According to the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers inscribed the words:
“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.”
At the time, this was not the case. In fact, it was the sign of the times with a few contradictions. How did the Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the document, able to say that “all men are created equal” when he himself was a slave owner? Didn’t this make him a hypocrite in the worst possible way? What was his thinking?
And talking about equality, why did he single out ‘men?’ What about women? Did he just use a term that was politically correct during his time that also inferred women as well? Or, did he believe that women were beneath men?
Notwithstanding these deeper questions, the founding fathers had an enlightened principle that we should all inspire to achieve. In essence, it was as well a utopian principle that we would need to fight to get.
Freedom never comes easy. If you want something bad enough, there needs to be a lot of effort put into it. At the time, the colonist never truly thought that they would see the day that they would be free from the nobility of the English Monarchy where blood lines and heritage determined your place in the world. A true democracy, so foreign in concept, as well as by oceans, must have seemed an impossible task. The world back then just was not set up that way.
And in an instance, a courageous people came together and strived for the possible. For a better day ahead, a more just society, with equality and liberty being the guiding principles. They had the right to bear arms, and using their collaborative purpose as a motivating force, took on the British and declared a new nation consisting of thirteen independent states (formerly colonies) – and the United States of America was born.
Over the past 239 years, we have struggled to become a more perfect union. We have fought major wars, from within and from afar, dealt with bigotry, hatred, depressions and other calamities. However, because of our ‘exceptionlism’ in our core, we have triumphed every step of the way. Has it been a struggle, of course it has! Dictators make things easy for the masses, they rule by decree. Citizens unite from all intellectual and emotional perspectives and hope to find middle ground for the collective good. If anyone has an annoying mother in law, you can understand how difficult it is just to deal with her! Now imagine an entire nation with various branches of government trying to come together.
The heart of our great country is the fact that we believe in fundamental inalienable rights that are not supposed to be earned, judged, or given by some group. These rights are ours…period. Those who look to infringe on those rights, or be selective, are not being true to the American ideal.
So how do we balance such rights when they seem to collide? The right of freedom of religion is an inalienable right. So is the Right to Equality for all! However, for those who hold deeply held religious beliefs, they appear to be at odds. The fact is that they shouldn’t and they never should have.
Even though God is mentioned in our founding documents, it is made perfectly clear that this is not a country ruled by ANY religious group. Yes, people can say America was a Christian nation from its beginnings, but what does that mean? That is like saying that a pizza is really just flour. Flour may be the start to a finished product, but it needs many other ingredients to complete. There is the dough, the cheese, the sauce, the rolling, the baking, the slicing and then the accoutrements. It also take time to make, more time than people might like. But, the end result is a creation that was worth the time and effort.
Last week, there was a watershed moment for equality for all. After the long and continued fight for women’s rights, another class of people deservingly got theirs. Gays and Lesbians have been fighting for the same basic human rights as everyone else, having been persecuted or hidden from society for decades. This enlightenment, which is here to stay, required the commitment, courage, tenacity and strong will to fight the previously accepted belief systems we had. Just like it was normal to have slaves, it was normal to be heterosexual. The ‘cover’ for all equality has its backbone in religious beliefs. Now, I am not saying that a person who holds those beliefs are wrong, but they are not entitled to rule and push them onto the rest of the people who share a different view. For to be totally American, one must compartmentalize those religious beliefs and not insert them in our secular society. You can’t have religious freedom and then demand religious dominance.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote a fascinating article this week about the gay marriage decision by the Supreme Court. As a deeply held religious person, he cannot accept gay marriage as it goes against his deeply held religious beliefs. However, he can look to his religion, which is based on the Ten Commandments, and divide life into two sections – one living a life following the laws of god and the other following the equally important part between how to treat fellow man. Meaning, there is a religious code AND and moral code in life. He was able to look at the scriptures to accept gays and lesbians without chipping away at his religious teachings.
Here is an excerpt of his entire column that is a must read:
“Homosexuality is firmly a religious, rather than a moral prohibition. It is akin to the laws of not desecrating the Sabbath or eating non-kosher food. Someone who eats a cheeseburger at McDonald’s, mixing milk and meat, is not immoral. They are contravening a Biblical commandment.
What I sense in my friends who see the Court’s decision as an unconscionable travesty is a misunderstanding of this distinction between moral law versus religious law. Prohibition against homosexuality is a religious law, much in the same way lighting a match on the Sabbath is a violation of the divine will.
While I may insist on societal adherence with moral laws as part of a broader social compact that binds us together, I cannot reasonably expect to impose my religious beliefs upon others, and certainly not in America, a nation built on religious freedom.”
People that were against gay marriage were primarily against it for religious principles. That is understandable but no longer defensible. The institution of marriage traditionally was between a man and a woman. Many religious supporters would argue that it is nature and Gods obvious laws that heterosexuality is the norm because it objectively keeps our species alive and growing. However, does that mean that there is no place for people to have an equal life with the person of their choosing simply based on procreation? Are we saying that religious traditions trump equality for all in a secular society? It does not.
As time passes on, those who look at gay marriage as an aberration will become as extinct as looking at black people in chains or women behind a stove. It takes a long time to change traditions, especially when at odds with religious beliefs, but they eventually will change. And when they do, it comes in a flash!
Americans are great because they can decide to believe in their own religion and still be able to accept others that do not.
Change takes time in a democracy. But when the masses evolve based on our forefathers brilliance in their writings, we become an even more perfect nation.
And at 229 years of age, America keeps turning a better corner for all the world to see.
For this year particularly….Happy 4th of July – EVERYONE!