Not so long ago, it was a crime in Louisiana to rent an apartment to a black person if any other part of the apartment building was occupied by a white person.
That was the law, duly enacted under the Cajun Constitution (the only state constitution in America based on depraved European legal systems) by the esteemed legislators of Baton Rouge, and I am confident that if Rob Gleason had been there at the time, he would have said:
"The people of Louisiana elect citizens to carry out constitutional responsibilities based on the tradition that no one is above the law." A state official who did not go along, he would have said, was "putting her personal politics ahead of her taxpayer-funded job by abdicating her responsibilities."
If you substitute "Pennsylvania" for "Louisiana" in those statements, they represent exactly what was said by Gleason, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, about state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat who decided she could not go along with Pennsylvania's current version of Jim Crow laws.
"She is blatantly politicizing the highest law enforcement office in our commonwealth at the expense of a core responsibility of the attorney general's office," Gleason said in a press release on Thursday. "Kathleen Kane is failing our citizens and this situation leaves a gaping doubt in her ability to fairly execute her job."
There were many other duly enacted state laws in the past that Gleason, without a doubt, would have insisted that a state attorney general zealously defend.
In Georgia, restaurants could not serve blacks in dining rooms reserved for whites, it was a serious crime in Mississippi for anyone at a newspaper to publish anything in favor of equality, and blacks were barred from libraries used by whites in Texas.
In case you think such official bigotry existed only in backward Southern states, an 1869 law was enacted in Pennsylvania making it illegal for black children to attend any public school in Pittsburgh.
I discussed those kinds of laws just last month, pointing out that when I married a nonwhite (my wife is from Japan) while in the Air Force in 1958, military authorities stipulated that I could not be sent to certain Southern states because miscegenation was a crime there. In Mississippi, I could be sent to prison for life, even if I had ventured into that foul state without my wife.
Laws against mixed-race marriage or any cohabitation were justified, politicians preached in those days, because miscegenation was strictly forbidden by umpteen passages in the Bible. Today, biblical passages are again being employed to justify theocratic laws against same-sex marriages.
Kane, however, said on Thursday that she will not defend Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriages against a challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the same outfit that caused so much trouble in Dixie a few decades ago.
"The attorney general," Gleason thundered in righteous indignation, "is required to defend state laws regardless of personal political views," and other rock-ribbed Republicans joined in the obloquy.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's top taxpayer-paid lawyer, General Counsel James Schultz, said, "We are surprised that the attorney general, contrary to her constitutional duty … has decided not to defend a Pennsylvania statute lawfully enacted by the General Assembly, merely because of her personal beliefs."
Personal political views? Personal beliefs? Constitutional duty?
Let's look at the timing of Kane's decision. It came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act, based almost entirely on those biblical passages against same-sex anything, and allowed a California same-sex marriage measure to stand. The rulings applied only to DOMA and the California law, and did not technically apply to other state measures either way.
The thrust of Pennsylvania's law, however, is essentially the same as that of DOMA and it's incomprehensible how anybody expects any such state law to prevail for long.
"I cannot ethically defend Pennsylvania's version of DOMA," Kane said. "It is now time here in Pennsylvania to end another form of discrimination."
As for her constitutional duty, Kane pointed out Section 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution's Article I Declaration of Rights, which is in some ways tougher than the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights.
"Neither the commonwealth nor any political subdivision thereof shall deny to any person the enjoyment of any civil right, nor discriminate against any person in the exercise of any civil right," it says.
Are Gleason, Schultz and others saying marriage is not a civil right? Are they saying gay people are not people? Are they saying a statute passed by a bunch of two-bit politicians in Harrisburg trumps the state constitution?
If so, they should make that clear. If not, they should shut the hell up.
Kane, by the way, personally opposed the Republican-backed voter ID law, which I strongly support, when she ran for office. But after taking over she mobilized her office to defend it on constitutional grounds. It would be refreshing if some other politicians had as much principle.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays