S.C. Statehouse Report
May 16, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0516_brown.htm


COMMENTARY
Let's not wait another 50 years for more integration
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

MAY 16 , 2004 - - Fifty years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark opinion that sounded the death knell of institutionalized racial segregation, America started to change.

In the years since, local, state and federal governments have taken proactive steps to thwart segregation and discrimination against black Americans. Schools were integrated. Equal employment laws were passed. The Civil Rights Act became law. Affirmative action programs helped to integrate workplaces and provide opportunities. For many, these changes shook the foundations of their lives. They were hard. But looking back, most now see they were the right thing for a country that bills itself as being the greatest vanguard of freedom for all in the world.

This week as we recall how Brown v. Board of Education changed the country to start it toward integrating black and white America, we also may want to remember there’s another group of Americans who are routinely discriminated against: gays and lesbians.

You may not like that people are gay. Your religious beliefs may tell you homosexuality is wrong. You may feel uncomfortable around gay people.

But similar arguments were used 50 years ago in the withering attempts to maintain racial segregation.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: When the cows come home to moo

SCORECARD: Winners and losers of the past week

FEEDBACK: Letters on property taxes, base closure

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Face it. Gays are treated differently by society today. At the federal level, there are 1,138 laws that use marital status to determine whether someone can receive benefits, rights or privileges, according to a 2004 General Accounting Office survey. In other words, there are 1,138 laws that don’t allow gay couples to have the same rights as married straight people. That’s discrimination.

This column isn’t about gay marriage and whether it is right or wrong. It’s about whether a group of people should continue to be treated differently - - segregated by society - - because of laws.

In South Carolina, for example, the law doesn’t guarantee hospital visitation for people in same-sex relationships. If a married person is in the hospital, a spouse or next-of-kin can immediately visit. If a gay person is in the hospital, his or her partner can’t automatically visit. Instead, next-of-kin - - who may be embarrassed that they have a gay relative and not show up - - get preference.

Another example: gay and lesbian couples can’t name each other as beneficiaries on life insurance policies unless they have an “insurable interest,” according to the Charleston-based Alliance for Full Acceptance.

Gay couples also are denied retirement and pension benefits, family leave, sick and bereavement leave and crime victim recovery benefits. There is no tax exemption for assets transferred to a partner on the death of another and no family medical insurance protection in the law.

Next year, lawmakers should take steps to tear down these and other state barriers for gay South Carolinians. These impediments don’t have to do with marriage. They have to do with legal barriers that keep gays and lesbians from being treated equally.

But for state lawmakers to move forward, gays and lesbians may need to tone down some of their rhetoric. The Rev. Joseph A. Darby, pastor at Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Charleston, says the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s provide a lesson.

“I think the gay and lesbian pride movement needs to work harder to remind folks they are people who are like us,” he said.

Instead of pushing for quick, wholesale change and using polarizing activist tactics, they should move at a pace for change that society can accept, which is what the Rev. Martin Luther King did, he said. If the civil rights movement’s early spokesman had been Stokely Carmichael or Eldridge Cleaver instead of King, integration and acceptance would have taken a lot longer, said Darby, who also is vice-chair of the state conference of the NAACP.

Cultural discrimination against blacks still exists today - - some people just won’t ever get over prejudice. But racial discrimination buttressed by law is largely a thing of the past. Let’s learn from the past and hope we don’t have to wait another 50 years for gays and lesbians to be treated like everyone else.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
5/16: This year's job market for grads

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:

FEEDBACK
5/11: State lawmakers frustrate county budgets

To the editor:

Your comments on the property tax issues (Statehouse Report, 5/9) encouraged me to voice my opinions. I am an 18-year veteran of county finance and believe me when I say that it is just unbelievably frustrating to deal with a budget process each year that includes more and more unfunded mandates by the state and federal governments -- particularly when you are being "managed" by a group of people who are easily accessible to the taxpayer, easily influenced by a vocal minority, and continue to hold council offices only if they continue their ultraconservative vote and never ever plan past the next election.

The state lawmakers know that they can just pass the financial responsibilities on to local governments, set maximums on reassessment, lower taxes, dictate fees that increase the state general fund, but only create additional county administration cost, and whatever else they want to do to get reelected with a maximum of media coverage and a minimum of actual work (have you ever seen the lack of respect/attention/decorum during a legislative session).

As a middle-class taxpayer, I am so tired of having to fund more than my share of county services because I have been financially responsible and frugal and have accumulated some property. With this in mind, I continue to believe that an increased sales tax is the only revenue producer that is "fairer" to every taxpayer ..... if you don't have the money to purchase something, then you don't buy it. Get rid of the ridiculous sales tax cap on vehicles and allow the "visitors" to our beautiful state to help pay for our overhead without causing an increase need for services. I do realize that something would have to be done to counter the loss of business property taxes, but since Georgia and Florida seem to make it work successfully, there must be ways out there if we could get off our high-horse and look.

-- Deborah Shealy Nye, CGFO, Summit, SC.

5/10: Rising property values are culprit on tax debate

To the editor:

[On your property tax column] turn your thoughts to the one situation that a lot of these bills try to address: the family who passes along valuable resort or vacation or even primary property to heirs who are less wealthy than their fathers/grandfathers and who then are forced to sell the property as property taxes rise and rise. Here's the rub: the family's intent is NOT to sell, this is NOT investment property in the normal sense, but the average income heirs cannot afford ever rising property taxes.

A different, but similarly difficult situation has occurred along our barrier islands but THIS TIME, the original owners were never wealthy. They just happened to own land that is now considered valuable. These poor folks can of course sell their land BUT unfortunately they are frequently forced to sell for BACK TAXES they cannot afford .....so they don't even profit when their now very valuable property is sold. And to make things worse, they are not sophisticated about how our real-estate system works and so even if not forced to sell for back taxes, they often don't properly profit when they voluntarily sell their property. Rising property taxes based on rising property values are again the culprit.

-- S.A. Imbeau, Florence, S.C.

5/3: Mistake in base closure column

To the editor:

Thurmond and Spence didn’t chair their committees until after the 1994 elections. (See Statehouse Report, 5/2). But the way the process is set up, it wouldn’t have been a big help if they were. One of the few things in Washington that works pretty much as planned.

I think one thing that could have helped that time was having a united front. Riley took the lead in trying to save a base that was in NORTH Charleston. Where the hell was then-Mayor Bobby Kinard? Fighting with City Council.

Kinda hard for the mayor of the city next door to make a convincing pitch, no matter how well intentioned Joe’s appeals were. The mayor of N/C should have been the point man, instead of leaving Joe with the admirable and unappreciated job of trying to save what North Charleston didn’t want badly enough.

That was, until they lost it …

-- W. Earl Capps, Summerville, S.C.

Editor's Note: Mr. Capps is exactly right on the chairmanship issue. We regret the error.


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Ways and Means. Hats off to House Ways and Means Committee members who voted to delay debate -- and likely kill -- the governor's bad school voucher plan that would drain money from public schools. It's only a temporary win, because the measure is destined to be hot next year.

Graham. A tip of the hat to US Sen. Lindsey Graham whose probing questions on Iraq have demonstrated an aura of statesmanship and maturity not evident during the Clinton impeachment proceedings.

Thumbs down

Sanford. We agree with House Ways and Means Chairman Bobby Harrell that it was inappropriate for the governor to lobby the Board of Economic Advisers on its budget forecast.

S.C. House. Only one day on the budget amendments? The House leadership should allow the minority to have more of a say in debate instead of cutting it off all too often.


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