Gay Marriage and the Limits of Tradition
None of this means Americans have no use for traditions. We have all sorts of favorites, from fireworks on the Fourth of July to football in autumn. But we feel entitled to alter and embellish them at our whim. The fireworks we see are bigger and better than the ones Americans saw a century ago. Football now starts in August and goes till February.
Marriage morphed repeatedly long before gays got it. Women acquired more rights, divorce became available to anyone who wanted it, and alimony grew less common. People of different races can now marry each other even in places where it was once cause for lynching.
Longstanding arrangements that make sense endure without controversy, and that's just the point: They make sense. Tradition and a good reason will win an argument, just as tradition and $2 will get you a ride on the bus. Americans don't keep doing things unless they serve our purposes, even if they suited our grandparents to a T.
The 20th-century Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. spoke for most of us: "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past."
The prevailing ethos in this country is that we are the masters of tradition, not the servants. We treasure the customs and practices passed down from our ancestors. And we change them anytime we want.