You Can’t Give What Someone Already Has

August 10th, 2007  |  Published in etc  |  3 Comments

Talking Points Memo rounds up last night’s DHRC/Logo forum, and I’m going to risk looking like a nitpicker:

“Barack Obama made an interesting statement about the fight for gay marriage rights, discussing how even though his parents’ inter-racial marriage was illegal in many states at the time, he would have been a pragmatist in offering advice to the civil rights movement. ‘I would have probably said it’s less important that we focus on an anti-miscegenation law than we focus on a voting rights law and a non-discrimination and employment law and all the legal rights that are conferred by the state,‘ Obama said.”

People might blink at the content but not the formulation, and that bothers me. The state does not confer rights. It recognizes them. If it fails to recognize them, then it loses its right to exist.

Arguing for the provision of gay rights is like arguing for the right to not be tortured and killed by a government bureaucrat: No one should have to make that argument. Because a small, delusional, bigoted fraction has made one of our major parties its willing hostage, we do have to argue the point. The basis of that argument shouldn’t be “We need to give same-sex partners rights, too.” The basis of the argument should be “We need to recognize their rights, which are inseparable from them as people.”

When we talk about rights as things the state doles out, we play into the crabbed and pinch-faced “no special rights” rhetoric of anti-gay bigots who do believe rights are things you’re given. Their conception of “rights” obscures the fact that what they’re really arguing for is special privileges for them, those who believe as they do, and their abettors.

There’s other stuff in the TPM roundup that’s troubling from other points of view. That’s just what caught my eye this morning.


  1. david says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 12:54 pm (#)

    Very interesting perspective. At first I thought I disagreed with you, but when I tried to explain the disagreement it seemed that you were actually completely right. Well done.

  2. mph says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 3:16 pm (#)

    Thanks, David. I was wondering if you might not happen by. :-)

  3. gl. says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 10:33 pm (#)

    “special rights” arguments makes my blood boil, and has ever since my uncle used it on me in colorado’s amendment 2 debate, the one that clearly stated in the text of the law that homosexuals couldn’t sue for discrimination even if they had been discriminated against. as an 18-year-old i thought it was ridiculous and couldn’t fathom how anyone thought voting “no” was granting “special rights.” argh! it still makes me mad. but i never thought of it because the framing was so off: the state can only recognize rights, not grant them. nice.

Leave a Response

© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.