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Opinion | Once again, we dare defend our wrongs

By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

How many times is Alabama going to go down this well-traveled road? We’re like a Twilight Zone episode. Or many of them.

Our state is beautiful; the people generally are wonderful. We smile and say hi as we pass each other on the street.

Alabama is a great place to live, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

But we’ve got a mean streak. Our state motto – “We Dare Defend Our Rights” – should, more accurately be: “We Dare Defend Our Wrongs.”

Alabama makes policies and law often based on prejudice. For most of the 20th Century, it was Jim Crow laws that discriminated against African-American citizens. It took the federal courts to make us do right.

We’ve had (and our state has defended) lawsuits against the prisons, mental health system, laws intended to keep women from deciding what to do with their bodies. We lose them all, spending no telling how much money along the way.

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Alabama passed a draconian anti-immigration law a few years ago that chased a lot of immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, to other states. The federal courts dismantled that misguided law, but it cost taxpayers (and farmers, business owners, and others) with a loss of workers for a time.

Probably the state’s most notorious politician, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, was thrown off the court two times for disobeying orders from higher courts. First, the Ten Commandments behemoth put Moore on the street, then Moore, after being elected again to the high court, refused to go along with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

Moore, along with being accused of molesting teen girls years ago as he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, projects a level of piousness that highlights the hypocrisy that surrounds him on so many levels. Moore clearly is the state’s most aggressive homophobe.

Maybe after his defeat in the Senate race, we’ve seen the last of Moore. We can hope.

But even as a state, we can’t shake institutional homophobia.

Some officials don’t want probate judges to issue any marriage licenses because if they do, they must also issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

And now, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the ACLU of Alabama, are suing the state because it refuses to issue driver licenses to transgender residents unless they produce proof that they’ve had gender reassignment surgery.

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Once again, the state is swimming against the tide. There are many reasons why a transgender person might not have the surgery, not the least of which is the cost.

But people should be able to be who they are, not how they were born. Only nine states restrict licenses to transgender people. Of course, Alabama is among them.

Why does it matter? If a man or woman identifies as the opposite sex, what interest does the state have of not issuing a driver license, an identification used for any number of purposes, including voting.

As Gabriel Arkles, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU correctly stated: “Transgender people, like all people, deserve to live their lives without the government compromising their privacy, safety, autonomy, dignity, or equality. All people have a right to make their own healthcare decisions free from government coercion. They have a right to keep their personal information private. They have a right not to endorse a message from the government with which they disagree. They have the right not to be discriminated against by the government for who they are. And in addition to endangering transgender people, Alabama’s policy — and other policies like it — violate the law.”

Seems Alabama, a deep South state, would be more in character as a live-and-let-live state. Why do we have such a terrible history of discrimination against many different peoples? What’s in it for us, except a bad national reputation?

Let’s stop being mean, and let’s quit daring to defend our wrongs.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].

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Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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