Saturday, June 23, 2007

Get It Right, Jesse

There's not much sadder than people who have historically been victims of prejudice embracing it wholeheartedly. Bishop Harry R. Jackson is a prominent black clergyman, founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition. He certainly knows all about the bitter history black people have suffered in this country. Yet in his article Why Do Gays Hate Religious Freedom? he lies outright about S-1105, the Matthew Shepard Law now before the Senate, which proposes to include gays as a protected group under federal Hate Crime laws.

Now, you can have legitimate doubts about Hate Crime laws, especially since intent has always been a legitimate concern when prosecuting a violent crime. But the point is that someone has to actually commit a violent crime before the laws come into effect, thereby adding extra severity to the punishment. In no way do they "muzzle" anyone, prevent anyone from expressing his or her opinion, as this charming ad implies they do. So long as you're not expressing your opinion by committing violent crimes -- and I trust, Bishop Jackson, that you are not -- they don't apply to you. (Read the text if you want to check me.)

But these people are simply fanatics, who have left reason far behind. Another black pastor, Rev. Gregory Daniels of Chicago, announced from the pulpit, "If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them." Yeah, that's gonna work out real well. Even Jesse Jackson, who should know better, has opposed gay marriage by trotting out the "I'm A Bigger Victim Than You" card, saying, "Gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution."

Now hold it right there. If you're going to drag in that outdated provision -- it's in Article 1, Section 2 and was repealed by the 14th Amendment -- at least try to understand it. Most assume that in counting a slave as 3/5 of a free man, slaveholders and their political allies were expressing their hatred and contempt of their black chattels, not even affording them the dignity of being a full human being.

Wrong. Slave states actually wanted slaves to be counted as full human beings, 5/5 of a free man. The free states wanted to count them not at all, as 0/5 of a free man. Why? Because the relative political power of the states, embodied by the number of seats each state had in the House and in the Electoral College, was determined by the number of persons in each state as determined by the census. Not the number of voters, or even citizens. Persons.

If slaves counted as full humans, that would increase the power of the slave states relative to the free states by upping their census numbers and giving them more seats. If they counted not at all, the reverse would be the case, which is what the opponents of slavery wanted. They had quite a battle about it at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and the eventual compromise, 3/5 of a free man, actually favored slave states a little more than free states.

Of course, if everybody understood this it would deprive orators of a nice rhetorical flourish. But at least I wouldn't be rolling my eyes so often.

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