May 26: Prop 8 and Dred Scott

dred-scottDo you think the California Supreme Court was aware that it was handing down the Prop 8 decision on marriage equality on the anniversary of Dred and Harriet Scott’s manumission?

I hope the odd coincidence of history is predictive and, despite California’s court decision, the U.S. will soon be celebrating the “manumission” to marry for whosoever will.

On March 6, 1857, after an 11-year court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott, an African-American slave, had “no rights that a white man need respect.”

On May 26, 1857, Taylor Blow, a son of Scott’s original owner, purchased Scott and his family in order to set them free.

Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia about 1790. He was sold to a doctor who later moved to Illinois and eventually to Missouri with all his property. In 1846, Dred Scott filed a suit in Missouri seeking freedom for himself, his wife, and two daughters. He based his case on the fact that slavery was prohibited in Illinois, and because he had lived there, he had been freed.

Scott’s pursuit of their freedom when on for seven years in various courts, with one higher court after another reversing previous decisions. Throughout the ordeal, the children of Dred Scott’s original owners gave him financial support. Finally, after the Missouri Circuit Court ruled that “once free, always free,” Scott’s case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The federal Supreme Court ruled that Scott had no right to sue because blacks were not U.S. citizens. Scott and his family were returned to their owner.

Fifteen months after Scott had been freed by the Blow family, who were Catholic, he died of tuberculosis. When Dred Scott died on September 17, 1858, the Blow family arranged to have him buried in the Catholic Calvary Cemetery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Atwitter with Prop 8

The California Supreme Court is at this moment debating the Constitutional integrity issues raised by the Prop. 8 ballot initiative.

I find the Twitter version of Constitutional law fascinating – inalienable rights in 140 characters or less:
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Justice George asked wasn’t the scope of Prop 8 smaller than the rights given by the court in the in marriage cases

Justice Kennard: Assuming this court were to uphold Prop 8, you have the right to go to the people. Wouldn’t you have that right?

Justice Kennard: Is it still your view that gays and lesbians are left with nothing?

Justice Kennard: Would you agree that Prop 8 did not take away … bundle of rights that this court articulated in marriage cases

(At this rate I could get a law degree in 140 minutes!)

I appreciated Logan Laituri’s recent commentary on The Sad State of Dialogue on Civil Unions. As a nation, we need educate ourselves toward a more complex understanding and language around democracy, rights, human dignity, moral authority, and the common good than we currently have. What is too simple dies because it can’t adapt to change.

Here’s an excerpt from Logan’s piece:

Ever since the November elections, I have been unable to turn my attention from the issue of civil unions and same-sex marriage. My interest was piqued when I heard of my own home state of California’s passage of Proposition 8. So when I received an invite by Facebook to a public hearing before Hawaii’s House Judiciary committee to discuss House Bill 444 (HB444), I enthusiastically clicked “will attend.”

Basically, HB444 extends the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union. For the most part, I am still undecided about how I feel concerning same-sex marriage, but that may be due to my diminished view of the state’s role in sanctioning marriage in general. It seems to me that renaming a legally recognized intimate relationship to allow the religious-industrial-complex to retain its continued hold on the title “marriage” could be a decent compromise in the eyes of the law. I was (and admittedly may remain) very uninformed on the rationale for supporting or opposing the measure, so I was expecting an invigorating debate.

What I got was something much less. The opponents of the bill relied primarily on a 1998 vote to amend the state’s constitution, which defined marriage as being between a man and woman. Furthermore, at least two opponents stated it was simply against their party’s platform to approve civil unions (way to think for yourselves, folks).

Read the rest of Logan’s post here.

A Nation That Prays Together

I was delighted that Rev. Joseph Lowery, Methodist pastor and co-founder with Rev. Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was asked by Prez Obama to lead the benediction at the Inauguration. I was SO delighted in fact that I wrote to Rev. Lowery and asked him to tell Sojourners how he felt about the honor. He responded:

Like most Americans of a particular age, I never thought I’d live to see the day…. At an entirely different level, I’m engaged in a spiritual experience like nothing I have ever been exposed to—at any point in my life. And this comes from one who shared in the revjosephloweryDream my friend and colleague Martin Luther King Jr. taught the nation about one hot August afternoon 45 years ago. It comes from one who fought for the Voting Rights Act, for a Civil Rights Bill, and to free South Africa and liberate Nelson Mandela from 27 years of confinement as a political prisoner. But, there’s something much greater at work here. I first sensed it in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire where I saw the ruddy, frozen cheeks of white college students standing in snowdrifts up to their knees in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama. I saw it as I watched a new generation text-messaging and using their iPods to spread the word about this extraordinary man. … Read the full response here.

I was less than delighted with Obama tapping Rev. Rick Warren to offer the opening prayer at the Inauguration. Warren is trying to represents the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing new face of conservative American evangelical Christianity. I’m disturbed (to say the least) by his public support of Prop. 8 in California. (Bad move, bro.) But I can verify that he has a very kick-butt wife and that always gives me a glimmer of hope.

Despite the Warren controversy, I’m glad to see that Prez Obama has liturgically fenced-out Warren by surrounding him with worship leaders with a more biblically-grounded understanding of God’s love, generosity, and liberation. Rev. Lowery for one.

Additionally, Rev. Sharon Watkins, head of the Disciples of Christ, is the first woman to take the prominent position of preacher at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Also, Episcopal bishop Gene V. Robinson will lead the prayer at the “National Inaugural Concert” on Sunday. When Robinson was confirmed as a bishop he had to wear body-armor under his pastoral robes at the liturgy because there’d been so many death threats against him, his children, and his partner Mark Andrew.

I was also very glad to see that Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is taking a prominent role at the National Prayer Breakfast. She’s director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary.

Despite our differences, I’ll fall back on the old adage–when it looks as diverse as this crowd, I think it’s true: A nation that prays together, stays together.