Friday, June 28, 2013

The Last Acceptable Prejudice?

I suspect that many, in view of the U. S. Supreme Court's ruling on June 26, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, will be displeased. It is inevitable that when one side loses a hard fought political/ideological battle, feelings will be hurt, relationships strained, and bitterness rampant. Yet, while I understand the disappointment which always attends such losses, having endured similar emotions over a lifetime of watching closely and caring deeply about our politics, I cannot understand the shock that so many have expressed. Things have been moving this way at a fairly breakneck clip over the past ten years, and there can be little if any doubt that what the ruling portends for this country in the not too distant future, is full marriage equality for all Americans, gay or straight.

For the shocked and stunned, I pose a simple question: which America did you suppose you lived in? In America, as has been said by non other than Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Indeed, and it has ever been thus in this country. Maybe not at first, nor all at once, but its the direction we have taken from the outset, and June 26 resoundingly reconfirms it.

Yes, it might have escaped our notice in the beginning that the concept of owning other human beings was contrary to all that was decent and moral, but when it became clear, we went to war and paid dearly to bring an end to the heinous institution of slavery. It may have taken us some time to see that withholding voting rights from women was fundamentally unjust and un-American, but in the end we saw it and acted accordingly. The list goes on and on from ending Jim Crow Laws created to bypass the freedoms gained in the Civil War, to enacting anti-trust laws, to protecting child laborers, to demanding full public access for the physically challenged. We have, and hopefully will always move in the direction of fairness and equal treatment for all of our fellow citizens. When the need to do this arises, it will be the letter and spirit of the founding document, the constitution, that will provide the framework for bringing it about.

Enshrined in the constitution is the simple notion of equal treatment under the law, and the freedom of every American to seek what is moral by his or her own lights. Some of late have disparaged these freedoms when their particular understanding failed to win the day. A recent columnist bemoaned the very essence of America's freedom to plot her own course when she has the unmitigated gall to choose a course not comporting with one of his liking. In an effort to deride our "Self Understanding," the writer lost his way comparing the peaceful, orderly process of American democracy to the mindset and actions of the Boston Marathon Bombers and Philadelphia abortion doctor, Kermit Gossnell. Such comparisons are truly odious since our system of freedoms draws a firm line at breaking the law, as in the case of the individuals he cited. 

I suspect others as well, in despair, will succumb to outrageous and misguided arguments in the days to come. Already the usual suspects are predicting everything from "The End of Western Civilization as We Know It," to a looming confrontation with the "Wrath of God," as many before them did when we chose to emancipate the slave. As they did when we chose to afford equality to women in determining the direction of our country on issues of utmost importance. As they did when we chose to strike down miscegenation laws forbidding intermarriage between the races. As they did when we deemed sodomy laws to be outside the purview of a just society. And finally, as they did when compulsory prayer was ended in public schools. Clearly (since we still seem to be here), the deity is not as intolerant as far too many believers have taken Him to be. Maybe the time has come for them to accept ownership of their oft demonstrated lack of empathy and fairness, and leave off blaming God for it.

To quote Martin Luther King again; "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'" I would offer that the ruling of the court is, in part, what "living out the true meaning of our creed" looks like. It looks like a nation in which no single community can rule unquestioned forever. It looks like a nation in which the oppressed may make redress to their government and succeed in attaining fair treatment. Indeed when the rulers are unfair or unjust, it is a citizen's sacred right and duty to question, to organize, to demonstrate. In the gay rights cases before the court, that is precisely what has happened, and now the court has ruled.

I would suggest that freedom has been upheld and expanded in the ruling. Gay Americans are at last free (or soon will be) to claim the numerous marital rights and privileges afforded to their heterosexual countrymen. And those who oppose the ruling remain as free as ever to soldier on, vigorously expressing their dissent, disapproval, and even disgust with same sex marriage. But in America it was decided that those who disapprove may no longer demand that a government of, by, and for ALL Americans discriminate against its law abiding gay citizens. If, contrary to King, you had dreamed that you lived in a country that would continue to sanction your desires for keeping your fellow citizens in a condition of second class status, as of June 26 that dream has ended.

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