Monday, June 27, 2011

Witnessing the Arc of the Moral Universe Bending

Much has been said and written about the impact of New York enacting marriage equality. A chorus of commentators has described New York's move as completely changing the legal, political and social landscape regarding legal recognition of gay marriage. That may strike some as overstatement. But it isn't. It's right on the mark.

Legally, marriage equality in New York provides another model for how states can structure laws that recognize reality. The law often lags behind society in many areas. Gay marriage is no different in that respect. In our complex legal system, gay marriage is not a settled issue. But it may be settled sooner than many previously thought, though for the tens of thousands of gay couples in America, many of whom have been in committed relationships for longer than any of Newt Gingrich's three marriages, it can't be settled soon enough. However, the wonderful fact is that it will become settled eventually in victory after victory for that ultimate American legal principle: EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW.

Politically, like most things in this country, gay marriage will fight its way through the legislative and judicial processes. Executive branch officials will surely weigh in as well. But with most polls showing public support for gay marriage trending quickly upward, politicians will be required to respond, and not just rest on appeals to tradition, religion or fear. Miracle of miracles, they may choose to re-frame the issue in more positive terms.

Socially, the transformation from mere tolerance to genuine recognition of gay people as legitimate, vital and happy threads of the fabric of American life is quite a site to behold. We have a long way to go. But we're seeing meaningful progress. When it comes to gay people, the arc of the moral universe is only beginning to bend toward justice. And continue to bend it will. The amazing thing about that process is that as that bending occurs, people understand both justice and morality better in both more practical and more profound ways. That ennobles individuals and society as a whole.

David Frum provided us with a reality check in a thoughtful, honest piece in Time magazine. You might remember Mr. Frum as one of George W. Bush's trusted advisers as well as a luminary among conservatives. You might also remember he has caught flack for doing something that political extremists seem to detest: being reasonable. So, there will be some who dismiss out of hand anything Frum says. That's their loss. I don't agree with many of Frum's political positions, but he's being a reasonable guy here.

As I read and hear statements by those who still oppose gay marriage, I am reminded of the Gloria Steinem quote: "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." With any luck, many of the people who still oppose gay marriage will get through their "pissed off" phase, which they have both a right and a need to go through, and eventually come out the other side free at last from their fear. For Mormons who fear gay people, feminists and intellectual inquiry, that process will be difficult. I'd like to believe that most Mormons don't really fear any of those things. Rather, they often just don't have much experience yet with gay people, the wide range of feminist thought or enough understanding of intellectual inquiry. I don't know where most Mormons will end up when it comes to gay marriage. But while I don't have much optimism about the institution, I have hope for the people.

One thing is for certain. The arc keeps bending.

1 comment:

  1. Although often lagging by a decade or two, the church does come around eventually. It needs converts from both red and blue states