The author C.S. Lewis once said, "You cannot make men good by law" -- and he might as well have added that we shouldn't try. A symbolic punishment -- one meant to send a message or promote an honorable value -- is hollow at best. Changes only of heart, not fear of punishment, are true victories.
In that spirit, a judge in New Jersey resisted public outrage and sentenced Dharun Ravi, a former Rutgers student charged with spying on his gay roommate who later committed suicide, to just 30 days in jail.
Ravi faced up to 10 years in prison, a sentence many thought was justified. After all, what Ravi did was emblematic of a growing homophobic culture that is deteriorating the lives of many, and sending a message, many thought, would push us in the right direction.
But regardless of how pernicious Ravi's actions may have been, it's hard to pin all the blame on a teenager who wasn't even alive when the true crime was committed.
It's hard to grow up in today's world thinking of gays and lesbians as the equal citizens that they are. We have religious doctrines, political leaders and laws that viciously promote the notion that gays are part of a separate, merited debate. We talk about same-sex marriage as if it is different from so-called traditional marriage -- and we certainly make a big fuss in the process.
When the president states that gays and lesbians should, in fact, have the right to marry -- and the announcement makes headlines -- it's hard to see them as equals. When a significant portion of Americans believe AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality, it's hard to relate to our gay counterparts.
Ravi may be the one serving the sentence, but the true bully is everywhere.
If you really want to know who is responsible for Tyler Clementi's death, look no further than yourself. Every time we do so much as entertain the notion that same-sex marriage, wearing different clothes, or speaking a different way is a topic worthy of discussion, we feed homophobia.
Mitt Romney, now one of the most influential members of our society, has viciously condemned same-sex marriage on multiple occasions. And when Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama declared their support for same-sex marriage, it was the media event of the year. And then when a teenager feels uncomfortable around his gay roommate and films him, we all act surprised. Folks, get real.
No jail term, community service or public outrage will ever rid the world of bullying and homophobia -- only you can. If we really want to grant justice to Clementi and the gay community at large, same-sex marriage would be passed tomorrow, the Defense of Marriage Act would be repealed, and once and for all, we would all stop questioning who other people love.