How then can we achieve a measure of freedom? Indeed what is the freedom that we seek? And what issues best illustrate the greater state of servitude that we call “conventional mores”? I do not have the answers to these questions, but in asking them I believe we can take an important step in the right direction. One issue stands out to me as a perfect microcosm of the problem of freedom of people in a society that defines freedom as the whims and opportunities available to those with the most power and authority: The pursuit of the freedom to have the laws and opportunities of the nation apply equally to all. The freedom to codify and legitimize conjugal relationships and to access the benefits offered to these relationships is one chief controversy that faces our “American Society”.
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution purports to codify in law equality of all “citizens” subscribing to member ship in the society at large. Such is the current plight of gay people in the United States and in many if not most regions around the world. The American state of California became the latest to succumb to anti-homosexual fear and paranoia. This fear is backed up for many by some ancient attitudes to homosexuality as described in the Old Testament. Of course this Biblical justification is just that of course: justification for irrational fear that is based on the human predisposition to fear that which is different or difficult to understand. Cultural morality derives in most part from a fear that arose at some point in the past. Fear is of course subjective, but it is also a contagion that spreads down through societies generation by generation until those who are fearful cannot for the life of them remember why in the world they are so afraid.
But that is a matter for another time.
Whatever the reason for their disapproval it led to law that banned homosexual (and all other “non-traditional” forms of) marriage from being recognized or performed within the State. This has the effect of barring gay couples from receiving over 1,000 state and federal government benefits bestowed upon married heterosexuals. This “free and democratic process” reveals an obvious truth: democracy is in no measure absolutely conducive to individual freedom. Much like the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution Section 7a of the California State Constitution says that “A person may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or denied equal protection of the laws”. On its face then Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in California violates the Constitution of the same. This ridicules state of affairs is only possible in a system that values the fearful and the powerful over the basic rights and needs of the relatively powerless. Note that those violated by the concept of the capitalistic acquisition power can be a minority or a majority group as the situation dictates.
In either case the concerns of a group of fearful individuals manipulating the fears of a larger group can lead to tragedy for another group.
The question must also be asked: what do those who voted yes on Proposition 8 gain by their electoral victory? At the most they can claim to have protected the traditions of the society. More likely they gain a moment of calm in the face of inevitable change. This existential acquisition pales in comparison to the very real loss suffered by same-sex couples (it is an inconvenient fact that acquisition for one leads to loss for many others). They lose the right to be make medical decisions for each other, and they lose access to various tax and entitlement benefits. But, most significant, gay Americans lose their equality under the law.
Once a claim to a basic human right emerges it is only a matter of time before that right is granted by the society at large. This was most recently and relevantly illustrated in the United States by the African-American Civil Rights movement of the second half of the 20th century. Much like it is with the oceans the tides of human rights cannot be halted or denied, even if on occasion they recede. Some decry as fatuous or even racist the comparison between the current struggle by gay Americans for equal protection under the to the Civil Rights movement. Why? Because bias based on sex is inherently less insidious then that based on skin color? The problem with the comparison is thus only one of degree and not substance as claimed by the detractors. In the United States one of the most revered concepts is the concept of universal equality. Those who hold power in the Nation by the use of Capitalistic Power acquisition would no long hold the authority that they do if the concept were as revered in practice as it is in concept. Therefore the happiness and rights of Homosexual Americans are enslaved by the more pressing right of those who have acquired power to wield it unhindered to bring about whatever state of affairs that they desire. This is an unjust state of affairs. We must ask ourselves what is more important: the momentary existential discomfort of one segment of the power structure or the bestowal of basic human rights and dignity to a relatively powerless minority?