From day one of grade school in the USA, if not sooner, we are taught that it is our civic duty to participate in elections, to voice our opinion, to change things we don't feel are right. We are told incessantly that to do so is our Civic Responsibility. We are further told that we have, as citizens, rights and responsibilities that make up our existence as citizens. We have the responsibility to attempt to change everything which displeases us about our government and society. But do we always have the right?
I consider myself a staunch liberal, and my stance on nearly every issue in the modern political arena seems to confirm this. But at my core, I feel that there are many things which we, as the government or as fellow citizens, do not have the right to intrude upon. The founding fathers referred to these as "inalienable rights." They listed "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," but this statement needs a rather large asterisk beside it. Sure, having liberty is nice, but not at the expense of the liberty of others. We should, for instance, have liberty to decide what we eat for breakfast, or if we eat anything at all. We should not have the liberty to hold someone at gunpoint and force them to eat cheerios each morning.
You may laugh at this statement. Surely we would never pass a law mandating all citizens to eat cheerios. What someone eats for breakfast has no effect on their contribution to society, their lawfulness, or any of their interactions with other members of society. Why would we infringe upon the right to choose a breakfast? But people who would laugh at such a sentiment actually would favor the mandatory cheerio consumption act.
Let's try an experiment. The question "What do you want for breakfast?" has three criteria that make it eligible for use in this comparison. First, somebody's answer does not affect their contribution to society. Second, his or her answer, unless it involves eating another human being or something of similar ridiculousness, has no effect on the person's lawfulness or character. Finally, what a person eats for breakfast only affects others as far as water-cooler conversation goes. It does not affect others by any stretch of the imagination.
So we have three categories: Societal Value, Lawfulness / Character, and Impact on others. If a question passes these three tests (that is, the answer has no effect on any of thes three areas,) we have no right to regulate it. So let's try a question.
- Who do you want to marry? This question is a very controversial topic in today's society, and it really shouldn't be. Let's look at the tests. Societal Value: people who marry the same gender, the opposite gender, or even inanimate objects for that matter all work exactly the same way. There is no effect on societal value. Character / Lawfulness: There is no law against any marriage as of now anywhere (as far as I am aware) except California, where Proposition 8 banned homosexual marriage, although a supreme court case is in the works to overturn this decision once and for all. As for character, this is where most of the debate happens, specifically where religious fundamentalism is concerned. Remember that you will always be burning in somebody's hell, no matter what you believe. Finally, Impact on others. Despite what many of the most vocal opponents of gay marriage say on the topic, being around a homosexual person does not make you any more likely to "catch the gay." Some people are gay, some aren't. They tend not to affect each other, except in politics. So three passes for this question. Nobody, be it the people or the government, has the right to regulate your answer to this question.
Jane Doe is walking down a busy square after leaving the temple. She is Jewish. Out of nowhere, a Militant Christian jumps at her with a knife and backs her into the corner. At knifepoint, he demands that she accept Jesus into her heart. Finally she is forced to submit. Sound familiar? Switch out a few words; there are laws against rape. This is ultimately what many are attempting to do: rape society. Somebody who believes that their version of the "truth" on an issue -- be it Gay Marriage, Abortion, Religion, or any other controversial societal issue -- is absolutely correct and correct enough to be forced upon society at large is, in a sense, trying to rape society.
This is a bit extreme, I admit. But you see my point. There are some issues which, while the raging political battlefield of the time seems to beg to differ, we don't need to take a side on. Anything that doesn't affect society or others, specifically things which are hinged upon a specific and non-universal moral code, should not be ruled by law. The simple fact that we've thrust upon ourselves the responsibility of ruling does not give us the right to rule absolutely.