Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, December 8, 2016

In North Carolina, A Step Backward From Progress

So apparently, Barack Obama is finally done evolving.

That, you will recall, was the president’s word for the process of reconsidering his opposition to same-sex marriage. Last week, after being publicly and inadvertently (?) prodded by his vice president, Obama announced the results of all that cogitation. He told ABC News he has “just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

It was a historic statement from a historic president, a moment of political courage from an administration that has provided fewer such moments than you would like. And the timing was serendipity itself.

Obama’s statement came a day after North Carolina enacted an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. This, on top of a law already on the books that does the same thing. No one will ever accuse the state of excessive subtlety.

In the context of that dispiriting defeat, Obama’s embrace of marriage equality offers not just a rebuke to one state’s atavistic backwardness, but also a bracing reminder that progress will not be denied, that change comes, come what may.

It is an irrefutable truth from which, pardon the tautology, conservative Republicans have long been in full flight. The amendment, placed on the ballot by Republican state legislators, is only the latest in a series of recent efforts to turn back progress. In this case, the Grand Old Party went after progress that is still in the making. Alarmingly, however, they have also sought to turn back progress that was made decades ago.

Who would have thought that in 2012, we would be debating a woman’s access to contraception? Or re-litigating the merits of the Civil Rights Act? Or fighting to prevent a key provision of the Voting Rights Act from being repealed?

In “B-Movie,” his scalpel-sharp skewering of the Reagan revolution, the late, great Gil Scott-Heron derided what he saw as a tendency “not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards.” That song was released in 1981, and the tendency has only grown more pronounced since then.

Hence, the re-election slogan that Team Obama has been test-driving in recent days: “Forward,” they say. The implied suggestion, of course, is that the other party will take us in the other direction. But that is not simply the choice that frames the balloting in November. It is also the choice that frames this era.