Editorial: Why it's important to erase laws that contradict our values today
In the grand scheme of things, rescinding an unenforced 60-year-old law that prohibits people from wearing clothing "properly belonging to the opposite sex" may not be the most consequential legislative act Elk Grove Village leaders will take this year.
Indeed, as Mayor Craig Johnson pointed out in a news release, the ordinance "is unenforceable and would not stand up to legal scrutiny in any way whatsoever."
So, why is it more than a mere formality that the village plans to eliminate the 1961 law during a meeting today?
Well, as Johnson also said in his release, "it simply goes against our commitment to building and fostering an inclusive, open and welcoming community."
In a very real way, a community's ordinances are a statement of its values. They protect the safety of residents and visitors. They establish the rules businesses must follow. They set standards for the upkeep of private properties and the grooming of public buildings that defines the community's character.
Values change, of course, and while it's interesting in 2021 to contemplate what great apparel controversy swelled to make Elk Grove Village leaders swing into action in 1961, it is clearly contradictory to the values of any community today to legislate the assignment of clothing articles according to gender.
Nor should Elk Grove Village be singled out for criticism for having this, or any other antiquated law, on its books. According to an attorney who monitors local ordinances and spoke to our Chris Placek last week, similar laws exist in Schaumburg and Des Plaines, and a cursory Google search for outdated laws will quickly fill your computer screen with local and state prohibitions that range from the curious and bizarre to the outrageous and offensive.
Moreover, it can be distracting and burdensome for any community to keep track of petty laws that fade from public attention.
Coming across them can make for some amusing reading, but the philosophical underpinning for them can be anything but funny. Removing them from official sanction is an important show of rejection, making clear that we repudiate even not-so-quaint vestiges of past prejudices or injustices.
Some critics might wonder why it took Elk Grove Village a year from the time officials were first made aware of its outdated law to officially change it -- and even then just ahead of a planned public protest. We'll take village leaders' understandable word that the complications of the pandemic took priority over dealing with an unenforced and unenforceable ordinance.
Whatever the source of the delay, we're glad that leaders recognize the impropriety of the outdated law and are acting assertively to erase it. We hope all communities will act similarly when they find laws on their books that run counter to the goals of being inclusive, open and welcoming.