On Monday, the tide turned rather suddenly against the militantly defended but racist "Confederate flag"--the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, the design of which inspired various flags used by the Confederate States of America. Regular readers of this blog know that I am very much against that cause, against the reverence many people hold for the Confederacy, and against the use of that flag in public spaces.
(I do not understand how people can call themselves Americans while expressing support for an armed uprising against the United States in defense of slavery as an institution.)
Then, on Thursday, a 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court upheld those portions of the Affordable Care Act relating to subsidies for health insurance in those states that did not set up their own exchanges under the ACA. This really should not have been a close question. Only the most partisan of partisan hacks supported the notion that Congress intended to restrict the subsidies to those who purchased insurance from state-based exchanges, and not to those who purchased from the federal exchanges set up where states declined to do so.
But the real feather in the liberal cap came on Friday, when the Supreme Court, 5-4, held that there is a constitutional right to marry and that states could not deny that right to same-sex couples. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a stirring opinion for the Court, which I am not ashamed to admit brought a tear to my eye at several points. One passage that I found particularly impressive was the following:
Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises,and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.That paragraph is beautiful not just for its plain, forceful defense of equality, but also for the subtle but stinging rebuke it delivers to those who have argued that majority rule trumps all.
It doesn't, of course. It never has. Rights are not subject to the vagaries of the majority. Rights belong to all of us. (Chief Justice Roberts, in his dissent, took time to argue that the abrupt cutoff in the argument about marriage equality, and about equal rights for sexual minorities generally, deprived those minorities of the benefits of convincing the majority of the correctness of their position. What the Chief Justice doesn't seem to understand, or pretends not to understand, is that the nature of rights is such that no one ought to be forced to convince the majority of their existence. He is also wrong on the facts; it's the Court, not the public, that's playing catch-up to the other. Wide majorities now approve of marriage equality--a much wider majority than can be found in the Court's decision.)
I cannot remember a week that was so good for those who share my point of view. When Barack Obama was first elected, that was close. But this was a better week.
I would like to believe that this signals a turning point in our discourse, where the influence of the Teabaggers begins its long slouch toward a nadir of irrelevance. But I am reminded of the story of the great Persian king who brought together a council of wise men and charged them to find a way to bring him joy when he was sad. The wise men conferred, and a ring was produced and inscribed with the legend, "This too shall pass." The king found that this solution was doubly fruitful. In tough times, he could look at his ring and be reminded that his troubles would soon pass. But in good times, he could look at his ring and be reminded that joy will eventualy give way to sorrow in one form or another.
As good as things are right now, these, too, will pass. And for that reason we must never stop pushing for the good and right things we support. There is much work to be done.
The Roman poet Quinius Horatius Flaccus, known as Horace, who lived during the time of Caesar Augustus, wrote a beautiful ode, the title of which is usually rendered "The Golden Mean"--a reference to moderation in all things. A modern translation* by A.S. Kline appears below:
* - Used by permission.
You’ll live more virtuously, my Murena,So, let's don't get ahead of ourselves. It was a great week. But, to quote another symbol of the Confederacy, "After all, tomorrow is another day."
by not setting out to sea, while you’re in dread
of the storm, or hugging fatal shores
too closely, either.
Whoever takes delight in the golden mean,
safely avoids the squalor of a shabby house,
and, soberly, avoids the regal palace
that incites envy.
The tall pine’s more often shaken by the wind,
and it’s a high tower that falls with a louder
crash, while the mountainous summits are places
where lightning strikes.
The heart that is well prepared for any fate
hopes in adversity, fears prosperity.
Though Jupiter brings us all the unlovely
winters: he also
takes them away again. If there’s trouble now
it won’t always be so: sometimes Apollo
rouses the sleeping Muse with his lyre, when he’s
not flexing his bow.
Appear brave and resolute in difficult
times: and yet be wise and take in all your sails
when they’re swollen by too powerful
a following wind.