Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Right to Contract

The gay rights movement, like many such movements, is a mixture of good and bad premises, of legitimate and irrational arguments. It is a package-deal. From the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

“Package-dealing” is the fallacy of failing to discriminate crucial differences. It consists of treating together, as parts of a single conceptual whole or “package,” elements which differ essentially in nature, truth-status, importance or value.

Consider the reaction to the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. On November 15 gay advocates rallied across the nation to protest that vote and call for legalizing gay marriages. The Chronicle story on the rallies quoted two of the protesters:

"Civil marriages are a civil right, and we're going to keep fighting until we get the rights we deserve as American citizens," said Karen Amico, one of several hundred protesters in Philadelphia, holding up a sign reading "Don't Spread H8".

"We are the American family, we live next door to you, we teach your children, we take care of your elderly," said Heather Baker a special education teacher from Boston who addressed the crowd at Boston's City Hall Plaza. "We need equal rights across the country."

In regard to equal rights, the gay rights movement has a legitimate and proper position. Gays possess the same rights as heterosexuals. Indeed, all individuals possess the same rights, regardless of gender, race, religion, or any other characteristic. In short, those rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". That is, each individual has a moral right to his own life and the freedom to take the actions necessary to sustain and enjoy it, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others.

In a free society, individuals are not forced to deal with one another. They do so only by mutual consent, with the voluntary agreement of all involved.

Gays, like every individual, have a moral right to enter into contracts. Marriage is a contract-- it is a voluntary agreement between two individuals. Gays, like every individual, have a moral right to get married. This is where the legitimacy of the gay rights movement ends.

The name of the movement itself is a package-deal. "Gay rights" implies that gays have rights distinct from heterosexuals. But there are no such thing as gay rights, nor are there heterosexual rights. There are only individual rights, and they apply to all individuals. By implying that there are different sets of rights, gay advocates undermine their argument and create an unnecessary divisiveness.

But they don't stop there. The gay rights movement advocates laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and thereby force individuals to deal with gays. In doing so, they advocate violating the rights of non-gays-- such laws compel individuals to associate without the consent of all parties.

It is irrational to discriminate against gays, just as it is irrational to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity. (There are some legitimate situations in which such discrimination is rational-- such as medical studies regarding illnesses more prevalent in a particular race.) But irrational behavior should not be illegal. Individuals should be free to discriminate on whatever grounds they choose. Their irrationality will harm nobody but themselves, and those who voluntarily associate with them.

The gay rights movement calls for equal rights, while simultaneously advocating violating rights. They can't have it both ways. They cannot call for the right to freely associate with whom they choose while denying that right to others. They cannot call for the right to enter voluntary agreements while denying that right to others.

If the gay rights movement truly desires equal rights, then it must advocate individual rights. It must drop the entire "gay rights" moniker. It must oppose anti-discrimination laws. Then, and only then, will the movement deserve the support of all who love freedom.

1 comment:

Burgess Laughlin said...

Thank you for unpacking the package deal and for making clear the objective alternative. I hope your statement receives wide publicity.