I record Charlie Rose on my ReplayTV every day. A couple of times this week, it was preempted for coverage of the Mass. legislature meeting in constitutional convention over the "crisis" caused by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court having decided that homosexuals are people too. Today I decided to actually play some of that in background while doing something else. I'm glad I did.
On the Statehouse floor, Sen. Dianne Wilkerson eloquently argued that offering gays the option of civil unions was fundamentally unequal, and recalled her experience as a black woman growing up in Arkansas to make her point.
"I know the pain of being less than equal and I cannot and will not impose that status on anyone else," Wilkerson said. "I could not in good conscience ever vote to send anyone to that place from which my family fled."
Wilkerson's plea echoed last week's Supreme Judicial Court's affirmation of their November decision, saying giving civil unions to gays amounted to the same separate-but-equal idea favored by segregationists and outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954.
What they don't say is that she was in tears as she talked about some of what her family had lived through. What they don't quote, that I think deserves to be, is the core of her powerful and heartfelt speech:
"For me, this is about one simple principle: the principle that one group of citizens cannot be almost equal to another.... I could not deny to one group of citizens what I live every day in pursuit for all others. Simply put, this is a civil rights matter. And as such, I feel strongly that it was never intended that such matters be left to the public to decide by popular vote. Everything we know about the climate and tenor of the day in May of 1954 tells us that had Brown vs Board of Education been put to popular vote, things would have turned out differently. As was Brown, today's vote is about a civil right.
"I represent the Capitol City of Boston ... including the plaintiffs in the SJC decision, the Goodridges. I am both proud to be their Senator, and ashamed that we stand here today talking about them as if they were not human beings, or as if they are less deserving of the rights and protections our Constitution affords them. I can assure you --- I know them --- they feel, they care, they love, and they are deserving. And I say again that this is a civil rights issue.
"Historically we look to the sacred document we call the Constitution to define rights we hold dear. It is not a document where discriminatory language belongs."
There's more, and it's all worth listening to. She speaks of standing against the Black Clergy on this, which is clearly hard for her. She speaks more of her family's experience of second-class citizenship. And she speaks more of how this is, to here, simply an issue of equality.