Instructive

A little something for everyone who thinks there’s some manifest difference between the struggle gays and lesbians are having for their rights, and the struggle blacks and other minorities have had:

Justice Albie Sachs of the South African Constitutional Court tackled the issue of same-sex marriage Wednesday afternoon in Swift Hall during a lecture sponsored by the Human Rights Program.

Sachs said that as he looked down from the bench of the Constitutional Court of South Africa at the crowds waiting to hear its decision in the Fourie gay marriage case, decided last month, Sachs reflected back on a Gay Pride parade he had attended in Cape Town in 1991.

“We were at a park I’d grown up near. Back then, there were signs up saying ‘Whites Only,’” Sachs said. “Now, there were invisible signs saying ‘Straights Only.’ The same signs that would prevent a black and a white from sitting in that park holding hands would prevent a gay couple from doing the same.”

Sachs cited his nation’s past experience with intolerance as a major influence in his landmark opinion in the case, which ordered the South African Parliament to equalize marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Sachs, interestingly enough, had been detained and forced into exile by South Africa’s apartheid government, which also, in 1988, put a bomb in his car that caused him to lose an arm and an eye. He’s walked the walk for equality, which I strongly suspect allows him to talk the talk. If he says there are parallels between the struggle for racial equality and the struggle for the rights of gays and lesbians, it’s hard to gainsay him on the matter.

Of course, the US is not South Africa. Thing is, when it came to the rights of its citizens — all of them — this was something we used to have the right to be proud about.

13 thoughts on “Instructive

  1. Gee, I hope you’re not suggesting our Supreme Court should look to legal decisions in other countries to help them decide cases here. We’re Americans – we know better than anybody else… </snark>

  2. Their Constitution is a little clearer than ours:

    (3) The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

    Of course:

    (5) Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection (3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.

    Talk about wiggle room.

    This is nice too:

    (2) Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right ­

    1. to make decisions concerning reproduction;
    2. to security in and control over their body;

  3. Albie Sachs? Wow. My parents had his book, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, which I read when I was a kid. I see from Google it’s also been turned into a play. And then later they crippled him with a car bomb? Crap.

  4. (unlurks)

    I live in south africa. if you’ve never had the opportunity, and it ever arises, meet him. he’s been there. the bomb took an arm, much motor function and the sight of one eye. his response was to intensify his commitment to freedom, which commitment culminated in his being one of the primary driving forces behind the south african constitution. i never heard him speak a word about revenge ever. he’s really an extraordinary human being. thanks for reminding me.

    “He started practice as an advocate at the Cape Bar aged 21. The bulk of his work involved defending people charged under racist statutes and repressive security laws. Many faced the death sentence. He himself was raided by the security police, subjected to banning orders restricting his movement and eventually placed in solitary confinement without trial for two prolonged spells of detention. In 1966 he went into exile. After spending eleven years studying and teaching law in England he worked for a further eleven years in Mozambique as law professor and legal researcher. In 1988 he was blown up by a bomb placed in his car in Maputo by South African security agents, losing an arm and the sight of an eye.”

    “Here now I’m getting an enormous amount of love and support, and so on, from all over the world, from people close to me and from people I’ve never heard of, because I’m the guy who survived a bomb. I’m so courageous, look at what I’m doing sitting up in bed, writing, all the rest. And I didn’t feel that was courage. To me, whatever courage meant it didn’t mean that. Courage was something where you pit yourself against something else, where you have to make decisions, where you are aware of the challenge. And you hang in there and you see your way through. I think a lot of these great heroes of my childhood were psychopaths. I don’t know if that’s courage. It’s problematic. Sometimes courage is perverse, you do things because you’re driven. And it’s not real, clean, open courage. But the courage I was speaking about in that excerpt would have been not dramatic, not visually available and there to be seen, not fitting into the prototype of this person who’s strong and who stands up to something even stronger. It would be in the head. It would be the courage of thinking something through, of developing an idea, of following it through, and not being lazy.


    We should explain to our audience that your recovery involved learning to walk again, learning to write again, learning to defecate again (as you beautifully describe).”

    interview here

  5. bit late for the discussions on US torture of detainees, but this interview with andrew denton of the australian broadcasting corporation gives an insider’s view of the process.

    fwiw, the process he describes is what you guys called water-boarding.

    “Andrew Denton: You say that that sense of humiliation, of breaking, is still with you. Why can’t you let that go?

    Albie Sachs: It destroys a certain optimism about life and living. The knowledge that… that simply to will something, something that’s good, something that’s worthwhile, that’s for the people, for humanity, er, is not enough in itself, that superior force can crush it. Not crush it forever, not crush it in a irrecoverable kind of a way, but causes certain moral damage, a deep sentimental damage, that you never fully recover from.

    the same interview also has this breathtaking paragraph:

    “Albie Sachs: I was in my chambers, which is the name we judges give to our office, and the phone rang. And I was told, “Somebody called Henry is here to see you. He says he’s got an appointment.” And I was quite excited to see Henry, I went…I said, “Send him through to the security.” Because he’d phoned me to say that he had organised the bomb in my car and he was going to the Truth Commission, and was I willing to meet him. I opened the door and a little shorter than myself, younger… “So this is the man who tried to kill me?” And he’s looking at me and I can see in his eyes, “So this is the man I tried to kill.” And as we walked down to my chambers, he had a stiff, soldier’s stride, so I put on my best judges’ ambulatory manner of walking. And then we talked and talked and talked and he told me about organising the attempt on my life, and I stood up afterwards, I said, “Henry, normally when I say goodbye to someone I shake their hand, I can’t shake your hand. But go to the Truth Commission, help South Africa, tell them what you know. Maybe we’ll meet again one day. Who knows?” And as we walked back down the passage, this time he was like a defeated person, shuffling along, a notable difference. I forgot about him. And about six months later I’m at a party, end of the year. I hear a voice saying “Albie, Albie.” “My God, it’s Henry. He’s calling me Albie.” And we get into a corner, away from the music — “What happened? What happened?” And he’s radiant. He’s absolutely elated. And he said, “And I wrote to the Truth Commission and I told them what I could.” And I said, “Henry, I’ve only got your face to say you’re telling the truth,” I put out my hand and I shook his hand. He went away beaming, I almost fainted.”

  6. Just for the record, if I had to make the decision, I would opt for some kind of marriage and/or civil union rights for gays and lesbians.

    Nonetheless, you are once again waxing way too melodramatically on this issue. There are worthwhile arguments in favor of gay marriage. But a law that forbids two men from getting married is not in the same league as the laws which made blacks second-class citizens in the U.S. and South Africa.

    Our society enforces many arbitrary regulations according to sexual preference and gender:

    -John, you and I both turned 18 the same year, and we both had to sign up for Selective Service. Guess what, our female classmates didn’t have to. Sounds like gender-based discrimination to me.

    -You mentioned in your Las Vegas thread sometime back that you are not into “whoring.” That’s good, because the law says that a woman does not have the right to earn a living as a prostitute, even if she wants to. Moreover, a man cannot legally patronize one. Once again–the law is making an arbitrary decision about sexual preference. The law also makes many arbitrary decisions regarding strip bars, porn, etc., based on “community values.”

    -The law also states that three people cannot legally enter into marriage. I personally don’t see why anyone would want two wives, (or two husbands, for that matter), but why should the law arbitrarily make that decision for everyone? Where is the respect for individual sexual preferences?

    The point is that gay marriage is not the only area in which gender and/or the particular flavor of one’s sexual desires collides with the law. But this seems to be the only one you are interested in.

  7. Mark:

    “But a law that forbids two men from getting married is not in the same league as the laws which made blacks second-class citizens in the U.S. and South Africa.”

    (deleted: snark-filled response which Mark doesn’t deserve to be whacked with just because I have a hair trigger on the topic)

    Amended point here: Eh. I disagree, and quite clearly, so does Judge Sachs.

    “The point is that gay marriage is not the only area in which gender and/or the particular flavor of one’s sexual desires collides with the law. But this seems to be the only one you are interested in.”

    Mark, if you think gay marriage is simply about sexual desires, you’re really missing the point. The Supreme Court has settled the issue of whether Americans can have sex with anyone they want in any way they want; the issue is whether all Americans, aside from fucking each others’ brains out, may also enjoy the legal benefits of being someone else’s spouse, almost none of which have anything directly to do with sexual desires. Strange that we live in a country where you can legally fuck any consenting adult you like but in all the states but one you can only marry the half of them that have the chromosomal set-up opposite of yours.

    Our president is on record suggesting that we as Americans ought to go out of our way and codify discrimination into our Constitution by introducing an amendment that would bar Americans from a right they already have (since any American can move to Massachusetts and get hitched to a member of their own sex, regardless of how inconvenient this might be in reality), and which specifically targets a group for second class citizenry. Naturally, I think this is appalling. So for me, it’s not about the sex, it’s about the civil rights.

    And, yeah, oddly enough, I do think that’s worth a little more mental investment than whether or not a guy has drive from Vegas to the Chicken Ranch to legally pay for a handjob, or whether girls have to sign up for a military draft that currently doesn’t exist.

    Call me crazy. Or melodramatic. Either way, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.

  8. Mark, you forgot to mention the most egregious example of ‘separate but equal’ in recent history: we still permit separate restrooms for men and women.

  9. Separate restrooms: You know, I’ve always thought signifying separate restrooms was pretty stupid in the cases where each of the bathrooms only seats one at a time. It’s not like anyone else is going to be in there with you, after all.

    In college, we had co-ed bathrooms and shower facilities (there were individual shower stalls). Once one got over the fact that pretty girls could, in fact, have the same disgustingly explosive toilet events that guys could, it was perfectly fine.

  10. “And, yeah, oddly enough, I do think that’s worth a little more mental investment than whether or not a guy has drive from Vegas to the Chicken Ranch to legally pay for a handjob”

    No–actually it is about whether or not the legal system can ruin the life of a man who chooses to illegally buy a handjob by arresting him and posting his picture on the internet. This is exactly what the law used to do to gays.

    So of course the gay marriage issue is about sex. The ban on gay marriage was preceded by police raids on gay bars, etc. in the 1960s and earlier. Moreover, a fundamental part of marriage (hetero or gay) is sex. The two are different but not exactly separate. And one usually precedes the other.

    For what it’s worth, John, I don’t think that you personally would be up in arms if a heterosexual man could legally “buy a handjob” (your term–not mine) in your part of Ohio. My point is that you clamor for gay rights, while you dismiss any heterosexual aberration that falls a bit outside the prescribed norms. (Hence your use of the derogatory term “whoring”.)

    Gay marriage may be about more than just sex, but it certainly follows from a particular sexual preference. And it seems that if you are going to fight for the rights of those with non-mainstream sexual preferences, then you have to widen your perspective beyond just gays.

    The same people who want to amend the Constitution to forbid gay marriage are the same ones who want to ban strip bars, adult films, and commercial sex.

    Why not frame the argument in terms of “freedom of choice for all sexual preferences that involve consenting adults” rather than focusing only on gay marriage? While the rights of heterosexual men with non-standard preferences may seem trivial to a happily married man–they would not be if it were *you* were the one arrested for “buying a handjob* from another consenting adult.

    I’ll put it like this: would you pass an anti-discrimination law that protected African-Americans, but not Hispanics and Asians–or vice versa?

  11. Mark:

    “My point is that you clamor for gay rights, while you dismiss any heterosexual aberration that falls a bit outside the prescribed norms.”

    You’d have a difficult time proving that statement, Mark, as I’m generally for people doing whatever they want to do sexually with fellow consenting adults. However, at the moment I think same-sex marriage is more important to focus on. You’re free to disagree with my priorities, but, you know. Ask me if I care.

  12. Also – strip bars, adult films, and commercial sex all have to do with sex, they have nothing to do with marriage.

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