George Takei has responded to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in the case that made marriage equality universal.
In a passage that was met with incredulity, Thomas wrote that the government nor its institutions have the power to take away human dignity, arguing that states could not deny gay couples dignity by refusing to recognize their marriages:
Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.
The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
The former Star Trek star refuted Thomas’s dissent with an account of his personal experience, having endured life in an internment camp as a child. In an op-ed for MSNBC, Takei talked about how his family was forced to leave their home in Los Angeles by soldiers carrying rifles with bayonets. Their assets were frozen and for several weeks, his family lived in a horse stall in Santa Anita before the government moved them to a camp in Arkansas, where they were treated like prisoners. The boundaries of the camp were marked by barbed-wire fences ,and Takei and thousands of others were forced to live in crowded barracks and share latrines. Takei wrote:
For many, it was indeed a great loss of self-worth and respect, a terrible blow to the pride of the many parents who sought only to protect their children from coming to harm. Justice Thomas need have spent just one day with us in the mosquito-infested swamplands in that Arkansas heat, eating the slop served from the kitchen, to understand that it was the government’s very intent to strip us of our dignity and our humanity. …
To say that the government does not bestow or grant dignity does not mean it cannot succeed in stripping it away through the imposition of unequal laws and deprivation of due process.
Takei wasn’t the only person to challenge Thomas or his comparison of the country’s former hodge-podge recognition of same-sex marriage to the Japanese internment camps of World War II or slavery.
On the “Nightly Show” Monday, Larry Wilmore slammed Thomas for willfully ignoring the purpose of many of the atrocities visited upon black people during slavery. Public whipping, rape, outlawing marriage, outlawing literacy, the forced separation of families, the designation of people as property to be inventoried along with horses and agricultural equipment were all meant to strip away the dignity and humanity of slaves, and the institution of chattel slavery was very much sanctioned by the government.
“Do you even know what slavery is?” Wilmore asked. “Slavery is the complete stripping of humanity and dignity. That’s the point of slavery. And when do you think slaves were whipped? Whenever they tried to dared to try to show any humanity or dignity. Clarence, please approach the bench and then jump off of it.”