Election 2012

Lebanon Valley College

Equal Protection of the Law… Unless…

Written by Tito Valdes, member of Student Government and the Board of Trustees.

I’m going to focus on Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It was ratified to the Constitution on July 9th, 1869 – just a few years after the end of the Civil War. Here is the actual text of Section 1.

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In terms of the Constitution, I believe that it is a document that can and often will be interpreted differently based on who’s understanding you ask for. This is not an argument in favor of viewing the Constitution as a document without value as it pertains to its original context. I am merely making the argument that when two people read the words “equal protection of the laws,” they can interpret that to mean two completely different things.

I am of the opinion that there are groups in America that have been institutionally excluded and kept from participating in the system as equals. They have not been equally protected by the laws governing our society. Among these groups are women, racial/ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community.

Why is this relevant to this particular election? It’s relevant because issues regarding gender, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation have surfaced in this election cycle. Too often, these issues become taboo and no one wants to discuss them. I generally don’t like to point fingers, but on this occasion, I am comfortable placing a certain amount of blame for our lack of progress on our inability and/or unwillingness to discuss these issues.

Debates that should have been a part of the past are part of the political dialogue in 2012. It is troubling to me. For instance, we are still discussing whether women should be paid equal salaries/wages for equal work. It is troubling to me that every single Republican voted these measures down.

These types of disparities exist if you look at race relations as well. The issue of reproductive health is once again on the table for debate. I don’t understand why, but it is.

The last group that I mentioned was the LGBTQ community. This is a group in our society that can be credited with paying taxes, serving in our military, educating our children, and a lot more. Despite all of this, they are still kept from marrying their loved ones. While certain states have adopted gay marriage, it isn’t a nationally accepted concept yet and it’s very troubling to me.

In discussing these matters, I think of the concept known as privilege. Society tells us that discussing it isn’t wise because it’s too controversial. It’s too messy. I reject that social norm and proclaim privilege as REAL in 2012. You simply CANNOT have a race where there are two groups in society and allow one group to participate in the race and the other to participate 10 minutes later, and at that point proclaim equality on the basis of their participation in the contest. The fact is, there isn’t TRUE equality because one group will always be disadvantaged by ten minutes.

This is how I view the situation of women, racial/ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ community in America today. The difference is that the stakes are higher because we’re not taking about a race. We’re talking about wage/salary disparities. We’re talking about being condemned by society for choosing what you want to do with your own body. We’re talking about being slapped in the face by prospective members of Congress who choose to engage in ridiculous rhetoric in attempting to REDEFINE rape as legitimate and illegitimate. We’re talking about the unabashed restriction of birth control for our women.

We’re talking about whether or not you’re perceived as a threat based on what you look like. We’re talking about whether or not a police officer is able to stop you on the street as you’re going about your business on the grounds that you appear to be in the country illegally. We’re talking about the horror story of Trayvon Martin, a young man in Florida who was killed execution-style by someone who perceived him as a threat. The term privilege is sometimes narrowly viewed through the lens of economics. In terms of the Trayvon Martin situation, economics didn’t play a role. It’s about the reality that if Trayvon Martin were a white boy in a hoodie carrying a bag of skittles and a bottle of tea cooler, he would NOT have been seen as a threat. The color of his skin made him a threat in the eyes of Mr. Zimmerman, and a family in Florida is now without a son, a nephew, a brother, and a friend.

We’re talking about whether or not you’re able to marry the person that you love. We’re talking about the horror story of a gay couple in this country that was struck by tragedy when one partner died, and because the government viewed them as nothing more than roommates, the deceased person’s partner was unable to get information in the hospital and was barred from attending the funeral and burial services by the family of the deceased.

I am of the opinion that if we’re going to claim to be the land of the free, the land where equality reigns supreme, we can’t pick and choose who gets to be free and who gets to be equal. Everyone needs to be equal, and everyone needs to be free.

It is understood that the 14th amendment of the Constitution applies only to state actions. In Brown v. Board of Education, when the Supreme Court decided that segregated schools in the states amounted to a violation of the 14th amendment of the Constitution, a new judicial principle was established that barred the states from denying students in public schools equal protection of the law. A new question was presented to the Supreme Court in Bolling v. Sharpe when the same question was raised about schools in the District of Columbia. The Court decided that the decision made in Brown v. Board of Education could be applied to the federal government through the use of the Due Process Clause in the 5th amendment.

What does that matter? Why is that relevant to this post? I believe that the federal government and the state governments to a large degree have been involved in the institutionalized exclusion/discrimination of certain groups. I believe that actions should be taken to level the playing field. It was the government’s mistake that caused there to be such a disparity between the races and between the genders, therefore it should be the government’s remedy that levels that playing field. I feel the same way and just as strongly about the unequal treatment we see as it relates to the LGBTQ community.

I am a feminist. I am pro-choice because I am pro-woman. I am in favor of rights for ALL Americans, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered. Enough is enough – and I hope that these issues are addressed by whoever wins this election. We all know that enough TALKING has been done!

If you’re passionate about these issues too, don’t be afraid to voice your opinions! This is our country and we ought to have a say in how things happen here. NOTHING should be taboo!


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