Calhoun's Cannons for April 2, 2013
I wish I had confidence that the Supreme Court will do the right thing when it comes to ruling on gay marriage, but I don't. They and they alone chose to hear the DOMA and California's Prop 8 cases and speculation was that it was Justice Scalia, viewed as an anti-gay partisan, who was the deciding vote on taking those cases. Presumption was he pushed for getting the case before the courts now when there was a chance to defeat or long delay all efforts to legalize gay marriage, a surprisingly "activist judge" move that, oddly, didn't get a peep out of conservatives ever on the lookout for activist judges. So, I guess that epithet only applies to "liberal" judges "legislating from the bench," not conservative ones.
So the court chose to hear those specific cases and yet there was Chief Justice Roberts whining about having to decide such a controversial and potentially complex issue. That hints at an unsure court, a timid court, a court unwilling to do any heavy lifting while desperately looking for the door. Indeed, like a kid cranking on about having to do his algebra homework, Roberts wondered aloud why the President didn't just settle one of these cases himself, which hardly inspires confidence that we have a court that understands its constitutional role.
On the other hand, Justice Ginsberg sounded like she might have to take those whiny boys well in hand with her talk of "skim-milk marriage," a delightfully earthy metaphor that went to the heart of the matter. Whole milk, skim milk. That in a nutshell is always at the heart of issues involving "equal rights under law."
And that's why I'm so constantly disheartened by the astonishing and fiercely defended disconnect between what we profess and how we actually proceed. In public, pols, preachers, and patriots, all sporting little American flag pins in their lapels, piously preach freedom and justice for all in public, then privately vote for (and defend) laws that offer neither to certain citizens.
It's tempting to think that this disconnect is just run-of-the-mill hypocrisy, but it's far darker than that. It's always a thick stew of fear, ignorance, animus, privilege, greed, lack of empathy, a failure of imagination, and an odd inability to rationally extrapolate from the individual to the larger case. All of it a series of crippling failures of heart and reason that are almost always propped up by invoking "belief," or "tradition" or "God."
And even though the arc of history tends to bend towards justice, as Martin Luther King observed, too many people turn themselves into rocks-in-the-road impediments to the very "freedom and justice" they think they're preaching. And those rocks cause very real harm to real people in real time, none of it reparative. Which is always discouraging, especially since no sooner has one injustice finally been rectified than another springs to life.
Deep, deep is the human need for and love of injustice that comes cloaked in deceptive soothing phrases, especially when that injustice only strikes The Other Guy. But in a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal, skim milk is still skim milk.
And so here we all sit, reading the morning paper, coffee cup in hand, waiting for the Supreme Court to pass the sugar bowl and the pitcher of . . . what?