As I write this the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments regarding California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. Many other states have done the same, including North Carolina, which voted last May 8 to pass a constitutional ban by a 21 point margin. Only recently, however, have I learned of an ingenious visual advocacy campaign against that measure:
Get it? Other images do the same: for example, separate and not so equal water fountains are labeled “straight” and “gay.” The images were the work of Every1Against1, an advocacy group opposing the ban. (The group’s name reflects the name of the ban on the North Carolina ballot: Amendment One.) By putting gay rights into the visual template of Jim Crow signage, these photos perfectly illustrate how the struggle for–and resistance to–social justice can be a case of history repeating itself from one era to the next.
What the images didn’t do is turn the tide of votes for the ban. It’s not likely that any one form of advocacy could do so. One has to wonder, however, if failure wasn’t preordained in the images. Their basic assumption is that the Jim Crow signs were wrong–a cruel, immoral practice that no modern society would allow to stand. In the case of North Carolina–and dozens of other states–that assumption may be mistaken. I’d like to think otherwise, and the times they are a-changing again, but exactly when will a majority of ordinary citizens come to their senses and prove that they really do believe in the constitutional principle of equality?
Fortunately, the founders recognized that majority rule needed to be balanced with judicial oversight. And so now all eyes are on the Court. Let’s hope that the justices have a suitable sense of history, one that would help these images become relics or curiosities–and not something that we ever have to see again.