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Accepting Change

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In a portion omitted from the Flyer's interview on marijuana with Shea Flinn, the city councilman and former legislator observed matter-of-factly, "Prohibition has never worked in the history of our country, because if people

want something, they're going to get it." Only days before, in an interview with CNN's Larry King, Laura Bush was asked about another controversial issue of the day — same-sex marriage.

Her answer: "There are a lot of people who have trouble coming to terms with that, because they see marriage as traditionally between a man and a woman. But I also know that when couples are committed to each other and love each other, that they ought to have the same sort of rights that everyone has."

And when King pressed her on the likelihood of the future legal acceptance of same-sex marriage, the former first lady replied, "Yeah, that will come, I think."

Flinn, who introduced a bill legalizing medical marijuana during his term as an interim state senator in 2007, was making the case for that, and that alone, in the interview. But when asked point-blank if marijuana would eventually be legalized for recreational use, he, like Laura Bush, bit the bullet. "Will it happen? Yes," he answered.

This is not to suggest that change proceeds only in one ideological direction. Readers who consider themselves progressives will doubtless welcome the transitions spoken to by Bush and Flinn. They might be less accepting of another change, already accomplished in Tennessee — the liberalization (yes, technically, that's the right word) of laws governing the places into which firearms can be toted by holders of legal permits.

In all three cases, lobbies have existed on behalf of the change in question. In all three cases, stout resistance met the push toward acceptance, and the actual transformation awaits (or, in the case of guns in bars, awaited) the development of what we might call specific gravity, either in the population at large or in legislative or judicial circles. Another change, that toward legal abortion, was accomplished in the courts, and, though it continues to face resistance and animosity, it is an established legal practice.

"Specific gravity," we said, using a term borrowed from the realm of physics. And the usage is appropriate, not least because of its scientific neutrality. People who accepted the desirability and inevitability of, say, legal desegregation are possibly not, by and large, the same people who are enamored of the state's new gun laws.

You win some, you lose some. The fact is that social change, like climate change, is a force that ultimately comes of its own, though it is possible to influence, or maybe even to prevent, some of its negative consequences, and enhance its positive aspects, with farsighted action.

Echoing a famous statement by Martin Luther King, Barack Obama observed, while still a U.S. senator, "Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: It does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice."

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