All men created equal
America has been the womb of every civil rights movement, every extension of freedom. Even this country's own birth was an establishment of the principle that liberty applies to all. It was this country's actions that led to a worldwide end to slavery as well as an ongoing trend toward equal treatment and respect for women. It does have at least one more stop, both politically and socially, on its journey to true, unrestricted and unadulterated equality and freedom.
Congress has failed again in its duty to create laws that uphold the rights of people as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The legislature voted down a bill about two weeks ago that would repeal the U.S. military policy of "don't ask, don't tell." In a 56-43 vote, which needed 60 to pass as a defense-spending bill, senators of both parties denied a move that would allow gays to openly serve in the armed forces. "Don't ask, don't tell" is an outdated, judgmental policy that implies a homophobia in the world's greatest military, and fails to repeal it suggest implicit acceptance, if not approval of the policy. It is an indiscreet intimation that soldiers are rightly uncomfortable with people of a different sexual orientation, and that gays should not burden others with the knowledge of a personal characteristic. A May 2010 CNN poll shows that more than 75 percent of Americans support the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," but, as is becoming quite clear, Congress does not bother itself with its constituents' thoughts.
On a similar note, Congress still has yet to explicitly authorize same-sex marriage. The real shame is the assumption that gays need authorization from a governing body. Marriage is two things. First and most importantly, it is a private, personal commitment between two people that does not need or ask for approval or permission. Second, and in a strictly legal sense, it is a contract — an agreement that involves no one and affects no one but the two involved. Part of this country's definition is the government's restriction from private affairs of the people. In this sense, Congress's job is really clerical. As the founders knew and declared, everyone is inherently equal. Congress just has to draft a bill that mirrors that idea.
Congress is looking at a change in character this November. With a conservative landslide imminent, the future looks desolate for the gay community. Republicans issued their "Pledge to America," most of which is a sound set of intentions to help the country recover economically, fiscally and politically, but it is also self-contradictory. The pledge states "an arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions … without accepting or requesting the input of many." And "the American people are speaking out, demanding that we realign our country's compass with its founding principles." Republicans pledge "to advance policies that promote greater liberty," yet they also pledge "to honor … traditional marriage." The contradiction is glaring. Were equality and pervasive freedoms not the essence of the founding principles? The government cannot promote greater liberty by also restricting marriage, a legal contract, as if it were an exclusive club for only those deemed suitable. Marriage is an entirely private matter that has absolutely no political implications or consequences, and no negative external impacts.
The tea party movement is asserting itself into Washington, too. The movement claims to be libertarian, which would suggest it is in favor of confirming and protecting equal rights and privileges, yet some — if not most — of the candidates' tea partiers' support are socially ultraconservative. These candidates want to protect traditional marriage as if it is under siege or believe that a legally inclusive policy toward marriage will devalue the institution altogether. Most of the so-called tea party candidates also identify as Christians, but instead of embracing the teachings of Jesus Christ, who implored ubiquitous love above all else, some cling to an ancient interpretation of an Old Testament script to justify their sanctimonious, condemnatory attitudes.
Most permeating problems in the political sphere can be attributed to Congress, and regular readers know that I tend to target our sometimes-incompetent leaders. It is true that the legislature has been indolent with regard to affirming the equal rights of gays specifically, but the fault truly lies with the American people. We have not demanded that our representatives do their jobs by securing equal rights. The question is: Why not? As one of the most developed countries in terms of economic, social and religious freedoms, America has utterly failed in social tolerance. On top of the two examples of "don't ask, don't tell" and gay marriage, the general treatment of gays in broad terms has been less than welcoming. Most people are not at fault for explicit ostracism of gays, but for their passive approval of it through inaction. We have allowed a minority of hateful but loud people to prolong injustice and mistreatment, which tragically reached a shockingly tangible tipping point with University first-year student Tyler Clementi's death. We have allowed the neutral, plainly descriptive term "gay" to become stigmatized as if it means "alien" or "unclean." In the past, the gay community has been treated like second-class citizens. Even now, the citizens of perhaps the most progressive state have voted to permanently ban gay marriage through California's Proposition 8. America has a long way to come in its respect for other people and their differences.
The disparity of freedoms and treatment of homosexuals is simply a gaping hole in an otherwise seamless reality that America truly is what it claims to stand for. And it is difficult to make a solid argument for gay rights because they should not need to be defended. They fall under the timeless truth that no one is better or more deserving than the next. The situation is analogous to "innocent until proven guilty." Gays have the same rights as their neighbors by default, and it should stay that way unless proven otherwise.
James Winters is a School of Engineering junior majoring in biomedical engineering. His column, "From the Desk of ..." runs on alternate Mondays.