Reading Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ statements on why she voted for the Respect for Marriage Act –supporting religious freedoms and our American history of tolerance for those who don’t share those same beliefs – struck a deep chord in me due to recent travels.
Sen. Lummis affirmed that even though her personal beliefs did not align with same sex marriage, she could not let that take precedence over our nation’s core principles of religious tolerance and separation of church and state.
She explained “Just as when our nation was founded, when the New World tore itself from the old, people of diverse faiths, beliefs and backgrounds had to come to terms with each other…They had to tolerate each other in order to survive as a nation. Somehow, most certainly with divine guidance, they did.”
This fall, my husband and I traveled to Sarajevo, the capitol of Bosnia and we spent time exploring this beautiful and mountainous country. We were astounded by this country’s history of extreme religious and ethnic warring and yet its current-day commitment to tolerance.
Within two blocks of the center of Sarajevo you will find mosques, a Roman Catholic church, an Eastern Orthodox church, and a synagogue. It is said that Sarajevo is the Jerusalem of Europe due to its multiculturality and now serves as a model of coexistence for Europe.
But it wasn’t always that way. The Bosnian war in the 90s was a horror of genocide and ethnic cleansing, largely perpetrated against the Muslim majority, but it also broke out between the two Christian sects. Signs of that war are everywhere in the city, which was under siege from shelling and snipers for nearly 4 years. Mortar blasts in sidewalks – especially where residents died, are commemorated with red resin filled potholes – known as “Sarajevo Roses.”
Sarajevo Old Town craftsmen have fashioned the thousands of empty bullet cartridges and mortar shells from the war into bottle-openers, umbrella stands and more.
I bought a few of these souvenirs from a shopkeeper who showed me where he still had shrapnel in his leg from being hit while playing soccer when he was eight. He’s proud of his family metal-working business – in that same shop for 300 years. He fashioned a new silver wedding band for me – since I was looking for a sturdier replacement to my broken one.
Every day now when I look at that wedding band it reminds me of the lessons I learned from this small nation that has overcome so much: lessons about history, but also a commitment to a future of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance. Bosnians are still trying to catch up with the rest of the world economically, but their spirit is inspiring.
Senator Lummis’ words have timeless wisdom. We can’t let our nation be torn apart by differing religious beliefs. A commitment to our American core values of equality and freedom means tolerating others’ freedom of religious and secular beliefs. I hope each of us has the opportunity to find the promise of tolerance in his or her own wedding band.
Steff Kessler, Lander