Between the horrible bookends of the terrorist attack against the French cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in January and the late-in-the-year jihadist strikes on innocent Parisians and on a holiday party in San Bernardino, there was not much to redeem 2015 in the news. The presidential campaign provided many hours of comic relief, but that is not the same as hope and inspiration.
Still, two developments proved human progress is not impossible.
The first was the United States Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the constitutional right of same-sex couples to get married. Only a very few years ago, even leading liberals, including Barack Obama and the Clintons, believed that offering domestic partnerships to gay and lesbian couples who wanted to formalize their relationships was enough. Those well-meaning folks (and I count myself among them) failed to see that only marriage could truly honor lifelong commitments that should be every bit as valid, both legally and socially, as the commitments of heterosexual couples.
There are still plenty of Americans who sincerely believe this change is an affront to their faith, which is no surprise, given the centuries of skewed assumptions on which they base their feelings. But there is no going back on this change and, as time shows us that expanding marriage to include everyone actually strengthens a central institution of society, the doubters will fade away.
The other positive news item from the old year was the success of the climate change conference in Paris. Representatives of most of the world’s governments signed an accord that puts them on a path to reduce the carbon emissions that are warming our world and pushing us perilously close to a series of natural disasters that, at their worst, could threaten human survival on this planet.
With 2015 being the warmest year on record and even higher temperatures certain to come, the Paris agreement arrived late in the game and, alone, is not enough to rescue us from calamity. Nevertheless, it has finally put a regime in place that can be improved upon. And the agreement is a clear indication that, other than the global warming deniers and the protectors of oil and coal interests in the U.S. Congress, most global leaders have accepted the scientific evidence about climate change and feel pressure to act.