Gays win, blacks lose. That’s the upshot of this week’s landmark Supreme Court decisions.
“It’s an exciting day for civil rights in America,” a young gay man standing outside the Supreme Court told the Washington Post. “I am a significant step closer to being an equal citizen under the law.” That sentiment was not shared by African-Americans. The day before, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called the court’s voting rights decision “an egregious betrayal of minority voters.”
Why did the Supreme Court treat the two minorities so differently? Because the two minorities face significantly different problems. Since the civil rights laws were passed in the 1960s, inequality has become a bigger problem for African-Americans than discrimination. For gays, the problem is discrimination. The U.S. legal system is far better equipped to deal with discrimination than inequality.
In the movie “Lincoln,” there was a dramatic moment when Thaddeus Stevens, a radical Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, is being goaded by his enemies to declare that African-Americans are equal to whites — a sentiment that, in 1865, would have exposed him as an “extremist.”
Representative George Pendleton of Ohio, the recently defeated Democratic candidate for vice president, confronts Stevens, saying, “You have long insisted, have you not, that the dusk-colored race is no different from the white one?”