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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Exclusivity of Rights

FoxNation.com, the web-based version of Fox News, chose to announce Obama's statement in support of gay marriage like this:















Within a few hours, the war was over, though the defiance remained:





Setting aside the issue of Obama's changing public rationale concerning this issue, I just wanted to bring up an often-made point regarding the extension of rights to new groups. It seems that those opposing such extensions routinely characterize them as an assault on their own existent rights, arguing that their ability to continue doing what they've been doing will disappear if alternatives are allowed. Most of the time, this doesn't make sense - how, for example, would an increase in gay marriages prevent heterosexual couples from getting married? But what we're dealing with, I would think, is something emotional and visceral in nature. When rights are attached to a certain socially and culturally dominant group, some members of that group will fight hard to prevent those rights from being extended to anyone else. That extension means the loss of their unique (and hence powerful) status, and the ushering in of behavior they're not psychologically prepared to accept because it doesn't fit within their conception of what is "normal." (That definition of normality, of course, is malleable, and is both changed by, and changes, our culture and laws, which explains the - admittedly shrinking - generational divide on the issue of gay rights.)

This conception of "rights" sees them as that which limits others, rather than empowering all, as that which divides one group from another, rather than uniting them under common protections and guarantees. As many others have written, it is at its core an attempt to guarantee freedom from behavior one objects to by outlawing it and marginalizing it in an attempt to prevent it from entering one's consciousness. What we're really talking about, then, is fear.

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