You won’t often see so many history-making events crammed into such a small period of time, but that was the case last week with three huge stories breaking in a little less than 30 hours — a bonanza for those of us who work in the news industry.
First, the Supreme Court turned down the last serious legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, ruling that the federal government can continue providing subsidies to help people retain their health insurance coverage.
That was a very big deal, especially for the estimated 400,000 Georgians who can now afford health care coverage because they get those federal subsidies to help pay for it. Without that coverage, some of them most likely would have died from not being able to get the medical treatment they need.
The very next day, the Supreme Court followed with its landmark decision that declared unconstitutional all of the state prohibitions against same-sex marriages.
These gay marriage bans had already been knocked down in 36 states. Georgia was part of the dwindling pool of 14 states that still banned it, but the high court said “I don’t” to that.
There were some angry reactions to the decision in various locales, such as the renegade judges in Alabama who said they would defy the court’s decision.
There was presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declaring, “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny.”
There was also at least one evangelist preacher who vowed he would set himself on fire rather than preside over a same-sex marriage, although he later toned down the fiery rhetoric.
To their immense credit, Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens were the adults in the room on this one. They quickly issued public statements affirming they would abide by the court’s decision, even though they disagreed with it.
“The state of Georgia is subject to the laws of the United States and we will follow them,” Deal said.
At the same time, one of the first gay marriages in Georgia was being performed at the Fulton County courthouse, just a stone’s throw from the Capitol offices of Deal and Olens. State Court Judge Jane Morrison made it official for Emma Foulkes and Petrina Bloodworth of Atlanta, two women who had been together for 10 years.
“It means everything it means to every other American,” Foulkes said. “This is the best day of my life.”
Unlike the Supreme Court decision of 61 years ago that overturned school desegregation, the latest court ruling on gay marriage isn’t going to trigger massive resistance among Georgia’s elected leaders.
To bring it all to an emotional close, President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy at the Charleston funeral of Clementa Pinckney, one of nine black people in South Carolina murdered by a white supremacist who thought he could start a race war.
Obama’s powerful speech brought into sharp focus the week’s third major development: the efforts in some southern states to get rid of the last official vestiges of the Confederate battle flag, a move that is long overdue.
“Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers,” Obama said. “It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.”
“By taking down that flag,” the president said, “we express God’s grace.”
Last week’s series of momentous events were very much a part of the basic flow of American history.
The story of America has been that we move slowly but always forward to extend the rights and freedoms of the few to the many. More people now have access to health care. Gays have the same rights as heterosexuals to join their partners in matrimony. The hurtful symbols of the time when black people were enslaved are being removed.
As we prepare to celebrate the birthday of this great nation on July 4, we have some new chapters of that American story to discuss.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.