I grew up quite literally around the corner from the Rose Parade. It was so much a part of my growing up that I don't even remember the first time I went. And so it's entirely possible I was part of crowd gathered along Colorado Boulevard in 1958 - the year Joan Williams did not ride in the Rose Parade.
The story was widely reported over the last few weeks. Ms. Williams was "Miss Crown City 1958" - chosen by judges to represent Pasadena city employees at a variety of ceremonial occasions, including the Rose Parade. But that didn't happen. "Once they learned I was African American, I wasn't the person they wanted representing the city," Williams said. And in 1958, Pasadena's solution to the "problem" of Joan Williams was to not have a float in the Rose Parade at all that year.
Seriously. That's how far one city would go in 1958 to keep from including an African American in the Rose Parade: just opt out all together.
That arc of history we're told is long but bends toward justice bent just a little further yesterday when Joan Williams road on the banner float leading the 2015 Rose Parade down Colorado Boulevard - a float entitled "Inspiring Stories." Having received what she described as a "heartfelt" letter of apology from Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, Williams accepted the invitation from Tournament of Roses officials to ride this year.
"I want to honor the community and especially the African-American community who were so vocal about feeling the city needed to make an apology," she said in a Pasadena Star News article. She said it was an especially poignant moment amid all of the protests around the country and the slogan "black lives matter." She said she believed it was a sign that the city wants to move forward.
Ironically, I read Joan Williams' story in the same newsfeed as I read this one from Florida. Three Florida courthouses will no longer perform weddings after gay marriages ruled constitutional. "The decision by Duval, Clay and Baker counties comes after Judge Robert Hinkle announced Wednesday that any court refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. In an effort to avoid the situation altogether, the officials for the counties say they will no longer hold wedding ceremonies for anyone."
Seriously. That's how far three counties will go in 2015 to keep from treating gay and lesbian couples with the same respect and dignity offered to their straight neighbors. Yet another illustration of how far we have yet to go until "liberty and justice for all" really means "all."
And let me just add - as a priest and pastor - that the time worn "it violates my beliefs" argument being advanced by Florida county clerks is plumb worn out.
Because here's the deal: The First Amendment protects your right to believe absolutely anything you choose to about what God blesses or doesn't bless; intends or doesn't intend; is present or is absent in ... up to and including whether there is a God at all. What it does NOT protect is your right to confuse what you believe with what the Constitution protects. And again and again and again the highest courts in the land have agreed that the equal protection guaranteed all Americans is not equal protection unless it equally protects all Americans equally.
Yes, we are still on a journey toward making that dream of liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make to our flag but a reality we live in our nation. And next week -- when same-sex couples start getting married in Florida -- we will be a little closer to that goal.
And in a decade or two - or five or six - when those who shamefully decided that the solution to the "problem" of same-sex couples who want to love, honor and cherish each other until death do they part is to not hold wedding ceremonies for anybody come to their senses and issue an apology I hope it's as "heartfelt" as the one the Mayor of Pasadena offered to Joan Williams. And I hope it doesn't take 58 years.
Happy New Year.