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  WINDY CITY TIMES

LETTER TO THE EDITOR Vigilance
2017-05-03

This article shared 336 times since Wed May 3, 2017
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Editor:

In June 2015, the United States Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land in its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, and the backlash began immediately. The most recent backlash example has come in North Carolina, and we must remain vigilant.

On April 11, 2017, House Bill 780 was introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly to amend its constitution that same-sex marriage is not valid, declaring the Obergefell decision "null and void in the State of North Carolina." While this legislation is considered dead and the courts have never upheld nullification, it is the latest example of the vigilance necessary for the backlash that continues since the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell.

Additionally, in February, Senate Bill 64 was introduced in the Illinois Senate; this measure allows a person with a religious belief or moral conviction that same-sex marriage is wrong to discriminate and to allow that person to assert that conviction as a claim or defense. Dozens of similar bills have been introduced in states across the country and, while the Illinois legislation may go nowhere, these bills can be threats in highly conservative states. Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land and is also legal in 22 countries.

While we have religious freedom as a constitutionally protected right, the backlash—as seen in this flurry of religious refusal laws—has religion being twisted to discriminate and to impose one's personal religious beliefs on others, which is not its proper intention. Using religion to refuse to obey laws one does not like but that everyone else must follow is not "religious liberty." We are all equal under the law.

The backlash is in Alabama, where 11 counties refuse to issue any marriage licenses at all since Obergefell while relying on a 1961 state law that was created to preserve racial segregation and made it optional for county clerks to issue marriage licenses. Additionally, in Irion County, Texas, the clerk refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

And then there was the short-lived fame of Kim Davis—the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who, with other clerks, refused to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court decision. After being in jail for not doing her job, she received supportive visits by anti-gay politicians, but eventually relented when a majority of U.S. residents in the polls said Davis was in the wrong on her crusade.

As the progressive gains have been made, the backlash is not just in the use of religion to promote discrimination, but also just recently with the concentration camps in Chechnya and with the 30 sodomy arrests in Iran. Our vigilance is essential now more than ever.

After the Civil War, the United States Constitution was amended with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. These amendments prohibited slavery; addressed citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws; and prohibited denying the right to vote based on race, color or prior servitude. The backlash began immediately with the Black Codes which restricted African-Americans' right to own property, conduct business, buy and lease land, and move freely through public spaces. The most egregious backlash involved the vagrancy acts, as hundreds of thousands of African-Americans—many of them just freed from slavery—wandered in search of work and displaced family members. Failure to pay a tax or comply with other laws could be construed as vagrancy. Some former slaves would be charged with vagrancy in years after the Civil War and then sold at auction to the highest bidder. Sharecropping, where a tenant to uses some else's land in return for a share of the crops, was a new form of slavery for the freedmen to conduct subsistence farming.

Obergefell was just another step in the movement for equality and not the end. Obergefell shows us one way how the religious right would galvanize its fight against equality. While we have victories, we must not become complacent, we must not become blind to backlash having learned the lessons of history, and we must remain eternally vigilant.

Sincerely,

Scott G. Burgh

Chicago


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