservative — base with varying degrees of intensity. There are those who are thundering their opposition, like Mike Huckabee, who promises not to wave the “white flag” of surrender to the decision. He is reminiscent of another former Arkansas governor, who will go down in racist history for inciting such resistance to court-ordered school desegregation that the Feds sent in troops to force the issue. It’s hard to tell whether Huckabee is proud to be in the company of Orval Faubus.
But even more contemptuous are those who try to go both ways, the Scott Walkers and Lindsey Grahams, who don’t counsel resistance but still proclaim their opposition to same-sex marriage not only as a moral issue but one that should have been decided by the states. It’s a position that is frankly somewhat limp-wristed, even as it is insidious.
Are they choosing to ignore the history of the Civil War, which bloodied the nation after Southern states tried to secede when their right to continue slavery was threatened? That same states’-rights argument in defense of Jim Crow laws was tried and slapped down a century later. Yet the bitter legacy of racial bigotry is still with us, as we were horrified to witness when an addled white supremacist took his legally obtained gun and slaughtered nine innocents at church in Charleston, South Carolina.
As we’ve seen in the video of too many police actions, racism is still a motivator in our nation; the battle is not over.
Nor is the struggle over when it comes to gay rights. Finally, the law seems to be settled on the right to marry. It should have been obvious, but four of our justices voted against it, and die-hard opponents now say they believe that this will open the door to an “attack on religion,” apparently meaning a freedom to hide behind faith as an alibi for discrimination. It’s a crock, of course; people can marry whom they want, and they can preach what they want. What they cannot do is discriminate in their business affairs, just like they cannot refuse services under the public-accommodations civil-rights laws. That’s not an assault on religion, but rather a defense of decency. Still, people will try. The issue is not behind us. Far from it.
Unfinished business includes discrimination in the workplace, housing, you name it. In more than half the states, laws exclude gays and others in the LGBT community from protection against discrimination. So an employer can fire or not hire someone because he or she is gay, or a landlord can reject a potential tenant because of the applicant’s sexual preference. There is no national law to protect gays from that kind of treatment, nor does there appear to be much pressure to pass one.
But maybe soon there will be pressure. In just the blink of history’s eye, we have gone from a nation where a majority found it perfectly acceptable to treat gays with contempt to a country where most embrace a live-and-let-live mentality. That is presented as bad news for the Republican Party, which is the haven for those who cling to the dark ages. But they are slowly dying out. If nothing else, politicians are opportunists. Even with the defiant last gasps of the Neanderthals who make up the “base,” the GOP will be forced to accommodate the new realities. If not, the “thunderbolt” of social progress will make it obsolete.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.