February is not only noted as Black History Month, but it has been a month full of victories for the civil rights movement of our time.
Feb. 7, a federal appeals court struck down the California initiative known as Prop-8, which banned gay marriage in the state. Feb. 13th, Gov. Christine Gregoire (D-Wash.) signed a bill delivered to her by the state legislature that legalized gay marriage.
However, on Feb. 18 the state legislature in New Jersey passed legislation that would have legalized gay marriage in the state only for Gov. Chris Christie to strike it with a veto. In honor of Black History Month, I would like to carry the lessons over from the 1960s over into the 2000s.
“An issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide,” said the governor after he halted the passage of the legislation. Gov. Christie believes the issue of gay marriage should be decided by referendum.
Gov. Christie recently nominated Bruce Harris, who is openly gay, to the state’s Supreme Court. He also repeated in his dissent what the state Supreme Court opined in 2006 — gay couples deserve the same benefits enjoyed by married couples when it came to mortgages and making health care decisions and other contracts. But still the governor believes the question of absolute equality should be left to the voters.
This is where the lessons of the 1960s should have overridden the governor’s conservative values. If we would have followed this course of action, would my uncle Steve, who is black, and Aunt Marlissa, who is white, have been able to marry if they had met in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or even in the 1990s?
They’re in an interracial marriage, which was banned in 16 states until 1967, when those laws were ruled unconstitutional in the case Loving v. Virginia, which went before the Supreme Court. Of those 16 states, nine had laws that specifically barred blacks from marrying whites.
Even if the nine in black robes had not intervened in the course of history, we assume society would have become more tolerant, and we’re correct, but tolerance comes slowly. In a poll Gallup conducted in 1968, a year after the case of Loving v. Virginia was decided, only 20 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriages.
The poll was also taken in 1973, and the results were not much better, only 29 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriages. In 1988, the rate of approval had moved to 48 percent but still shy of a majority. As 1993 approached, the rate stayed unchanged.
In lieu of the decision by the Supreme Court in 1967, any initiative or referendum to allow for the relationship between my aunt and uncle would have failed, it would have failed in the 1960s, it would have failed in the 1970s, it would have failed in the 1980s, and it would have failed even as early as the 1990s.
This is the lesson we’ve learned from the 1960s, that we don’t allow for citizens to vote to restrict the freedoms of their fellow Americans, and we don’t wait for waves of public opinion to guarantee equal treatment under the law.
And if we do plan to wait for waves of public opinion, well, then the tide has certainly turned. Gallup took a subsequent poll on May 20, 2011, and it showed 53 percent of Americans approved gay marriage.