Though the Supreme Court appeared open to striking it down Wednesday, the Defense of Marriage Act, which withholds federal benefits from same-sex couples, is still the law of the land. According to a paper forthcoming in the New York Law School Law Review, Dr. Seuss wouldn’t approve.
“Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s story The Sneetches, with its two classes of persons — the Star-Belly Sneetches and the Plain-Belly Sneetches — has been invoked by different minority groups over the years as an allegory for discriminatory treatment by the majority,” writes Peter Nicolas, a professor of law and gender studies at the University of Washington.
In his paper, “The Sneetches as an Allegory for the Gay Rights Struggle: Three Prisms,” Nicolas writes that “in this struggle, there has been not only a battle between the heterosexual majority and the gay minority, but also sub-battles between the African-American and gay communities and within the gay community itself.”
In case you missed it, Theodor Seuss Geisel’s 1961 story documents a society of creatures who elevate those born with a star on their bellies. But when the mysterious Sylvester McMonkey McBean offers the Plain-Belly Sneetches a chance to print stars on their bellies with a machine for a fee, they become indistinguishable from the Star-Belly Sneetches, who then pay McBean to remove their stars. The cycle of prejudice continues until the Sneetches happily conclude “that Sneetches are Sneetches,” with or without stars.
Nicolas compares the Sneetches’ dilemma not only to the gay minority seeking marriage recognition from the heterosexual majority but to African Americans who resist linking the civil rights movement and the same-sex-marriage movement. In addition, he thinks Seuss’s morality tale speaks to battles between “assimilationist” gays and “non-conformists,” who criticize those “seeking mere formal equality by erasing valuable differences that set gays and lesbians apart from heterosexuals.”
“The Sneetches represents to some extent this dual tension faced by members of minority communities,” Nicolas writes. “To obtain the protections of the legal system, they must point to the very differences that are the source of discrimination against them. Yet at the same time their desire to fit in causes them to minimize and erase those very differences.”
In other words, anyone who struggles against oppression is a Sneetch.
“The Sneetches is not merely a story about a struggle between two different classes of people within society, but also about a struggle within each of us as individuals,” Nicolas writes.
— Justin Moyer, Outlook editorial aide
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