Friday, November 21, 2008

Legitimate freedom and equality

A few days ago, I wrote about how far-right christianists are trying to drive a wedge between the GLBT and African-American communities. It’s part of their script, along with saying that GLBT civil rights aren’t “real” civil rights, not like African-American civil rights. Almost without exception, the people pushing this line are white.

One example is Mike Huckabee.

Appearing on ABC (USA)’s The View, he praised the significance of the symbolism of the election of Barack Obama as president. Answering a question about GLBT rights, he said: "People who are homosexuals should have every right in terms of their civil rights, to be employed, to do anything they want. But that's not really the issue…”

After that, he brought in the far-right christianist rhetoric: “[W]hen we're talking about a redefinition of an institution, that's different than individual civil rights …” This is a constant talking point among far-right christianists, ignoring the fact that we’re not redefining marriage—we also see it as the union of two people who love each other and are committed to one another. All we’re doing is ensuring that the rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage are available equally to all citizens.

Then Huckabee went further, declaring why GLBT civil rights aren’t real: “[H]ere is the difference: Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma bridge." So for Huckabee, apparently, a class of people is only entitled to full civil and human rights when the body count is high enough; when enough people have suffered severe enough violence in sufficient amounts, then Huckabee thinks they may be entitled to have some rights given to them by the majority.

Here’s the great truth they’re trying to hide: Civil and human rights are not theirs to give. Neither do they have to be earned—people are born with them. No one has the right to withhold this birthright from their fellow citizens just because they have some religious belief that teaches some people are more human than others.

Huckabee’s own brand of religion was built on the belief that African-Americans weren’t even human—they were mere property. Even after the Civil War, his religion continued to attempt to frustrate the achievement of civil and human rights for their former possessions and their descendants. How is their current intransigence any more permissible?

Obviously far-right christianists have a right to hold and teach their particular beliefs, but they have no right to force those beliefs on everyone else. Freedom demands many things of us all. Chief among them is that we recognise that all people are born equal and free. It doesn’t matter whether we like them or agree with them, freedom and equality exist regardless. It’s not given, it doesn’t have to be earned and it doesn’t require “redefining” any institution—it just exists. All that’s required is that we recognise that. The claims by people like Huckabee are what’s illegitimate and wrong, not freedom and equality nor the struggle to achieve them.

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