During last week's historic gay debate, Hillary Clinton dredged up the old states rights argument when justifying her opposition to gay marriage. Apparently she thinks that the second class citizenship of gays and lesbians is a matter for the states to decide.
By drawing upon the language of states rights, Hillary embraces the tradition of John Calhoun and the defenders of slavery along with Strom Thurmond and the segregationists. Throughout our nation's history, every time national public opinion turns against oppression, opponents of progress use states rights to present themselves as defenders of liberty in the face of federal power.
States rights has always been the last refuge of the bigots. Now Hillary has given rhetorical cover to the homophobes. If she wins the Democratic nomination, opponents of gay marriage will cite her statement to justify their opposition to national marriage equality over the next decade.
If Hillary misspoke, I urge her to immediately admit it and move on. If she's on a personal journey toward accepting gay marriage, like John Edwards, that's fine. Even he admits his opposition to marriage equality is irrational. But as a leader of the Democratic party, Hillary needs to understand the danger of offering constitutional arguments against equality for all Americans. If she believes the states have the right to deny equal rights to their citizens, then she should tell us what other groups she's willing to sacrifice on the altar of states rights.
During the last week's debate, I said that marriage equality is inevitable. But in order to achieve it, we are going to need leaders like we had during the civil rights movement -- brave leaders who are willing to ignore the polls, overcome their personal hang-ups and fight for equal rights all Americans in all states.