Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Freedom of Freedom

Despite the fact Iran is speeding towards acquiring nuclear weapons and is sharing training and methodology regarding IED (roadside bombs) with their Muslim Taliban brethren, the real problem isn't found outside these four walls, but from within. To quote the Tommy Lee Jones/Will Smith film Men In Black:

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

This week, a judge in Mississippi ruled that an 18-year-old lesbian, Constance McMillen, can not only attend her high school prom with her girlfriend but she can wear a tuxedo if she so chooses. However, he also upheld the school's decision to cancel the event entirely.

If you hadn't heard about this particular case, Ms. McMillen indicated she would be taking her girlfriend to the prom and intended to wear a tuxedo to the event. Subsequently, her school advised her she would be barred from bringing a same-sex date and would be removed or denied access if she wore a tuxedo. The ACLU intervened and sued the school, who subsequently canceled the event.

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson held that the school district had violated Ms. McMillen's rights by prohibiting her from bringing a same-sex date as well as wearing a tuxedo, and cited the fact that she has been openly gay since she was in the eighth grade and her attendance with her girlfriend, and the type of attire she had chosen to wear, was a statement on her part. Hence the school violated her rights.

My initial response to this first component of the decision was what had happened if she was not openly gay or bi and had dated men for years but suddenly decided to bring a female date to the prom? And further, what would have happened if she was straight but decided to wear a tuxedo and bring a male date who decided to wear a dress?

The second component to the decision is somewhat misleading and disheartening as well. The judge did not demand the school sponsor a prom because, apparently, a group of parents decided to plan a private off-school event -- called a ball -- and hold same elsewhere on the same night as the intended prom. The question as to whether Ms. McMillen is allowed to attend this event -- with her date, and her choice of attire -- remains to be seen.

So despite the fact that Ms. McMillen -- courageously, I might add -- stood her ground, the end result is she'll likely be insulted and blamed -- both locally and from afar -- for being the cause of this situation when it's the school, the community and -- frankly -- some backwards-ass country fucks -- that have created this firestorm in the first place.

This case, and the bigotry behind it, is unfortunate but not surprising. I commend Ms. McMillen for standing her ground, especially in the face of the abusive response one can only assume she'll receive. One need look no further than the pathetic, repulsive comments in response to the article posted earlier herein.

This reminds me of a case from the last 18 months wherein an interracial couple was refused a license of marriage, and similarly demonstrates -- to me -- the religious zealotry and fervor with which some people fight abortion rights. To me, whether one is opposed to the marriage of interracial couples, abortion, gay rights or anything else which opposed their own views, fervent opposition is less an appropriate response and more a revelation of fear, bigotry, ignorance and naivete. I understand people -- "dumb, panicky dangerous animals" -- want to keep a handle on their world and retain the values with which they grew up; I understand wanting to keep your world the same as it was when your parents grew up. However, the world changes and the people that fail to change along with it are not going to win their battle with entropy, change or progress; they're going to be regarded as outcasts, bigots and angry. So be it.

This debate, incidentally, touches on the larger issue of gay marriage, which has increasingly been brought to the forefront since the Bush Administration was in existence. Personally, I'm opposed to the actual term "gay marriage" only because of semantic reasons. A marriage, by definition, is a civil union of a man and a woman. I fully support a same-sex civil union which grants each member of said union the same benefits as a married couple; I just would refer to same as a marriage. But whether it's 2010 or 1910, people should not be precluded from being happy, nor should they be prohibited from spending their lives with whom -- and in whichever manner -- they wish. What is unfortunate, to me anyway, is not that we as people are so resistant to change -- we all are, on some level, for various -- and not all bad -- reasons. What bothers me most is that as Americans, we have ingratiated ourselves with the notion that we should express our opinions because we have the right to do so, but we seem to have forgotten the fact that once we have expressed our opinions, we should expend as much if not more energy on actually moving forward, whether our opinion is accepted or not. Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Papers, described the notion of factions and how different opinions and beliefs would naturally pit one view against another -- in both governmental issues and beyond same -- and yet, his view wasn't that we should intensively, infinitely labor on these differences, but come to some sort of understanding or acceptance and move forward.

It seems we have only mastered that first part -- the extreme arguing, bile and insulting -- and skipped over that second part, the art of compromise and accepting, rather than alienating -- our neighbor. Whether it's gay rights, abortion, race, or anything else that seems to bring out the worst in us as a nation, I don't quite understand why we haven't mastered the art of jointly expressing our opinion and our respect for others' opinions. Saying "I don't agree with what you are doing, and I don't feel it is right for me, but to each his or her own" has been replaced with "My opinion is right, yours is wrong, and I will fight to the death before I see your opinion win out over mine."

Voltaire once wrote "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." We've gotten so busy disagreeing, preaching, protesting and denigrating others' beliefs that we've forgotten another equally important American tenet -- individual freedom.

To me, that is both unfortunate and sad, and perhaps a unique American perspective, one I hope changes some time in the future, if not in my lifetime.

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