Monday, June 3, 2013

Rights and Democracy

As a followup to the Mulshine column I discussed yesterday, this letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on April 3, 2013:

Voting on my rights   I don’t disagree with all of Paul Mulshine’s Sunday column ("Hypocrisy on same-sex marriage here in Jersey"). I do object to his argument that this is an issue that deserves a public vote. Hogwash.   In a democracy, we don’t vote on every issue. We abdicate most of that right to elected officials, who are theoretically kept in check by voters and the courts.   So why a vote on this issue? Should Virginia voters have been the ones to decide on the state’s interracial marriage ban in 1967? Should Kansas voters have decided the fate of segregated public schools in 1954?   It’s one thing to vote on school budgets or open space. It’s quite another to vote on discriminating against a class of citizens. If voters approve same-sex marriage in New Jersey, that’s great. But I don’t need Paul Mulshine or anyone else to gift me with approval of my 21-year relationship with my partner.Dan Garrow, Ocean Grove

Dan Garrow is on the right track. But, there are several fallacies in his letter that must be corrected.

First, in a democracy, the people do vote on every issue. America is a constitutionally limited republic (at least in its original conception), in which elected officials are kept in check by a constitution (not "voters and the courts). The constitution limits the government to protecting individual rights. In our republic, rights are inalienable, and thus outside the scope of the democratic process.

Second, rights are individual, not class (i.e., group) based, and are held equally and at all times by all people. Rights include earned property, speech, religion, and contract, etc. Rights are guarantees to freedom of action, not an automatic claim to other peoples wallets or service.


Third, it's false that "It’s one thing to vote on school budgets or open space. It’s quite another to vote on discriminating against a class of citizens." The two are linked, because it's just as wrong to subject someone's marriage (i.e., contract) rights to the vote as it is to subject someone's money (i.e., property) rights to the vote. Just as each of us has the inalienable right to choose our marriage partners, so each of us has the right to decide how to spend our own money. Government schools, open space programs, and bans on gay marriage are linked because they all violate rights.

There are no group rights, such as "gay rights." There are only individual rights, which are inalienable and held equally by all people at all times, and protected by government equally and at all times. The gay marriage issue is essentially a contract rights issue, and contract rights belong to everyone. If you are to effectively defend rights in any area, you must defend all rights of all people at all times. Otherwise, your fight is hollow.

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