Thursday, January 7, 2010

Freedoms Yet Won

The fight must go on, for equality for gays and lesbians. The fight is not just for them, but for our society, and the soul of America. The time has come, to erase any doubt, as to what was meant by the sentence: "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." Forgiving the unitary gender expressed, it states a case that everyone, everyone, is entitled to the same rights.

Of course, as we all know, while that may have been what the framers intended for people to conclude, they were trapped in a century which saw people outside of the realm of the white male (Native tribes, Negroes, women, et. al.) as somehow "less than" men. While the sentiment expressed in the sentence was of a higher order, it was taken to mean it only applied to a narrow group. The two-plus centuries since the signing of the Declaration of Independence have seen a constant struggle to widen the circle, as group after group has sought to be allowed their inalienable rights. The progress has been slow, tortuous, and fraught with violence. As the white male population has seen its influence wane over the centuries, the resistance to change has increased. Even as many more groups have been enfolded into the general milieu of American life, each new group seems to find it harder to claim their place, as if there is only so much room.

There is a sense of inevitability to it, but it comes with a recognition that, at this point, it should not require so much effort. When do we finally say that all rights, everywhere, apply to everyone? What critical mass must be reached to allow resistance to fall away, to cause Americans to realize that we are not truly living up to the ideals of the founding of our nation if we do not allow it to be so?

None of this is new; the pattern has been repeated down the centuries, by varied and disparate groups. Always, as people have gathered to form collections, there has been some discourse, spoken or silent, as to how the rules and strictures of the group will apply to all who belong, and to those who do not. Even as the groups moved from scattered, wandering families in the cradle of humanity's beginnings, to the mighty collectives of nations we see today, at each stage, the formulation of new ways of thinking and societal rules to live by has been influenced by the idea that there is an "us" and a "them," and what is good for "us" must somehow remain "ours." The inclusion of further groups in "us" has always let to contention and confrontation at some level, as if the fruits of more organized society were jewels to be hoarded.

Even now, the United States, which has vowed to spread Democracy, spreads it as "our" Democracy, resisting the idea that there might be any better form. The founders were not so rigid; they incorporated the ability to alter the Constitution because they knew that inevitably the world would change, and the laws of the United States would potentially have to change to remain universal and relevant. The Constitution could not be set in stone, lest America collapse under the weight of the dead hand of its founders and their way of life. Their prescience has been rewarded, as the Constitution has been altered to fit its times, and to correct oversights left in the wake of its original adoption.

Still, the work is far from done, for the freedom and liberty outlined by the Constitution has not seeped into every pore of American society. The fight by gays and lesbians to receive the same consideration in terms of marriage is another signpost that notes our inability to fully shed the dogmas of the past. The battle is not couched in terms of freedom or liberty, but in terms of abomination and destruction. Those aligned against the issue can marshal only fear, illogic, and pseudoscience to make their case, and yet they hold far too much sway. They are aided and abetted by those who would use them to increase their own influence, at the expense of the rights of individuals. It is a conspiracy, to hold onto the last vestiges of power available, a sad and final shriek on the trail toward being supplanted by a more enlightened society. They will not relent, not while they may control enough public opinion to make their case and still be thought credible.

The inexorable advance toward a united humanity can be slowed, but invariably, cannot be stopped. Those who would deny homosexual marriage have convinced themselves of their righteousness, in the same way the drunkard insists he can "handle his liquor." Yet, even as they struggle to maintain a parochial and outmoded way of thinking, the world continues to move past them. In the sage words of Carl Sagan:
If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.
The day will come when the barriers, all barriers, finally fall. Despite the seeming inevitability, we cannot rest, waiting for it to happen of its own accord. We must pull together, deny those who would block progress the power to do so, and help the process alone, if we are truly to be free.

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