TIME Civil Rights

The Meaning Behind the Civil Rights Act’s Signing Date

Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act
PhotoQuest / Getty Images President Lyndon B Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in a ceremony at the White House, Washington DC, July 2, 1964 .

President Johnson signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964

For President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, was a no-brainer: the date was a Thursday, just as it is this year, and the symbolism of marking the hard-fought victory just before Independence Day would be a shame to waste.

But, as TIME noted in its original 1964 coverage of the landmark legislation, the Fourth of July wasn’t the only significant date in play. The date on which the Senate passed the bill was June 19, 1964—precisely one year after “President John Kennedy sent to Congress a civil rights bill, [and] urged its speedy passage ‘not merely for reasons of economic efficiency, world diplomacy or domestic tranquility, but above all because it is right.'” Though Kennedy had been assassinated the previous fall, the law he had advocated for had actually grown in strength and scope.

After the House also passed the bill and it went on to the President, the season of its signing—and not just the calendar date—would also prove significant.

The bill included many obviously important provisions affecting matters of great weight, like voting rights and equal employment. But, as TIME pointed out, it would take months to see the voting rules take effect, and the labor matters included a period during which businesses could adjust. On the other hand, one of the parts of the law—a part that may seem today to be far less important—was, as TIME put it, “effective immediately, and likely to cause the fastest fireworks.”

The law entitled all persons to equal use of public accommodations, from hotels and movie theaters to soda fountains and public swimming pools. In the run up to the final vote, St. Augustine, Fla., proved why pools—long a contentious point, for the necessary closeness that comes with sharing the water with other people—would be a hot topic:

There, five Negroes and two white fellow demonstrators dived into the swimming pool at the segregated Monson Motor Lodge. The motel manager, furious, grabbed two jugs of muriatic acid, a cleansing agent, tried unsuccessfully to splash the stuff on the swimmers. Cops moved in, one of them stripped off his shoes and socks, leaped gracelessly into the water and pummeled the swimmers with his fists. When the fracas was over, 34 people, including the swimmers and other civil righters who kept dry, were hauled off to jail.

Due to the time of year, the new law’s effects would be immediately visible at swimming pools around the country.

TIME politics

The Gay Marriage Victory Is a Reminder of the Importance of Names

Brett Benner is an Emmy nominated casting director. He lives in Los Angeles.

"Husband" and "Father" are more meaningful than what we chose as our family's last name

June 26 will go down in the history books as the day that the U.S. Supreme Court afforded gays and lesbians the right to get legally married in all 50 states. As a gay man, it’s hard not to be struck by the magnitude of this.

My husband Chip and I were married in California shortly after Proposition 8 was struck down as unconstitutional. When we first got together, we never considered getting married. It was something straight people and Disney princesses did. This was 20 years ago, when the only married gay men I had heard of were the ones who had divorced their wives. But somewhere around year 10 the term “boyfriend” graduated to “partner,” as we furnished a house with pictures of a younger us, and we started to feel an insistent itch that quickly turned into babyitis. Even before 
marriage was an option, we decided to create a family.

As a gay couple, we faced a question that many new parents with different last names face: How do we name our children? We made the decision not to hyphenate our last names like other friends had. Instead we chose my last name as our two children’s middle name and my husband’s as their last. Now we were a family—in the eyes of most, but certainly not all.

One of the trickiest parts of being a family has been traveling together. In the summer of 2012 we were coming back from a vacation we take every other year in Canada. The four of us were in Toronto, waiting to go through Customs to enter the U.S. Our declaration form had been filled out per the instructions that said one per household.

Chip had the two kids with him at the Customs officer’s kiosk, and I came up behind struggling with the bags. When I went to hand the agent my passport, he looked at Chip and said, “Who is this?” 
Even after Chip replied to say that we were together, the customs agent insisted that I fill out a separate declaration form. He told me, “Your state might recognize you, but your federal government doesn’t. Go back to the end of the line.”

As I walked back to the line, 
I felt my face get hot as a flush moved up from my shirt collar. My son began to ask what was happening. When I finally reached them, Chip told me to take the kids through the security gate checkpoint, and he’d be right behind. The next agent looked at my passports and then my kids’ and questioned if they were mine because we didn’t share the same last name. He then had me go through extra screening.

The whole situation was absurd. We were furious.
 I was an American citizen being treated this way by another American citizen. It confirmed for me some deep fear I had of what someone else could think of us, and the names he was attaching to us in his mind. Had our last names been hyphenated, would there have been a different outcome? I don’t think so.

People say that change happens slowly, and yet we’ve seen unbelievable leaps and bounds in regards to marriage equality in the last seven years. My hope based on the ruling is a cautiously optimistic one—that it’s no longer gay marriage or traditional marriage, but simply marriage.

When marriage became legal in California, my not-yet husband became simply my husband.
 We married for two reasons: One, we’d been together nearly 20 years and thought it was time to not only validate our union, but to celebrate it in front of a group of people we loved. And two, more important, we wanted to do it for our children. I imagine they will grow up and look back and think how silly it was that at one time gay people couldn’t get married.

Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, Husband, Wife. These are the names that ground us. They identify us. They have purpose and meaning, and they evoke commitment, duty, and love. And on June 26, love won.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Constitution Had Everything To Do With Gay Marriage Ruling

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers remarks during the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference on April 13, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers remarks during the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference on April 13, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Elizabeth Warren is a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

Because of our Constitution, senseless discrimination cannot survive when it is brought out of the darkness

Our Constitution fiercely guards freedom and liberty, and strongly disapproves of state-sanctioned discrimination. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges recognizing a fundamental right to equal marriage for LGBT Americans sits squarely within both text and tradition. Indeed, what is truly remarkable about this case is not the outcome, but rather the people who made it possible — all of the many individuals across our nation who came forward to fight for the liberty and equality that our Constitution guarantees for all of us.

The inclusion of a Bill of Rights, with its protections for religious liberty, freedom of speech, and due process, was an essential condition of ratifying the Constitution and bringing the colonies together into one United States of America. Ratification of the Reconstruction Amendments, including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, was a necessary component of rebuilding our union after the Civil War. Without these rights and liberties, there would be no Constitution — and no nation.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Obergefell that “the generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.” Some would prefer to pretend otherwise, but the Constitution did not come with an owner’s manual of how-to instructions for working through every conceivable situation across the centuries — instead, it outlined principles to serve as guideposts. Applying the Constitution’s terms to unforeseen circumstances does not go beyond the job of a judge; that is the job of a judge.

Even so, for generations, these broad constitutional protections stood side-by-side with state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT Americans. States criminalized same-sex relationships, banned same-sex marriages, and excluded their own citizens from anti-discrimination protections. This story isn’t new. For nearly a hundred years, systematic, state-sanctioned discrimination against African Americans coexisted with constitutional protections adopted after the Civil War specifically to prevent it. The lesson in both cases is that constitutional freedoms and liberties are meaningful only when our nation is courageous enough not to look away from them.

As a nation, we see now that discrimination heaped on LGBT Americans violates protections laid out in the Constitution. We see it because countless Americans have stepped forward to make themselves seen and to expose ugly discrimination for what it is: a denial of liberty and equality for our fellow citizens.

We see it because of judges like Margaret Marshall, the former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, who wrote the first decision legalizing same-sex marriage almost 12 years ago. A native of South Africa and a former anti-Apartheid activist, Marshall has said she had given no thought to the issue before the case came to her court — but she knew discrimination when she saw it.

We see it because of civil rights lawyers like Mary Bonauto, the legal architect of the marriage cases who argued that Massachusetts case and earlier this year stood before the Supreme Court seeking national recognition of those same rights in Obergefell, and because of her colleagues at Boston’s Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, who worked tirelessly for more than 30 years to fight government discrimination against LGBT Americans in areas like criminal prosecution, adoption, medical treatment, and marriage.

We see it because of people like Jim Obergefell — who married his husband John on the tarmac at the Baltimore airport in 2013. Months later, John lost his fight with ALS. Years later, Jim took his fight to be listed on John’s death certificate in their native Ohio all the way to the Supreme Court — and won.

In America, because of our Constitution, senseless discrimination – discrimination that demeans the worth of our neighbors and our coworkers and our family members – cannot survive when it is brought out of the darkness. It has never been easy for us to shine the light on such discrimination. But when we see it, when we stop looking away and finally acknowledge it, it is never long before we formally recognize what is compelled by our Constitution. We recognize what has always been there: equality and dignity under the law, for all Americans, no matter who they are.

When looking at this equal marriage decision, Chief Justice John Roberts asserts that the Constitution “had nothing to do with it.” He’s wrong. Our Constitution had everything to do with it — with the liberty of two adults to have their love treated the same as that of any other couple. And it is because of the tireless work of jurists, lawyers, husbands like Jim Obergefell, and countless other LGBT Americans who stepped forward to speak out, that our nation will no longer look away from what our Constitution requires.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Polygamy Is Not Next

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

The logic of same-sex marriage does not inevitably lead to multi-partner marriage

From the start of the debate on same-sex marriage and right up to last week’s Supreme Court ruling that legalized it nationwide, one of the most common arguments from the opposition has been the “slippery slopeto polygamy: If marriage can be redefined from a male/female union to a union of any two consenting adults, why stop at two?

Supporters of same-sex marriage have generally dismissed such arguments or mocked them as scaremongering. But there has also been a steady trickle of articles from the left asking what’s so wrong with legalized multi-partner marriages. Some even argue, as writer and academic Fredrik deBoer does in a recent Politico essay, that polygamy should be the “next horizon” of social liberalism.

Both the alarmists and the cheerleaders have a point when they say that the high court’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which emphasizes the freedom to marry, could be cited as precedent for recognizing polygamous marriages. But there are also solid arguments against such an interpretation. And there are many good reasons, practical and moral, that multi-partner marriage should not become a liberal cause.

The battle for same-sex marriage was won, both in courts of law and in the court of public opinion, by framing the goal as “marriage equality”—that same-sex couples should have access to the same rights and privileges as their heterosexual counterparts. Opponents countered that marriage is defined as a male-female union. Yet the legal rights and benefits of modern heterosexual marriage are gender-neutral (except for the presumption of the husband’s paternity to any child born to the wife during the marriage, and even that is increasingly contested by DNA testing). There was simply no good way to justify denying the same rights to two partners of the same sex.

By contrast, the entire existing structure of modern marriage is designed for a dyad. DeBoer argues that there were similar practical objections to same-sex marriage—for instance, having to discard marriage license forms with the words “husband” and “wife” and replacing them with ones that list “Spouse 1” and “Spouse 2.” But this onerous task hardly compares to the massive overhaul multi-partner marriage would require: including revising the rules on post-divorce property division or survivor benefits for three, five, or 10 people instead of two; adjusting child custody arrangement for multiple legal parents; and determining who has the legal authority to make decisions for an incapacitated spouse.

It’s not just that sorting this out is difficult. The bottom line is that as a practical matter, it’s simply impossible for plural partners to have the same rights and benefits currently enjoyed by two spouses, gay or straight. It’s likely that every group marriage would essentially have to be customized. This would remove what many advocates have always cited as a major advantage of marriage: a single, simple legal act that creates a standard set of privileges and obligations.

There is another difference. Attempts to stop same-sex marriage floundered partly because no one could show how male/female unions would be harmed or even affected by same-sex ones. Legalizing multiple spouses, on the other hand, would immediately affect every couple by opening a potential door to new partners in the marriage. Yes, this would presumably require everyone’s consent, but at the very least, those who want monogamy would have to explicitly stipulate this, and even then a monogamy clause could probably be renegotiated later.

Inevitably, too, a movement for plural marriage rights would be accompanied by a push to destigmatize other forms of non-monogamy such as open marriage. The message that sexual exclusivity in marriage is optional—accompanied by visible and positive images of non-monogamous unions—could have a ripple effect. Before long, the spouse who insists on fidelity could be forced to justify such an old-fashioned preference.

Even today, when social disapproval of extramarital sex gives extra leverage to the monogamy-minded spouse, at least some people are in polyamorous and open marriages by less-than-enthusiastic consent, acceding to the wishes of a spouse who insists on such an arrangement. And that’s not even counting plural marriages in ultraconservative religious communities where girls are groomed early on to accept their place as submissive wives to the male head of household. Granting these relationships official status would likely raise their visibility and social legitimacy.

Some have also suggested that polygamous marriage should have a greater claim to legitimacy than same-sex marriage since it is far more rooted in history. But that argument misses a key factor in the cultural shift on same-sex marriage: gender equality as a central value of modern society. Historical polygamy is strongly linked to male dominance and female subjection—while monogamy arguably formed the basis of the transition from patriarchal authority to companionate partnership that eventually paved the way for same-sex unions.

Despite the dire warnings of gay marriage critics and the pleadings of polygamy supporters, the logic of same-sex marriage does not inevitably lead to multi-partner marriage. Slate columnist William Saletan has argued that the key number is not two but one: “You commit to one person, and that person commits wholly to you.” (The word “monogamy” is derived from the word root for “one,” not “two.”)

Logic aside, the prospective success of multi-partner marriage depends on whether the public mood will shift to support it, the way it has for same-sex marriage. Will such an evolution happen? It would likely a much tougher uphill battle, not least because “I want to make a full commitment to the person I love” is a far more sympathetic claim than “my needs are unfulfilled in a sexually exclusive relationship.” If social liberals in the academy and the media decide to champion non-monogamy as the next frontier of liberation and equality, they could make some headway in promoting acceptance of such lifestyle choices. But the likely result would be a new conflagration in the culture wars—particularly since, this time around, these choices do affect other people’s marriages.

In a free society, the private sexual choices of adults should not be criminalized. But they are not automatically entitled to cultural approval or societal support systems.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

That Cartoon of the Rainbow Flag Replacing the Confederate One Is Dangerous

Darlena Cunha is a journalist who writes about parenting.

It's possible to celebrate a victory for one marginalized group without trampling all over another

June marked a string of historic changes nearly unprecedented in minority communities in the U.S. The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal, resulting in more than 26 million Facebook users changing their profile pictures, the White House lighting up in rainbow colors, and many around the country excitedly saying “I do” for the first time. Meanwhile, after a shooting in Charleston, S.C., a raging debate over whether or not the Confederate flag should be taken down continues amid violence and protests.

Right there for the taking, it seemed, was a beautiful, poignant comparison—one that Mother Jones called “iconic.” A cartoon in five panels, side-by-side, shows a Confederate flag lowered as a rainbow flag is raised. On the surface, the image appears to capture the intense battles oppressed groups have overcome in recent days, marking a celebratory victory for all. In reality, that is far from the case.

By making one snapshot of two very different battles, we are implying a correlation that does not exist, and, further, we are assuming a victory of race where there is none. The URL for the Mother Jones piece—”the-gays-won-the-civil-war” —instead of being cutesy and funny is a travesty. It’s an act of ignorant privilege that this joke can even exist. Those who have not had to live through this, those whose ancestors never experienced the institution of slavery, are glibly conflated one cause with another.

Don’t forget: The Confederate flag still flies over South Carolina’s statehouse. And a black woman was jailed for physically climbing the pole and taking it down. While it is an incredible victory that Confederate flag merchandise is being stripped from store shelves, and some people are choosing to cover up their Confederate tattoos, we must not forget that the cause for such action was the brutal killing of nine black Americans who were studying the Bible.

A human-rights win for the LGBT community based on a court ruling cannot be compared to a tremor of anti-racist solidarity stemming from a mass murder. Let us not forget the black churches still burning in the South, a clear indicator that this rift has not magically healed itself, and racism is not suddenly over.

These two issues cannot be placed side by side because they share very little common ground other than the most superficial tenets of the notion of justice. In showing the replacement of a flag that still flies over South Carolina, we are, perhaps accidentally, erasing a painful piece of black history, co-opting it in the name of peace and justice. We cannot pave over the still-bleeding wounds of those in the trenches of one war because we want a nice, tidy, social-justice box of peace.

It also dangerously allows viewers to ingest that image and subconsciously assume the work has been done, and the fight has been won. To rewrite current events in this way will only make it harder for activists fighting against racism.

Symbolism is an important guide for cultural thought, and false comparisons are dangerous in any venue. It’s possible to celebrate a victory for one marginalized group without trampling all over another. Being sensitive to the plight of one group of people amid the joyous, rightful, and hard-won victory of another allows us to be better allies to both.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Gay Marriage Plaintiff: What It Was Like to Fight For—And Win—Same-Sex Marriage Equality

Thom Kostura
Courtesy Thom Kostura Plaintiffs Thom Kostura (left) and his husband Ijpe DeKoe (right) march in the gay pride parade in San Francisco on June 28, 2015.

Thom Kostura and his husband Ijpe DeKoe are plaintiffs in the Tennessee Supreme Court same-sex marriage case. Kostura is a artist and graduate of the Memphis College of Art Master's Program and DeKoe is a Sergeant on active duty in the Army Reserve.

I thought getting married would be the most emotional moment of my life — this was so much more

This is the third in a series from Thom Kostura and Ijpe DeKoe chronicling their experiences as the Supreme Court considered overturning state bans on same-sex marriage. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Correction appended, June 30.

June 26, 2015: 10:02 a.m. Eastern—That time will be burned into my memory as the moment I found out that my marriage is equal.

The full magnitude of the ruling—and what that equality truly means—still hasn’t entirely hit me, even after repeatedly reading my name, my husband’s name, and our story in the pages of the U.S. Supreme Court’s history-making marriage decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy: “Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his partner Thomas Kostura, co-plaintiffs in the Tennessee case, fell in love.”

For so long, we’ve lived with the stigma of inequality and the uncertainty about whether our marriage would be recognized or even respected if we traveled across state lines. But today, and every day forward, we are considered equal under the law.

There is a distinct difference in knowing that you will win the right to marry and learning that you have won. It’s almost easy to tell yourself that you are right, and your fight is worth it, because it is. Yet, it’s difficult to process this victory and what it brings.

We joined this case to have our marriage recognized. We had been married in New York, where marriage equality was legal, and had moved to Tennessee, where it was not. But it was our LGBT friends who could not get married at all in Tennessee who most actively supported our fight to challenge the state’s marriage equality ban. These couples bought homes, raised children, invested in their communities, and did all they could to make the state a better place to live.

Knowing that our cause was just and that the laws that dissolved our marriages were fundamentally unfair gave us the strength to agree to this fight. Support from our friends made the fight sustainable. We imagined that our eventual win would merely be a continuation of the emotions we had felt for the past 18 months. We should have known better.

In August 2011, as Ijpe was preparing for his deployment, the words “I do” were bigger then the words “good bye.” Almost four years later, Justice Kennedy’s concluding words—“They ask for the dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”— were even bigger than that. When we were married, I thought it would be the most powerful and emotional moment of my life; but the realization that our marriage and our friend’s marriages are now respected was that emotion multiplied beyond measure.

Our dearest friends, Jon and Paul, will no longer have to list themselves each as “single” on their mortgage paperwork. Our friends Diane and Ginger, two wonderful mothers who have raised their sons in a state that never recognized their family, will now have the security and respect that their marriage and family deserves. As I begin to realize the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on my friends’ lives and the lives of millions of couples of across the country, I’m stunned.

On Friday afternoon, we received an e-mail from Doug Hallward-Driemeier, a member of our legal team who argued our case in front of the Supreme Court with sincerity and confidence. He wrote simply:

To each of you – to your stories, to your marriages, to your families – I raise a toast.
With much love and deep appreciation,

Later that day, between the calls from reporters and well wishes from our friends and family, Ijpe and I found a moment to shut down the television, close our computers, silence our phones, and simply hold each other.

The last few days—not to mention the last 18 months since we first filed our case—has been an emotional ride. We are humbled and proud to have had this opportunity to be part of something so large. Now, to echo the sentiments of Will Batts, Director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, it’s time for us to BE in the moment, to soak it in, and experience it as LGBT people and not just as activists.

To all, Ijpe and I thank you, we love you, and we look forward to the future together. We have, as the president put it, made for a more perfect Union.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the amount of time since the plaintiffs filed their case. It has been 18 months.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

This Is What Could Happen to the Confederate Flag in Court

Before this becomes a lawsuit, the Confederate flag should be taken down

The tragedy in Charleston has revived the movement to take the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds.

On Monday June 22 — five days after the shooting in the AME Emanuel Church — South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called a press conference to announce:

It is time to remove the flag from our capitol grounds. … This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.

This is a particularly sensitive issue because the flag is on state property.

The Confederate flag on public property leads many to ask: what message is the government sending?

The case against flying the Confederate flag

For those who want the flag to come down, the message is a reminder of white supremacy and the war fought to maintain slavery.

States have been taking Confederate flags and monuments down for years now, and refusing new requests to fly them.

Just this term the Supreme Court in Walker v Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans permitted Texas to reject a specialty license plate proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans with a Confederate battle flag on it.

Justice Breyer concluded that what appears on the license plate is a form of government speech and that Texas could decide for itself what speech to permit. When Texas decided that it did not want to include the Confederate battle flag, Breyer concluded there was no first amendment right of members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to require Texas to include the flag.

Integral to the conclusion that Texas can keep the Confederate battle flag off their license plates are the twin ideas that the government is speaking through the license plates and that Texas can control its own speech.

Such principles were used to justify the 2009 decision of Pleasant Grove City, Utah, to reject a monument from the Summum church for display on public property.

Writing for the majority in City of Pleasant Grove v Summum, Justice Alito said “the display of a permanent monument in a public park” is likely to be perceived as the government’s speech.

The city could reject a religious monument, because observers would think the government was endorsing that monument.

So far, so good: the state can (and many of us believe ought to) reject the display of the Confederate flag on government property.

Now look at the other side of this.

What is the state saying by flying the Confederate battle flag?

What happens when the state government decides to speak by putting a Confederate battle flag or a monument to the Confederacy on its property (or permitting others to do so)?

What message is the state sending?

While we’re working on that thought experiment, take, for instance, the Confederate monument in front of the Sussex County, Virginia Courthouse.

Note the inscription: “The principles for which they fought live eternally.”

That makes me suspicious of the quality of justice that African Americans can receive inside that courthouse.

Indeed, many people now see the rise of the use of the Confederate flag during the Civil Rights movement as a response to the increasing claims of African Americans to equality.

And as Justice Alito recognized in the Summum case, monuments on public property will lead observers to “routinely—and reasonably—interpret them as conveying some message on the property owner’s behalf.”

Violation of the 14th amendment?

That leads to the question, then, of whether government speech that tells African Americans they are inferior – and perhaps that the era of slavery was right – violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This is a stretch of current equal protection doctrine, which is concerned with tangible questions like funding rather than speech.

However, if a state legislature passed a statute proclaiming African Americans are inferior I can imagine that such a bold and vicious statement might rise to the level of a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Now take a further step: does the Confederate battle flag or a monument to the Confederacy tell African American citizens that they are inferior? And if so, does that violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

While the answer to the latter question may not be clearly yes, I don’t think it is clearly no, either.

Ultimately, this is really more a question of whether a state – and its politicians – want to continue to fly a flag that is so closely associated with a war begun to maintain slavery.

Many supporters of the flag say that the meaning for them is about southern heritage, not race hatred. And in this I am inclined to believe their statements about their motive.

But at this point in American history the flag has become closely associated in the minds of many with white supremacy, slavery, and Jim Crow segregation. Whatever its meaning once was – or still is in the minds of some – in the minds of many it is time to realize that this is a symbol that is sending the wrong message to U.S. citizens.

Before this becomes a lawsuit, the Confederate flag should be taken down from in front of the South Carolina State House.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Please Don’t Make Me Get Gay Married

Stuart Gaffney (L) and John Lewis, plaintiffs in the 2008 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, celebrate while traveling along Market Street during the annual Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, California on June 28, 2015, two days after the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
Josh Edelson—AFP/Getty Images Stuart Gaffney (L) and John Lewis, plaintiffs in the 2008 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, celebrate while traveling along Market Street during the annual Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, California on June 28, 2015, two days after the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie.

We didn’t need anyone’s seal of approval before — and we don’t need it now

The first time I heard the question was a year ago at my brother’s wedding, an occasion where such coaxing is commonplace. “When are you and Christian going to get married?” asked a well-meaning aunt whose daughter married another woman several years previously. “I know it’s legal in New York. Wouldn’t it make your mother happy?”

Weddings always make my mother happy, so I have no doubt that it would, but I always fancied myself not the marrying kind. Like I do to everyone who asks about my and my boyfriend’s plans on making honest men out of each other, I reminded my aunt that while it might be legal in our state, it wasn’t legal in the rest of the country, so it just didn’t really matter all that much and would probably make everything more complicated that it needed to be.

That is no longer true. Now that the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality is the law of the land, a marriage with my boyfriend in New York would be just the same as my brother’s. Like all those people who immediately washed their Facebook profile photos in a rainbow bath, I’m overjoyed at the decision and glad to finally have the choice to get married. But, as of right now, it’s a choice that I’m deciding not to make.

Speaking of Facebook, immediately after the verdict was handed down, I posted, “Christian and I are happy to announce that with today’s historic decision we have decided to continue being legally unmarried forever.” My friend Lux, a woman who is in a long-term relationship with a man, almost immediately replied, “It brings a tear to my eye that you’ll now finally have the right to constantly defend the decision not to get married, just like straight couples have been able to do for forever.”

I realized that now I’m going to have to start fielding this question all the time and, well, it’s a little bit annoying. Despite my parents entering their fourth decade of wedded bliss (and they’re still one of the happiest couples I know), I’ve just always been incredibly skeptical of the whole institution. Maybe that was because it was one that I was barred from, and I thought I would never be able to partake in. Putting a spin on that Groucho Marx quote, I didn’t want to be a part of any club that wouldn’t have me as a member. If the two people in the partnership decide how it should run, isn’t that enough? And why is the government even bothering with organizing us into pairs? Let’s just abolish the federally recognized institution altogether and let churches bless unions and have every individual file her own taxes.

I actually thought it was a virtue that I couldn’t get married, and I still do. Because the state and society wouldn’t accept gay couples, the gay community had to come up with their own ways of codifying their existence. Wedding announcements for same sex couples ran in gay papers, some gay couples adopted each other so that there would be some official recognition of their union, and enterprising couples looking for a big party founded the “commitment ceremony” (which sounded like it would be held for someone involuntarily entering an asylum). More important, not having a standard set of behaviors to pattern ourselves after, gay relationships became more varied. Each couple had to talk about what they expected of each other, who was able to have sex with whom, and just what the boundaries and expectations were for this union.

That’s what I loved about being gay. We didn’t need the state, the church, our parents, or Emily Post telling us how we should live our wedded lives; we were making it up as we went along and finding new configurations and arrangements that worked for each individual couple rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to marriage that is so stifling it has lead to the skyrocketing divorce rate.

Now that is all gone, or at least on its way out. While being gay and boring is certainly progress, it’s not really the progress that I wanted for my personal life. I was hoping that I would still get that special something with my special someone rather than walking down the aisle in matching tuxes, entering into a monogamous relationship, and opening all the gifts we registered for at Restoration Hardware. That’s the kind of pressure that Christian and I are already getting and “not being the marrying kind,” isn’t as valid as it used to be for two confirmed bachelors like ourselves. (And don’t even get me started on people asking if we’re going to have kids.)

Now we get the question constantly, and we have to tell every well-meaning enquirer that we are both intellectually opposed to marriage for ourselves, though we think it’s great for anyone who would choose to do it. At least it’s starting a dialogue but, like my friend Lux mentioned, having to go through this with family members, coworkers, and friends—gay and straight alike—is exhausting. Whoever thought that equality would be such a drag? When we demanded these rights, no one ever imagined the consequences that would come along with them.

The babies born today who will think of Will & Grace the way I think of I Love Lucy will grow up with this right being just another fact of life and might even attend a few ceremonies that feel real and have the real weight of the government behind them. Gay marriage will be controversial for a while, but eventually it will become normal and even boring. Someone will write an etiquette book on how to have them, and suddenly there will be as many customs to fulfill as there are for straight marriages.

While contemplating a two-brides episode of Say Yes to the Dress, I can’t help thinking about my mother’s Aunt Bunny, whose life-long partner Mary Ellen was an accepted part of the family, though no one ever spoke of their commitment, and they certainly didn’t have a ceremony announcing it to the world.

Aunt Bunny and Mary Ellen worked out the definition of their own relationship and were committed until they each passed away. Christian and I have done the same thing, and I hope that what we have will be as real and long-lasting as what they did. We’re happy to have the right, and we’re also happy to not exercise it. We didn’t need anyone’s seal of approval before, and we don’t need it now. Maybe that will wear off, as gay marriage becomes more of the norm, and the outlaw appeal of opting out loses some of its cache. But right now, just because we’re able to do it doesn’t mean we have to and doesn’t mean that we want anyone pushing their strictures upon us. We’ve worked out just how we want our relationship to work, and, frankly, our covenant is none of your business.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Rand Paul: Government Should Get Out of the Marriage Business Altogether

Rand Paul
Carlos Barria—Reuters Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul waits before addressing a legislative luncheon held as part of the "Road to Majority" conference in Washington on June 18, 2015.

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

While I disagree with Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, I believe that all Americans have the right to contract.

The Constitution is silent on the question of marriage because marriage has always been a local issue. Our founding fathers went to the local courthouse to be married, not to Washington, D.C.

I’ve often said I don’t want my guns or my marriage registered in Washington.

Those who disagree with the recent Supreme Court ruling argue that the court should not overturn the will of legislative majorities. Those who favor the Supreme Court ruling argue that the 14th Amendment protects rights from legislative majorities.

Do consenting adults have a right to contract with other consenting adults? Supporters of the Supreme Court’s decision argue yes but they argue no when it comes to economic liberties, like contracts regarding wages.

It seems some rights are more equal than others.

Marriage, though a contract, is also more than just a simple contract.

I acknowledge the right to contract in all economic and personal spheres, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a danger that a government that involves itself in every nook and cranny of our lives won’t now enforce definitions that conflict with sincerely felt religious convictions of others.

Some have argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling will now involve the police power of the state in churches, church schools, church hospitals.

This may well become the next step, and I for one will stand ready to resist any intrusion of government into the religious sphere.

Justice Clarence Thomas is correct in his dissent when he says: “In the American legal tradition, liberty has long been understood as individual freedom from governmental action, not as a right to a particular governmental entitlement.”

The government should not prevent people from making contracts but that does not mean that the government must confer a special imprimatur upon a new definition of marriage.

Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.

Since government has been involved in marriage, they have done what they always do — taxed it, regulated it, and now redefined it. It is hard to argue that government’s involvement in marriage has made it better, a fact also not surprising to those who believe government does little right.

So now, states such as Alabama are beginning to understand this as they begin to get out of the marriage licensing business altogether. Will others follow?

Thomas goes on to say:

To the extent that the Framers would have recognized a natural right to marriage that fell within the broader definition of liberty, it would not have included a right to governmental recognition and benefits. Instead, it would have included a right to engage in the very same activities that petitioners have been left free to engage in — making vows, holding religious ceremonies celebrating those vows, raising children, and otherwise enjoying the society of one’s spouse — without governmental interference.

The 14th Amendment does not command the government endorsement that is conveyed by the word “marriage.” State legislatures are entitled to express their preference for traditional marriage, so long as the equal rights of same-sex couples are protected.

So the questions now before us are: What are those rights? What does government convey along with marriage, and should it do so? Should the government care, or allocate any benefits based on marital status?

And can the government do its main job in the aftermath of this ruling — the protection of liberty, particularly religious liberty and free speech?

We shall see. I will fight to ensure it does both, along with taking part in a discussion on the role of government in our lives.

Perhaps it is time to be more careful what we ask government to do, and where we allow it to become part of our lives.

The Constitution was written by wise men who were raised up by God for that very purpose. There is a reason ours was the first where rights came from our creator and therefore could not be taken away by government. Government was instituted to protect them.

We have gotten away from that idea. Too far away. We must turn back. To protect our rights we must understand who granted them and who can help us restore them.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

This Is the Time to Move Past the God vs. Gays Debate

Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Same-sex-marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage in Washington on June 26, 2015

Brandon Ambrosino has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and the Daily Beast.

It's time to move on

Friday’s historic Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality presents all of us with an opportunity to hit the reset button. The marriage question has cast its shadow over American discourse for the past several years, and now it’s time to move beyond the God v. Gays stalemate.

No doubt, there will continue to be some grumblings, both quiet and shrill, about the decision, mostly from religious people. After all, 50% of Americans believe homosexuality is a sin, according to a September Pew poll. And no doubt there will also be some grumblings, strangely enough, from some gay activists, many of whom have made a career out of finding homophobia everywhere.

But grumblings or not, gay marriage is now the law of the land. And all of us—right and left, gay and straight, religious and agnostic—need to take a moment to regroup and refocus. From this day on, we need to behave differently toward one another.

Since Christians are under an extreme obligation from their founder to take the lead on reconciliation, I think they should be the ones to set the example here. That means, whatever their private theological convictions on the matter, they need to respect the law and find ways to honor and even celebrate their gay neighbors’ happiness.

There’s precedence for this—in the New Testament. In the early years of Christianity, a very strict group of Jesus followers, called Judaizers, argued that all those who wanted to follow Jesus must be circumcised. Yet Jesus had made religion accessible to people who were previously barred from it, and if Christians were to follow in his footsteps, they had to find a way of continuing his message of inclusion. One way they did that was to observe the spirit of the law without enforcing its every impossible letter.

In 49 AD, at the first church council, it was decided that when it came to circumcision, what really mattered was spiritual circumcision: the shape of the heart. This decision was reached after a careful consideration of Scripture and theology within a newer, fresher historical context. This was an extension of Jesus’s common refrain, “You’ve heard it said like that, but I say it like this.” To truly think in a way that honors the memory of Jesus is to think within this paradigm.

Now apply that to gay marriage in Christian congregations today. The church clings to arguments about natural law and marriage the way that some in the early church held fast to circumcision. The theological task for today’s Christians is the same as it was for those in the first century: How can we open up the binding teachings of Christianity (marriage) to all who wish to pursue it? How can we remain faithful to the witness of Scripture in a way that honors what we continue to learn about human experience?

What this means is thinking about the word “natural” and finding ways to open up the definition to let in same-sex couples. What this means is not that we say, “Marriage is no longer a sacrament,” but rather, “Marriage is a sacrament that we feel God is opening up to same-sex couples.”

If Christians can’t find the humility to re-evaluate their most cherished beliefs about sexuality, then at the very least they should err on the side of charity and quietly resign themselves to the fact that marriage equality is here to stay. They should also realize the larger culture tends to paint them as homophobic, and that this picture—caricature or not—is a big reason many churches continue to bleed members.

Gay-rights activism is also in severe need of a makeover. We can be loud and mean and spiteful. We’ve made a pastime out of shaming gay-marriage opponents, and we’ve been far too eager to call for someone to get fired from his job simply because he tweets out his reservations about LGBT issues. Friday’s SCOTUS decision is an opportunity for us to take a step back, remind ourselves that we are in a good place politically and socially, and make a renewed commitment to mature, democratic discourse. This means acknowledging that progress has been made.

Gay men can also take this opportunity to rethink our focus on sex. When I think of gay legacy, I think about Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, and Will and Grace, and flashy pride parades, and the Folsom Street Fair, and Fire Island. Now that marriage is available to us, it’s time for some to stop behaving with a cavalier attitude about sex. The legacy I want to leave for the next generation of gay men is one defined by commitment, integrity, and monogamy. Friday’s decision helps me clarify that.

Those who are happy with the decision should take a moment and celebrate. Those who are angry about it should take a moment and question their convictions to decide how best to proceed in a way that respects the law. But then we should move on. It’s about time.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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