Never Turn Your Back on Justice
Five years ago, I served as a volunteer on the campaign opposed to the ratification of Proposition 8. In my mind, the proposition was a direct assault on the rights of same-sex couples, many of whom are members of my community. During the 2008 elections, I walked through my neighborhood passing out leaflets encouraging people to vote against Proposition 8. I even picked up a sign for my family’s front yard that said “Vote No on Prop 8.”
As a Boy Scout at the time, I did not realize that the BSA had discrimination policies in effect that denied many individuals the right to participate in the organization based on their sexual orientation. Fortunately, I was blessed to participate in a troop that stated on its website that it was opposed to the discrimination practices being carried out by other troops within the BSA. Even though I am still upset about these discriminatory practices, I am comforted by the fact that my troop continues to speak out against these practices.
I left the “No on Prop 8” campaign feeling disappointed because the state adopted the initiative despite my efforts to fight the initiative from the beginning. Because I felt so upset about the initiative passing, I left the campaign in pursuit of other extracurricular activities including baseball, soccer and scouting, instead of continuing to fight for the cause of marriage equality.
When I think about the need to speak up for others, I think of a quote said by Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned by Nazis during World War II. After the war, Niemöller expressed his deepest regrets for not standing up and helping other victims of Nazi war crimes. He states:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
If I choose not to speak up for others, no one will speak up for me in a time when I need it the most. When we do not speak up for civil rights as a community, the rights of others become ignored. Any one of us could find ourselves in a situation where no one will left to speak up for us. If we do not reach out to individuals who need help, often taking courage, we may never receive another opportunity to lend them a hand. While I was on the steps of the Supreme Court building on the morning that the Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry decisions were handed down, I kept these thoughts in the back of my mind.
I was thrilled to hear that DOMA was declared unconstitutional and that the Supreme Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction on the Prop 8 case, in part because the state of California refused to defend the law after the state supreme court and a federal judge struck down the law.
Nevertheless, what an incredible moment for me personally was to be able at the place where the ballot was first cast enacting a law that would deny gay couples the civil right of marriage, and then to stand in front of the steps of the Supreme Court to hear its decision on this initiative. I will cherish this for the rest of my life.
After Prop 8 was passed in my home state, I became disconnected from the world of politics. I felt frustrated, as if maybe I hadn’t done enough to stop the initiative from being passed during the state election in 2008. In the months that followed, I became less in touch with the initiative. I assigned a huge amount of blame on myself, even though I was not old enough to even vote against it.
The Talmud states, “Who can protest and does not, is an accomplice in the act.” Even when you feel discouraged by the way a case is decided, do not lose hope. Whenever you are given an opportunity to stand for an issue about which you feel passionate about, do not back down from the opportunity. This will only delay justice. If this story has taught me anything, it has been to not dwell on past losses but to continue to engage in the fight for justice. When we push past these barriers, it will lead us one step closer to ensuring justice for all.