Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Another Step for Equality

 

A week or so ago, I mentioned that Law Day is coming up on May 1, the day we celebrate the rule of law in our society.  Our campus Law Day event was actually today, and we had a speech from John Raley, who holds the distinction of being the only US Attorney to ever be appointed by both a Republican and Democratic administration.  It was interesting to hear him talk about the morality possessed by the best lawyers, and even more interesting to hear him tell a short story of his son—following in the legal footsteps—who worked with the Innocence Project to have an innocent man freed after 25 years in prison.  It gives me hope for the profession I intend to work in, even if peripherally. 

I also mentioned in that earlier post that the local paralegal organization was sponsoring an essay contest with a theme of Equality for All.  At the time, I didn’t expect to be selected as one of the winners, but I’m glad to tell you today that I was wrong about that.  So, Wednesday the other winners and I will be visiting the courthouse and chatting with one of the judges, as well as attending the state Bar Association celebration luncheon.  It should be a nice afternoon, and I’ll tell you all about it later this week. 

But today I want to share with you my essay.  Actually, I was going to combine both the essay and the recap of the official day’s activities all into one post, but something happened today that made me decide to talk about the equality essay today:  Jason Collins, NBA player, publicly came out as gay.

Jason Collins 4-30-13

  Honestly, I don’t particularly follow the NBA (except to know if the OKC Thunder are winning or losing—and it’s a lot of winning this year!), and I’d never heard of Collins before today.  But I have to say that he gained a lot of respect from me today, and I admire the courage it took for him to be honest about himself.  Not that such a thing should take courage, of course, but the world we live in is not always accepting of those who are “different”.  And, as the first active athlete in one of the major professional team sports to come out, he’s definitely going to fit into the “different” category.  I’m glad that the initial responses have been primarily positive, and I hope that Collins—a free agent—gets to continue to live his dream as a professional basketball player without any negative repercussions for his honesty.

And that’s what the essay contest was all about—equality for all.  I think it’s a dream that we’ve not yet achieved, but I still believe it’s a dream worth having.  And I believe that brave people like Jason Collins will help make that dream a reality.

And, finally, here’s what I had to say to the essay committee:

Liberty and Justice for All

In America, fundamental equality for all seems to exist as some sort of ideal condition that we believe we have achieved, so little conscious thought is given to the veracity of that belief. It is only when faced with a challenge to the status quo that we begin to question this theory at all.

If asked in 1863, the average American would likely have said that the country was operating in full accordance with the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are, in fact, created equally and entitled to certain unalienable rights. Yet the Emancipation Proclamation was necessary. An entire race of people was receiving unequal treatment, but justifications had been made and the nation was existing in a strange state of duality, cherishing equality while condoning slavery. Even after emancipation, more years would pass before slavery was fully outlawed, and years more before black men would be allowed to vote. People had to fight and die for the foundational equality this country is known for. And history shows that the fight did not end with slavery’s demise, nor has it fully ended yet.

Gender equality was the next real challenge to the status quo, with women rising up to demand equal status, fighting for equality in suffrage, jobs, military service. With glass ceilings still present in many organizations and wage equality still just a dream, it’s clear that this challenge also continues.

And, most recently, the matter of sexual orientation has become a battleground for equality, with those in the minority fighting for rights and recognitions that the majority take for granted. It is safe to assume that most members of the LGBT community do not yet feel that they are being granted access to their unalienable rights.

So though the nation was founded on the basic presumption of equality, society has shown time and again that it is not always freely granted, nor fully given. As we mark the anniversary of one of the great moments in the fight for equality, perhaps we should remember a few words of President Lincoln: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves”.