“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” ~ Judge Leon M. Bazile, January 6, 1959
I’m 34 years old. I’m not old enough to actually remember George Wallace. For those like me, Wallace was the long-time governor of Alabama. He was sworn in for the first time in 1963 and, as part of his inaugural speech, said, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” The greatest people to have ever trod the earth all clearly had the same color of skin.
Neither am I old enough to remember Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas who, in 1957, deployed the national guard to keep nine black students from entering Little Rock’s Central High School where they were registered to attend following the desegregation of America’s schools. Higher courts, given the legal authority by the Constitution, had ruled, but Faubus decided he should hold more power than the Constitution he swore to uphold. He overreached his post to cling desperately to discrimination. The army was sent to escort the African American students into the school, taking the situation out of Faubus’ hands.
Lest you think Faubus was reviled, in a Gallup Poll in 1958, just one year later, Faubus was chosen by Americans as one of the country’s top ten most admired men.
From Bob Jones to Theodore Bilbo, we saw where segregationists drew their racism, and how they intended to spread it: from the bible. Cries that intermingling of the races and the marriage of different races was decried by a few judges and swaths of the population as against the bible – and implied that it should therefore be illegal. Hardly were there arguments that such policies were fair, since that argument couldn’t really be won. But there were plenty of assurances that it wasn’t biblical and that the biblical standard, not the standard of what was fair, should be the law of the land. Desegregation would doom America to destruction and allowing whites and blacks to marry was an assault on traditional marriage and state’s rights. And all accompanied with shouts of discrimination, that this was an attack on white people, and insistence that those opposed to discrimination should respect the beliefs of people who opposed the civil rights of others.
These are how icons of shame are born, and in Alabama today we’ve seen the delivery of two new mementos to traditions of bigotry we’d erase out of shame if only we could. Judge Roy Moore has told probate judges to violate their oaths of office and to defy the higher courts. Governor Robert Bentley stands beside him, supporting him with all the confidence of Orval Faubus. Both are taking a stand for god and for the majority of the god-fearing citizens of Alabama who support them as agents of Jesus (and who, ironically, make no secret of their enmity for “activist judges”) by committing sedition against the country and the Constitution they the swore (to Jesus) they’d serve.
There is an upcoming generation, younger than I, who cannot remember George Wallace and Orval Faubus. At best they can read about a time where discrimination was the norm, an idea that undoubtedly seems surreal to them without having lived it. While they cannot recall the Civil Rights Era, they can see how palpably the racist is reviled and wonder how it wasn’t always that way. This generation will one day have children of their own, children who will be too young to remember Roy Moore and his defiance of court rulings to keep the gays from enjoying the same rights as others. But their children will have evolved beyond the lessons of today’s anti-gay bigots. LGBT people will be as equal in their minds (and in our laws) as black people, Hispanics, and all other racial minorities are in the present. It will be almost as fantastic as their bedtime stories, the idea that at one time a large portion of our population thought same-sex marriage, realizing equality, would hurt anybody or result in society’s downfall.
At that time it will be so transparently obvious that nobody can deny it: the bigot was the enemy all along. They were the antagonist of equality, scare-mongers who tried to win through fear, lies, and unconstitutional power-grabs. They were traitors to morality as much as they were traitors to America. They will be as despised then as they should be today, and Alabama of 2015 will be taught in history classes with assumed, even if unspoken shame. Why did it take us so long to figure out something so simple – that compassion invalidates discrimination? Even after the lesson of Civil Rights, the Civil War, how did so many people listen to Roy Moore? We’re probably a few decades away from making that realization so completely that even in the most charitable corners of America the name “Roy Moore” is met with disgust.
I do not pray. But if I had one prayer it would be that Roy Moore and Robert Bentley live long enough to see that day. They may never admit the error of their ways and will probably go to their grave thinking the architect of the cosmos loved them for it, even if everybody else loathes them. That’s fine. Justice doesn’t have to be perfect in this case to satisfy me.