I am a fifth-grade teacher. Teaching about the foundation of our government is part of my job. Every year when I teach about the Declaration of Independence, students question the words, “All men are created equal.” They ask me why those words are included in the Declaration, when it is clear to all of us now that all men were not, in fact, treated equally.
Last year, a new question was raised. We were talking about powers of the states versus powers of the national government. One of the things mentioned as a power of the state was the power to create new laws regarding marriage. One of my students then said to me, “You told us that the civil rights movement made it illegal to make different laws for different kinds of people. You said that, ‘Separate but equal’ was unconstitutional. I know that some states allow gay people to get married, but our state makes gay people get something else. Isn’t that like ‘Separate but equal?’ How is that fair?”
I was stunned and I was speechless. I had no good answer. I also happen to be a lesbian. Last year, I had to travel to Vermont to marry my partner. I would have much preferred to get married here. I would have much preferred to tell my students that I was getting married here because Illinois was one of those states that did realize that it was unconstitutional to make different laws for different kinds of people.
It is my deepest hope that soon I will be able to tell my students that Illinois is one of those states where gay people can get married and that our state government understands the importance of living up to those magical words, “That all men are created equal.”
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