Two events in Washington this week reminded Americans that the cultural landscape does not always evolve slowly and naturally. Sometimes there is a single shove that can radically change our direction.
The Supreme Court issued 5-4 rulings in two big gay-marriage cases. In one, it said the federal Defense of Marriage Act was invalid in its denial of federal benefits to gay couples but not straight ones. In the other, it said private citizens do not have standing to go into court support a gay-marriage ban enacted through a voter referendum. Some took the rulings as a signal that marriage rules would be left to the states. Indiana officials who put on hold for a year the effort to get a gay-marriage ban into the state constitution vowed to renew their efforts.
But some saw the decisions as a big step toward nationalizing gay marriage. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer noted that the court did not merely use a federalism argument – it also raised the issues of fairness and equal treatment. “If discriminating … between a gay couple is prohibited in New York, where gay marriage is legal, by what logic is discrimination permitted in Texas, where a gay couple is prevented from marrying in the first place?”
The Senate passed an immigration reform bill that can only be called sweeping. It’s another one of those massive bills (2,000 pages) so complex and convoluted that it will be years before we even understand everything in it. But supporters, including 14 Republicans, say it will gradually ease illegal immigrants already here into legal status and, more important, toughen up border security. Opponents say it amounts to the kind of amnesty that will encourage more illegal border crossing and, furthermore, that border security is only vaguely promised, not guaranteed.
The bill is expected to face a tough fight in the House. If nothing else, we can be sure the vigorous debate will continue for months.