In the 1940s and 1950s, countless people in the US were being bullied and brutalized by the anti-communist scare tactics and character assassinations of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The end of the McCarthy red-baiting era began when Joseph Welch stood up to McCarthy after he attacked a young lawyer on his staff. Welch was appalled by McCarthy’s callous disregard and despite McCarthy’s power, challenged him by stating: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” He concluded by saying “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
In the recent marriage equality case, Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia argued that marriage equality opens the door to polygamy, underage sex, and incest between brothers and sisters. This is the modern equivalent of McCarthy red-baiting and deserves the same response.
The cruel, illogical, heartless and hateful arguments of Alito and Scalia give considerable support and inspiration to right wing groups who literally demonize our sisters and brothers and sons and daughters who seek only to marry their same sex partners just like the rest of us.
Alito and Scalia give comfort to the likes of Rush Limbaugh who stated marriage equality leads to incest. To Rick Santorum who compares same sex relationships to bestiality and pedophilia. To the head of ironically named American Decency Association who claimed that gay rights is a satanic attack on the US. And to legions of other people and groups who practice hostility and violence against our sisters and brothers.
It is one thing to have these fringe haters outside on the courthouse steps. We allow the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi parties to demonstrate out on the steps. It is another matter entirely when they are in the exalted position as members of the court and while there feeding the fires of hatred in their public arguments.
It is past time for family, friends, lawyers, legal associations and law schools to ask Alito and Scalia to halt and to answer the question “Have you no sense of decency, sirs?”
Alito, long criticized for being a cranky, malicious mouthpiece of the anti-gay movement, was at it again when the court heard the marriage equality case. Alito is already famous for visibly shaking his head and mouthing opposition to President Obama in his 2010 State of the Union address and for throwing a mini-tantrum when other justices dissent.
Alito argued that approving the right to marriage equality for gay and lesbian people would open the door for 12 year olds to marry, for brothers and sisters to marry, and make polygamy possible for four lawyers who all want to marry each other. Alito’s problems are so often raised and widely known that they are characterized as his “polygamy perplex” by The New Yorker.
Alito’s fallacious slippery slope arguments, transparently couched as questions, were so ridiculous that they prompted John Stewart to ask whether, in the case where women fought for the right to vote, Alito might have asked “What if one day a dog wants to vote? How about that ladies?”
Antonin Scalia, of course not to be outdone, argued that if marriage equality was recognized ministers would be forced to conduct such marriages even if their religious organizations opposed them. When Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that no ministers have ever been forced to conduct gay marriages Scalia would not hear of it. When the lawyer arguing the case and Justices Breyer and Kagan pointed out that the First Amendment already protected priests, rabbis, imams and ministers from conducting marriages inconsistent with their religions, Scalia refused to concede. Scalia, like Alito, also asked if marriage equality means polygamy would have to be recognized.
As one wise friend pointed out, our country still has the Ku Klux Klan but we do not take their arguments seriously. And there are no respected people openly espousing their arguments on the Supreme Court. No respected person openly argues that blacks and whites should not marry. Nor do any people argue openly that women do not deserve the right to vote. Yet, there are people on the Supreme Court who continue to openly repeat the brutally crude applause lines of right wing anti-gay hate groups. It is time that stopped.
It is time all people of good will stand up to the haters, especially those on the Supreme Court, and say, “Until this moment, Justices, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sirs? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer who teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans.