Remember the book? Written by John F. Kennedy before he became President, the one for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1957? Yes, I know there was some talk about the possibility that he didn’t write it himself, or that he had at least a lot of help. Doesn’t matter. It set a tone in the country for the emulation of Americans who rise above their duties, against overwhelming pressure, to do what’s right. Maybe it is blown way out of proportion, but the ideal is still one we should admire.
Now, do you remember the Supreme Court of Iowa ruling in 2009 that a ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional in that state, which paved the way for the ultimate legality of gay marriage there? You probably knew that, oddly, Iowa (as opposed to the more obvious, non-Bible-Belt states on the east and west coasts) is one of the few states in the Union that allows gay marriage, but you might not remember that three of the Justices of that State Supreme Court were removed from office after a retention vote, in 2010, led by the anti-gay marriage forces, because of their vote in that case.
Well, those three Supreme Court ex-Justices were recently awarded the Profile in Courage Award.
These justices were just doing their jobs. Their job description required them to interpret laws in light of the effect they have on the Constitution, both state and federal, and when they find a law that clearly violates rights enumerated in the Constitution, then they have to strike down that law. Unconstitutional laws always give way to the Constitution. They did their jobs, which they were elected to do.
Then along comes the bigots. Bigotry is the irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion. In this case it is the irrational hatred of homosexuals by another group clearly defined by their religious beliefs. These bigots organized under, and were led by, the National Organization for Marriage, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council (no links provided), good “Christian” organizations that believe the Bible is the source of all morality. They pandered to the ignorance and fears of the Bible-Belt voters in Iowa, and succeeded in convincing them that despite the fact that these Justices did exactly what they were elected to do, they should be removed from office because they did not do what the bigots wanted them to do – uphold a hate law. Consequently, those three Justices lost their jobs in a retention vote.
That kind of successful bigotry has to send a chill through the backs of other judges, in other states. It has to have an effect on the outcomes of other cases, especially when it’s in the guise of religious morality. There is a case winding through the courts right now, on the way to the US Supreme Court, (presently still before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals) dealing with the same issue – the rights of non-heterosexuals to marry – the Proposition 8 case. The right wing is pressuring hard to have the case decided by the Supreme Court, figuring that once they get before Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito, they’ll have a great opportunity to impose their religious form of bigotry on, at least, the citizens of California.
This Profile in Courage Award, while having no force of law, recognizes that people who oppose bigotry and encourage equal rights for all will at least gain the recognition they deserve. It would be nice if Obama would try to be next year’s recipient. So far, he’s not doing so well in that regard. But it’s an election year, and he wants to keep his job, so maybe we should be patient one more year?