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SPOTLIGHT
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Equal rights

Published on -6/24/2012, 12:38 PM

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Even in the land of the free, where it is self-evident that all men are created equal, progress has been agonizingly slow to extend civil rights to all citizens.

As forward-thinking as the Founding Fathers were, such basic rights were not granted to everybody. White men had privilege since the country's inception. Everybody else ­had to wait their turn.

Black and brown people waited almost 100 years to be freed from slavery, and another 100-plus years to gain access to public spaces. Women waited about 150 years for the right to vote -- and as a group still are waiting to be paid as much as their male counterparts. Physically handicapped people waited 200 years for the right to enter public buildings. Many members of North American Indian tribes still live on reservations set aside in almost non-habitable areas of the country.

Yet steps continue to be made. Slowly but surely, equality is being extended.

In the city of Hays, municipal ordinance ensures citizens are not discriminated on the basis of race, color, sex, age, handicap, familial status, national origin or ancestry, and religion. About the only category missing from the list is sexual orientation or gender identity.

As other cities in Kansas already are headed in this direction, we can't help but wonder when Hays will safeguard the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. While we likely will never be able to claim we're as progressive as Lawrence, surely Hays can hold its own when compared to Salina, Hutchinson, Pittsburg and Wichita.

All those Kansas communities have amended their ordinances to include legal protections for the LGBT community. No special exceptions are being granted, the cities merely are extending legal equality to all their residents.

We believe the same should happen in Hays.

That we have an LGBT community here is without question. The precise percentage of the city's population is debatable, but meaningless. It doesn't matter whether the number of permanent residents and university students are in the hundreds or thousands, they do not enjoy the same protections as the majority. If there was but one person fired from a job, denied a home loan or evicted from their apartment because of somebody else's opinion about homosexuality -- that is one too many.

City commissioners should expect criticism for daring to demand equality for all. The ironic aspect will be those protesting are protected by the very same ordinance.

It is not a crime to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. There is no legal defense available to allow potential continued discrimination on such a basis. Commissioners only require the moral fiber to cast a vote allowing all citizens of Hays to enjoy equal protection.

Hays city commissioners are charged with protecting the public welfare, prosperity, health and peace of the people of the city. Not most of the people, or some of the people. It is simply "the" people.

The city cannot continue on its current course. It is unconstitutional by definition. We plead with commissioners to shoulder the yoke on behalf of their constituents. The LGBT community is the last segment in Hays not to have equal rights. They have waited long enough.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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