Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
These famous words from Abraham Lincoln in the 1863 Gettysburg Address during the Civil War filled my head when I heard GOP Sen. Ted Cruz slamming the 2015 US Supreme Court decision that recognized same-sex marriage.
It’s not that Cruz’s words alone conjured up Lincoln’s address, but that his comments fueled my growing sense that some Republicans don’t just want red states but individual red nations. I don’t mean formal secession. But it’s more akin to sovereign nations where they can act unrestrained from federal intervention on issue after issue – from voting rights to same-sex marriage and even interracial marriage.
Yet they still want all the benefits of being part of the United States, with blue states heavily subsidizing some conservative states, as one New York Times columnist has noted.
Even before Cruz’s comments, other conservative leaders have expressed a similar desire to give states the right to deprive residents of fundamental rights. In his concurring opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling that overturned Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider” seminal cases recognizing same-sex marriage, the constitutional right to birth control and a prohibition on state laws that criminalized consensual sex between same-sex individuals.
In March, GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee criticized the famous 1965 Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut that struck stuck down laws banning birth control access for married couples, calling it “constitutionally unsound.”
Around the same time, GOP Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana went even further, declaring that states should even be allowed to decide if interracial marriage should be banned, as they were able to do before the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia. Braun later walked backed that comment after a firestorm, saying he “misunderstood” a reporter’s question and he condemned “racism in any form.”
But the truth is Braun was being intellectually consistent with this states’ rights argument – as he candidly acknowledged. After expressing his view that each state should decide on abortion, Braun was asked by a reporter if that also applied to interracial marriage. The senator responded bluntly: “Yes, I think that that’s something that – if you’re not wanting the Supreme Court to weigh in on issues like that, you’re not going to be able to have your cake and eat it, too. I think that’s hypocritical.”
The states’ rights argument has long been used to deprive Americans of fundamental freedoms in our past – the most obvious example being before the Civil War by those who enslaved Black people.
After the Civil War, some Southern leaders invoked states’ rights to enact Jim Crow-era laws to deprive Black Americans of equality. For example, in the 1890s, Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana adopted new state constitutions designed to suppress the Black vote. (These three states have also recently sought to restrict reproductive freedom.)
The latest version of states’ rights is playing out in real time since the Supreme Court recently struck down Roe – ending a constitutional right to reproductive freedom. In response, some GOP-led states have implemented bans on abortion that begin as early as “conception.” Some of these laws provide no exception for rape.
The idea that life begins at a conception is based on a religious belief held by some conservative Christians. And if lawmakers such as GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado have their way, we may see more religion-based laws imposed in Republican-controlled states. Boebert recently told the Cornerstone Christian Center in Basalt, Colorado, that she was “tired of this separation of church and state junk,” arguing, “The church is supposed to direct the government.”
In response to the GOP’s actions on women’s rights, Democratic callers to my SiriusXM show have expressed concerns that their federal tax dollars would be sent to states that are oppressing women. I agree 100%. Democrats should be championing legislation ensuring that no federal tax dollars be used to deprive women of their rights or to punish women or health care professionals – even if it’s challenging to pass with the current 50-50 Senate. Those of us in blue states cannot be forced to fund the GOP’s oppression of women.
But where does this leave our nation?
I’m reflecting again on the Gettysburg Address – but this time on the final line. That’s where Lincoln stated that we must resolve that a “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” At this point that sentence may no longer end with a period – but rather with a question mark.