"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
As you no doubt know, the preceding quote is from the Declaration of Independence. Our resignation letter from the British Empire, you might say. It speaks of what the American colonies believed were the rights of every citizen. This belief, that "all men are created equal" sits at the heart of the US Constitution. A document that attempts to codify the principles of fairness and equality for all Americans.
So why is it that, after 235 years, we are still struggling to live up to the ideals Thomas Jefferson put to paper all those years ago? In 2011 we are still debating whether particular Americans deserve the same rights as the rest. Should they be treated differently by the law? Do they have the right to do what their neighbors have always been free to do? Should you be payed the same wage as the person sitting next to you who does the same job? These questions, to me at least, are astonishing in that we are even asking them. I'm sure someone reading this is already trying to determine who I'm referring to in each question. But why? Does it matter? I don't recall the Constitution or it's amendments having any asterisks tucked away in the text.
Does it change the answer if I'm referring to an America who is gay as opposed to straight? Does it matter if it's an American man or woman? Does it matter if the American is lighter or darker skinned than me? The Constitution certainly wasn't written to only apply to certain Americans and not others. Each of us can point to someone we know who will eagerly agree that America is the land of equality and that everyone has the right to reach any level of society if they work for it. But if you mention homosexual or muslim, how many of them will get nervous and start looking for the right way to explain how that's different.
Personally I can't even grasp the idea of paying a qualified woman less than a man for the same job. It wouldn't even be an option to weigh! She's qualified, she has X years experience, so let's offer her X salary, based on that criteria. I don't get how someone can actually go out of their way and fight to prevent two gay Americans from marrying. I understand that some would have personal issues with it, perhaps, but to campaign to stop it? It has zero effect on them, so why do they spend their time and money trying to stop two people who love each other from formalizing their relationship as everyone else is allowed to do? Something every OTHER American is allowed to do.
America was built to be a meritocracy. A level playing field. The founders wanted to escape a world where the circumstances of your birth would be the prime determining factor in what you could do or become. They wanted to do away with the aristocracy and a class system that dictated who could do what and who deserved which rights. So they created a government built on these principles of equality and fair play. You can see it in the painstaking way the Constitution lays out the United States government, with careful checks and balances to spread the power. It's inefficient, but it's about as fair as any single document could manage. But leave it to us to screw it up!
How many years after we declared those "self evident" truths till we stopped the practice of owning other people? How long till we gave roughly half our population the right to vote? How long till we finally admitted that the color of your skin did not limit your Constitutional rights? And how much longer before we stop pretending that who a person is intimately attracted to has any bearing whatsoever on their worth or rights? How much longer till, as a nation, we finally stop dictating what makes a 'proper' marriage or a proper American?