No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. –John Donne (Meditation XVII)
On this year’s anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., these famous words from John Donne came flooding back to me as I began reading the latest news updates in the world of human rights. A headline caught my eye – one concerning gay/lesbian rights in North Dakota – and all I could think about was the ridiculousness of the fact that 46 years after the March on Washington, the United States is still battling with inequality and discrimination.
The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition (NDHRC) has said that they will be proposing a bill to include sexual orientation as a protected class in North Dakota’s Human Rights Act and Fair Housing Act. This new legislation is designed to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, credit transactions, public accommodations, etc., based on sexual orientation. Under current laws and regulations, there is nothing that protects people from being evicted or even being fired based on sexual orientation, something which the NDHRC and the University of North Dakota’s Ten Percent Society are ardently fighting to fix. The organizers of this bill, however, have clarified that this proposed legislation should not be confused with measures to legalize same-sex marriages or unions. The proceedings of the review of this legislation will require testimonial or documental evidence of housing discrimination to be gained through subpoenas.
The problem, however, that has come to the attention of the human rights division of the Labor Department of North Dakota is that the department itself does not have subpoena power in housing cases, a major oversight in the establishment of the department. As a result, the Labor Department has introduced two new bills, supported by the Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee and the Judiciary Committee, that would grant the department subpoena power.
All legal technicalities aside, this situation is absurd. So much effort is being put forth to fix something that should never have been broken in the first place. Why is it so unreasonable for people to try to understand that, as Donne so poetically explained, the self is useless unless it is combined with another self? We are all connected, we are all one people. If one person suffers, we all suffer. Hopefully everyone will realize this, and soon we can say as Dr. King said that day in front of the Lincoln Memorial: “They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.” As for today, we are still not free. Today, we suffer. Today, the bell tolls for us all.