In the struggle for equality, past is prologue. In the Fifties and Sixties, many Southern politicians opposed racial equality, but for the sake of respectability couldn’t reveal their racism and prejudice. So, they hid behind principles of “freedom of association,” “states’ rights” and private property rights. They argued the federal government had no right to order school desegregation or require businesses to serve black citizens.
In opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sen. Richard Russell (D-Ga.), leader of the Southern anti-civil rights bloc, called the legislation a “vicious assault on property rights and the Constitution [which] proposes to take away from our society the oldest of our rights, that of freedom of association and the right to do with business as one pleases.”
When it came to desegregation of public schools, Russell and many of his colleagues wouldn’t actually say they were repulsed by the idea of white students sitting with black students in schools. So, they hid behind disingenuous protests about states’ rights.
In 1956, 101 Southern members of Congress signed the “Southern Manifesto,” in which they promised to use “all lawful means” against school desegregation. “We decry the Supreme Court’s encroachment on the rights reserved to the States and to the people,” they wrote.
Today, regarding equal rights for gays and lesbians — and contraceptive rights for women — is history repeating itself?
Some political leaders, especially on the right, dare not acknowledge that they oppose equal rights for gay and lesbian citizens. Nor will they own their archaic and unscientific views about contraception. Instead, they speak in code, warning that Washington is attacking the religious freedom of Christians.
In the fight against LGBT and contraceptive rights, yesterday’s appeal to “freedom of association” and “states’ rights” has become today’s struggle for “religious freedom.”
When Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks of an “ever-expanding regulatory state,” he’s attacking a law that requires most businesses to cover contraceptive services for female employees. When he says “we have the right to practice our faith and protect our conscience,” he’s complaining that some businesses might be required to provide services to gays and lesbians.