South African freedom fighter discusses human rights at UF Law
By Jenna Box (3JM)
A quiet hum of voices filled the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom, HOL 180, at about noon on Tuesday. Albie Sachs sat on a table at the front of the room, wearing a gold-patterned shirt and a calm expression. His right sleeve hung empty beside his body—a symbol of the lifelong battle he’s fought for human rights.
The 78-year-old former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa spoke about gay marriage. It was also the opening day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of arguments about two cases involving same-sex marriage.
Even before he served on the Constitutional Court, Sachs was known as an advocate against racism, repression and apartheid. He was imprisoned, tortured and banned for his freedom fighting, but he wasn’t silenced.
In 1988, a car bomb placed by South African security agents blew up when he opened his door, causing him to lose his right arm and vision in one eye.
On Tuesday, Sachs shared stories from his experience on the Constitutional Court and his thoughts about the opinion he wrote in a case that legalized same-sex marriage in South Africa in 2005.
“Probably the strongest statement to appear in any judgment or opinion in recent years about the importance of religion in public life for millions and millions of people all around the world came from my pen in that judgment,” he said. “The very constitution that protects the rights of same-sex couples to express their love and intimacy and commitment in the same way heterosexual couples do protects the rights of faith communities to follow their faiths in the way that they want to do.”
Far too often, differences have been used as a weapon to separate, he continued. Cultural wars arise from people imposing their world views on others, instead of showing respect. What could be more important, he asked, than to allow people to be who they are?
“What do I think the U.S. Supreme Court will do?” he said. “I think they will give an opinion.”
The audience laughed.
“I imagine all the talents or otherwise of the nine justices are going to be challenged and tested now,” he said.
After the talk, Sachs signed copies of two of his books, which are still available for purchase in the UF Law Bookstore.
“I thought the talk was a great success. Albie related the issue of gay marriage to his own life experiences in a way that brought home the important dignity interests at stake, not only for gay and lesbian couples, but also for those who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds,” said UF Law Senior Legal Skills Professor Joseph Jackson, who introduced Sachs. “He’s had a truly remarkable life, full of courage and commitment in the face of great adversity, and it was inspiring to hear him speak.”
“Gay Marriage and the Promise of Equality” was co-sponsored by UF Law’s Center on Children and Families and UF’s Center for African Studies.