Because as it turns out, civil rights are in fact special rights because they are rationed and rare.
First, some of the rights we seek are indeed special because there is nothing ordinary about the right to personal dignity and safety. There is nothing ordinary about exchanging vows with the love of your life. More than special, these things are sacred.
But because these (and other rights) are not accessible to all, they are special in a way they should not be.
See, there should be nothing special about using a restroom. There should be nothing exceptional about going to school. There should be nothing unique about getting and keeping a job. There should be nothing rare about visiting a loved one in the hospital. Exchanging vows to respect, honor and cherish your person is not, nor should it be, a treasure hoarded by some and hidden to others.
But from where I sit, it seems these rights are special because they are rights enjoyed by some folks, and expressly denied to others, thus making them a rare and special commodity indeed.
The right to marry whom you love, the right to work without fear of being fired for whom you love, the right to learn free from bullying, the right to use a bathroom according to your understood gender, the right to unrestricted access to a hospitalized loved one – these are very special rights because only some have them. These rights held by some are hoarded and jealously guarded so that others may not have them. Since these rights are a scarce commodity, not freely available to every last damn person, yeah, they are in fact special rights. Only when all unalienable rights are, as President Obama said, self executing and not just self-evident, will they NOT be special rights, but just plain old boring equal rights.
What is most mind boggling to me is that some of my own very own friends and family are convinced that if they share the rights they have, it will somehow diminish their portion. Or maybe they do not even realize they have these “special rights” since they’ve just always had them. No, they never whispered through joyous tears, “I can’t believe this is happening in our lifetime!” when they learned they were finally ALLOWED to marry the love of their life.
As biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us in “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity”
“The conflict between the narratives of abundance and of scarcity is the defining problem confronting us at the turn of the millennium. The gospel story of abundance asserts that we originated in the magnificent, inexplicable love of a God who loved the world into generous being. The baptismal service declares that each of us has been miraculously loved into existence by God. And the story of abundance says that our lives will end in God, and that this well-being cannot be taken from us.
What we know in the secret recesses of our hearts is that the story of scarcity is a tale of death. And the people of God counter this tale by witnessing to the manna. There is a more excellent bread than crass materialism. It is the bread of life and you don’t have to bake it. As we walk into the new millennium, we must decide where our trust is placed.
In feeding the hungry crowd, Jesus reminds us that the wounds of scarcity can be healed only by faith in God’s promise of abundance. “
So yes, I demand the rights that are special to me, though ordinary to most.
And what a great and glorious day that will be when all of God’s children can honestly and boldly affirm “with liberty and justice for ALL.”