A Personal Note: Juneteenth and June26th

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By Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law


With Charleston funerals and the Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision occurring today, there are many emotions in the air.  I think of my childhood friend, Reggie Eley.  He was my first best friend – running through the backyard bushes to his house, playing kids games in the backyard with my cousins and family, reading twelve cent comic books, assembling and flying cheap wooden airplanes, etc in East Orange, New Jersey.  Reggie came out in his late twenties or early thirties and was one of the early casualties of AIDS.  When I saw him late in his life in the hospital it was a very sad moment, but it was also very moving to see how his boyfriend/lover took such very careful care of him.  Their love – in black and white for those who care – was very moving.  Reggie, June26th is your day brother.

There is great celebration across the country for the decision in the same-sex marriage case – and great consternation by those whose faith or otherwise led them to want the decision to go the other way.

There is inconsolable sadness over the funerals of these Mother Emmanuel Nine martyrs – while at the same time the Confederate flag symbolic battle begins to rage anew.

For those persons of faith troubled by the Supreme Court’s decision – and particularly those of Christian faith – I just wanted to note today that for the past twelve years at my two Christian Episcopal Churches my pastors have been lesbians who are married. I have prayed with many LGBTQ Christians who had been shunned at other churches and told me of their pain at being so shunned. Their Christian faith has moved me and helped me – along with that of many others – to understand better the meaning of Christ’s Word. Yet I recognize that there are disagreements on church doctrine across the myriad forms of Christianity. What I like about this decision is that the state’s role in allowing same-sex people who love each other to enter the estate of marriage through a marriage license is confirmed leaving the theological debates to other spaces.

So I hope we can also be with health care at some point – to understand it as a fundamental right recognized in human rights law that is not narrowed by one or another person’s faith as to what is properly covered in a health plan – whether public or private.

For Charleston, I remain terribly moved by the families of the victims who so quickly were able to forgive the lost young man who killed their loved ones. Their act brought back to me Jesus’ phrase “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” in the most fundamental way. That type of deep faith is something that leaves me greatly humbled before them.

I am moved by the manners and bonhomie of all the persons in Charleston as these sad funerals go forward. Having lived in the South somewhat, I do worry that the surface bonhomie (like the “aren’t you a stitch” and “isn’t that nice” and “bless your heart” kind of social graces) probably mask much deeper roiling tensions that remain even though they are put to the side on these days of mourning.

We see some change of symbols in some states but no changes to the power structures.

The history for black people back to Juneteenth 1865 is long, and the history before that is even longer. The history of LGBTQ persons back from this June26th to the Stonewall riots 40 years ago is long, and the history before that is even longer.

An Italian author Lampedusa once wrote that “Everything must change, so that nothing changes.” And, William Faulkner wrote that “The past is never gone. It is not even past.”

So in this moment of effervescence, I retain a certain circumspection about all that I am seeing, thinking of the struggles that will continue ahead on both of these fronts to make manifest the kind of equality and freedom that the Constitution could and international human rights law does enshrine.

We are ennobled, we can be hopeful for a brighter future, yet we are not naïve about the tasks that remain.

Just sayin’ a personal note.