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True meaning of equality

“Fifty years ago equality was dismissed as a legal argument of ‘last resort,’ one to be eschewed until all available ‘rights’ had been tried and rejected; today equality is becoming the argument of first choice, one that threatens to swallow ‘rights’ that once ranked far above it.” – (The Empty Idea of Equality, Peter Westen, Harvard Law Review†Vol. 95, No. 3)

Would we be unjust if we deny a 16-year-old Barbadian citizen the right to vote and deny them the right to apply for a learner’s permit? Age is a relevant qualification in both instances, but obviously the 16-year-old only meets the requirement for one.

If we couldn’t discriminate or exclude based on modifiers like age, sex or ability we would have a real circus on our hands. Judging from the way things are going, the show is well underway. In the name of equality and inclusion, just about anything goes.

President Obama has said: “If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

There’s that word again — equal. Anytime you hear equality being thrown about in an airy-fairy manner you can bet your last dollar that the real issue is the (re)definition of existing rules. When we say we should “treat everyone equally” what is often left unsaid, but should perhaps be explicitly stated is, “according to the same rule”.

As Peter Westen notes: “Equality is an empty vessel with no substantive moral content of its own. Without moral standards, equality remains meaningless, a formula that can have nothing to say about how we should act.” If someone were to demand that we treat 16 year olds equally to those 18 years and older, without referring to the existing legal standards about voting, they would be utterly out of court.

Similarly, when people demand marriage “equality” and claim that two loving, consenting adults desirous of getting married be treated “equally” without reference to any existing marriage law or tradition, we really shouldn’t take them seriously.

When people modify equality with age, gender or race we know exactly what they mean. Differences in age, gender or race are irrelevant in a particular context. However, when people modify marriage with equality, they do not think that marriage is irrelevant. What they find irrelevant is the current definition and laws that apply to marriage and therefore seek to redefine it to suit their whims and fancies.

If you disagree with the current definition of marriage, fine. Tell us why it should be re-defined. Simply parroting “equality” as though all people are to be treated equally in all contexts is plain dishonest.

Would you want “equal” access for all to your land, house and spouse without any reference to an existing law or standard? Thought so.

— Adrian Sobers

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