Albie Sachs

South African struggle icon and former constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs has told US students and academics that everyone should have the right to marriage.

Sachs was the author of the 2005 Constitutional Court ruling that the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman was a violation of the bill of rights; thereby ordering the legalisation of same-sex marriage in South Africa.

On Tuesday, Sachs (78) spoke on the issue of gay marriage at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law; the same day the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging California’s ban on gay marriage.

Sachs noted that the South African apartheid state was also an anti-gay state.

“When I was a kid there were signs up [in a park in Cape Town] saying ‘whites only’ but they could [also] have had signs saying ‘straights only’”, he said. “Whites could hold hands and cuddle and express their intimacy and share the pleasure of being out on a bench in the open with their loved ones… But gay people couldn’t do the same.”

He told the audience that true equality “isn’t just to say everybody should be treated in the same way. It’s saying everybody should have the same access to entitlements irrespective of gender, or race, or colour, or in this case, sexual orientation”.

Sachs, who has 14 honorary degrees across four continents, said that while the decision to legalise same-sex marriage in the US was “for your judges here,” he believes that inclusivity in the institution of marriage was a struggle worth fighting for.

“The sense I get is that young Americans are embracing (marriage equality) far more enthusiastically than their grandparents did,” he commented.

Sachs, who lost his arm and partial eyesight following a car bomb attack carried out by apartheid security forces in 1988, served as a Constitutional Court judge from 1994 until his retirement in 2009.

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