I am listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR this morning, where a discussion about Kim Davis, religious freedom, and same-sex marriage is taking place. Part of the argument in support of Davis’s stand is that the Supreme Court imposed its decision on all fifty states; yet, sometimes it is necessary for the Supreme Court to step in. As someone who studies the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, I find parallels between the struggle for civil rights and the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling. In times past, there existed a patchwork quilt of laws and regulations regarding segregation–some states practiced and codified it; others did not. When interstate passengers traveled from one state where segregation was practiced and legal into another where it was illegal, it was unclear which state’s statutes should be followed since a state’s laws cannot extend beyond its boundaries. The Supreme Court interceded so there would be one uniform law to follow: Passengers on interstate buses were exempt from segregated seating and (later) from discrimination in facilities serving interstate buses. (This was the law, although it was poorly enforced and took a hard-fought effort to see it practiced throughout the U.S.) Similarly, same-sex marriage was legal in some states but not in others. Those states where it was illegal refused to honor the marriages of individuals legally married elsewhere in terms of recognizing spouses on death certificates, inheritance and custody issues, taxes, etc. It became necessary for the Supreme Court to intercede, so legally married couples could enjoy all the civil benefits to which they were entitled regardless of what state (or county within a state) they found themselves living in. I haven’t heard this argument raised by the pundits discussing the Kim Davis issue, but the parallels are strong and the point valid. Uniformity of law is necessary in a country as vast and mobile as ours.

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