In watchingthe California Supreme Court try to split the baby in some completely egregious way this week, I was saddened for my friends in the gay community. The court upheld Prop 8, which others far more intelligent and involved than I, can parse at length regarding the legal issues involved. From an outsiders view, it seemed to me to be a case of “you’re just thiissss clossseee to being what you want, but we don’t want to give it to you” that you get from grade-school kids on the playground.
Doing what’s right isn’t always easy. I get that, so I understand to some degree why people without a dog in the fight (read: many voters and probably most of the justices on the CSC) feel it better to support the status quo than to say, “Hey, this needs to change.” Still, we need people who are willing to do things that are uncomfortable when they are in the position to change things for the better.
One of my favorite stories comes from a meeting of baseball executives before the 1947 season, in which the Brooklyn Dodgers were attempting to integrate baseball. Branch Rickey made the case to bring Jackie Robinson from the Montreal affiliate to the majors. The owners cast a ballot on the issue and voted 15-1 not to let him play. Commissioner Harold “Happy” Chandler was the final authority on such matters and he recalled years later the phone call he got from Rickey once that meeting was over.
Chandler listened to Rickey briefly and with little fanfare agreed to let Robinson play. A stunned Rickey asked why this man, the former senator and governor of Kentucky and a man who once supported Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat run for the presidency, would support such a move. In his autobiography, and in almost every interview he gave until his death in 1991, Chandler’s answer was the same:
“I’m going to have to meet my Maker some day and if he asks me why I didn’t let this young man play and I say it’s because he’s black, that might not be a satisfactory answer.”
The answer might have sat well with his Maker, but not with baseball ownership. He was effectively ousted from the commissioner’s spot in 1951 when his term expired and his contract wasn’t renewed. He went back to Kentucky and became governor again. He would help integrate the schools in Kentucky, decline an invitation by George Wallace to be his running mate and earn election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He wasn’t a saint by any means, having once declared the country of Zimbabwe to be “all nigger now” and having stood on the side of Thurmond’s Dixiecrats for more time than any decent man should.
However, when the chips were down, he put principle ahead of politics, what was right in front of what was easy and he gave us the modern game in which players of all races, creeds and colors join together on a field of green to show us poetry in motion.
In the movement toward equality among marriage, there needs to be a voice of strength and power who steps up to say, “this concept that it’s supposed to be Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve is a pithy bumper sticker, but when I meet my Maker, that might not be a satisfactory answer for denying human rights to human beings.” Someone needs to stand up and put principles ahead of politics, long-term gain ahead of self-interest and the betterment of others ahead of the safety of one’s own position.
Who will be Happy?