President Bush has framed his support for a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage as a necessary defense of cherished institutions and practices.
"Marriage is the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith," the president said Monday. "Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all."So, you see, denying citizens who love one another and want their relationships to be sanctioned, respected and protected by the state is in everyone's interest – even, Bush assures us, the interest of those who because of their sexual orientation do not meet with this particular president's approval.
Gee, where have we heard this logic before?
Oh, yes, back in 1914, after President Woodrow Wilson dramatically expanded segregation in the federal civil service, a group of African-American leaders led by newspaper editor Monroe Trotter came to the White House to challenge the decision.
Trotter said, "Mr. President, we are here to renew our protest against the segregation of colored employees in the departments of our National Government. We [had] appealed to you to undo this race segregation in accord with your duty as President and with your pre-election pledges to colored American voters. We stated that such segregation was a public humiliation and degradation, and entirely unmerited and far-reaching in its injurious effects…"
Wilson replied, "Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen. If your organization goes out and tells the colored people of the country that it is a humiliation, they will so regard it, but if you do not tell them so, and regard it rather as a benefit, they will regard it the same. The only harm that will come will be if you cause them to think it is a humiliation."
Surely, President Bush would prefer that supporters of equal rights for gays and lesbians accept that the marriage ban "serves the interests of all."
But a more appropriate response is an echo of Monroe Trotter's reply to Woodrow Wilson: "Mr. President, you are entirely mistaken."
George Bush is entirely mistaken if he thinks that his amendment "serves the interests of all," just he is entirely mistaken if he thinks that bigotry – be it motivated by racial hatred, ethnic rivalry, religious intolerance or homophobia – ought to be sanctioned by the Constitution.
Every freedom struggle is different. The specifics of racial segregation are fundamentally different from the specifics of anti-gay discrimination.
Yet the reality of a president leading the charge against equal protection for a specific group of Americans creates a parallel that is undeniable – and that will prove indefensible in the long run.
History has not been kind to Wilson. It will not be kind to Bush.
Despite his attempt to put a friendly face on his embrace of segregation based on race, Woodrow Wilson is appropriately downgraded in any consideration of the relative merits of the nation's presidents because of his hateful acts against people of color who wanted only to do their jobs.
Despite his attempt to put a friendly face on his embrace of discrimination based on sexual orientation, George Bush will be appropriately downgraded in any consideration of the relative merits of the nation's presidents because of his hateful acts against gays and lesbians who want only to have their relationships respected and protected.