Defining Moments – Revisited

I wrote the following piece in May 2012, after South Carolina passed a law denying the right of same-sex couples to marry. The next day, President Obama publicly changed his opinion about the issue and supported marriage equality.

Three years is a short time in the timeline of public opinion and legal decisions, but in those years, a revolution took place.

We were ‘re-defined’ with a Supreme Court decision yesterday.

Below is my original post from 2012, with a postscript written in the early morning hours of the day after.

Defining Moments – May 2012

There are moments in time.  Defining moments.

We may not know them when they happen, but they happen.  They happen all the time.

Some are personal. Some impact our families, our communities, or nation or even our planet.  They happen all the time.  Good or bad, or yet to be determined, there are moments that change us whether we want to be changed or not.

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play professional baseball in the U.S.  The game was forever changed.   Moment defined.

Women were voted the right to vote.  Moment defined.

A Catholic was elected President of the United States, and later a candidate of mixed color.  Moments defined.

A hurricane devastated New Orleans; a man named Madoff became the poster child for financial dealings that rippled down to virtually everyone;  a bomb destroyed a building in Oklahoma City and planes brought down the World Trade Center in New York.   After each, we were re-defined.

After each, we were different than we were before.

Better?  In many ways, of course.  Who of us would have done for us what Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, the rioters at Stonewall did to help us change.  Who of us is not better for what those who stormed Normandy Beach, or those who dumped tea in Boston Harbor did for us?

Who of us cannot say that what has happened to us, before us has not shaped us?  And who of us can honestly say we are not better for it.

No, all moments do not necessarily re-define or improve us – personally or communally.  We disagree as often as we agree.  And we often disagree as these ‘moments’ occur and their impacts slowly invade our national conscience.   But they impact us.  And, no matter how we feel about them, we are different because of them.  Maybe a day after, or a year, or a generation, or we just wake up one morning and know our world has changed.

That’s what we do.  We change.  We change for the better.   We get smarter, wiser…and as we were told in Sunday School or Temple or wherever we choose to reflect upon our beliefs and consciousness, we embrace that which is good, we discard that which is bad.  (And we ask forgiveness for the wrong decisions we may have made in our past.)   We pray.  Even agnostics and atheists pray – they just call it something different.

We pray to a higher being.  We pray for understanding of that which we cannot understand.  Why do buildings crumble to the ground?  Why does nature destroy a city?  Why does my neighbor not love me or respect me for who I am if we differ?

And my God, for one, does not answer.

My God, I suspect with a bit of a smirk on her face, and a not-so-subtle nudge on my shoulder says ‘go figure it out for yourself.’

My God cannot explain the Holocaust, or Tsunamis, or droughts, or floods or earthquakes or high gas prices, or falling housing, or unemployment…or ‘Jersey Shore’.

She somehow says to me, “This isn’t about me”.  And I understand.

Be it by her gift or our own instinct, we change.   And, to my mind, we change for the better.  I’m not sure if we need them but we have those ‘moments’ we can point to that show us, and those behind us, when we changed, and why.

Perfection eludes us, and always will.

Change, however is…inevitable.

Ask Rosa Parks.  Ask JFK.  Ask Cesar Chavez, or Barney Frank or the next person you pass on the street who may not look like or act like you.

Ask the next couple walking by, hand-in-hand, if they are in love.

Ask the voters of North Carolina (and 29 other states who disallow same-sex marriage) if they have ever been hand-in-hand in love.

And then, ask them to ask my God – no, ask their God – what is the problem with that?!

This is a moment that could stifle or inspire change.

Let’s define this moment.

—————————————————————————————————-

In the days and years since I originally wrote and posted this piece, attitudes and laws have changed. But as the issue gained prominence; as many states changed their laws and as many individuals (some government employees) defied directives to deny marriage rights to some, the tide began to change.

By 2015, 37 states legally endorsed and performed marriages, without regard of who wanted to marry whom. And that, by itself, signaled that a tipping point was on the horizon. In three brief years, the tide turned from 30 states that opposed it, to 37 that embraced it.

Well, ‘embraced’ may not be the right term. But they made it law.

Yes, the tide was turning, yet not without sometimes vehement opposition.

Then yesterday, it was over.   Marriage equality is now the law of the land.

Read the majority opinion of Justice Kennedy, it is as much legal opinion as it is prayer and poetry (excerpted):

“”No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

But wait. While the court decided the case by a 5-to-4 vote, all 4 of the dissenting justices wrote against the decision.

And their disagreement as well as the voices of others was almost as loud as the cheers of celebration heard around the country.

Yes, this is a defining moment. This is change.

But, I’ll suggest, it is only a beginning.

The ‘moment’ has been defined.

The celebration is most warranted and welcomed.

And I quietly join in the celebration that I know must mean so much to so many of the people I know, and those I only know because of their commitments, struggles and a simple wish to be allowed to be who they are.

In these early morning hours, I ask my god what is next. And she smiles at me, as she’s done before. And she seems to say to me, ‘embrace the day.’

And I think I hear her say, ‘Now, define tomorrow.’

June 27, 2015

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