Eddie Outlaw messed up my writing plans today. I was all set to share my thoughts in this column about Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, and what I hope happens (and doesn't) during his term. But, suddenly, the love of Eddie's life, Justin McPherson, was sitting in my office chair, clasping his hands together as he watched his partner in life and business on my monitor telling the nation on an MSNBC webcast that there is hope in Mississippi for people like him who choose to love a person of their own gender.
I've been blinking back tears ever since over the love that flowed from both Eddie on the screen and Justin watching with pride. Wonderful, deep, faithful, admirable love.
Still, in our state, they can't marry, adopt or enjoy myriad other rights that heterosexual citizens like me are allowed. A viewer tweeted to ask the guests why they couldn't settle for civil unions rather than the more loaded question of marriage. The answer was simple: Because they deserve the same rights as any other American.
There it is. It's so simple. While you may consider homosexuality a sin, it's not up to you to use the government as your personal morality cop. Those choices are between us and our God and our church. It's certainly not the government's business to police those choices. If a certain church does not want to condone gay marriage, fine. That's its choice. It's also the choice of its members to go elsewhere. But the government doesn't have the right to say who can marry and who cannot.
Think about it. Freedom is all about the ability to choose. We all love America because we can make choices that others disagree with--the Constitution is there to keep the government out of those choices (at least until the point where they endanger other folks' rights, safety and choices).
And when we make a choice, whether about who to marry or what our opinion is of a mayoral candidate, someone won't like it. But if we mean this American experiment, we will battle to keep the government out of those choices if there is not an overriding need for it to be involved (like public safety). Enforcing someone's idea of morality is not the government's role. It's spelled out right there in the First Amendment, brilliantly designed to ensure that everyone gets the freedom to exercise (or not) their religious choices by blocking the government from establishing one citizen's choices over another's.
Less than a week before I started this column, my friend (and JFP columnist/blogger) Eddie Outlaw reminded me that America was celebrating a lesser-known holiday that many call Loving Day. Only 46 years ago on June 12--fewer years than I've been alive--the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional in a case poignantly called Loving v. Virginia.
Until then, in Virginia, as in Mississippi and many other states, the state government decided which citizens could marry and which could not with its anti-miscegenation laws. There were all sorts of excuses for the bigotry against mixed-race marriage, and opponents twisted loving messages found in the Bible to support these abominable laws. People even died because they dared to love or even flirt with people of another race; the excuse for 14-year-old Emmett Till's torture and murder up in Money, Miss., was that he supposedly flirted with a white woman.
Most people can see now how horrible these attitudes were. And I suspect most rue the misuse of words of faith to support such hatefulness. Some day, our state and our nation will get to a similar place, and we will look back on the time when we would not allow Eddie and Justin to get hitched and shake our heads at our backwardness.
As Justin sat in my office chair watching Eddie represent a hopeful Mississippi on my computer screen, I noticed the calendar on the wall over my desk. Called "The History of Racial Injustice" and produced by the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, the calendar has heartbreaking photos from our nation's racist past and commemorates milestones in the push for racial equality.
The large photo that hovered over Justin's head was of segregated bathrooms in 1960 South Carolina. There were three options: "Ladies," "Men" and "Colored." Next to the photo, which I had not noticed until today, was a smaller picture of Richard and Mildred Loving, his white arm hugging his black wife to him. They married in 1958, but were arrested for a felony when they returned home that night.
Nine years later, when the Supreme Court freed them to legally marry, similar laws in 15 other southern states were deemed unconstitutional. Still, it took Alabama until 2000 to become the final state to officially overturn such anti-marriage laws.
Today, in 2013 America, we await another U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will tell us again whether or not federal and state governments have the right to tell loving Americans who they can and cannot marry.
That brings me back to Chokwe Lumumba. The Jackson Free Press did not endorse him for mayor in any of the three mayoral elections of recent weeks. We believed the incumbent was the best choice to continue leading Jackson into its future, and felt there was too much uncertainty about Lumumba's past activism and how it would translate into good governance.
We do know, though, that Lumumba will go out on a limb for human rights--sometimes farther than makes us comfortable, but still. Right here in Jackson, he led the effort to turn our city into what some disparagingly call a "sanctuary city" for immigrants--urging the city council to specifically pass an ordinance against minority profiling and the types of absurd Arizona-style state laws that would force police officers to go too far in trying to apprehend undocumented immigrants, allowing them to profile people they think might be "illegal."
This was a good, humane effort, and I applaud the council for passing it.
Now, it's time to lead by example in the push for equality from the capital city. I hope and pray that Lumumba will direct his passion and his apparent belief in equality for all (no, not just black Americans) into being a leader for equality for all--from the equal city pay for women he promises to helping turn Jackson into a sanctuary city for our LGBT community.
If he chooses to, Lumumba has immense power to convince citizens of all races to support the fight of people like Eddie and Justin to enjoy full equality under the law, and not be profiled because of their sexual orientation and choices any more than Richard and Mildred were targeted due to their skin tones.
I urge Mr. Lumumba to abide by the principle, popularized by JFK in 1963, that a rising tide lifts all boats, regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity, economic status or any other characteristic that too many have used to keep others down.
Once we start treating all our people like full citizens, quality of life will improve for all. Besides, it's the American way.