There is a trend occurring across America of late that has people feeling more comfortable about stating their views openly toward groups of people they don't like. Sometimes, it's been a group with a different ethnic background, sometimes, it's been a religious practice and, sometimes, sexual orientation.
All of it may be a reaction to having a sitting black President, a Great Recession that has cost millions their jobs, or just fear over changing demographics. It's difficult to say exactly what's causing it, but what's more surprising is how little anyone is saying about the rising vitriol.
Now, it's seeping into our legislation such as in Arizona where it's possible to stop someone and ask for proof of citizenship, whether they were first breaking a law or not. It would be very easy to decry the law at face value, but that would do nothing more than create more frustration on both sides. It's time to stop expressing righteous anger without listening for a common ground.
Arizona has suffered economically for years from a wave of people illegally crossing the border from Mexico, and has asked repeatedly for help with no real response from the federal government. What's needed is a forum where both sides can work together on a common solution. Both sides, in this instance, are Arizona farmers and businesses who are feeling an economic impact, and the Hispanic community who are here legally and deserve to go about their business without being stopped by the police as some sort of citizenship litmus test.
However, there's a more insidious form of discrimination boiling up as well. There are planks in both the Texas and Montana GOP's platforms that openly state that homosexuality should be viewed as a criminal act. Montana's GOP plank says: "We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal." The Texas GOP plank brings an interpretation of God's will into it and goes on to add: "We are opposed to any granting of special entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges ..." and lists custody of children or access to insurance or retirement benefits as out of the question.
They also want to keep the courts in our bedrooms by keeping certain sexual acts illegal between consenting adults. Police could break in and arrest people, much like they did in the South back when it was illegal for people of different races to marry or have consensual relations. The current Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, dropped protection for gay or lesbian state workers, opening the door for discrimination, but after citizens protested, had to reverse the decision and said it was all a misunderstanding.
This current trend boils down to the idea that U.S. citizens could be denied rights or even their liberty based on who they are and who they love because homosexuality goes against what some other American citizens believe is righteous.
That's the part that flies in the face of a democratic state and is the slippery road we all not only need to stay off of, but defend others from, even when we hotly disagree or don't understand.
The most difficult parts of democracy are the places where we are rubbed raw from disagreement. This is also the space where we have the opportunity to stand up and do the right thing, thereby honoring the sacrifices made by everyone who has ever defended our right to congregate and express free speech, starting with the men who met in secret in 1776 to argue things over, and ended up starting a revolution.
Who someone else chooses to love and care for does not impinge on who I choose as a partner or a spouse. If I don't agree with them, I am free to ignore them and there have been plenty of neighbors that I chose to ignore on the grounds of stories that went on way too long, too much poisonous gossip, and once, over garden encroachments. But I also defend their right to blather on and I freely admit I'm powerless to control their lives. I thank the same God who is getting thrown around by others for that last part, because I know, at some point, someone would disagree with me over something and my choices could disappear. Believe it or not, I've been known to get on people's nerves from time to time.
There are boundaries, of course, and there always need to be when large groups of people decide to become a society. But denying basic freedoms of any kind isn't where the limits reside.
The practice of democracy is always going to be difficult, but the fruits of our labors will always be rewarded. We receive a uniquely American ability to believe that our future is resplendent with the possibilities and we dream of things to come. That is the large truth, and it's why so many people want to live in America in the first place.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.