Forward Thinking

Echoes of Justice in Corners of American Life

By Ellen Lippmann

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Ellen Lippmann

The shouting for joy over this morning’s Supreme Court decisions had barely subsided when a long ago memory flashed into my mind. Twenty-two years ago, my partner and I were on vacation in Pennsylvania with our daughter. My partner became ill and I took her to a nearby emergency room.

In this smalltown hospital. they were terrific about taking her right in to be seen by the doctor before any talk of payment or insurance. But when they came out to begin those conversations, they asked me, “Does she have any family members here?”

We had been together seven years. I said, somewhat facetiously, “Well, her daughter is here.” “Oh, so may I speak to her daughter?” asked the nurse. “Sure,” I said. “She’s 10.” And only then did the nurse, well-meaning, not really understanding, agreed to speak to me.

My prayer is that along with same-sex marriage in California and federal benefits for those married in other states, today’s Supreme Court decisions will begin to create a broad atmosphere of justice in the small, crucial places of our lives: hospital rooms and funeral homes, synagogues, churches and mosques, the school principal’s office, the neighborhood cookout.

The other memory that came along unbidden was that of Matthew Shepard, beaten, tortured, and left to die on a fence. I remember crying along with many others during a prayer for him at the synagogue where I am serve as a rabbi, Kolot Chayeinu. Today I also pray that the expanding atmosphere of justice prevent killings of LGBTQ people because they are, whether in Montana way back then or in the Village last month. May children grow up in confidence or in acceptance, knowing that some law is on their side.

We Jews know only too well how important court decisions and legislation can be to moving people whose own hearts and minds are not ready to move on their own. Being LGBTQ is a sort of like being part of an ethnic group, a thing that binds us across class and color lines, not always easily, but truly. Long ago, a Jewish woman poet wrote, “Jews make such good lesbians.” I think it is because we know that binding.

As I write about the law moving people along the right path, I must add the sorrow about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, the one that gutted the Voting Rights Act. We LGBTQ folk cannot ignore the anger and fear that decision generates, in a year where we saw poor people and people of color turned away from voting in every possible way. New action is needed so that previously respected act can be returned or renewed to justice.

“Justice, justice you shall pursue,” the Torah teaches. The “justice” is doubled, our sages say, so that we remember to pursue justice with just means. Justice as an end, justice in the pursuit. But perhaps it is also true that we must work for double justice, so there is a layer that can be removed when a wrong-headed decision is made and a layer still remains.

Today, we have double-layer justice. Let us work across dividing lines to achieve that for voting too, and immigration.

Ken yehi ratzon.


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