Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rights, and not so rights

Last night and this morning I read an extremely interesting talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks about religious freedom, and how it was under attack.

It got me thinking about "rights." Rights are what are at the center of the "gay marriage" debate, but I think a large part of the disconnect between those for and against comes down to differing beliefs about rights.

Every right is not created equal. There are basic human rights, some of which are outlined in the U. S. Bill of Rights and all of which are granted by God/the universe/existance/whatever metaphysical concept you choose to accept. Other rights are those defined and granted by political bodies, such as speed limits, the drinking age, the voting age, municipal waste dumping laws, etc.

The tricky part here is that political bodies have stepped in and blurred the line. They've taken the basic human right of a religious union and wrapped it with a vast collection of government-granted privileges. This gray area causes confusion to arise. What exactly does the government have the right to do when it comes to marriage, and what supersedes its rights? Inevitably, because of the confusion and the nature of government, it overstepped its bounds.

And what were the opposing camps supposed to do? The religionists saw a cherished human right as being under attack and tried to protect it by codifying it into a form the government understood (a constitutional amendment), while the pro-gay-marriage activists understandably in turn saw that as an attack on their attempt to gain political privileges similar to those enjoyed by married couples, and fought back.

Result? Instant divide.

Unfortunately, there's no easy fix. Religionists will always think that pro-gay-marriage activists are contributing to the erosion of the foundation of society. Religionists won't like giving special privileges to a demographic that they see as defining themselves by a sexual deviancy. On the other hand, same-sex couples will always think they are being marginalized until they have the exact same privileges as heterosexual couples.

However, those irreconcilable differences were no excuse for the behavior that occurred before and after the Proposition 8 vote. If I understand him correctly, that was Elder Oaks' point. The Proposition 8 vote was all about political privileges to gay marriage advocates, yet they simultaneously attempted to deny other voters their political privilege of voting, by using intimidation.

Granted: neither side was blameless in every aspect. However, voter intimidation is pretty serious. I'm not aware of anything the pro-Prop-8 crowd did that approached that level.

I think both camps need to start by coming to a better understand the opposing camp's point of view. Religionists would see that same-sex marriage advocates aren't deliberately fighting against marriage, but for similar priviliges to those enjoyed by heterosexual marriages. And same-sex marriage advocates would benefit by understanding that this is a bigger issue to religionists than just hospital visitation and death benefits.

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