It’s no great revelation that we live in a highly polarized country, one where neighbors can see the world in starkly different terms.
We Americans often rely on different sources of information, different leaders, different value systems, and we often lead starkly different lives.
People living in different parts of our republic have profoundly different expectations in terms of their professional potential, how much education they will receive, how long their will life, and on and on.
But rising steadily through all that heterogeneity is a new trend: the re-emergence of starkly different public policies that set apart one state from the next.
It is now possible to live in states where a legal and safe abortion is almost impossible to find, while in the state just next door abortion services are still readily accessible.
It is now possible to live in states where as a gay person you are free to marry, with all the legal and civil rights that entails, while in the state next door your union goes unrecognized, or is even constitutionally banned.
It is now possible to live in a state where the legal rights of labor groups and unions remain robust and widely recognized, while a neighboring state has rejected the idea of collective bargaining rights.
It is now possible to live in a state where undocumented workers are largely tolerated and even accepted as a necessary component of the economy, while in the next state the laws affecting those workers (and their employers) are ferociously strict.
It is now possible to live in a state where the public education system offers an essentially conservative world view (including the suggestion that Creationism is a legitimate “science”), while in a neighboring state the education ideology remains progressive and humanistic.
We appear to be moving toward a future where some states will have adopted truly universal healthcare (Vermont is leading the way here) while other states challenge the fundamental constitutionality and philosophical appropriateness of such programs.
It may sound confrontational to put it in these terms, but I think it’s fair to say that we are evolving toward a Union where the differences between states are very nearly as stark as they were when Jim Crow existed in the South.
Many Americans, when offered jobs or opportunities in different states, will have to think long and hard about the policies and laws that shape life in other parts of the country.
If a person has a child with a handicap or developmental disability, does the new state offer adequate support and help? What if the couple is gay and has adopted a child, or has entered into marriage?
Will they be safe, in legal terms, in their new community?
On the other hand, a person running a business in a weak-union state might have to think long and hard about the realities and complexities of opening a new branch in a part of the country where organized labor remains a powerful force.
New York state has taken us one more step along this path toward national divergence with this week’s same-sex marriage vote. But I’m guessing that it won’t be the last step in that direction.