Over the last couple of days two major developments have affected the American body politic; the controversy over the Confederate battle flag, and the legalization by the Supreme Court of gay 'marriage' in the USA. I think both are related.
As an immigrant to this country, I've always found the Confederate battle flag an anachronism, because it's been misused by almost everyone. It was never the national flag of the Confederacy, but was used by the Army of Northern Virginia. As Wikipedia reminds us:
At the First Battle of Manassas, near Manassas, Virginia, the similarity between the "Stars and Bars" and the "Stars and Stripes" caused confusion and military problems. Regiments carried flags to help commanders observe and assess battles in the warfare of the era. At a distance, the two national flags were hard to tell apart. In addition, Confederate regiments carried many other flags, which added to the possibility of confusion. After the battle, General P. G. T. Beauregard wrote that he was "resolved then to have [our flag] changed if possible, or to adopt for my command a 'Battle flag', which would be Entirely different from any State or Federal flag." ... He described the idea in a letter to his commanding General Joseph E. Johnston: "I wrote to [Miles] that we should have "two" flags—a peace or parade flag, and a war flag to be used only on the field of battle—but congress having adjourned no action will be taken on the matter—How would it do us to address the War Dept. on the subject of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars, ... We would then on the field of battle know our friends from our Enemies."
The flag that Miles had favored when he was chairman of the "Committee on the Flag and Seal" eventually became the battle flag and, ultimately, the most popular flag of the Confederacy.
Ironically, it was only after the Civil War that the battle flag became identified with the Confederacy as a whole. I can only presume that was through the efforts of veterans who'd fought beneath it, and who wanted to commemorate their sacrifice. It may also have had something to do with the mythos of the 'Lost Cause', which also arose after the war. The battle flag as such had nothing whatsoever to do with the institution of slavery; but because it became identified with the Confederacy as a whole, rather than just the Army of Northern Virginia, it inevitably and irrevocably acquired that association. That's why opposition to it has grown so entrenched among the liberal establishment, the black community, and those who regard residents in the former Confederacy as unregenerate Southerners who need to be reminded who won the war. (There are a surprising number of them.)
Unfortunately, those in the south who value the battle flag for its original significance have had the moral ground cut out from under their feet by its identification with the Confederate States as a whole. If it was just a battle flag, I don't think anyone could seriously object to its being flown on historical grounds. As a symbol of a state that was established to preserve the institution of slavery . . . that's a whole new ball of wax. (And don't tell me the Confederacy was not established for that specific purpose. The historical record - including the statements of those who supported and endorsed secession of the various States - is quite clear. The Confederacy was all about the 'peculiar institution'.)
After the church shooting at Charleston, photographs of the shooter posing with a handgun and the battle flag were found online. (He was also photographed wearing the flags of the former Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa, adding to his personal association of the Confederate battle flag with racism.) That precipitated the public explosion of anger against the battle flag among certain circles that has led to the current situation. Many in the south are angry and appalled that the flag has now become a symbol for racism in the eyes of many. They protest that it's simply not the case, that the flag is being tarred with the brush of mass murder. I fear they forget that the flag has already been tarred with the brush of racism and slavery, whether they like it or not, and whether or not there's any factual historical foundation for that. The conflation of the battle flag with the cause and nation for which the Army of Northern Virginia fought has inexorably led to this. I fear the backlash is now inevitable.
The trouble is, the status of the battle flag has been enshrined in custom, and sometimes in law, in several former states of the Confederacy. If it had remained a completely private affair, with individuals or small groups flying the flag to commemorate historical association or something like that, the present situation would never have arisen. Unfortunately, legislative enshrining of the flag as a symbol of a nation that itself symbolized slavery and racism has now run into its use by the shooter at Charleston. It's now so inextricably tied up with all that symbolism that I fear it can no longer be separated from them in the minds of many, perhaps most Americans.
As for gay 'marriage', I put the word 'marriage' in quotes because to me, and I think to many others, the term has always denoted a religious or spiritual understanding of the formal bond between a man and a woman. Certainly, in human history there has almost always been the understanding that such a bond is ordained, or sanctioned, or blessed, by the divinity, in whatever form and under whatever name a given society has known him or her or it. Therefore, for the US Supreme Court to rule that 'marriage' must be opened to all, including same-sex couples, is, to me, a contradiction in terms. If 'marriage' is a religious or spiritual institution, it should fall under the separation of church and state, and not be subject to interference by the government or the judiciary. If it's not a religious institution, then why are churches and faiths so invested in it?
I've discussed this before in these pages (follow those four links for more information). My preferred solution today remains what it's always been: get the state out of the business of marriage altogether. Let individuals and couples decide for themselves where their priorities lie. If they're religiously oriented, let them marry in a way that conforms to their faith. If they aren't, let them make whatever arrangements they wish in order to codify their relationship and afford each other the legal, contractual benefits of shared living. This may or may not involve a formal, state-sanctioned bond (although for purposes such as inheritance, etc. that may be inevitable).
Frankly, the Supreme Court decision won't change my outlook on marriage at all. I'll continue to regard it from the perspective of my religious faith, and act accordingly. To those who don't share that understanding, I'll respect and accept their right to live according to their own lights, as long as they extend the same courtesy to me.