April 28, the day of oral arguments before the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage rights, has an additional importance in the struggle for LGBT rights: It is the anniversary of the day the "equal protection" clause was added to draft of what became the 14th Amendment.
Originally, the Congressional Joint Committee on Reconstruction, charged with drafting Constitutional amendments in the wake of the Civil War, was going to have the Amendment to say "No discrimination shall be made by any State, or by the United States, as to the civil rights of persons because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." That is, the protection was solely and specifically based on race.
|Rep. John Bingham|
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.Bingham later said he intended his text as "a simple, strong, plain declaration that equal laws and equal and exact justice shall hereafter be secured within every State of the Union," guaranteeing "equal protection" for "any person, no matter whence he comes, or how poor, how weak, how simple - no matter how friendless." His language was adopted by the Committee on April 28, 1866 and became part of the Constitution when the 14th amendment was adopted on July 9, 1868.
The "equal protection clause," as it has come to known, has brought benefits of legal rights to - among others - women, the poor, and people hindered from voting and is arguably the most important addition to the Constitution since the Bill of Rights.
And at a time when it may now bring recognition of rights to LGBT folks, it's good that we should remember if only for a moment the mostly-forgotten man who championed it.
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