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The Dying Branch of Bigotry

The 2008 elections, in which pro-gay-marriage campaigners won a sweep at the ballot box, is a clear sign that the tide of society is shifting in favor of equality. We’ve known for a long time that this was coming, since the younger generations now replacing the older ones are overwhelmingly comfortable with equal rights. In the Western world, prejudice is like a dying branch – it may still have leaves, but it’s dead at the base, and the rot is only going to spread upwards. Still, there are some surviving outgrowths of bigotry that are worth commenting upon.

First and foremost: It’s the holiday season in New York, which means Salvation Army bell-ringers are once again on the streets. That means it’s time to repeat my annual warning that the Salvation Army isn’t a secular charity, but a militantly Christian organization (“militant”, though an overused word in general, is literally accurate in this case, since its members identify themselves with military ranks and titles). Moreover, it’s one that has a history of discrimination against GLBT people, like many other churches and religious institutions on the wrong side of history. Don’t give to them!

Next: the Boy Scouts. Despite a lengthy record of barring and expelling gay (and atheist) members, it seems to me that the Boy Scouts have for a long time escaped the condemnation that’s rightfully heaped on other religious institutions that discriminate based on sexuality. But there are encouraging signs that their prejudice is finally being recognized by wider society for what it is. For example, corporations like UPS and Intel have announced they’ll no longer fund the Boy Scouts as long as they keep discriminatory policies in place. Large corporations tend to stay carefully neutral on even remotely divisive social issues, so when they’re taking such an unequivocal stand, it’s a clear sign that the tide has turned in our favor.

Despite these victories, there’s no chance that the biggest prize, marriage equality, will pass in Congress or in most of the states any time soon. The only way that we’ll get a true, nationwide standard of fairness is by a decision of the Supreme Court. And this might happen sooner than we think, since there are gay-marriage and anti-DOMA cases on the docket that the court seems likely to take up in its next term.

Despite the court’s rightward tilt generally, I think this is one issue where we can be hopeful that they’ll do the right thing. As I’ve said in the past, this is a judicial no-brainer. Even without getting into equal-protection arguments, the Constitution requires that each state accept the public records and proceedings of the others, in language so clear it’s hard to see how even a fervently right-wing judge could deny it. And with marriage equality finally winning on the ballot, I suspect this will give any wavering justices the cover they need. I still don’t think they’re prepared to mandate that all jurisdictions must perform these marriages, but I would predict, if they take up the issue, they’ll rule that same-sex marriages performed legally in one state must be respected by the other states and the federal government.

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