Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Posted: January 22, 2007 in Random Thoughts

I spent the New Year wandering around Washington DC in the shadows of the founding fathers (or their statues at least).

Those folks had some pretty radical ideas. “All men are created equal”, “endowed by their creator with certain un-alienable rights”.

In the preamble to the Declaration of Independence the authors managed to put into words a vision of a better way of living. They weren’t stating how things were. It would be almost 90 years before Lincoln would declare the freedom of slaves, so declaring the right to liberty in 1776 seems to have been more of a long term goal, than a proclamation of a great change in American society.

In truth even the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 didn’t really mark the delivery of those long promised rights. 100 years later on the steps of Lincoln’s Memorial, Martin Luther King lamented that “America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned”.

Incidently, if you’ve never heard the full speach do yourself a favour. Clear some time and listen to it.

Life and Liberty have never been inalienable, despite what you may have heard. The vast majority of US states still permit the Death Penalty. Civil Liberties have been systematically eroded in the name of security. Benjamin Franklin’s comments about giving away liberty in return for security and ending up with neither have never been more true, or more dramatically illustrated.

But what of the pursuit of happiness?

On returning from Washington DC I learned that Massachusetts (the only state that currently allows gay marriage) is likely to vote somethime in 2008 to ban future same sex marriages.

Surely the most basic example of the pursuit of happiness is that a person should be allowed to choose who they spend their life with. Is that really too much to ask? Is there really any compelling reason why society should not recognise the relationship that two people have without gender checking to make sure we have one of each?

What difference does it make to you and I if somewhere there is a married couple that happens to be all male, or all female?

Does it make you feel less married? If so you need to look at the thin piece of thread that’s holding your marriage together. Do you fear that allowing same sex marriages might encourage people who would otherwise be straight to “turn gay”? I don’t know about you, but most of us aren’t on the fence on this issue, regardless of how many gay people get married, I’m still not going to be attracted to men.

I could go on at length about all the crazy reasons I’ve heard for why gay marriage, should not be allowed. You’ve probably heard them too. The bottom line is I’ve never heard a single reason, that even came close to making any sense.

There once was a time when it was illegal for people of different races to marry. But somewhere along the way we realised that people are people. Your skin colour, your religion, or your wealth shouldn’t preclude you from marrying the person you want to marry. All that matters is finding someone who feels the same way.

On the subject of mixed race marriage, the US Supreme Court has already had it’s say. In Loving v. Virginia, which focused on an anti-miscegenation statute. Justice Warren wrote:

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

50 or 100 years from now, possibly sooner we’ll have learned that gender is no different to these other arbitrary reasons for discrimination. People are people, and they are all created equal. Any two who choose to marry each other should be allowed to.

“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.”

Over 200 hundred years ago a group of dreamers handed us a roadmap. It’s time to stop worshiping monuments to these men and instead start building a monument to the dream itself, by realising it.

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