What a hopeful week in America.
Confederate flags began to fall on Monday. The Supreme Court upheld the federal government’s right to subsidize the health care of poor Americans on Thursday. And on Friday, the court ruled again, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
“I know change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long,” said President Obama from the White House lawn not long after the ruling came down from the court. “But compared to so many other issues, America’s shift has been so quick.”
Truly there has been a remarkable transformation. Check out this CBS Sunday Morning story about a 1967 documentary on homosexuality. It illustrates just how far attitudes towards gays and lesbians have evolved.
President Obama called the Supreme Court ruling a “thunderbolt moment” for the thousands of Americans who have worked slowly and steadily toward equality. He also had this to say about the historic ruling:
…it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, who talked to parents — parents who loved their children no matter what. Folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.
What an extraordinary achievement. What a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. What a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.
The staggering rate at which hearts and minds have changed because of the “countless small acts of courage” makes me hopeful. Hopeful that the same shift might occur on other important issues of our day, such as climate change, race relations and gun control.
In fact, as soon as Obama finished his statement on the marriage equality ruling in front of a jubilant crowd, he traveled to Charleston, South Carolina where he had to speak to a grieving one for Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral. The reverend was gunned down by a racist last week, along with 8 others, while attending bible study within the sanctity of his own church. Yet another horrific mass shooting in America.
We’ve been here too many times. I read last week that President Obama has had to respond to 14 mass shootings in his presidency. Mother Jones puts the number much higher, at 26. Twenty-six mass shootings since Obama took office in 2008? Come on America. This is not normal.
“You don’t see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on Earth,” Obama said after the Charleston shooting. “Every country has violent, hateful or mentally unstable people. What’s different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns. I refuse to act as if this is the new normal.”
The vast majority of Americans — including gun-owning Americans — agree. We want to do something about it. So why don’t we? It is in our power to do so.
Let’s take a page from the LGBT handbook. Let’s stand up, come out, talk. Let’s start the slow and steady process to change our gun laws.
Let’s pray for our thunderbolt moment.