Science Fiction is about creating alternate realities. Some of my stories involve fragments of shattered realities colliding head-on. And, as always, we find the real world catching up with sci-fi in the shattered reality department.
Our democracy consists of a balancing act... more of a tug of war combined with a chess game, really... between constitutional law (in all its twisting evolution) and the popular vote (with all its demagoguery and shifting demographics.) The U.S. Supreme Court recently made two landmark decisions, both dealing with fundamental questions of civil rights.
One brought gay and lesbian Americans a step closer to realizing equality regarding the basic human right to marry and start a family. The other may have been a major step backward for racial minorities regarding the hard-fought right to equality at the voting booth.
As to the first decision: The court ruled that the voters in Sunny Cal did not have the constitutional right to arbitrarily define marriage in their own image. Of course, a majority of states still do. One conservative presidential candidate recently said "We can't have fifty different definitions of marriage." But, as long as state legislatures insist on amending state constitutions, giving their constituencies the power to define reality, safe from the interference of "activist" judges, that's exactly what we'll have. The reality of what is marriage, what is family, what is love, what is morality... will, for some time to come, depend entirely on which state line you cross and when. As, apparently, will your right to vote.
Which brings us to the second decision. The court basically decided it was time to rescind certain rules designed to guard against racist interference with the right of all citizens to make their voices heard at the polls. Those rules aren't necessary anymore, apparently. Conservative states with long histories of racism and bigotry can now be trusted to manage their own electoral processes without oversight. The fox has had a religious revelation, it seems, and can now be trusted to guard the hen house. We'll see. Naturally, states can no longer deny citizens the right to vote outright; they can't deny them any right the Supreme Court has granted them. Not outright. Of course, that doesn't mean states can't chip away at those rights little by little, from several sideward angles at once.
Take for example another landmark Supreme court decision of forty years ago: Roe v. Wade. The decision that gave women the right to terminate their pregnancies (up to a point.) The right to control their own bodies. A right long since in established law, yet still hotly contested in "culture war" politics. The era of domestic terrorism in the form of massive, often violent protests, abortion clinic bombings and murdered abortion doctors is largely behind us (hopefully) but states continue to gradually erode a woman's right to control her own body. Texas has now launched a daring side-wind attack on abortion rights by attempting to impose a series of draconian medical standards which, like voting rules in some states, essentially (if indirectly) rob citizens of their constitutional rights. The attempt in Texas, which would have banned abortion in that state for all intents and purposes was stopped (for now) by a Democrat senator (Wendy Davis) with determination, gall and sturdy feet. She stood and argued on the floor in pink tennis sneakers for eleven hours straight. The rules of filibustering require that she stand and argue past a midnight deadline, without leaning on furniture or taking a toilet break. (Sounds like some bizarre pagan witchcraft ceremony or aboriginal coming-of-age ritual, doesn't it?) During her speech, a heckler screamed from the gallery: "Abortion is genocide." (Every time someone makes a statement like that, I feel tempted to ask them their opinion on the treatment of the Native American. A guy like that probably wouldn't believe that genocide was genocide.) Ah, the joys of democracy. The efforts of those hoping to limit the freedom of women have been curtailed. But, rest assured they'll find another side-wind from which to attack women's rights.
States will continue to try to create their own private realities. The definition and value of human life, marriage and electoral fairness may for the foreseeable future differ radically from state to state. A thirteen-year-old rape victim may have to dodge police, crawl under barbed wire and cross state lines to terminate her pregnancy. A marriage between two people in a committed relationship of many years may for some time to come cease to exist when the plane, train or automobile they're riding crosses a state line. And, whether your God-given right as an American citizen to vote is upheld may depend on which state you're registered in. Kind of like walking through a series of parallel universes that are only miles apart, eh? The law is our one hope for a single, unifying reality. That unification comes hard. Its taken a civil war, boycotts and riots in the southern states just to get us this far.
As a people, we'll never agree on everything. But, it would be nice if we could agree on the basic premises of reality. One law, with liberty and justice for all, equally. One set of rights. Hope springs eternal.