Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Equal

One of the most amazing things about this great nation of ours is that we were founded by people who were wise. They eloquently wrote about concepts like freedom and equality and liberty and justice. They shaped the foundation of our laws to hold these virtues among the highest, those worth fighting to defend.

These virtues, after all, are what brought people here. Immigrants crossed oceans for them. People left everything they knew behind for them. They came here for hope. For promise. For fairness. And yet, if you take a look around you now, my friends, what they came here in search of is missing somehow. This great nation of ours isn't as great as it was intended to be.

The freedom of religion that brought those first settlers here is missing. Sure you can choose what religion you wish to practice. But that choice often comes with a price. If you are a high school basketball player and your team makes it to the state tournament here, you'd better hope you aren't Jewish. The games are on Saturday. It troubled me greatly that those involved with the tournament planning breathed a collective sigh of relief when the team didn't advance and they didn't have to confront the issue. It troubled me even more that if the games were on Sunday, and Christian teams cited a conflict, the games would have been moved. That conflict couldn't arise though, they don't play on Sunday. Perhaps for that very reason.

Justice is an elusive concept to a great many people here as well. One example of the failure of our system follows. There are thousands of children in this country today, full blooded American citizens, forced to choose a life here without their deported parents, or a life elsewhere with an intact family. The parents might not be entitled to the full protections of our Constitution, and they might not be able to escape accountability for coming here illegally. But what about the children? I dare you to make an argument to me that an American child, born here, has all the same opportunities in life without their parents. It's preposterous. And yet, our system routinely deports them. And the children must go or stay here, with a tangential family member or be thrust into the foster care system. Who's interpretation of justice are we using?

And then there is the notion of equality. That notion that has been abused and disgraced by many in the past. Those who pushed for segregation, under the guise of equality. Separate but equal was anything but. As much as we may want to believe in racial equality today, the truth tells another story. Just last week, a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to marry an interracial couple. In the year 2009. Racists still very much walk among us.

As much as a person cannot choose the color of their skin or what country their parents are from, they cannot choose their sexual orientation. I've yet to meet someone who just woke up one morning and decided to be gay. Quite the opposite, I have many more friends who I knew were gay long before they were able to admit it even to themselves. I have friends that I have known were gay since childhood. It is not a choice. I have friends who have been with their partners for years. Who have good jobs, nice homes and have raised well adjusted children. But who cannot be wed in the eyes of the law because they are gay. Because it would deface the idea of marriage, so say some. To them, I ask this: When exactly did straight people figure it out in the first place? I'm pretty sure the divorce rate alone signals that we can't claim success in the area. We sure haven't perfected it. Those with glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

They can't automatically visit their partners in the hospital. They don't automatically get to inherit property. There is a long list of things that you can contract for in a relationship, yes. But there is a list of things that you cannot contract for as well. And even if it was possible to contract for everything in a relationship, so that a union of gay partners could have all the rights and responsibilities as a straight married couple, it would still not be equal. Because one is marriage, the other is not. And you can't compare and apple with an orange and say they are the same.

I have friends in the military, stuck in the middle of a political debate. Should they abolish the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy? Absolutely. There is no reason that people, those people who serve and defend our nation, should have to hide who they are for fear of institutional repercussions. There needs to be a thorough reexamination of homophobia in the military, starting at the top.

I love my country, don't get me wrong. I just believe that we have moved too far away from what we were supposed to be. What we were intended to be. What could have made us even greater as a people. And we can choose to change that. Or we can choose not to. We can choose to let high school basketball players be excluded from tournaments. We can choose to let children grow up without their parents. We can choose to let racism and homophobia continue. Or we can stand up and say no.

Be a source of change, not someone who perpetuates the status quo. Teach your children what justice, freedom and equality really mean, not just how they manifest.

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