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Are We All Equally Equal?

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The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has awarded three Muslim workers nearly $100,000 because a certain restaurant “made the workplace intolerable for each of the applicants.” The tribunal found that the trio was mocked for conversing in Bengali, treated in a dehumanizing manner, and threatened to be replaced by “white” staff (The Toronto Star, December 18, 2013).
Here is a case in which a Human Rights group is defending the notion that all human beings should be treated precisely as human beings. In so acting, it honors the principle that all human beings are equal insofar as they are human beings. This is surely a laudable principle and one hopes that the day will come when it will be extended to those human beings who reside within the womb.
The judgment of the Tribunal, by implication, recognizes that we are all equally human as human beings, although that equality does not extend to the language we speak or the color of our skin. We are, therefore, equal in our humanity and equal under the law, but not necessarily equal in circumstance, which covers a multitude of factors ranging from personal talents and the language we use, to private wealth.
Nonetheless, this judgment and many others of a similar nature, indicates that we human beings continue to fall short of equality in humanity as an ideal. This means that society still hungers for the fulfillment of this ideal. And since this is the case, the temptation persists to overextend the notion of equality to areas where it does not apply.
CNN’s Piers Morgan, for example, put the following question to his television guest, Pastor Rick Warren: “As a Christian man, how can you espouse genuine equality if you don’t allow gay people the same rights to get married as straight people?” (as reported in The Blaze, December 9, 2013). Pastor Warren did not answer the question directly, but remarked: “While I may disagree with you on sexuality, it does not give me the right to demean you, to demoralize you, to defame you, to turn you into a demon.”
His point is well taken, since it has become painfully evident that many people are now ridiculed merely for supporting traditional marriage (and by those who profess to be both liberal and tolerant). Nonetheless, the pastor’s remark, which seemed to be one that he had prepared, was not a response to Morgan’s question and may have created the impression in the minds of televiewers that the interviewer had articulated a valid argument.
All human beings are equal in their humanity. This principle is incontestable. No one has the right to murder another, to assume human superiority over another, to enslave another, and so on. Yet, this principle does not apply to equality of circumstance. The truth of the matter is that the traditional right to marry is conditioned in several ways, depending on one’s circumstances. When a person marries, he forfeits his right to marry another, at least as long as he remains married. In comparison to a single person, he is no longer equally positioned to marry. There are other circumstances that affect equality, including age, mental health, blood relationship, and ability to consent.
The nature of marriage involves both equality-in-humanity and compatibility in circumstance. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI acknowledged this principle when he remarked that men and women are “equal in dignity, complementary in mission.” This is also to say that they are “equal in dignity, unequal in mission.”
Marriage, therefore, involves both equality and that particular inequality of complementarity that allows marriage to become a genuine “two-in-one flesh” reality.
Same-sex marriage cannot be justified on the basis of equality because it fails to recognize the crucial difference between equality in humanity and inequality in circumstance. Equality is not an absolute principle. It is precisely due to the complementary differences between man and woman that the possibility of procreation exists. The indisputable fact that same-sex partners cannot procreate makes them radically unequal to husband and wife partners. If equality has any weight as an argument, it is one that opposes same-sex relationships.
Certain forms of Communism have proposed the impossible ideal of equal wealth for everyone. This aim has never been realized because it cannot be realized. Individuals are different. Inevitably, some will spend, others will save. Some will invest, others will serve their neighbor. Overextending equality can easily violate human rights. Society must find a way in which each person is honored as equal in humanity, and at the same time, honored for his particular circumstances that complement those of others.

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(Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.)

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