19 December 2010


No Special Rights

For years, opponents of legal recognition for the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered people have used the phrase "no special rights" as part of their arguments. In their framing, LGBTT people serving without fear in the military—or, recalling Anita Bryant, the classroom—is a special right. LGBTT people marrying the person they love (who, duh, very frequently happens to be of the same gender as they are), is a special right. LGBTT people not being able to be fired from their job is a special right. Etc.

It's never made sense, but with yesterday's approval by the Senate of the House bill that repeals Don't Ask, Don't Tell, empowering the executive and military to phase DADT out within the next few months, what becones clear is that "no special rights," like much of their anti-progressive agenda, is upside down.

The right is right that there should be no special rights. So much so, that maybe we ought to enshrine the no-special-rights idea into a near-fundamental principle: No Special Rights. The rules we operate under ought to be structured so that what's good for one ought to be good for all. If you, Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Ms. Straight Person, can join the military, then so can any LGBTT person with similar qualifications. If you can't be fired from your job for being male, female; red, yellow, brown, black, white; 20, 30, 40, 50 years old; born rich, born poor; born in the USA, permanent resident, naturalized citizen; etc., then neither can any LGBTT person with similar attributes.

Of course, there are times when the government, as the legitimate repository of the community's interests, should abridge a citizen's rights. We have multiple ages of empowerment in consent to sex, signing up for military service, buying booze, and voting. We recognize that certain professions and careers like firefighter, EMT, and cop require levels of physical mobility and strength at the upper end of the scale; once the performance criterion is established, though, we ostensibly don't distinguish on the basis of attributes like gender/sex or color/race any more than we would on the basis of eye color or hair color.

There are legal terms for the government's exclusion of certain classes of citizens—or empowering of other individuals and collectives to exclude others or include only certain folk— ranging from rational basis to strict scrutiny. I won't claim to understand the distinctions among those as well as I could or ought to. The arguments used to put DADT in place initially and then against its repeal claimed that the presence of openly gay and lesbian individuals in military service would destroy unit cohesion and decrease the effectiveness of the military, hence the government had a legitimate interest in prohibiting LGBTT individuals from serving in the military. The recently conducted study by the DoD of attitudes towards gay men and lesbians serving suggests that even if it were once true, it no longer is so. And, this has never been an "all other things being equal" situation. The military has a unique ability with its command structure to achieve unit cohesion through training, practice, and, most of all, orders.

With DADT repeal passed and waiting to be signed, and with the current administration expected to put policies in place within the service branches leading to its going away, let's move to apply the No Special Rights principle to the matters of employment, marriage recognition, marriage, and immigration of spouses/partners. That is, an employer has No Special Right to pay less, not give benefits to, not hire, or fire an LGBTT employee. Health care providers have No Special Right to exclude family of choice from a patient's visitors. The general government and the governments of the states have No Special Right not to recognize the marriages of LGBTT folk in states where same-sex marriages are performed, including the implications of that for taxes and survivorship. The governments of the states that don't perform same-sex marriages have No Special Right not to. And the general government has No Special Right to prevent the non-citizen spouses of LGBTT US citizens from entering the United States the same as would the spouse of any other US citizen.

With the repeal of DADT passed, the onus shifts from proponents of legal recognition of LGBTT rights to explain why change is necessary onto the opponents to explain why change is not necessary. Against equal rights for LGBTT individuals: It's up to you to demonstrate conclusively, if you can, why you should be exempt from the No Special Rights principle. What gives you the right to treat others like second-class citizens?

And, just in case you've forgotten, in a country where religious freedom is rightfully enshrined, your personal religious beliefs, which must and will be respected, do not empower you to discriminate against others in the civic arena.

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