This week, the world witnessed two advances in the fields of human and civil rights from the most surprising of sources.

As you may have read, the Irish recently voted in a referendum to allow for same sex marriage, after a most humanizing and charming pr campaign.  It was an entirely welcome and expected outcome, given the generosity of the Irish towards civil rights, especially in the wake of the sex crimes of the Catholic Church.  What was noted by media throughout the world, however, was that this was the first time any civil rights of the sort were advanced by an electoral endeavor.  Ever.  In any country.

In Pennsylvania, for example, gay marriage was legalized by virtue of a court decision – a method of crafting law that is the bane of existence for many hateful, conservative legal theorists, and very different from laws created by electoral fiat.  But this is why we have courts, to serve as a check against the excesses – often hateful, and unconstitutional – of our most unsavory politicians, such as former Senator Rick Santorum, who try to advance discriminatory legislation for their own twisted views of religion and morality.  And this is why, by contrast, we have civil rights lawyers, to file these lawsuits for the enforcement of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees.

Similarly, in Nebraska, that state’s legislature voted to outlaw the death penalty.  It was an incredible development, in a part of the United States not well known for its considered jurisprudence on this issue, let alone for its progressive politics.  And yet, a weird amalgamation of Nebraskan legislators, inspired by Christian social justice themes and in coalition with traditional lefty abolitionist prerogatives, somehow got the abolitionist measure approved.

One waits with some hope as to whether similar efforts may be successful in Pennsylvania, given Governor Wolf’s recent moratorium on the matter.  We now have Lincoln, Nebraska, of all places, to admire as a model for civil rights legislation in Harrisburg.  A strange benchmark, to be sure, but a welcome one.  The arc of the moral universe can be quirky indeed, but it bends towards justice, after all.