Friday, May 02, 2008

Senator Fumo, slavery, and our precious civil rights

Senator Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia) has taken a lot of heat for comments he made earlier this week at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. In a heated discussion over Senate Bill 1250, the marriage amendment, Fumo suggested that- given the chance- the legislature would pass a bill to reinstate slavery, especially if it was on a secret ballot.

I was there. Obviously, Fumo was over the top. But what has been missed in the self-righteous outcry from the media and some legislators is the logic behind Fumo's comment. His logic was spot on, and only The Philadelphia Inquirer has been bold enough to say so. The bishop who testified and whom Fumo was sparring with at the time claimed that this important civil rights issue should be decided by voters, and Fumo was rebutting that point by claiming that voters don't decide what rights minorities have and don't have. To do so would place the minority in the hands of a tyrannical majority.

During the hearing, I was waiting for someone to make that point. Fumo did so but used a horrible example, slavery. But examples abound of issues on which we would not want voters making decisions. Interracial marriage, desegregation of public transportation, and desegregation of public schools- to name just a few- were important civil rights issues decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, not the voters. Would bans on interracial marriage been declared unconstitutional if left in the hands of voters, rather than the court, as it was in Loving v. Virginia in 1967? Can you imagine a majority of Americans or Arkansans voting for desegregation of schools in 1954?

The Framers were not perfect, as I've said here before, but they knew from experience that minorities of all sorts needed to be protected from the mob mentality of the majority. In their day, it was religious and political minorities. Later in our country's history, we came to our senses and protected the rights of racial and ethnic minorities. And today we fight hard for equality for our friends in the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Blogger James said...

OK, we're gonna have to sorta "Agree to disagree" here.

I see the struggle for GLBT equality as similar to the civil rights movement. I get especially agitated when I hear an African-American railing against "Gay Equality" (they don't want RIGHTS, they want EQUALITY).

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only thing that is over-the-top about Fumo's analogy is that it goes back to America's "orginal sin" and therefore sugests that something we would like to have behind us may be buried in our hart.

It also links GLBT rights/equality to the traditional civil rights issue of racial discrimination. In my opinion, some African-Americans have been pretty slow to accept and defend GLBT civil rights. They should acknowledge that the same spirt of freedom and equality that animated traditional civil rights lives on in the area of GLBT civil liberties.

8:41 AM  

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