July 17, 2007

Civil Rights, Not Special Rights

"We are not a theocracy and our rights are not and should not be determined by religious traditions. We live under a constitution, not Leviticus. We obey a rule of law, not your pastor or priest. Whoever your god is, whatever book you think communicates this god's laws, and however you interpret them is irrelevant to a debate about the distribution of rights and privileges. We are a secular nation.

Rights are too important to be left to the irrational moral sentiments or visceral reactions of others, and the law is not about enforcing the morality of the majority. We need reasons why we grant rights to some and not to others. Reasons are what hold our society together and afford all of us an equal voice.

Instead of telling a group of people that they can't have family rights and must remain social outcasts because too many of us are bigoted, perhaps we should fight against bigotry. Let's argue for moral progress rather than acquiese to bigotry and hatred. Revulsion, personal disgust, or visceral reactions are not moral positions--they are mere reactions, and they do not make for admissable arguments for public policy. My rights are not contingent on your opinion of me or my lifestyle.

If the family's role is to serve a function, namely, to raise children and to be a stabilizing force on society, and if there is no reasons to suspect that gays can't also serve this function and may even help to strengthen it, then they should be allowed to join in for the benefit of all of us. But to use a different word to denote gay marriage [civil union] sets it off as different and inferior. It doesn't treat gays as equals, but, rather, reaffirms their second-class citizenship. To classify gays differently is to deny them equal status as members of the community. It is degrading and humiliating.

Marriage as an institution is important, not just because of the rights it affords the members of the marriage, but because of the order it bestows on society through its moral message of commitment. This is an aspect of marriage denied to civil unions by its very nature as a relationship that isn't a marriage. Separate but equal is never equal for the simple reason of the stigma attached to that which is set apart. "

-Jacob M. Held, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy & Religion, University of Central Arkansas. From his article "You Can't Get Married, You're Faggots: Mrs. Garrison and the Gay Marriage Debate" in South Park and Philosophy (Blackwell Publishing, 2007)

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