Editorial: South Carolina lawmakers moving in reverse
When it comes to social progress, Democrats want to press the pedal to the floor and Republicans want to pump the brakes. In South Carolina, there’s a loud contingent of conservatives who would rather just throw it into reverse and close their eyes.
On April 22, the Washington Post reported on a sold-out performance of the musical Fun Home at the city auditorium in Charleston. Such a show wouldn’t be notable in most areas of the country, where critics would discuss the production in terms of the quality of the performances or stage design, or perhaps its cultural relevance. In South Carolina, it was another battle in the war between the state’s universities and its Republican lawmakers.
This particular feud began when the College of Charleston assigned students to read Fun Home, a memoir by Alison Bechdel that uses the graphic novel form to explore sexual orientation, gender identity, suicide and family dysfunction. State lawmakers responded by voting to cut $52,000 from the school’s budget. The University of South Carolina Upstate was similarly punished for using a different book with gay themes.
“As long as I’m in office,” state Sen. Lee Bright said, “I will stand in the gap for those who feel like traditional family values ought to matter.”
Bright’s definition of family values belongs in a dictionary that has long been out of print. The America he refuses to acknowledge has emphatically redefined what it means to be a family, and the nation at large has begun to reject the word “traditional” when it really means “exclusionary.”
But if South Carolina lawmakers are behind the times on social issues, they are positively prehistoric when it comes to feel-good legislation.
Just ask 8-year-old Olivia McConnell.
When Olivia found out South Carolina didn’t have an official state fossil, she decided to go to bat for the woolly mammoth. It made sense for the state for many reasons, not least of which was that slaves had uncovered remains of the animal on one of the state’s plantations in 1725.
Lawmakers seemed to embrace Olivia’s proposal, but then a creationist Republican senator decided it was okay to honor the woolly mammoth only if God was given proper credit.
An amended version of the bill now being debated includes language saying the woolly mammoth was “created on the sixth day along with the beasts of the field.”
The problem with the amendment has nothing to do with science or religion, but rather the complete lack of perspective and self-restraint regarding battles of ideology. For an elected leader to hijack well-intentioned legislation solely to amplify a personal belief is reprehensible and divisive – and South Carolina has certainly had enough division in its history.
In fact, in a letter published in the New York Times on Nov. 13, 1860, the case was made that perhaps it would be best to just let South Carolina “go peaceably out of this Union.”
While that’s more than a little extreme for the bad behavior of a few empty-headed legislators, it’s easy to appreciate the timelessness of the writer’s argument: “This feeling was not from any hostility to South Carolina, or her people, or her institutions, but to get rid of the eternal noise and trouble her politicians give this country.”
Let’s hope the good people of South Carolina use the ballot box to silence the “eternal noise” of the current politicians who believe the ideal speed of change is a negative number.