Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Times They Have Changed

Some people are expressing indignant outrage because the California prisons started allowing gay conjugal visits, like that's a big deal to let a guy who's been busted see the person he loves. Strange how things catch on slowly. Here's the Washington Post this morning, reminding us that it wasn't that long ago that people thought it was obvious that a white guy should not be allowed to marry a black girl.
In June 1958, Virginia residents Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter traveled to the District, got married and returned home. An unexceptional story but for one fact: Richard was white and Mildred black. Their marriage therefore violated Virginia's Racial Integrity Act. The Lovings were convicted in Virginia court and sentenced to a year in jail, with the sentence suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia and not return together for 25 years.

They got back sooner. On June 12, 1967 -- 40 years ago next Tuesday -- the Supreme Court struck down Virginia's ban on interracial marriages. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated that the restriction served no purpose but that of "invidious racial discrimination" and therefore violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment Marriage, Loving and The Law

The Racial Integrity act. That's unimaginable now. Now it's "Defense of Marriage," or whatever some politician thinks up. Some things don't really change, you just substitute some words and there you go.

Our idea of prison is nuts. Do you know why we put so many guys in prison? Right now, more than two million Americans are in prison. Tens of thousands of them didn't do anything wrong really, they got high or did something that didn't hurt anybody, but somebody else made the rules and there they are, in prison. It doesn't turn out that the US imprisons more people than any country ever, but we're in the running. And does this make them better people? Does it prevent crime? Does it make us safer in any way? It seems to me that we are unbelievably punishment-oriented. We like to punish people, never mind if it ends up improving the situation any, it doesn't actually matter if we solve our problems by it, we just like to do it. Serves them right and all that. Well, whatever, it's too crazy to change at this point. It's just how we are, we've got two million of our fellow citizens locked up, depriving them of their own lives; I guess most Americans think this is a good idea.

And then, we just shrug and accept the fact of rape in prison. Like people think that's just part of the punishment. Fifty percent of guys in prison have sex with another guy. Do you suppose that means that fifty percent of prisoners are gay? Of course not, they're just ... guys. It's not shocking that they'd do that, but it is shocking how we react to it, like it's a joke or something. And can you imagine being a gay guy prison? Man, that's not going to be an easy way to go.

So now, at least in California, a guy's going to get to have visits from his partner, even if that is another guy.

This Post piece, written by a University of Pennsylvania law professor, goes on:
The past few decades have brought a dramatic change in social attitudes about homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association, which once classified homosexuality as a mental disease, abandoned that position in 1973. Public opinion polls show an increasing acceptance of homosexuality, and state legislatures are beginning to follow. Restricting the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples is increasingly seen as invidious, an inequality inflicted for no good reason.

If the trend continues, this view eventually will find expression at the Supreme Court level, just as it did in Loving. This is not judicial activism. It is how we make the Constitution ours.

(I am not going to take this opportunity to comment on the Supreme Court's recent decisions, but this law professor might be more optimistic than he ought to be.)

Public attitudes matter. When homosexuality was seen as an immoral decision that some bad people made, the public would have accepted discrimination written into the law. But things aren't like that any more. People know a little more about sexual orientation now, they realize it isn't a choice, it isn't something you decide to do, it's how you are.

It's time to get over it. This argument has already been decided, people have had their eyes opened. Our gay neighbors are just some neighbors, it's not a secret and it's not a crime, it's just how they are. If they fall in love and decide to spend their whole lives together -- who would be against that?


Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Jim asked "If they fall in love and decide to spend their whole lives together -- who would be against that?".

Yes, indeed, what kind of person could be against that? Unfortunately a surprising number of people. A friend of mine told me about how he dated a black girl as a teenager, he said his father took him aside and said "Don't do that, I don't believe in mixing the races". My friend said he really lost respect for his father at that moment, and who can blame him? It just shows that respect for what's right often does supercede respect for bloodlines.

The "Racial Integrity Act" - it makes me laugh. Such a bigoted euphemism, so much like the "pro-family" ephemism for gay oppression. The more things change the more they stay the same. Like Robert said, pink is the new black - the more things change the more they stay the same. Once its no longer socially acceptable to hate LGBTs who will be the next social scapegoat?

When someone's convicted of a heinous crime I often hear people allude with relish to their being a target for rape in prison. Trouble is prison rape isn't discrimnatory, it happens to people in for minor offenses as often as to real villains and yet a lot of people clearly like the thought that this goes on, they have no concept of the punishment fitting the crime.

It's shameful that people not only let this prison crime go on but that they want it to go on. Most of the people in jail are there for minor drug offenses like possesion of marijuana - a victimless crime. That so much of the public doesn't care to prevent the rape of people like this speaks to a dark evil in the heart of people claiming to be on the side of the righteous.

June 05, 2007 3:43 PM  

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