News+Opinion » Will Moredock

THE GOOD FIGHT ‌ Bits & Pieces

Some random thoughts on the last days of 2006

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I'm clearing my desk of a few things before we move into the new year.

With the recent death of James Brown, we have an interesting drama playing out in Beech Island, the Aiken County crossroad where the late "Godfather of Soul" made his home. A woman who claims to be his fourth and final wife has been barred from Brown's property and locked out of his house on the grounds that their marriage was not valid in the State of South Carolina. Seems "Mrs. Brown" may or may not have been legally married to a man in Texas at the time she and the Godfather took the vows.

There is a lot of to-and-fro going on between lawyers, but the long and short of it is that under state law, her marriage to Brown was invalid ab initio (from the beginning) if she was married to someone else.

What makes this interesting is that it demonstrates that the recent constitutional amendment barring gay marriage in South Carolina was utterly needless and purely political. There is already a law on the state books which forbids gay marriage, just as clearly and surely as it bars the woman in Beech Island from being married to James Brown and some Texan.

The constitutional amendment was cooked up as a way to punish gays and boost the conservative vote on Election Day. It has no legal effect whatever.

***

It was bad news for Bert's Bar on Sullivan's Island, but good news for almost everybody else. A circuit court judge last month upheld the Sullivan's Island smoking ban, a ruling that will also apply to the smoking bans in Greenville and Columbia. Perhaps this will embolden the Charleston City Council to end years of debate and foot-dragging and finally do what they first proposed in 1999.

Councilman Henry Fishburne told The Post and Courier he intends to introduce a no-smoking ordinance similar to the Sullivan's Island ordinance at the Jan. 9 City Council meeting. "I think it will pass," he said.

I'm betting it will, too. But the battle isn't over. The lawsuit, brought by Bert's and a group of Greenville businesses, will almost certainly go to the State Supreme Court. And we may see the General Assembly taking action. Stay tuned.

***

The Christmas trees and the mistletoe are finally down, but the season left a bitter taste in some mouths. Nobody objects to discreet religious icons on desks, in cubicles, or in private offices, where they can be appreciated by the one who placed them there. But some public employees still don't understand that they are supposed to leave their crèches, crucifixes, and Stars of Bethlehem at home, not bring them to work for public display. Yet firefighters installed crèches, crucifixes, and stars on the lawn in front of several Charleston fire stations, above the protests of some local citizens. This was clearly a violation of the First Amendment, separating church and state.

These are not Christian fire stations. They are public fire stations and the men and women who work there have a public duty. Part of that duty is to obey the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the land.

Yet these icons seemed as innocuous as Santa Claus compared to the computer-generated poster on the office door of Larry Wharton, on the first floor of the Charleston County Courthouse. The poster featured a cross, an American flag, an American eagle clutching a brace of spears, and the e pluribus unum banner, with the words "In God We Trust" and "Merry Christmas."

By nationalizing Jesus and Christmas, Wharton seemed determined to offend all but the most obstreperous Christofascists. But who is going to tell this ass that he's out of line? After all, Larry Wharton is the building manager at Charleston County Courthouse.

***

Did you catch the front page of The Post and Courier on December 30? That was the day after Saddam Hussein was hanged in Baghdad for crimes against humanity.

Different newspapers handled the story in different ways, of course. But probably none did it as garishly as the P&C: the single word "Executed" in 2.25-inch type, headlined across the paper from margin to margin, above a 7-by-8 inch photograph of the fiend.

That's a lot of space and ink for a man who had become completely irrelevant to events in this country and in Iraq years ago. One can detect only a whiff of sensationalism in this gaudy layout.

The execution was carried out three weeks after Saddam's conviction and days after his final appeal was rejected. Brace yourself for the flood of letters to the P&C suggesting that American justice should be more like Iraq's!

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