Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Frontiers of Bigotry

Today the California Supreme Court issued a ruling that is a speedbump on the road to universal civil rights in the United States. NPR helpfully provides this interactive map for those who wish to keep track of where civil rights for same-sex couples are being respected, and in what ways.

Inevitably, the map of states that ban gay marriage will resemble the map of states that ban mixed-race marriages. (The film Mr. & Mrs. Loving tells the story of the beginning of the end of those laws, which seem ridiculous at this point in time, just as laws against gay marriage eventually will. The film If These Walls Could Talk 2 includes a fictional but all-too-real examination of why similar changes in the law are needed for all loving couples.)

For now, however, the geography of bigotry is an interesting one. On the so-called "Left Coast," the courts and the people have spoken - for now - against equal protection for same-sex couples. Even in California, however, the court could not bring itself to break-up already-married couples. The logic of this split decision escapes me. Elsewhere on the West Coast, some protections are afforded same-sex couples in committed relationships. On the East Coast, things are changing quite quickly, as states follow the lead of Massachusetts and Vermont.

The geographic surprise, perhaps, is in the common-sense middle, where Iowa has taken seriously the American values of freedom, reason, and compassion. This is the most hopeful sign of a turning tide that will help the United States to earn the title its citizens so often -- but erroneously -- claim: Land of the Free.

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