All together now, let’s sing the chorus of a famous ’40s Broadway song:
OOOOHK-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain, And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet, when the wind comes right behind the rain OOOOHK-lahoma, ev’ry night my honey lamb and I, sit alone and talk and watch a hawk, makin’ lazy circles in the sky…
But alas, here in the 21st century, all the state’s honey lambs are not treated equally.
If you’re wondering what can happen when a federal requirement for marriage equality collides with state-sanctioned homophobia, look no further than the absurdist spectacle currently being staged in Oklahoma.
Marriage equality is inexorably on the march in America, but red-state resistance will remain implacable for the foreseeable future – even if it means violating the U.S. Constitution, and behaving just like the southern racists of the early 1960s. Which brings us to Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, whose current maneuverings would be laughable if they weren’t so contemptible.
Fallin declared in November that all married members of the Oklahoma National Guard are hereby barred from applying for spousal benefits at state-run Guard facilities. Most of those folks are straight, so perhaps you’re wondering why she would do such a sweeping thing. It’s simple, really. She did it in order to stop the gay Guard members from applying for spousal benefts.
And you’re saying, “Huh?” I bet you’d like to hear the back story:
Last summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court recognized gay marriages for the first time, the Pentagon said that it was “committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally as the law directs.” It then decreed that gay spouses, just like straight spouses, would be able to apply for health care coverage and housing benefits. The decree covered all branches of the military, including the National Guard. The decree was backed by a presidential directive.
But Fallin said no. Citing what she called “the integrity of our state constitution” – the state constitution codifies bigotry by prohibiting marriage equality – she said in September that if gay National Guard spouses tried to apply for benefits at state-run Guard facilities, they would be turned away. She said that her stance “sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.”
She must’ve flunked high school civics class; state law doesn’t trump federal law, it’s the other way around. It says so in the nation’s founding document that conservatives purport to revere. From Article VI: “the laws of the United States…shall be the supreme law of the land,” trumping “the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary.” We fought and won a bloody civil war to buttress that core principle. And it just so happens that National Guard facilities nationwide are federally-funded and federally-run.
But when the Pentagon told Fallin to obey federal law, she doubled down in fascinating fashion. She essentially said: “Fine, I’ll just shut down the whole system so that nobody can apply for spousal benefits. I know that hurts all the straights, but at least this way I keep the gay at bay.” That’s the deal at all the state-run Guard facilities; to thwart the gays, everybody gets hurt. (National Guard gay spouses can still apply for benefits at the nearest federal military base, but, given the size of Oklahoma, that’s typically a car ride for hundreds of miles.)
Fallin is running for re-election – Chris Christie is campaigning for her today – so I get why she’s being so adamant. Standing tall for homophobia is good politics in a red state. But, yeesh, the historical parallels are quite disconcerting. Her decision to shut down the spousal benefits system, just to bar the gays, brings to mind some of the brilliant solutions concocted by southern racists 50 or 60 years ago. Like when they were ordered by the feds to desegregate the schools, and responded by closing all the schools. Like when they were ordered to desegregate public swimming pools, and responded by closing all the pools.
Generations from now, Americans living in a marriage-equality culture will marvel at the anti-gay reactionaries of the early 21st century, much the way we today view those southern racists of yesteryear. And when Mary Fallin took the Oklahoma oath of office and inadvertently vowed to “offend the Constitution of the United States” – well, it’s nice when a politician actually fulfills a promise.
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