July 4th – A Celebration

July 4th – A Celebration

By Siegrid Raible

I am more or less a senior citizen; my friend’s husband prefers to call us old.  So let’s split the difference, I’m an old senior.  I have lived all of my sixty plus years in two of the five boroughs that make up the City of New York.  Through the years I’ve enjoyed attending many of the free Fourth of July firework displays hosted by the City on either the Hudson or East Rivers.

In recent years I really hadn’t thought much about the Fourth and what it was we were celebrating except to check fliers for sales announcements and my newest device as to when and where to get the best view of that year’s firework display. This year I left my home a little too late and caught the pageant from the corner of Avenue D and 10th Street in Manhattan; New Yorkers call this area The Lower East Side, a place so many immigrants still call home.  This holiday weekend seemed different to me.  With the momentous Supreme Court decision rendered just eight days earlier, I realized that we Americans celebrate the Fourth not just because of our declared freedom to rule ourselves but that we can amend our laws to reflect changing times and norms.

The Declaration is a document set in time; it lists the many grievances the colonists had with the English government in 1776.   The Constitution of the United States of America, written eleven years later is a living document; it allows for a time when there might be a far different future than the present.

The Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times to either limit or delineate the powers of government or to expand the rights of its people.  The simple preamble to the Constitution states:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The seeds of change are set forth in the preamble with the words “in order to form a more perfect union.”  From the time this document was written, a time when slavery was accepted, to a time when this country elected its first sitting African-American president much has changed.  In that time a bloody Civil War was fought and slavery was abolished by passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.  Women had to wait another half century until 1920 when Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment and we finally gained the right to vote.  It would take another forty-five years before voting barriers, the vestiges of slavery, were removed by passage of the Twenty-fourth Amendment.  And, the struggle continues.

As stated earlier, this year I think I fully realized why we celebrate the Fourth.  It had to do with the fact that on June 26, 2015 after thirty-six states had already granted same sex couples the right to marry, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in a five to four decision to expand the rights heterosexual couples derived through marriage to include same sex couples; these rights are now the law of the land.  In one day individuals married in states where civil marriages were recognized no longer have to fear losing those rights by moving to another state where those unions are not acknowledged.  Any time we expand the category of rights accorded to some individuals to include all individuals in the same class is a time to celebrate.  So I celebrate the system of government I live under because, as flawed as it is, it can be “perfected.”

So, yes, let’s celebrate this Fourth, but let’s not forget that we must continue to work towards the inclusion of all those persons who, as yet, are not included by expanding and incorporating into law those rights afforded to some but not all the people.  We must continue the work to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility…promote general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”  Because, simply put, all people matter and we must continue the struggle to build that “more perfect union.”

Happy Fourth of July America!

Correction: The Supreme Court of the United States decided in a five to four decision to expand the rights of same-sex couples and not a 6-3 decision as was previously stated.

Correction: The Thirteenth Amendment, passed in 1865, abolished slavery not the Fifteenth as stated previously.  The Fifteenth Amendment, passed in 1870, prohibits the use of race, color or previous condition of servitude in determining a citizen’s right to vote.  The author apologizes for these inaccuracies.

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