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Posted at 08:44 AM ET, 05/14/2012

Gay marriage and Jim Crow

[Garden update: Got the tomatoes in! This year I’m going to have a bumper crop. There will be no tomato blossom wilt. There will be no mysterious fungus crawling out of the dirt to yellowfy my plants. The fruit will not split or get cat-faced. Also there will be corn, melons, cukes, and perhaps some animal husbandry (chickens, goats, whatnot) as I teach the children how to find spiritual nourishment from milking the cow before dawn rather than all this shopping at the mall stuff. This year will be different.]

Just peeked at Memeorandum and see the usual squawking and squabbling and kvetching and snarling. The Internet is great if you are interested in Breaking Snarling. The meaner and more vicious the snarl, the faster it goes to the top of the queue, usually. Also it helps to excoriate the MSM. (Has anyone started a website called Demagoguery.com?)

This is interesting: Reince Priebus, head of the RNC, says the Republican Party opposes same-sex marriage because that’s not how marriage is traditionally defined (I’m paraphrasing). And he says it’s not a civil rights issue and shouldn’t be compared to Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation in the South:

“I don’t think it’s a matter of civil rights. I think it’s just a matter of whether or not we’re going to adhere to something that’s been historical and religious and legal in this country for many, many years.”

Of the Jim Crow comparison, he said: “I think there’s a big difference between people that have been murdered and everything else that has come with Jim Crow, than marriage between a man and man and a woman and a woman.”

It’s certainly tricky to compare one issue with another, and we shouldn’t forget the intensity of the bigotry and the violence during the Jim Crow era. Blacks were lynched, tortured, beaten, shot, and sometimes immolated alive by white mobs and Klansmen. Accused blacks had no hope of a fair trial. They were often fortunate to get through a trial at all without a mob dragging them away.

So we have to be careful with comparsions. But the kind of language Priebus is using — citing history, tradition, religion — does echo what people said in the South during the Jim Crow years about the mixing of the races. They were particularly exercised about interracial marriage, and passed laws against it.

They were on the wrong side of history, as they eventually discovered. (The anti-miscegenation laws were finally ruled unconstitutional in 1967 by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

I spent several hours this weekend reading Alex Heard’s book “The Eyes of Willie McGee,” a fascinating look at a criminal case in Mississippi that has a striking similarity to the plot of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s about a black man charged with raping a white woman. The black citizenry has always believed they had a consensual relationship. McGee went to his death in the electric chair.

Heard’s book is an attempt to find out the truth of what happened. Along the way, Heard recounts the horrors of Jim Crow. It’s shocking reading. It’s also a reminder that, thanks to the civil rights movement, we’ve come a long way in this country. We are not prisoners of the past.

By  |  08:44 AM ET, 05/14/2012

 
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