The genius of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Royal weddings typically elicit the most vacuous coverage — idle speculation about the cost of the bride’s dress, design of her tiara, the wedding cake, her bridesmaids and such. The marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, a biracial, American divorcee and actress, smashed precedents and elevated the event into a celebration of social justice and inclusion. It happened through the genius of this young couple.

Initially, this wedding did not enthuse the general public. Despite spruiking by the entertainment media with its endless focus on material objects, the British public was not swayed. A week before the wedding, polls showed that two-thirds of Britons were disinterested in the event and planned to skip it on television. Just 38 percent said they would watch, and local government officials received fewer applications for street parties celebrating the royal wedding compared to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011.

ADVERTISEMENT
All of this changed even before the bride and groom made their way to Windsor Castle. The first indication that this wedding would be different was provided by the titles awarded to the couple by Queen Elizabeth II: Harry was to become His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex and Meghan would become Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex.

 

The choice of these titles is symbolic: the last duke of Sussex was something of a rebel during his time. Prince Augustus Frederick, the sixth son of George III and Queen Charlotte, was born in 1773 and invested with the title in 1801. He studied in Gottingen, Germany, and secretly married Lady Augusta Murray, a Catholic, in Rome. The king annulled this marriage because it violated the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.

Prince Augustus had progressive views for the time. He supported the abolition of slavery, ending discrimination against Jews and Catholics, and parliamentary reform. He married a second time, in 1831, but his wife was given an independent title and did not become duchess of Sussex. The duke’s progressive views extended into his final wishes: his remains are interred in a public cemetery at Kensal Green, rather than Windsor Castle. As the second duke and first duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan inherit that mantle of revolutionary progressive ideas.

Their selection of an African American preacher, Bishop Michael Curry, made history. That choice alone would have been sufficient to make this wedding special, but they went beyond symbolism and empowered Reverend Curry to deliver a sermon that his audience had never experienced.

Curry drew from the social justice traditions of the black church in America, where sermons are about empowerment and justice as much as they are about Christ. In the opening minutes, he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”

Curry understood his mandate to be more than celebrating a royal wedding. He noted that Jesus Christ “began the most revolutionary movement in human history,” and went on to quote The Great Commandment in Matthew 22: “On these two, love of God and love of neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that God has been trying to tell the world. ... Love God, love your neighbors, and while you’re at it, love yourself.”

Curry referenced the power of love to change the world and act as a balm for the wounded, as witnessed in the experience of black slaves in America’s South.

Recall that fortress Britain has turned into a hostile place for immigrants in recent years. Brexit is merely a manifestation of a general distaste for the “other.” The British government, via its infamous Home Office, has been engaging in a spectrum of shady activities that are, at best, on the edge of what is legal. The prime minister, in her previous avatar as head of the Home Office, stated, “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.” Notably, the policy of hostility is not restricted to illegals; it has been used against Indian and Pakistani doctors and professionals, the Windrush generation, and other immigrants.

In that context, Curry said, “When love is the way, there’s plenty good room — plenty good room — for all of God’s children.” The implications could not have been clearer: an immigrant was marrying into Britain’s first family while ordinary immigrants are experiencing hostility at the hands of its government. Curry closed by referring to the new duke and duchess as “my brother, my sister” — likely the first time a royal has been referred to in words of equality, rather than hierarchy.

To be sure, one sermon does not overcome social divisions and transform an unequal society into one that is equal. And certainly nothing can stop the media’s love for all things trivial when reporting on the royal family. But by employing the platform of their nuptials to make such a powerful statement, Harry and Meghan underlined the prince’s impressive record of supporting just causes much like his mother, Diana.

With his marriage, Prince Harry — who has said he would never want to become king, though he is sixth in line — has showed Britons that if his royal kin can embrace a biracial woman, they can open their minds as well. The question is whether they will rise to the challenge.

Sandeep Gopalan is a professor of law and pro vice chancellor for academic innovation at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. He previously was co-chairman or vice chairman of American Bar Association committees on aerospace/defense and international transactions, a member of the ABA’s immigration commission, and dean of three law schools in Ireland and Australia. He has taught law in four countries and served as a visiting scholar at universities in France and Germany.