Jewish Journal

Time for perspective

by  David A. Lehrer

June 26, 2013 | 1:03 pm

Change at work

The past three days have demonstrated a quality of the United States that too many of us take for granted, the magic of an independent judiciary and our respect for being a nation of laws.

For a moment it’s worth stepping back and thinking about the issues that the Supreme Court has opined on over the past three days, issues that go to primal feelings of belonging, power, sexuality---affirmative action (essentially how rewards in this system are allocated among racial [tribal] groups); voting rights (the methods by which we select those who make decisions over our lives, again with a heavy tribal overlay); gay marriage (whether millennia old notions of ‘marriage’ should be redefined to adapt to changing times).

In most other countries and in any other age, one of these topics alone, or their analogues, would have been or are sufficient to cause riots, rebellions and wars. We have to look no further than countries that today ostracize and even murder individuals just because they are gay or murder neighbors because they are from a different tribe/religious group, etc. or because the group's access to power is threatened.

It is impressive that in this country of 350 million plus, these issues are debated in the most esoteric and intellectual manner (the Defense of Marriage case's opinions total over seventy pages of sophisticated reasoning alone) and nine elders determine matters that would, in other contexts, be incendiary.

In how many places would groups see their values impacted in profound ways in a relatively short period of time---e.g. evangelicals and their attitude about gay rights and gay marriage; African American leaders displeased with both the affirmative action decision and the Voting Rights case---and be accepting of the change and acknowledge that the system provides for redress of grievances? There undoubtedly will be extremists who will decry the decisions and urge intemperate actions, but they will, mercifully, be few and far between. There will also be those who decry the decisions for “not going far enough” in whichever direction they prefer, but that after-the-fact debate is part of the dynamic process.

It is important to recognize the magic of a system in which profound, visceral issues (not simply those that determine whether this corporation or that person wins damages in a tort suit) are debated, discussed, opinions delivered and the course of history changed without hordes storming the Supreme Court or threatening violence---no mean feat!

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