Congressional Black Caucus members (L-R) Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
If you ask Indiana Rep. André Carson what it’s like being one of the youngest members of the Congressional Black Caucus—he’s 37—you can hear the awe in his voice.
“To see an Emanuel Cleaver, to see a John Lewis, to see a Maxine Waters every day at work,” he trails off, listing legislators whose names are often linked with civil rights. Most of them could well be his parents. He holds the seat of his late grandmother, Rep. Julia Carson, who was herself a larger-than-life figure in Indiana’s black politics for years.
As the story of Rush’s rudeness to Sandra Fluke proliferates, advertisers leave his show in droves–including a big one today, AOL— and politicians offer weak but notable condemnations of his words, this story by “beantown mom,” a blogger at Daily Kos, show the very personal toll attacks like Rush Limbaugh’s can take on young women:
You see, my 16 year old daughter came home from school on Friday in tears and has been in a state of utter despair since. She was told, in no uncertain terms, that she is a slut, a prostitute, a horny piece of trash that is out to sleep with every guy in school! The horrid little monsters who started harassing my daughter had the audacity to tell her their mothers were the ones who labeled her with these despicable opinions- they were just “telling it like it is, you know, like that guy on the radio! The one who isn’t afraid to tell the truth!” Who does this?! How does Rush Limbaugh or anyone else have the right to do this, to say these things about anyone?
The GOP candidates’ struggle to outdo each other in appealing to Christian fundamentalists continues. Rick Santorum, the current favorite of this constituency, topped his previous plays with his remark that John F. Kennedy’s famed 1960 speech on the importance of a separation between religion and government “makes me throw up.”
The separation of church and state is not some abstract notion, nor is it a means of oppressing people. It very reasonably keeps people from imposing their religious beliefs on other people. These are not beliefs that can be objectively measured or empirically tested—like, say, the hypothesis that public spending can affect employment levels. Religious beliefs may be comforting or helpful to some people, but no matter how deeply felt, they can have no place in a rational, shared system of managing outcomes for all Americans.
Adam Kolasinski, an MIT Doctoral student in financial economics, has written an article, “The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage.” (linked to robot-heart-politics, who generally has very good comments, and this guy, who generally doesn’t.)Unfortunately, Adam Kolasinski doesn’t make a very good case. (I thought his impressive academic pedigree would at least produce an insightful argument. I thought wrong.) He begins:
The debate over whether the state ought to recognize gay marriages has thus far focused on the issue as one of civil rights. Such a treatment is erroneous because state recognition of marriage is not a universal right. […] Homosexuals, therefore, are not the only people to be denied the right to marry the person of their choosing.
Talking about what is and is not a “universal right” is a bit of a red herring. Do we have a “universal right” to free speech? To bear arms? Are there any rights without exceptions? Of course not. And we could debate all day about whether certain rights are self-evident, where such rights came from, and how far they extend. And at the end of the day we wouldn’t agree on any of it. The claim that there is a “right” to same sex marriage need not be more radical than there being a right to relatively equal treatment by the law—and that any exceptions to that rule need to have a compelling government interest. Discussions of abstract rights frequently distract from the immediate and personal nature of injustice. This can be convenient—if you’re on the side pushing the injustice. When we talk about rights, make sure we don’t forget that that my friends in same-sex relationship may end up dying without the person they love most because of hospital visitation policies. And we should also keep in mind that another friend is gathering all kinds of benefits as her gay friend’s “domestic partner” because his actual domestic partner is ineligible.
So let’s not talk about “universal rights.” Instead, let’s talk about rights generally extended to most people in most circumstances that shouldn’t be denied from others without a damn good reason. And let’s talk about why there isn’t a good reason to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.