The Equality Myth

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The Founders of our nation cited a truth, the real meaning of which may have eluded us. They said, “…All men are created equal.” It was not until many years later that the true meaning of this clause was sought, first by women who wondered if the Founders recognized that women are equal in their humanness to men, and later by freed descendants of slaves who argued that they are also equal to all other human beings, even though they may be distinguished by color, or nationality, or economic background, keeping in mind that the first slaves to be dropped off on America’s shores were not African, but rather were indentured British slaves who were brought to the colonies and dropped off to work and pay off debts. The first non-whites to be enslaved in the United States, or the world for that matter, were also not Africans, but other dark races who later also enslaved Africans, and other human beings.

The issue of equality, even before the American revolution, had already been addressed by the French, who some say sought through their own revolution, to make the point that all human beings are equal and therefore entitled to the same treatments, opportunities, etc. They brought down the French monarchy, and the Church of France, installing in their place the “people” as the sovereign power over France. Even though the two nations, France and the United States of America, both recognized the equality of all beings, the two did not agree about the ramifications of the assertion, and how equality actually plays out in respect to entitlements in a society, and who rules. One a democracy, another a Republic. When asked to compare the two revolutions, it might be accurate to say that one revolution was fought in recognition of the sovereign right of man to be self-governing, ruling in the common interest, the other fought in recognition of God’s sovereignty over all mankind, and our obligation to self govern in the higher interest, which benefits of all of mankind equally. It seems that for a very long time, mankind, even the most enlightened of us, have sought to understand the true estimation of human life, considering differences, as well as imperfections. The Founders of the United States, who most people would say operated under a Divine influence that caused their theory of human order, purpose and potential to be far advanced for its time, and even perhaps our own, may have sought to express the common character of humanness as a type of equality, yet we have no reason to believe that the very real fact that all human beings are not the same, had escaped their observations.

Today the issue of human equality is still debated. How can it be that we are all equal, yet we are not all the same, and in fact we are different in our measure of observable attributes, virtues, character, etc? Neither are we all equal in age, and we are not all equal intellectually, physically, psychologically etc. A good example of how the idea of equality can be exploited to the detriment of reality might be the national debate on gay marriage. Those who are supporting the institutionalization of gay unions as marriages, or civil unions are arguing that gays are entitled to the same rights as all other human beings to marry people of the same sex. The obvious problem with this argument in respect to gay marriage and unions is that until now, no one in the United States has been granted the right to marry another person of the same sex. To date, only marriages between consenting men and women have been considered legal marriage meaning that no one has been granted the right to marry people of the same sex. To deny the right to homosexuals does not mean that gays are being treated differently, or unequally. Even if a non-homosexual wanted to marry a person of the same sex in order to be granted certain financial advantages over a single person who on their own cannot provide health benefits, inherit or enjoy other entitlements, under the present law, a law that shows some preference towards married heterosexuals who have children, they would be prohibited. So the question might not be about equality at all, but rather it might be about rights, and special interests, period. What rights are society willing to bestow upon gays, as a special interest group requesting special entitlements? The answer to this question will require a very serious national introspection, and the primary question to be answered might seek to reveal what the Founder’s actually meant when they declared, “All men are created equal?”

If we consider for a monument the most common attributes of humanity, the basic needs for water, food, shelter, etc. we observe a type of equality. If we consider the need for love, affection, acceptance, and other types of social, psychological and even spiritual needs, it is easy to recognize our common needs. Yet, when it comes to the issue of justice, which is the primary objective of law, the issue of equality becomes more abstract, and the meaning of the word takes on some new, but subtle characteristics that are desirable not due to sameness, but do to our differences. In the case of justice, it is in the interest of humanity to preserve the distinctions that cause us all to be unique, while at the same time proclaiming that even the differences do not make one person more worthy of justice than another. We could not judge a blind person who stumbles into a cart of apples the same as we would a man with good sight who negligently causes a cart of apples to be spilled into the street. We could not judge a person who is considered disabled mentally the same as we would a person who has special training, or knowledge in a certain field. Differences are important in respect to justice, and rather than to say that justice must be blind, to be more exact, justice must have perfect sight if it is to recognize the truth about human equality, which is not sameness, but rather it might be a type of interdependence, or common need.

If human equality is actually a measure of dependency, then perhaps what our Founders were attempting to explain is that regardless of those things that make us unique, we all need each other if we are to succeed as individuals, or as societies, and so the organization of human societies may not be based upon a premise of sameness, but rather upon belief in the unique and divine purpose of every human life, which is possibly the meaning of our collective existence.

The equality myth says that we are all the same, and therefore equally entitled in every respect. This logic defies the observable self-evident truth, and cannot be proved. We are neither all the same, nor do we all share a common destiny. Yet, we are all interdependent, and bound by the same natural, and universal laws. We are also all needy, and dependent upon one another’s respect for the law if we are to have peace. To suggest that homosexuals have a right to marry, since heterosexuals marry, is also to say that minors should be allowed to marry without a parent’s consent since adults do, or that pedophiles should be allowed to marry consenting minors, or with a minor parent’s consent, or that people who want to marry trees and pets, etc. should all be allowed to marry because heterosexuals do. It suggests that everything must be the same for all people, even if we know that should society violate the natural laws and truths to accommodate a logic that defies reality and that distorts justice, one group might benefit, but chances are that society as a whole will suffer. To date, homosexuals have the same rights that all individuals in the United States enjoy. They have all of the rights guaranteed under the Constitution as individual rights. The Constitution did not speak to the issue of group rights in juxtaposition to individual rights, and this is perhaps were the legal, or any constitutional debate should focus. When and under what circumstance should society entitle special interest groups? We must determine at what point the interest of a special minority group becomes more compelling than the interest of the majority, and so much more compelling that a court can over rule the people’s inalienable right to self govern themselves through representative legislation that either grants or denies special entitlements.

Equality does not seem to be the real issue in respect to same sex marriage, and would not likely become an issue unless heterosexuals were allowed to marry people of the same sex. For now, only people of opposite sexes are allowed to marry, and this is mostly due to the fact that nature has dictated this type of coupling as an essential and necessary aspect of our continued existence. Other types of unions may be equally gratifying to participants, yet this desire for gratification may not be a compelling enough interest to cause us to declare that homosexual and heterosexual unions are either the same, or equal. Are the needs of homosexuals to be loved, to be treated fairly the same as all other peoples? Without doubt the answer is “yes,” but would that common need or the interdependence of humanity in that respect be a compelling enough reason for society to hold homosexual unions or marriages in the same esteem as we do heterosexual marriages? It will be interesting to see which body of government will decide, will it be the people represented by Congress, or the Courts, some of which have been limited by the U.S. Constitution to the deliberation of matters of law and equity and others to matters of law and fact, all of which are relevant aspects of any question relating to issues of equality, but not necessarily to culture, which at times appears to unfairly favor one thing over another, which though perhaps not equitable, might still be just.

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The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women. The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians. She is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

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