Quote of the Week
"It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."
— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case establishing marriage equality in all 50 states.
Neither Gov. Asa Hutchinson nor Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has been particularly friendly to LGBT people in the past, but both Republicans did the right thing following the Supreme Court's Friday decision. They refused to flirt with noncompliance, as their counterparts did in some other Southern states.
Rutledge said through a spokesperson on Friday that state employees must follow the new law of the land: "[I]n matters regarding civil marriage and the attendant rights, benefits, and obligations of civil marriages, same-sex couples should be treated exactly the same as opposite-sex couples." And if county employees refuse to do their jobs on religious grounds? Not OK, said Hutchinson on Monday: "[C]ounty clerks under my interpretation do have a nondiscretionary function of issuing those marriage licenses."
Same-sex marriage stole the show, but it was only one of several landmark rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court handed down this past week.
First, there was King v. Burwell, the last-ditch effort by enemies of the Affordable Care Act to blow a hole in health care reform by yanking insurance subsidies from millions of Americans (including about 48,000 Arkansans). The plaintiffs' entire case rested on a technical error in the language of the law, but the Court saw through the absurdity of that argument 6-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Kennedy joining their liberal colleagues to uphold the subsidies. Obamacare is here to stay, sounds like.
Then, on Monday, the court ruled against three inmates on Oklahoma's death row who argued that that state's choice of lethal injection drug amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment" — despite a botched execution using the drug last year. Although the legal situation is more complicated in Arkansas, this makes it more likely the decade-dormant death penalty could be resurrected here.
Also on Monday, the court struck down a key part of President Obama's environmental policy, effectively squashing tighter EPA regulations of mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants. Arkansas was a part of that suit.
And still more: A major fair housing policy in Texas was upheld, a victory in the fight against racial segregation. The justices allowed an Arizona policy to stand which aims to curb gerrymandering. All of these decisions were 5-4 except for King, with Kennedy casting the crucial vote.
Rebels without a cause
Last week, as momentum grew to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the South's slaveholding past from public places, the Fort Smith School Board took a unanimous vote to phase out the Rebel as mascot of Southside High in the 2016-17 school year. "Dixie" will no longer be the high school's fight song, beginning in the coming 2015-16 year. No more "Confederette" girls' volleyball team, either.
Lots of folks aren't happy — including Wayne Haver, the school principal, who said, "It's amazing one situation causes such a knee-jerk reaction across the nation." He was referring, of course, to the racially motivated terrorist shooting in Charleston, S.C., which set off the current tremors of mass reckoning with Confederate iconography. Finally coming to terms with our racist past, 150 years after the Civil War ended? Quite the delayed knee jerk. The school board will take a final vote on the issue July 27.
Meanwhile, in Charleston, at a funeral for victims of the shooting, President Obama himself delivered the eulogy for slain state Sen. Rev. Clementa Pinckney. At its conclusion, unexpectedly, Obama broke into song, leading the surprised crowd in a refrain of "Amazing Grace." His voice was, well, decent. His words, though — after the past week, they rang out. "May grace now lead them home," the president said of the victims. "May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America."