On Election Day, Americans saw significant progress on social issues in some states when voters in Maine and Maryland supported a measure to legalize gay marriage, Washington and Colorado both legalized recreational marijuana and, at home in Massachusetts, voters supported the legalization of medical marijuana.
Unfortunately many people, in their welcome celebration of these victories, were not aware that President Barack Obama, before having been re-elected, said he would not pursue gay marriage at the federal level as vigorously, saying “trying to legislate federally into this is probably the wrong way to go.”
He said that legalizing gay marriage is ultimately “the right thing to do,” but that “it is be up to future generations of Americans to implement meaningful reform.” His opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) notwithstanding, he has cut off further moral support to the Americans he’s passing the buck to, but trusts that if we have that conversation at the state level, the evolution that’s taking place in this country will get us to a place where we are going to be recognizing everybody fairly.”
Deplorable as his weakness on the subject may be, it reflects a larger issue in American politics today. Essentially, it is often difficult for people who will not be directly affected by backwards social policies to consistently and courageously fight for greater social freedom. Obama’s weakness is shared by many people for whom policy consequences that are out of sight are very much out of mind.
In my own experiences, many people are surprised that as a white, straight, non-smoking, American-born male that I would so strongly support legal equality of minorities, federal legalization of gay marriage and recreational marijuana, a much more open-border policy, and respect for a woman’s right to pursue an abortion at her own expense.
I am affected by any policy that doesn’t respect the individual rights of all people – regardless of race, class, creed or sexual orientation – to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.
A capitulation on the rights of any person or group of people is a step in the wrong direction, and gives moral support to all other rights-violating policies – be they of a social or economic nature. On the other hand, I am not affected by someone’s decision to marry someone of their own sex or to smoke. I preserve my ability to choose to do otherwise.
Even if it could be shown that I wouldn’t be remotely affected by the passing of some obscene act like DOMA, or the continued prohibition of marijuana, or continued bipartisan capitulation on the rights of women or continued institutionalized xenophobia, the fact would remain that all people should possess the same individual rights, regardless of my ability to relate to them.
I admittedly don’t understand or particularly want to understand a gay lifestyle. I don’t have a negative or a positive opinion of it, and I don’t know or very much care whether people choose to or are predisposed by genetics to be gay.
I haven’t the slightest desire to smoke marijuana. I highly doubt that I will need to use it for medicinal purposes, and in many cases, I think poorly of the recreational use of it.
I simply do not know what it is like to be in the position of a woman who has been raped or has encountered circumstances that would make it difficult for her to give birth to or raise a child.
In all such cases, whatever my experience or lack thereof may be in dealing with these issues, and whatever opinion I may form, the rights of homosexual couples, marijuana smokers or women enjoy the same moral status, whether or not state or federal governments, protectionists’ economic statistics, or biblically-motivated pseudoscience favor it.
The law of this country and the moral stance of our president should reflect the moral right of all humans, and especially of all Americans, to pursue happiness in whatever way they see fit.
Neither should wait for re-election or a favorable majority or state competition. A person’s right to pursue happiness, whether they conceive of happiness as spending the rest of their life with a specific person or smoking to take a break from a long week or living without potential long-term consequences of unplanned or poorly planned pregnancies, is inviolable.
It should not properly be put to a majority vote; majorities are quite capable of voting our rights away. It should not be subjected to opinion surveys; opinions do not matter in the context of rights. It should not be relegated to individual states so they can compete to discover the most efficient ways to violate it; no one should have to “vote with their feet” when they live in any part of a country founded to allow people to pursue happiness.
Individual rights should be unequivocally defended by everyone who claims the honor of being American. Conversely, a person or policy that fails to defend individual rights should be denounced as backwards, immoral and un-American.
Nathan Fatal is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.