Monday, June 27, 2011

Self Evident

"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?


  1. The Constitution was written under the premise that tax-payers, land owners at that time, had the right to representation. It was a natural assumption that those who provided the money to support the government should be the participants in the new Republic. It wasn't about race or gender. Since the government now takes everyone's money by imposing crushing debt upon those yet to be born, I guess it would now apply by "default" to everyone, participant or not. I don't recall anything in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution that states all persons of a particular job must receive the same pay. The idea was that the government would get out of the way of a person's liberty and pursuit of happiness, not administer it. What does the Constitution have to do with gay marriage anyway? There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents states from allowing, or disallowing, gay marriage. So maybe this rant (yes, over-reaching and over-stating) should have been saved for a time after there was a constitutional amendment to specifically disallow gay marriage. I'm proud that my state has different values than those of the Empire State. The magic in these documents is not what they guarantee, but what they very carefully avoid taking away. So maybe there should have been a few lines that lay out exactly where the federal powers end? Oh yeah... that's in there too! Maybe a super sized yellow highlighter marker would be helpful?

  2. Reply to anonymous

    In Reply to Anonymous (June 28 @ 1:37pm):

    First, let me say thank you for your comment. I do appreciate hearing other opinions, whether I agree or not.

    As to the comment itself, while I'm glad to receive them, I generally prefer them to contain a little less snark but whatever makes you happy. You seem to have responded to your *interpretation* of what you *thought* I really *meant* rather than to the actual content of my post. You keep saying "the Constitution" this and "the Constitution" that even though the quote I used was from, and the post was primarily in reference to, the Declaration of Independence. Specifically the ideal of equality and how long it's taking for America to live up to it. So, much of your own rant had minimal bearing on my point.

    You make the same mistake many conservatives make when discussing things like gay marriage. You look at what New York State did last week and see the government forcing itself into our personal lives, but that's completely backwards. The only reason that a law was needed in the first place was because of forces explicitly denying rights to gay couples. Rights automatically available to straight couples. Remember, most of the country still explicitly bars gay marriage. To me *that* is the state governments reaching into the personal sphere and denying rights for arbitrary reasons. That is government sticking its nose in where it doesn't belong.

    As you put it, "The idea was that the government would get out of the way of a person's liberty and pursuit of happiness, not administer it." So why is it OK for the States to outlaw marriage to same sex couples? Where's the outrage for that governmental interference? That's certainly getting in the way of these couple's "liberty and pursuit of happiness". Unless of course you're only concerned with the happiness of the *right kind* of Americans.

  3. This is priceless.

    I'd like to have a time machine so I can see the expression on Thomas Jefferson's face when you explain with all the zeal and self righteousness of Jerry Falwell that his Declaration of Independence was not about thirteen states stating they were no longer part of the British Empire, but instead a philosophical treatise on the fundamental rights all of entities, to include the right for gays to bind in legal matrimony. Or maybe to sit with Martin Luther King when you equate "gay marriage" to the civil rights movement.

    Anonymous didn't indicate being against gay marriage, nor being a conservative. And what in the world does "*right kind* of Americans" mean? Is that liberal code for those people that "cling to guns and religion"?

    I think that Mr. "amazed by the beauty, the humor" might need some anger management classes.


Please let me know what you think, even if it's to disagree.