Sunday, December 18, 2005

My Rights End Where?

Google “My rights end where the next person's begin” or some variation and you will find hundreds of entries using this little phrase. It’s a maxim that’s been applied to the political process in the United States for decades, if not centuries. And it’s a pretty good idea, all things considered. The trick lies in figuring out where to draw the line between you and me.

Most people are going to try to maximize their own “sphere of rights”, of course. That’s just a part of human nature. Just about everyone’s going to try to extend their rights as far as possible. Humans are always pushing limits. But there are times when I just don’t understand the thinking behind some of the decisions made.

Take gay marriage, for example. This is an area where the US is woefully behind the curve. Not only is it legal in Britain now, but as Jon Stewart so aptly put it “the US is now less progressive than South Africa”, at least where gay rights are concerned. And that is puzzling to me. Under the “my rights/your rights” paradigm, as long as you aren’t inflicting any harm on me, aren’t taking anything away from me and aren’t preventing me from getting something, then I have no reason to say that you can or can’t do something. But there is a large contingent in the US that says gay people can’t get married. And it isn’t just the semantics of it. People don’t just object to the use of the term marriage, although they do that as well, as if the word was only attached to one religious doctrine.

No, a lot of people just flat out object to homosexuals of any stripe making vows of fidelity to each other. It’s as if these people think gay people are inherently more promiscuous and thus can’t honor their vows or something. And that’s a specious argument, at best. Of course, I have never actually heard anyone say this, so maybe I’m doing a bit of “straw-man” thinking. But it’s still a fact that many Americans think that gays shouldn’t be allowed matrimonial rights. And under the “my rights/your rights” paradigm, then the only way to justify this would be to show that homosexual matrimony is somehow more harmful to society than not allowing gay marriage.

When pressed on this point, people usually sidestep the gay marriage point and go straight (heh) to the so-called gay lifestyle itself. Apparently just being a homosexual makes you inherently harmful to society. Now, considering the number of gays in this country, and around the world, and considering the number of world leaders throughout history who had such tendencies, I can’t seem to buy into that concept. I mean, if Alexander the Great could conquer the known world and like a little man-on-man action now and then, why can’t Joe Sixpack sleep with Jim Shearcurtains?

One argument I hear over and over is that if we allow even more open homosexuality, it’s going to encourage more people to become homosexuals. Apparently, homosexuality is viral. Ahh, the nature versus nurture argument was bound to rear its head eventually, right? Let’s make this simple, though, and assume nature/nurture is approximately 50/50. That’s a reasonable assumption, and most science backs it up. You aren’t born to be an alcoholic, but if you have a couple in your family, you should probably try to stay sober yourself, just in case. If there’s a history of high cholesterol in your family, you should probably put down that second pork shoulder. So, by the same argument, if you’ve got the “gay tendency” in your family, then you could be born half-gay to begin with! The least little thing could send you over the edge. Seeing two grown women French-kissing could send you into flaming homosexual congress with the first penis you encounter! One episode of “What a cute little girl!” when you’re a three-year-old boy could permanently set you on the road to Queersville. Watching two people of the same gender holding hands in public could warp you for life, right!?!

Wrong! Sexual orientation is just like everything else in your personality. It’s partly genetic, partly environmental and partly choice. We’re not genetic automatons, going through the motions of life without free will. We’re also not totally environmentally forced into action against our will. Genetics gives us predispositions, environment sets up conditions and then we choose what we’re going to do in any given situation, given a certain set of opportunities.

So, given all that, how does being gay make you a menace to society? How is letting two women live together, like they’re already doing, and letting it be publicly acknowledged, like it usually is already, and giving them official responsibility for each other, like the responsibility they’ve already unofficially taken on, hurt anyone who’s not directly involved? So the question is: Where or how does it infringe on the rights of a married heterosexual couple that the people next door aren’t hetero?

Answer: It doesn’t. What it infringes on is the hetero couple’s prejudices. And that’s one thing everyone has, but no one has the right to foist off on ANYONE else.

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu