Who are the real liberals on gay marriage?

Many people inside and outside the troubled nation expected a bloodbath once white minority rule came to an end. But Mandela’s moderation and restraint — above all in his emphasis on national reconciliation — kept South Africa from the brink and laid the essential groundwork for the construction of a diverse, multicultural democracy.

Yes, Mandela’s vision of the good won the kind of total victory gay marriage advocates in America seek today, but it was the spirit of pluralistic liberalism that consolidated the new order in South Africa. Where justice seemed to demand harsh penalties for former leaders and collaborators, as well as fewer amnesties for horrific crimes committed against black South Africans, Mandela understood that the nation’s well-being depended on its citizens learning to live together in mutual toleration of their deep, painful differences. It was an extraordinary act of magnanimity that Americans on the winning side of the battle surrounding gay marriage ought to take to heart.

America’s cultural clashes are relatively minor compared to the national fissure South Africans confronted two decades ago. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have something important to learn from Mandela’s example of pluralistic liberalism in action.