Focus On Equality The Fight For Equal Protection Philosophy
The purpose of this paper is to argue that gay rights are human rights, not special rights. In the United States, members of the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered) community feel as though they're treated like second-class citizens. In numerous states, their rights are not protected under the law, and this endangers the well-being of all Americans. If one group is not protected, then all groups are in danger of not being protected. As a nation, we have a responsibility to protect everyone, regardless of any religious or personal feelings.
Focus On Equality: The Fight for Equal Protection in America
On October 12, 2005, Carol Conklin underwent major surgery after a violent car crash in Colchester, Connecticut. Her partner of 31 years, Janet Peck, was denied the right to visit her in the ICU (Markus, 2002). When Peck informed an ICU nurse that Conklin was her partner, the nurse simply stated that she did not know what that meant. While occurrences like these are becoming less common, it is still not unusual to see gay couples denied visitation rights in hospitals. According to some states, a same-sex couple is not seen as a genuine couple. Therefore, to grant them the same rights would be an exception.
This is a common perception amongst many gay rights opponents - that gays are demanding special rights, not civil rights. This term gets thrown around quite often when the topic of gay marriage is mentioned. The statement that gay rights are special rights often sends the message that gays are second-class citizens; but what exactly is a second-class citizen? According to Markus (2002): "A second-class citizen is a person considered inferior in status or rights in comparison with some others" (p. 13). Considering the fact that gays cannot get married, file joint tax returns, or adopt children in some states, it is not a stretch to see how they could feel like second-class citizens. When Conservative groups are confronted with the unfairness of it all, most simply claim that gay rights are not civil rights, they are special rights. A common argument against gay rights is that gays are seeking special rights unavailable to others. This is untrue, but it's rhetorically powerful and sounds convincing (Fetner, 2008). Even though religious fundamentalists claim that gay rights are special rights, these rights are crucial to gaining equal protection under the law.
To find out more about the varying views on gay rights, I conducted three interviews with three different people. I spoke to my priest, Father Needham, my lesbian niece, Anna, and a coworker of mine, Sheryl. Father Needham's views were right where I expected them to be. He opposes same-sex marriage and believes that gays can be rehabilitated. He also believes that gays should not be around children. My niece, Anna, believes that marriage is a right that should belong to everyone. She also believes that gays should be allowed to adopt. Sheryl, my coworker, believes that gay marriage should be allowed, but she is uncertain about whether or not they should adopt. In a nutshell, everyone has different views on this topic, and it is one that is considered quite controversial.
It has always been my understanding that civil rights belong to everyone. They are the guarantee that all individuals will receive equal treatment. When one individual's civil rights are violated, I believe that everyone's civil rights are at risk. According to Brodie (2009): "When the black civil rights movement wins an advance, it isn't a black advance, it is an advance for all people. Everyone moves forward. This is true with gays and lesbians, it is true with Hispanics, it is true with women, it is true with all of us" (p. 2). In other words, the civil rights of one group are closely tied to those of another. We are all connected in some way, and if one group suffers, then another may suffer as well. If gay rights are seen as special rights, then that endangers us all in some ways. It is not a special right to be able to live freely. It is not a special right to be treated fairly. It is not a special right to marry the person you love. These are ordinary entitlements. The right to not be discriminated against is a commonplace claim we all expect to enjoy, and it is a travesty when certain people cannot enjoy that. Everyone should be afforded the same rights and privileges. When people are not treated equally, then society as a whole suffers.
Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons as to why Conservatives view gay rights as special rights. According to Rimmerman (2008): "Frequently, when homosexuals discuss gay rights, Conservatives focus on sex, not personal freedoms" (p. 78). The argument that gays want special rights reflects the degree to which lesbians and gays are seen as atypical; their claims to ordinary rights seem special. The focus on gay and lesbian sex happens quite frequently, and it is most likely done out of ignorance. Gay rights advocates are not fighting for the right to have sex, they are fighting for the right to be treated equally. It is an atrocity to tell a group of people that their desire to have equal rights is atypical. It is also a fabrication to claim that by being allowed to marry, gays will have special rights. Heterosexuals are allowed to get married and enjoy the full benefits that come along with that. How are two people of the same sex getting married any more "special" than that? Marriage is marriage, be it between a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman.
In essence, what the Conservatives are arguing is rather difficult to understand. According to them, no one is allowed to marry someone of the same sex, but gays can marry people of the opposite sex if they choose to (Markus, 2002). Therefore, if gays are also allowed to marry people of the same sex, then they are being given rights not afforded to everyone else. This argument is far from being solid. In fact, it can be used against other interest groups. For example, a Christian is allowed to practice Buddhism, and yet a Jew is not allowed to practice Christianity. So do Christians have special rights not afforded to Jews? It is a difficult point to argue, and it is widely believed that once you start down a slippery slope, it is difficult to get back to the original argument.
The argument over special rights is one that has been fought over for many years. According to Brodie (2009): "This is an age-old battle. Gays want an end to their special status, their status as pariahs under the Constitution. They want to draw attention away from the sexual aspect" (p. 2). The sexual aspect of gay and lesbian relationships is something that many Conservatives focus on. For some reason, they cannot see past the physical part, so they seem to zero in on it. When they look at gay rights supporters, many see individuals with perverse sexual behaviors. They focus all their attention on the sexual aspects, not the emotional or political ones. Many Conservatives don't see things as they are. They don't see gay parents and their worried children. They don't see young adults concerned about their futures. They don't see elderly people standing with their partners. All they see is a group of people who have sexual desires that go against their religious beliefs. As Brodie (2009) writes: "The straight majority acquiesces in the constitutional disenfranchisement of the gay minority because lesbians and gays have sex with partners of the same sex and because that goes against the majority's grain. That, rather than any truth about homosexuals, has resulted in the common belief that gay rights are about sex" (p. 4).
Because of all of the attention on sex, many Conservatives have a difficult time considering other aspects of the gay rights movement. It is a possibility that some Conservatives truly believe that marriage, housing, and medical care are special rights. In their eyes, God condemns homosexual behavior; therefore, homosexuals should rightfully be treated as second-class citizens. As Alsenas (2008) writes: "The special rights rhetoric is really an attempt to draw a line between 'us' and 'them.' Typically, anti-discrimination laws do no more than prevent gays and lesbians from being fired from their jobs and denied housing or medical care because they are gay" (p. 23). And some states will not even do that. In thirty-seven states, it is still legal under both state and federal law to fire someone because they are gay, deny someone housing because of their sexual orientation, or refuse to serve a lesbian in a restaurant. Is it a special right to be able to work hard and keep your job? Is it a special right to be able to find housing? Is it a special right to be served in a restaurant? The answer to all three questions is clear, and it is reprehensible that they even need to be asked.
There will always be divergent opinions on the topic of gay rights, even when they become more commonplace. In order for the tug-of-war to stop, communication is essential. If people can simply sit down and listen to each other without taking things personally, then I believe that understanding will be the next step. Unfortunately, many people have a hard time interacting with individuals who have opposing views. I am one of those unfortunate individuals. In the past, I have had to force myself to be civil with people I did not agree with. Looking back on those times, I realize that holding back was a complete waste of time. My real emotions eventually came out, and they were much worse after being repressed. As Fetner (2008) writes: "For most people, emotions seem to have a life of their own. People wish they could feel calm when approaching strangers, yet their voices tremble" (p. 32). The battle over gay rights is an emotional one on both sides of the argument, and emotions have a way of clouding good judgment.
Gay rights, no matter how you look at them, are not special rights. It is not a special right to be protected under the law or to feel safe holding your partner's hand. It is not a special right to embrace your individuality. Not everybody is white, Conservative, and straight. Not everybody believes that the separation of church and state is unnecessary. Not everybody believes that same-sex marriage is an abomination. With all the ugliness in the world, why would the topic of love ever come under fire? If two people love each other, then why can't they make a bond of it? Why can't their love be recognized by their state, by their country? Why can't they express their love without drawing negative attention? If the celebration of love and individuality is a special right, then the world needs to reexamine its core values and try again.
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