Equality

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is dead. Indeed he was an icon. An icon for everything that the modern world holds dear and yearns for—freedom, equality, justice, reconciliation and peace. He towered above other men. But as the testimonies and accolades pour into South Africa from around the world it is easy to miss the deeper realities.

Neither a god nor a saint, he was just a man. He was imperfect—as we all are. He was sometimes authoritarian—as some of us are. He was forgiving—as few of us are.

Twenty-seven years a political prisoner, he was cut off from the world, most of those years unable even to touch family. Only through coded messages could he communicate with others and learn of the continuing struggles for freedom in South Africa. But he persevered and emerged from prison not only a free man, but staunchly principled and resolute.

Like many prisoners, he was forced into hard labor—the useless task of breaking boulders with a hammer. Contrary to the desires of his captors, it did not break his spirit. He drew nourishment not from food, but from the truth. He grew strong through the power of justice and the inevitability of freedom.

In his solitude he managed to escape the lure of bitterness, discovering, instead, that the enemy was as weak and human as he was. He learned to love his oppressors. From that love he learned to forgive. From that forgiveness he was able to forge a path toward reconciliation, equality and justice. He rose to become the father of a new nation in an ancient land.

While it was encouraging to watch him walk through the gates of Victor Verster Prison and greet the welcoming crowds of Cape Town, it was stunning to hear him speak not of retribution, but of peace, never wavering in his quest. Giving no inch to either hatred or prejudice, he called on everyone to embrace the needs of the other, especially the disenfranchised. He was a man for all people, a man for all seasons.

Despite his greatness it is slightly less than cynical to suggest that we will not see his like again. That is a sentiment we have heard before, because he have seen men like him before. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name just two. To suggest that no others await the world stage is to guarantee that what they stood for will never be fully realized. The truth is that left to our own devices, without the inspiration of men like these, we choose to close our eyes to the needs of others. We choose to create and recreate worlds that are defined as us v. them. We choose to imprison ourselves in a world of our own concerns and desires. We almost always choose violence over peace.

Today we must do more than pray for Madiba’s passage. We must do more than give thanks for his life. We must commit ourselves to his work. Look at India post Gandhi. Look at the United States post King. Nelson Mandela’s life and accomplishments must not dissolve into discord, inequality and injustice. We must continue the cry of the poor, the cry of people the who are oppressed and denied their rights and freedoms: Amandla! (Power!).

Thank you, Madiba for an inspiration. May we do more than treasure your memory. "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" ("God Bless Africa")
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Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage

This past Wednesday, The Supreme Court of the United States weighed in on same sex marriage issuing two decisions, one dealing with a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the other with California’s Proposition 8. As is frequently the case, especially given the divisions within the Court, advocates on both sides of the debate are expressing some disappointment.

In the case of DOMA, the Court decided that the federal government must grant to married homosexual couples the same benefits its accords to married heterosexual couples. This is a victory for same sex couples and a defeat to those who oppose same sex marriage. However, while effectively gutting DOMA, the court did not strike down the entire law. Its decision does not force states to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states.

In the case of Prop 8, the court determined that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the suit to the Supreme Court, leaving intact the lower court decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. This is at least a temporary victory for gay rights in California, and a defeat for opponents of same sex marriage. At the same time, it does not guarantee a right to same sex marriage in all 50 states. Instead, it leaves in place the right of individual states to ban same sex marriage.

No one should be surprised at the response of the religious extremists—today’s prophets of doom—who anticipate a continuing wrath of God. Reiterating comments I made for
Effie Magazine, “These two decisions are neither harbingers of a godless nation, nor reflections of a religious demise already in progress.”

The fact that people on both sides are displeased, should not suggest that the court was wise or balanced in rendering its judgments. Something more serious is in play. The Supreme Court displayed a disquieting lack of courage in its decisions. Not unlike Congress, the Court is incapable of leading. Worse, still, the Court seemed unwilling to live up to its most basic duty of guaranteeing equality and justice for all.

Whatever one’s positions on states’ rights, the U.S. Constitution stands as the foundation of equality, with the Supreme Court its guarantor. Individual states frequently enact laws that are determined to be unconstitutional; laws driven by principles based on differing faith or denominational values. However genuine these values, the United States is not a theocracy. The Constitution guarantees both freedom
of and freedom from religion.

In previous generations a commonly held belief was that blacks were either not human, as in the case of slaves, or at least not 100% human. Pains were taken to root these ideas in religious values and, ultimately, distorted interpretations of the Bible.

Today there are those who make the same claims about homosexuals. Every time some religious fanatic claims that homosexuality is unnatural or contrary to God’s plan, they are disguising the same kind of prejudices that denied all races equality under the law. Again today, individual states codify those prejudices in discriminatory laws. The fact that they root their claims in religious morality, merely discredits both faith and the law.

I am reminded that it was not until 1967 that a truer and more honorable Supreme Court invalidated all laws outlawing inter-racial marriage. Such laws are unconstitutional. I hope we do not have to wait until 2067 for a more courageous and faithful Supreme Court to invalidate laws opposing same sex marriage.

Our independence was declared on this simple, yet profound, principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
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