Thursday, May 26, 2016

Think of the children

As a 9-year-old, I discovered the word "unconstitutional". Knowing me, I probably read it in a newspaper. Little 4th or 5th grade me found it neat that I could say, and spell, a six-syllable, 16-letter word. I didn't quite know what it meant, but neither did I have to use it very often, so it didn't matter. I could continue being a kid.

As I grew up, I started to understand more about how government works, how laws are made, and how all that related to not just the U.S. Constitution, but various state constitutions. The concept of being able to pass constitutional muster was a bit tougher to wrap my mind around than spelling big words in elementary school. Now, it mattered.

Well into adulthood, I can clearly see how bad rules are made, and why they are bad -- or to be clearer, that they are unconstitutional. As Anne Feeney sings, "Laws are made by people, and people can be wrong." Later in the same song, she sings, "A rotten law stays on the books till folks like us defy it." We'll get to that later.

Which brings us to the matter of a bare-chested woman in a park. The PA Constitution says the sexes are to be treated equally. The indecent exposure law says genitalia must be covered. All well and good, so far, and we have established that a bare-chested woman can toss a frisbee in a city park. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police legal department agrees with this and told us so in writing.

However, Point State Park is not a city park but a state park, and state parks have their own set of rules. Among these rules is the explicit wording that a female may not bare any part of a breast below the top of the areola. To me, this is clearly unconstitutional. It is a rule that only applies to females. The areola and lower half of a man's breast area are perfectly OK to show. Note that a good many men have mammary tissue the same size or larger than an A-cup woman. Doesn't matter. Men OK, women not OK.

One of the first and fiercest objections to a woman bare-chested is "Think of the children!" OK, let's ask that question. A child does not need to be able to spell 16-letter words to be able to understand fairness. Even a five-year-old understands fairness. Having laws means that everyone plays by the same rules. Having a constitution means that all the laws themselves have to play by the same rules. It would not be fair if one law said you can do something but another law said you cannot.

Well, guess what? Here we have two parks, directly across the river from one another. You can see one from the other. Riverfront Park is a city park, which adheres to state law, which adheres to the PA Constitution. Point State Park has its own rules which overrule state law, but do not adhere to the Constitution. In the space of five minutes, a woman riding her bike with a man, neither wearing a shirt, can cross the Fort Duquesne Bridge southbound, and go from law abiding to law breaking, because of an unconstitutional state park rule. The man is not breaking the law in either place.

So think of the children, indeed. Try explaining to your kids how that's fair.

1 comment:

  1. Ever heard of "ELI5"? It means "explain it like I'm five years old". So here is the ELI5 take on "unconstitutional" with a real-life example. The example itself is not socially accepted yet, but that's another matter. Women couldn't vote yet 97 years ago.