What is equality?

Not long ago I asked what I thought was an important question to which everyone needs to have an answer in What makes all human beings equal?  The post didn’t elicit as many replies or discussion as I had anticipated.  But I’d like to pose a somewhat rhetorical question.

The call for people everywhere to be treated equally is loud and persistent by those making the plea and their activist compatriots.  Lest I be accused of believing everyone isn’t equal, or that  all people shouldn’t be treated equally, let me clarify.  My question is about how equality is made manifest, what it looks like when everyone is treated equally.

Each activist has a particular cause that they think some group of people needs a voice.  They are being treated as second-class citizens because they are being denied some basic right, and they’re not going to take it anymore.  Frankly speaking, more often than not it sounds like nothing more than “if I’m not happy, I’m oppressed”, and that’s the basic argument in a nutshell.

  • If women cannot take their baby’s life in the womb with impunity and without any incumbrance, they are oppressed second-class citizens.
  • Unless gays can marry any person they want virtually unrestricted, they are second-class citizens.
  • If families and individuals of foreign countries can’t just meander across the border ignoring immigration laws, then they are dehumanized ciudadano de segunda clase, and labeling them illegal aliens is a hate crime.
  • Unless you are allowed to vote by just promising that you aren’t lying to the election official about who you are, then you are a second-class citizen.
  • If an Atheist has to countenance even knowing there exists a memorial cross in the middle of the desert, or participate in a non-religious school graduation being held in a large church because it affords the proper amount of space, then they are second-class citizens.

To me, it appears that people weigh whether they enjoy equality against whether their wants are being met.  If they cannot do everything they want to do, how they want to do it, when they want to do it, they are not being treated equally and something needs to be done about it…now.  Are we really to believe that: a woman must be permitted to take the life of her baby unhindered or, anyone be permitted to wed anyone else virtually unrestricted or, someone can break immigration laws without being called on it or, anyone can vote without having to verify who they are in order to achieve equality?

So what does equality look like?  Is there a way for people to not get their way and still be considered first-class citizens?


UPDATE: A bullet point was added to this post.


  1. I agree that people should have to show valid photo ID to vote. And the immigration thing is more complicated than just ‘equality’. But the other two bullets do related to equality. Here’s a standard you should try: Let people speak for themselves.
    If women are told by others, mostly men in funny costumes, that women can’t control their own bodies, then they are unequal.
    If normal, well-adjusted gays are told by others, mostly (gay-hating, homophobic, and often self-hating) men in funny clothes, that two people can’t love each other if they don’t have different plumbing, then gays are second-class citizens and only straights have fully-equal rights.
    The problem here is that some people, you, have dogmatic, scripture-based insistence on certain laws that must be applied to others whether or not they are beneficial to society or good for individuals. When other people, like you, take their dogmatic, scripture-based rules and apply them to society, we have a privileged class of those who share the privileged class of your religion (straight men) and a sub-class of those who are unequal in your scripture, gays and women. This was the justification for slavery and it is still the justification for abortion restrictions and anti-gay laws.
    But in the end, “equality” in this case is a red herring. You oppose abortion and gay rights because your religion says so. And those who don’t comply are criminals according to scripture. Scripture values piety, compliance, and submission to divine command. Equality isn’t part of the equation.

    • Jason

      If it was only the woman’s body that abortion affected, you’d have a point. But we all know that abortion involved two people — the baby being killed, and the mother okaying it. After all, no one wants to keep women from tattooing their own body, or removing wisdom teeth from their own body, or clipping toe nails from their own body. No, we argue that she cant kill an innocent human being who resides within but separate from her own body. In abortion, there is relatively little done to the woman’s body, the procedure targets someone else’s body.

      And as Marshal pointed out, I don’t need the bible to argue against abortion or same-sex marriage. In fact, I never use it and you know that. Go back and re-read my posts on both issues and see for yourself. In fact as my post Religion, Religion, Wherefore art Thou Religion explains why. Because just as you have done here, you try to use it to dismiss the arguments without really addressing them.

  2. Wow, the way you’ve posed the question(s) is slightly leading. Equality, IMO, should look much like it did in the Star Trek series of tv shows and films. Even that does not provide all individuals equality, only humans. Equality can fairly easily be shown to be a subjective idea, as you have indicated in your post. I think that equality will look like a society where the question is not should gays be able to marry who they want, but why would anyone question whether they should be allowed; why should anyone question aborted fetuses, why should anyone even ask the very questions that highlight inequality as people see it today. It’s a long way from today to that point in society where such questions seem odd and perhaps rude. The thing is that when such questions are seen by society as rude we will have equality. Much work needs to be done between now and then and yes, the squeeky wheel often gets all the oil, but over time things should even out a bit.

    • myatheistlife

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t think equality is a difficult thing nail down, only that people have rather selfish definitions based on their feelings. As Marshall said and I have argued previously on marriage, for example. If the law is that is anyone is to marry they must marry someone of the opposite sex, not of close relation, and of legal age, and it applies to everyone without exception, then everyone is being treated equally. It’s not like those restrictions only apply to some. The problem is that some people don’t like that their feelings aren’t being taken into consideration — which is really irrelevant to actual equal treatment.

  3. Marshall Art says:

    WOW! Pardon me for saying, but Jason, you’re full of crap. I don’t normally resort to such harshness until I’ve had more opportunity to engage with someone, but what you’ve just said is ludicrous, to say the least.

    First of all, regardless of my personal belief in Jesus Christ, I don’t need to appeal to His teachings to argue against either abortion OR homosexual behavior. Basic Biology 101 provides all an honest, rational human being needs for that.

    Secondly, equality looks like everyone being treated the same under the law. The law right now (in most states not forced otherwise, often by their men in funny clothes) states what conditions must be met for marriage and it applies to everyone. The definition of marriage has always been one man/one woman. Along with that, there are usually age limitations and restrictions regarding how closely the couple might be related. These three main standards have been applied equally to everyone for quite some time until one tiny percentage of the population decided they wanted to change the definition of the word “marriage”.

    But regardless of whether we’re speaking of civil law in America or Biblical law, each is meant to be applied to everyone equally without regard to things like wealth, status, race or gender. IF you murder, steal, perjure, drive faster than the posted speed limit, cheat on your taxes, decide to marry, whatever…one’s race, religion, status, bank account, or gender has no bearing on whether or not one is held to account. This begins to describe what equal looks like.

    What Jason was saying has nothing to do with anyone being treated as second class (except for the unborn, who have no say in Jason’s world as to whether or not they can live). Indeed, he speaks exactly of what John suggested regarding personal wants and desires.

  4. That’s a small collection of straw people there. Careful with any open flames.

  5. tobeforgiven says:

    How can there be equality when we are not equally gifted, or equally driven, or equally educated, or equally behaving.
    Equality would be a world where everyone earns equally. To receive equally, one would have to have equal history, equal education, equal work ethic, equal knowlege, equal ability.

    Equality sounds lifeless to me, perhaps a bit like something out of Orwell or Rand.
    I would hope that we seek something more than just equality. I would hope that being unequaled, that being more than the other might be what we strive for.

    Equality cannot exist, nor should it.

    In regards to your listing of certain issues:


    “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.”

    Happiness is not a right but the persuit of happiness is.

    I don’t know what this means, perhaps something for both sides.
    What do you think?

    • TBF

      I think your comment is very relevant. People have a habit of mistaking reality with ideally. In reality not everyone is the same, but we have a tendency to pretend we are. Like not keeping score in tball and junior soccer games. Handing out trophies to everyone regardless of talent. Grading based on effort rather than results. This has been, in my opinion, the catalyst for the “if I’m not happy, it’s not fair” attitude.

  6. John B,

    If the law is that is anyone is to marry they must marry someone of the opposite sex, not of close relation, and of legal age, and it applies to everyone without exception, then everyone is being treated equally. It’s not like those restrictions only apply to some.

    I see. So if the law is the no one can worship in a synagogue, then this is equality, so long as Christians also cannot worship in a synagogue, right? That would not be inequality, right?

  7. You should think of a different analogy, if no one was allowed to worship in a synagogue, they wouldn’t exist.

    Just like if no gays were allowed to marry, then gay marriage would not exist.

    Is outlawing synagogues oppressive? Is outlawing gay marriage oppressive? In terms of your definition of equality, what is the difference?

    • I think you’re missing something. You said “If no one can worship in a synagogue…” If NO ONE can, then they wouldn’t exist. So maybe you want to use an analogy that makes sense. It’s like saying if no one was allowed to drive cars… well, if no one could drive cars, there’d be no reason to build them and no one would buy or drive one. So if no one could worship at a synagogue then there’d be no reason to build one because it would just sit empty. So use another analogy.

      And Christians can worship in synagogues (a Jewish worship center) so long as they adhere to the Jewish rules. They can’t just come in and say, “now that we want to participate, you’re going to be doing things our way”.

      • I think you’re missing something. You said “If no one can worship in a synagogue

        That’s a technicality. Why don’t we make a law that says you cannot worship in synagogues to go along with our law that says gays cannot marry? Marriage has secular laws tied to it. If a homosexual wants to have a Christian wedding, then he should appeal to the Christian church. If a homosexual wants to have a secular wedding, and the legalities tied to it, then he should appeal to the government, who should not deny him that right to appease bigoted Christians. He does not have to be a Christian in this nation.

        And Christians can worship in synagogues (a Jewish worship center) so long as they adhere to the Jewish rules.

        Gays want the right to marry so long as they adhere to the government rules of marriage. The argument is whether or not the government should discriminate based on sexual orientation. It is fallacious for you to argue that they should because discriminating based on sexual orientation is one of the rules.

        • Here’s why your argument fails. Gays can marry, so long as they adhere to the limitations. The government doesn’t ask whether you love or are sexually attracted to the person you are trying to marry. So it is irrelevant ones sexual preference.

          The government doesn’t say “you are a man who is attracted to men, you can’t get married” it says “if you want to be married abide by the marriage laws everyone must”.

          Its like saying cat lovers ought to be able to register their cat to the AKC. Just because they’re not dog lovers doesn’t mean they should be excluded from the AKC. When in fact if they wanted to join the AKC they can, with a dog, like everyone else who wants in to the AKC.

  8. One man’s opinion: We don’t want to push for equality, we want to push for fairness. We don’t want to try to make people the same, we want egalitarianism.

    Equality says the blind student, the left-handed student, and the right-handed student should all take the test the same way – reading the words on a page (for instance) and writing answers on a page with their right hand. We don’t want to try to force all people to be the same, we want to give all people a fair opportunity based on where they are.

    Thus, giving the blind person the “right” to take a test by reading and writing down answers is not fair, nor is it reasonable, nor should we force that equality. Giving the gay man the “right” to marry a woman is not fair nor reasonable.

    Our goal should be fairness, not equality. Seems to me.

    • Yeah Dan, fairness. Fairness cannot be defined, has no way go measure, and is at the mercy of the victim.

      The great thing about equality is you can see empirically when equality has been achieved.

  9. Its like saying cat lovers ought to be able to register their cat to the AKC. Just because they’re not dog lovers doesn’t mean they should be excluded from the AKC. When in fact if they wanted to join the AKC they can, with a dog, like everyone else who wants in to the AKC.

    Beyond absurd false correlation, sir. Couples marrying is a legality with certain privileges. There is no logical reason to deny gas couples those privileges just because they are both men. To do so is not only discriminatory, but pointless.

    To even discuss whether cats should be admitted to dog clubs in this context commits a fallacy of complex question. We are talking about why we should discriminate against male gay couples, and you tell me because we don’t admit cats to dog clubs.

    Equally weak is the argument that we should deny gays the right to marry because part of the law says we should. I am saying the law should not say we should and your rebuttal is that it most certainly should because it is part of the definition of the law. Surely you can see the fallacy in this reasoning, no?

    I think you would do better to argue what you believe for the reason you believe it. Say that gays are nasty and immoral and should be denied some rights on that basis.

    • That’s your problem myste, you think you know people. I don’t have an aversion to gays. It doesn’t gross me out. Bringing the discussion here is an admission that you can’t argue your point or against mine. You just put it down and make it about me instead of my arguments. Under the homosexuality tab you can find my arguments, and none use the bible or the word icky.

  10. John,

    I know you would not use the Bible or the word “icky.” That is precisely my point.

    However, to speak to your point, the first one you have made that was not easily refuted, whether you are arguing what you believe for the reasons you believe it is completely irrelevant to the argument you make. What you tried to say is that the accusation was ad hominem; and it was, so I withdraw the last paragraph and hope you will provide some answer to the rest.

  11. Marshall Art says:

    “The argument is whether or not the government should discriminate based on sexual orientation.”

    Actually, the “argument” has no business in this discussion. The topic is “equality”. On that score, the marriage laws had been applied equally. There has been no discrimination since they stopped prevented interracial marriages, which had no legitimate reason to support its continuation. The criteria for marriage is not the result of some discriminatory scheme. The institution means something beyond two people merely wanting to commit to each other as no state sanctioning is required for that.

Any Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: