Some things catch you by surprise. The fall of the Soviet Union was one. Arab Spring was another -- few saw the Middle Eastern revolutions for democratic rule coming. Yet change was at work for years.
Today, social changes are sweeping the world. Driving them is a fundamental human demand for equality. We don't always see these changes beginning, growing -- but it would be a great mistake to think nothing's happening beneath the surface of the news. Like a gathering of waters, the demand for equality gathers strength quietly, incrementally, almost in stillness, until its current is so strong it moves with irresistible force through society.
The expectation -- the rightness -- of equality explains, in part, why "12 Years a Slave" won the Academy Award for best picture, and why two foreign documentaries on democratic revolutions were nominated. Equality is the key concept, the common denominator driving change in the 21st century.
This is not to say there is no resistance. Across Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, the forces of autocratic rule are gathering strength to resist this mighty tidal wave of change. Venezuela and the Ukraine are only two examples where autocratic forces are resisting.
In the United States, whose founders gave voice and action to this change -- all men are created equal -- we too are experiencing change, and reaction.
Laws purporting to support religious freedom that in fact allow discrimination are one way to obstruct and deny equality. For what difference does it make if the refusal to sell a widget is based on the buyer's skin color, age, gender, religion or sexual orientation?
I've heard the "religion demands discrimination" excuse -- it's not really much of an argument -- since I was a child. Support for segregation was framed as maintaining a person's religious freedom. God intended the races to be separate, so the racists said. Judges invoked God's name to justify laws that made two humans marrying each other a felony.
The "religious freedom" argument went further: A business owner was exercising his religious freedom to deny a young black man or woman the right to order a sandwich, or cup of coffee, at a Woolworth's lunch counter.
So, you'll forgive me, but I heard strong echoes from my past when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said of gay marriage, "It is a war -- a silent war -- against religious liberty. This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power."
Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library on Feb. 13 of this year, Jindal foresaw a massive attack on religious freedom: "This assault will only spread in the immediate future ... that pressure is not going to stop with photographers and bakers -- it's going to be brought on churches, mosques and synagogues, too."
Jindal fears a slippery slope of force -- the same fear of forced mixing and marrying of the races the segregationists "boogeymandered." I rejoice at the climb to the mountaintop of choice -- each individual's God-given right to pursue happiness.
The times are changing. The Arizona State Legislature passed a law permitting a business owner to refuse service based on his or her faith. Two weeks later, Arizona's governor vetoed it. Arizona demonstrates how fast things can change when a political party decides the public is opposed to their opposition.
When Arizona's Preservation of Religious Freedom Act landed on her desk, Gov. Jan Brewer declared she had not "heard of one example where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated." She spoke of "unintended and negative consequences," adding, "I call them like I see them, despite the cheers or the boos from the crowd."
(I hope Jindal, who said not a word about it, was listening to his fellow Republican governor.)
Brewer had heard a lot of boos against the bill. The business owners, whose faith the bill was purported to protect, turned out almost en masse against adopting the bill as law. Strong opposition came from diverse interests, such as from the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Washington, D.C., heavy hitters -- Republicans like Brewer -- opposed it. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake urged Brewer to veto it, as did Mitt Romney. A Public Policy Polling study released this week showed Arizona voters opposed the bill.
I checked on bills similar to the Arizona proposal that were introduced in other states. Out of the 50 states, there are but a handful. ABC News counted five; Time magazine six, and CNN counted 12. However, in only two states, Georgia and Missouri, does the bill remain viable -- and that viability is rapidly diminishing. In the other states, the bills have been killed, pigeon-holed or even had sponsors withdraw their support.
Most Americans believe that when it comes to buying and selling, the store should be open to everyone. We the people are purchasing merchandise, not morals.
In other words, while your beliefs are your business, my business is not with your beliefs. That's why it's called a "free market."