On this week of the two hundredth thirty-seventh anniversary of our nation’s independence, I write to reflect on two rulings made last week by the Supreme Court of the United States of America—Shelby County v. Holder, which dealt with the Voting Rights Act, and United States v. Windsor, Executor of the Estate of Spyer, which dealt with the implications of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in states that allow such unions.
On the latter ruling, I simply want to say, “Glory, Hallelujah!” In our country, people get married so that they can live in love with one another, and others can affirm, celebrate, and protect their love for each other. The government needs to honor that, too. Laws are meant to protect people, and not simply “institutions.” (In fact, this nation had to deconstruct one particular institution in order to be united again, and move forward—the Battle of Gettysburg began on this day one hundred fifty years ago--need I say more?)
On the former ruling, I am afraid a step has been taken backwards. While the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts suggests that Congress had the chance to act to update laws to reflect “present voting circumstances,” the invalidating of the law make no sense at all. It would be like saying, “Well, if no one is moving forward, let’s all step backward!” In two hours after the ruling, Texas passed its Voter Identification Law, which is, in effect, a third-generation version of a poll tax. I thought the state governments were supposed to pass laws that facilitated voting, not hinder it!
In my elation and frustration I’ve sought comfort and inspiration, and I found it in two places. I have a set of “forever” US postage stamps which have a flag and one of the following words on them—Freedom. Liberty, Justice, Equality. Under each word is the word “Forever.” In the upper right hand corner of each stamp are the letters “USA.” My hope and prayer is that those words are stamped on our hearts and minds—forever.
The second source of comfort and inspiration comes from Langston Hughes, the great closeted gay African-American writer and poet, who wrote “Let America Be America Again” in 1936—which speaks so eloquently to who we are, and who we can be. The poem closes as follows:
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be--the land where every (person) is free.
The land that's mine--the poor, Indians, Negroes, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
Next time, I have a little "catching up" to do--see you at the intersection!