Friday, October 16, 2009

On the Protection of Civil-Rights

I had a difficult time reading Elder Oaks civil rights/Prop 8 analogy. Oaks, giving a talk at BYU-I (follow link to transcript here), likened the backlash against Mormons as a result of Proposition 8 to the hardships faced by those involved in the civil rights movement. Several comments have been made regarding the comparison (see SL Tribune commentary) and it has largely been seen as a gross misuse of the emotional and political significance of the civil rights movement.

A talented legal mind, Oaks drew on a number of different political movements. He praised the constitution as a document written "by wise men whom [God] raised up for that very purpose." He also cited the example of Oyun Altangerel, a Mongolian woman who performed a hunger strike and organized protests in favor of democracy. Oaks defines one of the roles of government as to "protect the health and safety of all." As anyone knows, the interpretation of the law is just as contentious as the actual laws themselves (if not more so). Who is to determine what needs to be protected or saved? That is the foundation of democracy and civil protest.

One statement that stands out in Oaks' speech is the section title "Religious Freedom Diluted by Other 'Civil Rights.' " The movement to legalize same-sex marriage is indeed one of civil rights with which the LDS Church and other religious groups disagree on the basis of freedom to practice religion (…at least the way they define it). Defined in terms of protecting health and safety by the right, gays and lesbians attempting to marry have been demonized in this debate.

We have been called everything from heathens to pseudo-victims and "deniers of free speech" to "opponents of democracy" as Elder Oaks insinuates. I believe differently from Elder Oaks and find it hypocritical not only for him but also others to demand their civil rights to freedoms of belief and speech yet use it to deny ours. If all men were created equal, then why should one man or woman be denied a right because his or her religious beliefs do not fall in line with those of the majority? That is why we life in a democracy with protection of Civil Rights despite the differing opinions of the majority—that is what makes this country great.

One cannot simply state that someone's beliefs are inferior because they are based more in religion or convenience or reason. This argument hinges on the biggest hot button of the entire debate: What is the family and does the government need to protect it? Is this a matter of health and safety?

The one man, one woman definition of the family is based in belief and tradition that is preserved at a cost. In 2006, half a million children in this country were in foster care. 250,000 were under the age of ten. Of those half million 50,000 (10%) were adopted (See US Dept. of Health and Human Services report). The foster care system of the country has been investigated by a number of journalists for certain abuses, and despite the good that many of these foster parents do, study after study has shown that a stable situation is a more conducive atmosphere to child development. Which only leaves one question: can gay/lesbian couples provide that type of environment? Given the right to marry, they could provide a stable atmosphere albeit one with a different set of religious beliefs.

Also, how can the government really protect its citizens' health or safety by denying the right to marry to same-sex couples? I suppose the implication here is STIs. Granted, the prevalence of these diseases is higher in the gay community; however, I think that this is more a result of the civil rights issue than a discouragement. Were straight couples not given the right to pledge fidelity to one another, would they be expected to pair up and remain monogamous for the rest of their lives? No. The promiscuity and instability of gay culture stems from the fact that we are denied a very basic right to be anything more than a couple and NOT an evil desire to destroy others' beliefs.

Although Elder Oaks drew connections between the Civil Rights movement and Mormon activism in California's Prop. 8 debate, a paradox surfaces that civil-rights and persecution—if anything—are two-way streets. Respecting others' beliefs means respecting the rights of others not only to believe but also to do—despite difference.


Popular Posts