As you may have noticed, the culture wars in America have heated up again, and, in some cases, the pressure points are so stressed that you worry something might well explode.
That’s why I wanted to mention the recent marriage of Jared Polis, the nation’s first elected openly gay governor, to his longtime companion, Marlon Reis. They have been together for 18 years and have two children, so it was hardly a surprise. They were engaged last December, and the far bigger story at the time was that Reis was being treated for COVID-19.
But what made the ceremony a big deal — and a national story — is that it wasn’t a big deal at all. I mean, I don’t know who made the wedding cake, but that might have been the only possibility of controversy. (And yes, all in attendance had to show a negative COVID test. Of course, they did.)
The speed with which gay marriage has been accepted — remember back in 2008 when Barack Obama said he opposed gay marriage in what we now know was clearly a disingenuous bow to political reality? — is a minor miracle.
Let’s hope that 50 years from now we can say the same thing about abortion. It was nearly 50 years ago, in 1972, that Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, and we know where we are today. The right to an abortion faces its greatest threat since the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld Roe. It was the Casey ruling that put in place the undue burden standard, recognizing “the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the state.”
At the time, many worried that an increasingly conservative Supreme Court could possibly overturn Roe. And now, nearly 20 years after Casey, with this latest version of the Supreme Court, the most conservative in memory, the justices will get another shot at it. And there is no small amount of concern.
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The court has already rejected a stay against the clearly unconstitutional abortion law in Texas that allows for bounty hunters and vigilantes to enforce a law against any abortion that takes place later than six weeks after conception. It’s the closest thing to a personhood law that you could imagine.
In the court’s 5-4 ruling, many people saw a warning that abortion rights are seriously endangered, although, to be fair, the ruling said it was not weighing in on the constitutionality of the Texas law. Still, it may have been more than a hint. In Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s ringing dissent, she called the court’s vote “stunning” and said that a majority of justices had ignored “a breathtaking act of defiance” by the Texas legislature.
And soon, of course, the Supreme Court will take up a Mississippi law, which bans abortions, in most cases, after 15 weeks. The law was written as a direct assault on Roe, just as laws have been in red state after red state. When those legislatures aren’t too busy suppressing the vote, they’re often engaged in suppressing the right to an abortion.
There’s more, of course. Let’s move on to the mask wars and the vaccine wars, which are all about culture. Just try making a scientific point to an anti-vaxxer and see how far you get. And while the near-term fate of the country depends largely on how well we handle the delta variant and find a return to something like normalcy, what happens if the vaccine mandates, many of which are now being put into motion, are rejected by, say, a significant number of cops or, I don’t know, nursing-home aides?
There’s a story out of New York about three women from Texas being charged with assaulting a restaurant hostess who asked them to show proof they had been vaccinated. The video has gone viral, of course, and we can expect to see more of this.
At this point, the polls show Americans support mandates for masks in school and Joe Biden’s plan for mandating vaccines or, in some cases, requiring a weekly negative COVID test. And yet, also at this point, a solid minority is holding us back.
Did I mention critical race theory? It accounted for a heated argument in the debate in the Virginia governor’s race. You’d think, from listening, that critical race theory was taught in Virginia schools. It’s not, of course. But it will be a major issue, I promise, in the 2022 midterms.
And in some cases, the culture war turns into hand-to-hand combat. Or at least that was the concern when Saturday’s, uh, rally in support of those who assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6 was announced. That assault was made in support of the cult of Trumpism and of the Big Lie, which won’t go away. In fact, when Heidi Ganahl announced her entry into the governor’s race, she refused to answer a question about whether she thought the 2020 election was rigged.
But on Saturday, the question wasn’t whether the smallish gathering— even the Proud Boys said they weren’t coming — would turn violent. It became this: What if you hold a rally and no one shows up? Well, I shouldn’t say no one. There were plenty of cops there and many, many reporters. It wasn’t just protesters who failed to show. Even before the so-called “Justice for J6” rally began, most Republican politicians were staying as far away as possible — et tu, Lauren Boebert? — even as Donald Trump felt the need to support it.
“Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election,” Trump said in a statement. “In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!”
You might note that Trump, who was impeached — although, like Bill Murray in “Stripes,” not convicted — for his role on Jan. 6, also didn’t show up. He didn’t say why, but we can assume it wasn’t because anyone was expecting him to produce a COVID passport.
So, here’s where we are in America today. You could have a no-big-deal, same-sex wedding in Colorado. Try, if you can, to imagine that happening 20 years ago. Let’s just say you’d have a better chance of convincing someone at the flop of a D.C. rally to wear a mask.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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