Profiles in Cowardice

By Jeffrey Page

The Supreme Court, in its questioning during the challenge to California’s anti-gay marriage measure, hinted that now’s not the time. Not the time for equality? What are decent people, on the right and left, supposed to make of this?

It’s like telling a man in the emergency room that now’s not the time to work on what appears to be a heart attack. It’s like telling a woman with a hungry baby that now’s not the time to offer a bottle of formula.

And of course then comes that bothersome question – if not now, when?

Question 1: How often will America tolerate gutless politicians and judges who offer the old do-nothing response of “The time is not right,” or “Wait a while longer,” or “Put your feeble interpretation of ‘equal rights’ on hold?”

Question 2: Precisely how long are people supposed to wait for the rights and privileges afforded to everyone else?

Progress often is difficult, but because it is necessary to a free society, it must be pursued with courage and vigor. It can’t be placed on a back burner, and the people who seek such progress can’t be shunted aside as mere inconveniences.

Which is not to say that crusades are easily won, because generally speaking, the Americans most in need of change have not been straight white men – the class that runs things. They generally do not need redress on such matters as equal rights, and as a result often block the progress sought by others.

The time may be wrong for gay marriage?

When it comes to recognizing that all people must have identical rights or else the great experiment fails, America seems to move at molasses speed. For example, it took 131 years since the founding for our politicians to get around to an understanding that women are citizens, too, and therefore must be allowed to vote.

It took 176 years until we could pass a Voting Rights Act (and some people are trying now to un-do it), 76 years to outlaw slavery, 79 years to grant citizenship to all who were born here or naturalized here, 81 years to allow all citizens (but not women; their right would come 50 years later) to vote.

Clearly, what progress needs is some valorous people to stand up to the forces of darkness, valor such as displayed by one of my favorite heroes, Joseph Welch, a little known Boston attorney. In 1954, Welch looked Joe McCarthy in the eye and said, in a different context, “Senator, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

And that was the beginning of the end of the McCarthy reign of terror. I believe Joseph Welch had more courage than the 531 members of Congress in total.

To end the sanctioned bigotry against gay people who insist on having the same rights as the rest of the population, it will take more judges and more politicians who refuse to duck out of a showdown with evil with the excuse “now’s not the time.”

In fact, to grant to all Americans the rights that most now enjoy, there has never been a better time than right now.


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3 Responses to “Profiles in Cowardice”

  1. Randy Hurst Says:

    Well said, Jeff! It is about “fairness”; it is about “America!”

  2. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    The time is now.

  3. Marshall Rubin Says:

    It’s funny–the five right-wing justices had no problem with quickly deciding that corporations are people, or striking down the Second Amendment requirement that gun rights are for militia members. But when it comes the HUMAN RIGHTS, now is not the time to tackle the issues!

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