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AMERICANS STILL
DON’T GET “AMERICA”

by
Danny Ingram
President, American
Veterans For Equal Rights

The reaction of many opponents this week to the Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act makes is increasingly clear that many Americans haven’t a clue as to what our American democracy is all about. “It’s against my faith,” they say. Or “It’s against the Bible.” And since they see same-sex marriage as something taboo to their various religious dogma, that justifies denying legal rights to same-sex American couples. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

There is no doubt that religious or biblical justification for oppression is little more than an attempt to hide behind the “sacred” by individuals trying to convince themselves and others that what they know is wrong is OK as long as they can find a scripture passage to support it. In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention finally apologized to African-Americans for using religion to condone and perpetuate both slavery and segregation, noting that “to wrap our prejudice in the Scripture is a sinful thing to do.” The apology came 133 years following the abolition of slavery due to the defeat of southern states in the American Civil War. One wonders at all the future apologies the SBC will accumulate over the next century and a half.

To be fair, the “law of the land” has itself changed significantly since the founding of the United States over 200 years ago. For many of us, the most fundamental definition of America, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, was not adopted until July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments to the constitution following the Civil War.

The Fourteenth Amendment marked a significant shift in the role of the constitution, by applying substantially more restrictions against the states than had existed before the War. It was not until the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment that there was a fundamental understanding that federal law trumped state law in guaranteeing that every American citizen was entitled to the same basic rights as every other citizen. The idea that “Equal Justice Under the Law”, which is engraved on the pediment of the Supreme Court Building in our nation’s capitol, was a basic right guaranteed to every American, was established to ensure that former slaves would share the same rights as white (male) Americans.

Clearly this was a huge shift in the understanding of American freedom since some of the most prominent founders of the nation, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves and never perceived that the people they considered to be their property would ever share the same rights and freedoms as they provided for themselves and held sacred to their understanding of “liberty.” The understanding of who is an equal citizen and who is not, has been a changing concept.

Although specifically written to protect the rights of African-American men, the Fourteenth Amendment has been used in our “evolving” democracy to include one minority group after another, the most significant being women. Women did not receive the fundamental right to vote until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. It is incredible to consider that it has not yet been 100 years since women were seen as fundamentally equal to men, at least in their right to participate in the core democratic practice of electing government officials.

On June 26th, the Supreme Court correctly interpreted the equal protection clause to grant the same federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples as all other legally married couples. Why the Supreme Court does not use its authority to overturn the ban against same-sex marriage in some states as they did the ban against mixed-race marriage is difficult to understand. Why the Court can claim jurisdiction in one case and not the other is completely unclear. Perhaps the Court is waiting for the nation to “evolve” further before they can make such a ruling.

President Barack Obama, speaking from the African nation of Senegal where homosexuality is a crime, stated that the Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA is a “victory for American democracy.” “I believe at the root of who we are as a people as Americans is the basic precept that we are all equal under the law. We believe in basic fairness”, he said. The president is right on the money. America is about fairness. The Fourteenth Amendment is about fairness. As a veteran who took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, my promise was to protect fairness. My grandmother was no constitutional scholar, but she understood fairness as every grandmother does. What you give to one grandchild you give to all. If you don’t give to all, you don’t give at all.

The one and only law of the land is the United States Constitution. Nothing else. No Bible. No Torah. No Koran. Just one document of freedom, sometimes evolving, sometimes expanding, but always true in its basic principles of equal justice for all. That’s what American democracy is all about. Fairness. Equality. Justice. And those who don’t understand that, or choose not to accept it, haven’t a clue as to what America is all about.

  2013 Gay Military Signal, AVER