Friday, February 18, 2005
You have the basic right to shut the fuck up about your basic rights.
It was just yesterday that I read (somewhere) how Conservative Party leader and charisma black hole Stephen Harper claimed that there is no "basic right" to gay marriage. Based on his words, it appears that we have two different kinds of "rights".
First, there's your ordinary, no-big-deal, run-of-the-mill, whatever kind of rights. And then (if I read Harper correctly) there's a whole 'nother category -- your "basic" rights -- some kind of extra-special, fundamental, inherent, irrevocable, can't-touch-this kind of rights, seemingly interwoven into the very fabric of spacetime and not open to debate. And apparently, some lucky people got those rights, and some people don't. But it's always amusing to see just what different people think are their "basic" rights. And a quick Google search can be enlightening.
As a start, here, we read that "Access to abortion is a basic right." No big surprise there, that sentiment is pretty firmly established in the pro-choice movement. Onward.
Over here, the Australian Labor Party pretty clearly feels that "Access to housing is a basic human right." Fair enough. Everyone's entitled to their opinion.
Now, over here, someone seems convinced that living-wage jobs are a basic right, and who am I to quibble?
Being Canadian, I of course would be remiss if I didn't point out that the Canada Health Act articulates health care as a basic right.
Getting a little quirkier, Western Canadian farmers clearly feel that the Canadian Wheat Board is trampling on their basic right to market their product wherever they want. And who am I to argue?
And the list goes on and on and tediously on, what with your "basic" right to equal opportunity, citizenship and food security. And, of course, we can't possibly overlook that most basic of all American rights -- the right to bear arms, the better what with to accidentally shoot your kids or drunkenly off that nagging spouse, that sort of thing.
And, finally, gays naturally believe they have a basic right to get married. These days, it seems that you can't swing a dead cat without whacking someone in their basic rights. And the most amusing thing about all of the above groups? They're all full of shit, every one of them.
There is no such thing as a "basic" right. Period.
Quite simply, there is no right that is so basic, so fundamental, so obvious or so inalienable that it can't be taken away from you. Your so-called "rights" are nothing more than those freedoms that have been given to you by your society and your government at the time, and those rights can change at a moment's notice, depending on who's running the place. Today's "basic right" could just as easily be tomorrow's historical relic.
Negroes in the United States like to claim that they have a "basic right" to be treated equally. Hello? Didn't used to be that way, remember? It's not much of a basic right if you can be deprived of it for centuries, is it? American women like to crow about their "basic right" to reproductive choice. History lesson: have you already forgotten what life was like pre-Roe v. Wade?
The point is that the concept of a "basic right" just does not exist. There is no foundation to claim that some rights are so fundamental that they have to be considered untouchable and irrevocable. Thus, when Stephen Harper proclaims that gays have no "basic right" to marriage, technically, he's right. They don't. But he's also being unspeakably stupid since that misses the point entirely.
Of course gays have no right to get married. That's the whole point of this debate, for crying out loud: they're fighting to get that right. It's not theirs at the moment, so for gays to say that this is a basic right of theirs is equally stupid. It makes no sense to hear gays claiming that they have a right to get married. They don't, and that's an asinine thing to say. It's that right that they're after.
To hear Harper announce that gays have no right to get married is as idiotic and meaningless as hearing a 1950s segregationist in America's deep south claim that blacks had no right to eat at the same food counters as whites. He would be completely correct -- they didn't have that right. But they sure as hell went out and got it, didn't they?
Thus, when you hear ignorant bigots like Stephen Harper state that gays don't have the right to get married, well, duh, yeah, we understand that. Rather, you have to interpret Harper as if he's saying that they don't deserve the right, which is a very different statement indeed.
So, note to matrimonially-minded gays -- don't get into a pissing contest with Harper about how you have a right to get hitched. You don't. But the next time he makes the claim, why not try just agreeing with him? Sure, you admit, you don't have the right. You're not going to argue that point. But you think you deserve it. And make him address that. Make Harper actually use the word. Make him say, "Gays don't deserve the right." I'm willing to bet he's suddenly going to get awfully uncomfortable.
ADDENDUM: Upon rereading, I don't think I made one of my major points as clearly as I could have, so let me take another shot at it.
There's no question that Stephen Harper and his merry band of bigots don't want to allow gays to marry, but it's how they say it that's so revealing. If they were honest and upfront about it, they'd say something like, "We don't want to give gays the right to marry." Or, perhaps, "We don't think gays deserve the right to marry." And note how either of those make it clear that this is a personal choice on their part, which puts their bigotry front and centre.
However, rather than admit that this is a choice on his part, Harper weaselly tries to fob this off on some mythical concept of "basic rights". "Look," Harper seems to be saying, "I'd like to help, really. But, see, there are these 'basic rights' over there in that box. And I've looked through there and, gosh, I just can't find the one that says you faggots can get hitched. It's not like I didn't try, but I checked the box. No basic right. Sorry, but my hands are tied."
But, as we've already established, there is no box of basic human rights. Rights are whatever the people in power decide to hand out and, if he wanted to, Harper could give out that particular right with the stroke of a pen. Instead, by shifting the blame to the (mythical) basic rights box, Harper seems to be saying, "Hey, it's not my fault. It's just the way the universe is structured. What can I do?"
In short, Harper is being a coward. Rather than take ownership of his own bigotry, he chooses to shift the blame, and that's why people should call him on this. When he claims that there is no basic right that allows gays to marry, the obvious retort should be, "We know there's no such right. The question is, do you want there to be such a right? Are you willing to give us that right?" And make him say no. Make him own up to his bigotry.