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Of Rights and Morality November 3, 2008

Posted by caseyww in Politics.
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56 comments

Election week!  For those of you getting into the groove of how Valence is working you’ve seen that we’ve been posting usually on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.  The trouble this week is that whatever I write is guaranteed to be old news come Tuesday night as it is certain to be swamped by election news.

So, instead of fighting it, I’ll embrace the election again this week.  However, I’m going to keep this post a bit short and just expand briefly on one of the ideas that seemed to draw a distinct divide in the comments section on the previous post concerning Prop 8.  Namely, the question of: How should our morality inform the way we vote?  Or, should we legislate our conscience?

Prop 8 seems to be a unique case for discussing morality and politics because it draws in such sharp contrast a religious opinion vs the state constitution on marriage.  I doubt we as voters often have the opportunity to so directly affect the rights of our fellow citizens.

I think much of the divide that has occurred in discussing Prop 8 stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of these civil rights and as such I’d like to widen the discussion to include rights in general (especially since Prop 8 will have been decided by the time most of us get around to commenting).

First a couple of quotes:

“It seems to me that the governing principle, especially in a plural community, cannot be moral rightness because the substance of what’s “morally right” is not shared by everyone in the community; and politics is about sharing the world with others – living together. In that case, what is “politically right” must use a different measure than one particular sense of morality.” -Antony (Comment #16, Calling out The Call)

“The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.” –Thomas Jefferson: Note in Destutt de Tracy, “Political Economy,” 1816. ME 14:465

(By the way, I don’t mean to flatter Antony by quoting him in the same breath as Jefferson.  I just think the ideas work well together.)

Here is how I understand rights and I’m certainly open to correction or expansion if I’m being too simplistic.  Rights at their simplest are protections against the infringement of each of our pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.  As long as our actions are not causing suffering or themselves limiting others’ “pursuit” than our actions are ideally protected.

Our constitution, however imperfectly formed or poorly executed in the past, has been built around the value that above all personal moral concerns there are rights that are inalienable and should be equitably distributed.  Our country is beautiful because we as a secular pluralistic society have chosen to value each others’ rights over our own conscience.

This act is radical in its implications because it essentially limits how far our personal sense of morality can affect change.  By drafting constitutions we’ve fenced in our individual power to let any one perspective of morality determine the laws we all must abide by.

Now, because of this value for rights our society has chosen to protect some actions that are distasteful and disgusting.  An example brought up in the comments is the free speech protection afforded to white supremacist groups.  I personally find these groups repugnant but I can’t argue that we should lower our collective value for free speech in order to silence them.

An interesting turn that has occurred in discussing Prop 8 is that some of those who feel that homosexuality is immoral assert that they would be betraying their personal sense of right and wrong (or even betraying God) by protecting gay rights.  I personally think this is a bit unfair because it adds far more weight to the issue on a personal level than necessary.  Let me explain.

My advocacy for the free speech rights of the KKK does not in any way mean that I condone their behavior.  All it means is that I value equal rights being extended to all of our citizens above and beyond what my conscience tells me about how wrong they are.  At the foundation of this argument is an admittedly selfish premise:

I value my rights.  If we weaken our commitment to the personal liberty of a few of our citizens we weaken the foundation of rights for all.

Extending the example, if I opposed free speech rights for the KKK then I really wouldn’t have much ground to stand on if someone else asserted that Valence needs to be censored because it incites doubt and offends their personal moral bearings.  It’s not too hard to insert whatever right is most important to each of us here.

By protecting the rights of the least or most eccentric or even the morally worst among us we protect all of our rights.

One last word on Prop 8.  Prop 8 is revoking a current right to marriage afforded to the gay community in order to define marriage by Judeo-Christian principles.  A no vote on Prop 8 does not indicate you condone homosexual behavior but instead a no vote on Prop 8 simply indicates that you value your personal rights enough to want to protect all of our rights.

That’s it for this week!  I hope everyone has a great election day.

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Calling out The Call – [Prop 8] October 28, 2008

Posted by caseyww in Politics.
Tags: , , ,
149 comments

First, I want to ask a favor.  Please take a minute and read the page A Note on Comments.  Even if you’ve never commented here at Valence before and don’t plan on ever commenting I’d still appreciate if everyone checked it out.  Go ahead…click it and meet me back here in 94.7 seconds..

Back?  Great.  As I write this post we are about eight days out from what I consider to be a monumental election day.  As such, I can’t resist taking a small break from our philosophically inclined discussion on skepticism, truth and evidence to talk about politics.  But don’t you worry Valencers, we’ll be back to probing the outer limits of faith and science soon.

I toyed with the idea of providing a comprehensive “Valence Voting Guide” for everyone to print out and take to the ballot box but thought better of it.  I may be a headstrong voter but I know this kind of conceit would probably only invite a strong right hook from everyone.  Instead I’d like to confine my discussion to one particular divisive proposition here in California:  Prop 8.

For those of you outside California here is the skinny on Prop 8.  Currently gay marriage is legal in California under the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution upheld by the State Supreme Court.  Titled “Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry”, Prop 8 will amend the California Constitution to recognize marriage as strictly between a man and woman.  For more history you’ll have to read on at the link.

First, I’ll state that I unequivocally oppose Prop 8.  I hold that marriage is a civil right that should not be withheld from consenting partners in this country.  This is not a matter of whether homosexuality is in itself moral but instead a question of whether we should be denying equal treatment under the law based on sexual preference.   We should not.

Now, I know the following question is inevitable: “But do you think homosexuality is immoral and what about the biblical judgment on the subject?”

I’m not planning on spending much time on this but in anticipation of the question I do want to preemptively answer.  I do not consider homosexuality to be immoral and I think the biblical treatment of the subject is inconsistent at best and at worst is heavily biased by a homophobic cultural context that we should be striving to move beyond.

That being said, with this post I’m not particularly interested in addressing the morality of homosexuality itself (even though I anticipate this will be a hot topic in the comments section).  Instead I would like to question the morality of the current religious outcry in support of Prop 8 and ergo against the homosexual community itself.  Below is a promo video for “The Call” which is holding a rally here in San Diego on Nov. 1st.

Let me ask:

Is it moral to frame such a complex issue like gay marriage as the ultimate title bout between the very forces of Light vs. Darkness?  No.  Do I really need to remind us that these are people’s lives we are talking about?  Committed and loving lives which are strikingly similar in character to yours saving they are gay.  They are not the forces of darkness, they are not evil, they are not responsible for society’s decline and they are certainly not our enemies.  To paint this issue as one of light and darkness is insultingly simpleminded.  If we want to talk about darkness then let’s talk about slavery, torture, bigotry or poverty.  How is it that none of these genuine moral causes is significant enough to mobilize Christians “this November” to fill an entire stadium in protest?

Is it honest to assert that the sanctity of marriage is threatened by allowing homosexuals to participate?  No.  First, if the very fabric of our marriages stays intact only by excluding gay relationships then this is more an indictment of the security upon which our marriages are built than it is an accurate measure of a threat.  Second, the sanctity of my marriage is built on the love my wife and I have for each other and the commitment we have personally made, neither of which could ever be diminished by someone else’s relationship, gay or straight.  To assert otherwise is to claim that the very existence of gay marriage itself literally has the power to steal away our ability to be fulfilled in marriage.  It is misleading and dishonest to charge homosexuals with such a serious and yet unsubstantiated crime.

Is it right to characterize gay relationships as a flood from which God must protect us in his infinite mercy so much so that the very soul of our nation hangs in the balance?  No.  In fact this claim is startling in its hypocrisy.  The soul of our nation is one that thrives on equitable rights and religious freedom.  We have a secular state that is beautiful exactly because it seeks to provide rights to the least among us regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.  The Call pretty clearly states that Prop 8 is a religious law at its heart which is meant to levy back the dangerous floodwaters of homosexuality.  The real flood I see here is a tide of religious fundamentalism which is trying to overwhelm our nation’s Establishment Clause and return us to a medieval theocratic state.

In conclusion, let me be clear that I’m not arguing that the Christians among us must revise their doctrine on homosexuality (even though I think they should).  I understand that I probably haven’t changed anybody’s mind on whether homosexuality is a sin.  Nevertheless, no matter what your personal verdict is on the morality of homosexuality, the Christian community’s response to gay marriage through The Call is inexcusable.

The response is unapologetically hateful, misleading, alienating, condemning and arrogant.  Where is the emulation of Jesus?  Where is the loving your neighbors, or removing the plank from your own eye, or feasting with those whom the religious elite label as sinners?  Are we this unaffected by the teachings of our own savior?  When asserting that this is an issue of light vs. darkness it is astounding to me with what stunning irony the majority of the Christian community has chosen the darkest of all positions.

For those Christians here at Valence I would like to add a special note.  You may be reading this and thinking, “Well that’s not me. I’m not going be at The Call. Don’t make the mistake of lumping all Christians together.”

Let me say this simply: silence on this issue indicts every one of us as complicit.  The gay community whom you claim to want to reach and love will only hear those speaking the loudest.  From every pulpit, street corner and water cooler available we should be denouncing the kind of homophobic reaction The Call represents.  Most of all we should be voting NO on Prop 8.