Scalia's Gay Marriage Dissent Reveals a Bizarre Sense of Political Geography

Did you know that California is not in the West and that the "real America" is the Old Confederacy?
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Did you know that California is not in the West and that the "real America" is the Old Confederacy?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the opposition on the US Supreme Court to the legalization of same-sex marriage, revealed a bizarre sense of political geography in his bitter dissent to Friday's stunning 5-4 decision. While ramblingly denouncing "hippies," Scalia pretended that support for the move comes not from the "real America" but from some other, illegitimate place.

Scalia's pseudo-patriotic pose masks the harsh reality that the 14 anti-gay marriage holdout states whose interests he fronted on the Court were actually dominated by the old Confederate states, the only states which ever, to preserve slavery, actually tried to destroy the United States. Not surprisingly, the old Confederate states form the bulwark of reactionary politics in America, galvanizing vehement opposition to the policies of Barack Obama, our first black President. That includes his flawed but still valuable national health care program, which the Supreme Court narrowly upheld last week, also to Scalia's evident fury.

Scalia's insistence that only elitists rather than real Americans are represented on the Supreme Court is unintentionally amusing, since he never objected before when this same Court turned over American elections to the untrammeled spending of big corporations and the ultra-rich.

It was a Californian, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision on same-sex marriage. Just as it was a Californian, then-Chief Justice Earl Warren, who spearheaded the decision ending segregated public education in 1954, also to the fury of Scalia's "real America" of the Old Confederacy states.

In claiming that the West was unrepresented in the gay marriage decision, Scalia claims that California is not a Western state, which is absurd. But the rest of the West was a very minor part of the holdout state opposition. Perhaps Scalia's "West" only exists in old cowboy movies.

Scalia, like Anthony Kennedy, was appointed by then-President Ronald Reagan, a former California governor. Presumably California was part of the West then.

But Jerry Brown was governor of California when Reagan made Scalia a federal appellate judge just a few years before elevating him to the Supreme Court. And Jerry Brown is governor of California now. What's changed is that the Republican Party has become even more conservative. And California has become somewhat more liberal.

Moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps California's last Republican governor, worked with then-Attorney General Brown to make sure that a federal court decision upholding the right to same-sex marriage in California withstood a court challenge by anti-gay marriage initiative promoters.

The reality, of course, is that California, the Far West, is very much a Western state. Not just on the map but also in epitomizing the Western heritage of exploration and entrepreneurship. And the West, with California at the forefront, has played a major role in the historical expansion of civil rights in America, rejecting the expansion of slavery before the Civil War ignited by the Old Confederacy states now at the forefront of opposition to same-sex marriage and producing -- in California Governor-turned-Chief Justice Earl Warren -- the man who ended segregated public education in America.

The West has always been in the imaginative forefront of the Enlightenment ethic which forged the American Revolution.

Thomas Jefferson, the Enlightenment philosopher and politician who enshrined the concepts of egalitarianism and expanding liberties in America's founding document, the Declaration of Independence, was long an advocate of the West. He called for an "Empire of Liberty" spanning coast to coast. As president, he engineered America's single largest expansion with the Louisiana Purchase (of which today's state was a relatively small part) and sent his closest presidential aide as captain of the Lewis and Clark Expedition across the unknown continent to the Pacific.

As Jefferson foresaw in his promise of the extraordinary right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the arc of liberty is meant to keep widening for succeeding generations.

The world is not static, at least since the Dark Ages, it's dynamic. Just as people of color and women deservingly won new rights in the past, gays and lesbians are winning their own now.

This is what the "strict constructionists" led by the likes of Scalia just don't get.

Some of my ancestors in centuries ago Virginia owned slaves, a prospect that to me is vastly more alien than traveling to another galaxy. Do we really believe that Thomas Jefferson today would be a slave owner or believe that African Americans are inferior? Do we believe that the famously deist disdainer of religious shibboleths would not support the right to same-sex marriage?

Healthy people, like healthy societies and healthy species, evolve. Even though the reactionaries among us reject evolution and other forms of science.

Enduring values meet new visions. Exploration and innovation, diversity, tolerance, stewardship. Old West becomes New West. A new America continues its painstaking birth as the old Confederate flags start coming down at last.

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