Fourth of July, Hope and Obergefell v. Hodges

This is going to be a really special July 4th.

A lot of us are going to read some retrospectives and analyses of July 4th. We’ll be celebrating each other and our families as a nation, something that is positive. But a lot of us will also be repeating some really disastrous and destructive myths.

“The land of the free, the home of the brave”.

Except America was, even in theoretical terms, only “free” after maybe the 1960s and 1970s. Until then, it was “free” in the same way that a person covered up to their neck in ice is “unfrozen”: A tiny majority were free but the vast majority were not. And while Americans have often been brave, bravery in defense of country and ideology is pretty much a universal story of the human species. Our problem has rarely been bravery, it’s been the compassion to know when to be brave by staying our hand instead of swinging a sword or pulling a trigger.

“The most free country on the world”.

Even the Heritage Foundation, by their myopic and awful definition of freedom, doesn’t put America as the most free. Heck, they don’t put us in the top ten. And while they have some weird countries for “freedom” like Hong Kong and Singapore, because of their grotesquely distorted and viciously capitalistic idea of freedom that views the right of business to make money as exceeding, say, the right for people to express themselves, even the Heritage Foundation puts Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and Ireland as freer than us.

This isn’t to say that we don’t have an exceptionally free country. If we rank in the top twenty by most indicators, that’s pretty damn good. And there are areas where America really is pretty much one of the leaders of the pack, like our rights for freedom of conscience and expression.

We can go down the line. We’ll tell ourselves comforting platitudes.

But this July 4th, I will be smiling in a way I haven’t before on this day.

I call America the first anarchist nation. And it really has been. I also call this a nation of superheroes. This is a nation where knights and Rangers are revered. No matter the problems with our cowboy mythos, the core is essentially correct: No one should be quiet in the face of evil and no one should stop trying to spread the ideals of a better world. Our tactics may be deeply wrong in America, but Americans by and large understand somewhere deep inside that fighting to make the world better is always noble.

Wikimedia Commons Image

What occurred to me in context of all of the reaction to the Obergefell v. Hodges is that there’s another part of America which is unique: We’re the nation of social experimentation. See, conservatives keep saying that this idea of gay marriage is totally new. And, yeah, it sort of is. It’s new globally. And that’s exactly why America should embrace it. Because we’re the country that has always been new and radical, even when we’ve tried to pretend to be stodgy.

We experimented with democracy in the modern era first. We can talk about tribal democracy and pre-Imperial Rome and Athens all we want, but America was new in a lot of ways. Our Founders had this incredibly audacious idea: That monarchy wasn’t necessary.

America wasn’t the first country to get rid of slavery, but even still, we did fight a war over that prospect. America wasn’t the first nation to extend the franchise to women either, but still, American feminists did create wonderful ideas.

The founding creed of America, the founding experiment, has always been greater than our ability to fulfill it. From 1776 to 1787 to 1868 to 1945, we as a country have been standing up for an ideal better than we could ever actually reach.

Homophobia, sexism, patriarchy, class inequality, vicious capitalism, racism, militarism, nationalism… These base urges to discriminate, control and divide have always plagued us. They have always stood in the way of our freedom. But even a man like Dr. King who had battled racism for his entire life knew, “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’”.

On June 26, 2015, we made another step toward living out that creed.

We embraced this really new and radical idea that a lot of the rest of the world has as well: If we’re serious about marriage being about love, if we’re serious about marriage being a civil union that facilitates certain social obligations and abilities, then it better damn well be available to every minority. And that minority includes sexual minorities who challenged our very basic idea of what a marriage is.

That was a win for every one of us who had fought a homophobe, who had debated in person or online, who had called someone out for calling someone else a “fag”. It was a win for every one of us who started an LGBTQ Alliance club or joined one in high school. It was a win for every straight person who looked at homophobic bullying and burnt inside at the assholes who couldn’t just live and let live, and keep their mouth shut about things that weren’t their goddamn business.

This was a time for hope. And people embraced it.

Let’s be clear: Obergefell v. Hodges ranks up with Brown v. Board in the history of this country.

It was the end of one of the most important legal segregations between categories of people. Unlike Brown, Obergefell may not spread much beyond marriage. But it certainly might. Certainly, the decision has created a precedent for the idea that homosexuals are a category that requires protection.

It was a revolutionary decision. It changed America. And so we go into the July 4th weekend living in a country that is actually that much freer than it was this time last year.

Some people groused, “This is against God’s will!” or “This is allowing sin!” But see, America has always pushed through these crises of faith. See, in the past, people said things like, “Kings are the natural representatives of God and have a divine right to rule”. But America challenged that idea and we found out that the world didn’t end without kings. People said, “The children of Ham are blighted, and blacks and whites should not miscegenate”. And America grew out of that. Those of us who want to take one line in Leviticus and a few other scattered Bible passages out of context to deny love that is evidently on its face divine are going to be left behind in the past as America keeps growing.

Sadly, in this time where we deserve celebration as a nation, some of us want to claim that the end of a real inequality is a “distraction” from issues like… TPP.

Yes, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is by all indications a pretty awful agreement. It’s almost guaranteed to, like NAFTA and the Uruguay Round of GATT and a host of other free trade treaties and neo-liberal policies, widen the gap between poor and rich, threaten the ecology, harm women, harm workers, harm minorities…

But if we beat TPP (which unfortunately got fast track authorization), we still have to roll back NAFTA, and the bad provisions in GATT, and decades of “winner-take-all” politics.

And if TPP goes through, as bad as it will be, it’ll just be another phase in a long-term battle.

So let’s be clear: This is a time to celebrate, and for hope. We have to give ourselves the celebrations when we get them.

This July 4th, I hope that those of us lighting fireworks (for those of us who get to even with drought conditions in huge parts of the nation), grilling burgers and smoking ribs, boiling corn on the cob and watching action movie marathons, and even shopping for something we have needed for some time, will remember: We live in a nation that is more free.