Today, the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. It's an enormous victory for human rights and basic decency, and an enormous credit to LGBT activists, who have been slogging away at this issue for decades.

It's also extremely strange.

When I think of gay marriage, I inevitably think of the 2004 election, when there were gay marriage bans on the ballot in 11 states. Every single one passed with over 60 percent of the vote, even in Oregon. As recently as 2008, a ban passed in California, and it wasn't even that close. A scant seven years later, the Supreme Court rings in nationwide gay marriage after rapid progression at the statewide level.

That kind of speedy advance is even stranger when you consider the portfolio of issues that have seen no progress or even backsliding since then. The greatest economic collapse in 80 years has gone half-fixed at best. Poverty and inequality are up, and the politics haven't budged. Gun control is a dead letter, despite the clockwork gun massacres.

What gives?

First, I think, is the way in which gay marriage slots into America's traditional individualism. Like marijuana legalization (another issue which has made dizzying progress in a short time), gay marriage is a fairly obvious matter of freedom. No halfway respectable definition of individual liberty can deny people the right to marry whoever they choose, so long as they are both consenting adults. It was only bigotry against homosexuality, and the concomitant social pressure, which made gay marriage unthinkable. Once gay activists — which grew to include many celebrities and successful businessmen — made homophobia socially unacceptable, the resistance to marriage rights crumbled.

Second is the total lack of consequences. Social conservatives predicted the apocalypse should gays be allowed to marry, but in the few early test cases, it had practically zero effect. It turns out that freedom is not zero-sum. Extending marriage rights did not summon Beelzebub, nor destroy the institution of marriage (on the contrary, it strengthened it). Once that was obvious to all, it was basically a matter of time. Support for gay marriage climbed steadily from 37 percent in 2005 to 60 percent today.

Gun control, on the other hand, would be in some sense a curtailment of individual liberty. Though it would be arguably counterbalanced by an increase in the liberty to not to be shot to death, there is a real tradeoff there.

Issues which are unavoidably social and structural in nature, which includes most economic problems, are not obvious questions of individual liberty, nor would fixing them be totally painless. The collapse of 2008 was caused by faults in the structural operation of the economy, and could only be addressed by system-wide measures. The Recovery Act could be passed in a moment of panic, but another could not once the dust had settled and it was clear the stimulus had been far too small.

Similarly, poverty is mostly the result of inherent defects in capitalism — some people, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, cannot work and therefore receive no market income. To a great degree, therefore, the economy is zero-sum, a battle the wealthy have been winning for decades. People are poor and wages are stagnant because a small minority is filthy rich. That means fixing those problems means changing economic institutions to direct money away from some people, and towards others.

Americans tend to resist these sorts of analyses. The traditional American dogma holds that this is a place where everyone can achieve success and fortune if they try sufficiently hard. We prefer stories where the good guy wins and everyone lives happily ever after. Removing obviously unfair barriers to that success is one thing. Admitting that the American Dream is nonsense is another.