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The Confederate flag and gay marriage: The legacy of nullification rearing its head

confederate-flag-headerDiscussions about the Confederate flag and what it represents don’t have to take very long.

“So, what did they fight the Civil War over again?”

“States’ rights.”

“And what states’ rights were they fighting over again?”

It can tend to go ‘round and ‘round at this final stage, verbal gymnastics being what they are, but the final answer always ends up being the same.

You can’t change the history, no matter how much you argue it. There’s a reason Southern politicians started wrapping themselves in the Stars and Bars in the 1940s and 1950s, and ran them up official statehouse flagpoles at the height of the civil rights era.

The Confederate flag is Southern heritage all right: the heritage being treason, subjugation and a lowest common denominator politics that continues to hold the South back and down relative to the rest of the nation and the industrialized world.

The legacy of what the flag represents extends beyond racial oppression. The big lie that the argument from Southern apologists about the Civil War being about states’ rights aims to hide has to do with the concept of nullification, essentially that states and ostensibly local governments don’t have to follow federal laws that they don’t agree with.

Which brings us to the reports coming out of scattered locales across the country regarding how local court clerks are refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in the wake of the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirms the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Here we go again with nullification. You don’t like the federal government even thinking about telling you that you can’t own slaves? Ignore ‘em, and take up arms if they try to do anything more than think about it.

Don’t like the Supreme Court telling you to integrate your public schools? Ignore ‘em, in some cases, even close the schools down, and otherwise drag your feet as long as the feds will allow, which turned out to be quite a while.

And now with gay marriage. Don’t like the Supreme Court ruling? Ignore it, and what are they going to do? Take us to court again? Go for it, is the threat. If the all deliberate speed response to Brown vs. Board is any indication, gay and lesbian couples in these for now scattered locales won’t be getting married at their local courthouses anytime before 2030.

A neat parlor trick to play at your next dinner party would be to offer to sketch out a Venn diagram of those most concerned about gay marriage and those most concerned about their free-speech rights with respect to the Confederate flag being impinged upon.

You’d only have to draw a single circle.

But it’s not about slavery, they will tell you, not about the state sanctioning second-class status for people of color, for LGBTs, they will insist.

These same people will tell you when the topic changes to something in their wheelhouse, for example, to a discussion of immigration, that we are a nation of laws, nitpicking a few of their favorites from our byzantine federal code with respect to immigration that they feel need to be most vigorously enforced, but let’s go with their rhetoric.

And actually, when you look back at the historical record, Southern leaders at the turn of the Civil War raised strenuous issue with respect to runaway slave laws that they felt weren’t being vigorously enforced.

The ugly truth is that we’re only a nation of laws when it comes to using them to marginalize.

Funny thing is how those who are waving their Confederate flags the most strenuously these days are themselves among those marginalized, the South bringing up the bottom of the industrialized world in terms of educational attainment, health and overall quality of life.

But anyway, there it is, what the Confederate flag that you claim as your heritage represents.

– Column by Chris Graham

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