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I do not believe in “rights.” That sentence may come as a shock to many as I am widely considered to be one of the most liberal individuals in my circle of friends, but let me explain myself and hopefully, you’ll see where I’m heading. I’m an agnostic. I do not believe in god. The concept of “rights” implies that some higher power has decided that certain aspects of our lives are beyond encroachment from the government and from our fellow man. If there is no higher power, there is no one giving said “rights” to anyone. Some people do believe in God. I’m not insulting that belief. However, America is constitutionally defined as a secular state. If religion is to play no role in our national politics, then it falls on logic and competing needs to decide our public policy, not religious dogma. There can be no “higher power” to call upon in American policy-making to justify your policy preferences at a Constitutional level.

Now, clearly, there are “rights” defined as inalienable to the American political system through the U.S. Constitution. That’s what the Bill of Rights and subsequent Amendments are for. Although, I would yet again make the argument that these are not “rights” in the sense that many Americans understand them. Anyone who’s ever taken an American Civil Liberties or Constitutional Law class knows just how tenuous the interpretations of these laws can be. The 14th Amendment may clearly state that everyone is protected equally under the law, but it took over a hundred years before most aspects of the Bill of Rights were incorporated down to the states, and as the debate over marriage equality demonstrates, not all “rights” are yet equal. No, in America, even those rights which we consider sacred to the American experience are just laws that are only protected by a 3/4 majority of the states in our Union, or a majority interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court. For better and worse, there is no higher power protecting the American people from the rules of majoritarianism, and therefore, there are no rights.

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In fact, I find much of our nation’s reliance on framing public policy in terms of one competing right against another to be harmful and in absolutely no way constructive. I had to read a book called Rights Talk for a class here at WVU, and it forever changed much of the way that I view political discourse in America. When we describe our public discourse in terms of, for example, a woman’s right to choose versus a fetus’s right to life, it leaves no room for discussion. It leaves no room for compromise and logical dialectics. If I am right, then those who hold contrary beliefs to me are inherently wrong, and why should we try to reason with one another? It’s easy to see the allure of placing your own beliefs on a sacred pedestal by invoking the power of “rights talk,” but there is virtually never a situation where that type of discourse isn’t coming from a place of selfishness and personal desire.

And that’s why, American political discourse should be called what it is. Politics is, at its core, the competition between two interested parties over limited resources. So, any discussion of political discourse in a secular America has to be framed as the competition between two competing interests rather than two competing, completely incompatible rights. It is not a right to healthcare versus the rich’s right to their wages. It is the competing interest of access to healthcare for workers who can not afford it against the interest of the wealthy to not pay higher taxes. It is a woman’s interest in control over her reproductive rights against the interests of the unborn. If God does not play a role in American policy and we are truly a democracy, no part of our national legal code and social systems are beyond the sway of an overwhelming majority. I’m not arguing that last part is good; it’s just how it is.

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How then, do I justify my fairly ultra-leftist political beliefs as being what I think is the best possible direction for our nation? I call myself a socialist libertarian, although I dislike labels, and that just happens to be the most convenient description of my belief structure. If politics should be an honest discussion of two competing interests but you find yourself wary of the dangers of majoritarianism, a political philosophy underpinned by civil libertarianism and negative utilitarianism solves most of society’s problems. Simple civil libertarianism solves most social policy issues (particularly gay marriage) by proposing a sufficient standard for laws to pass. To wit, are there actually two competing interests at play here? Or does the law simply create victims without anyone being harmed by the action it outlaws?

Gay marriage is a fairly clear case where a law does not pass muster for having two actual competing interests. If religion is to not play a part in American social policy, then the idea of “protecting the sanctity of marriage” can not be brought into this debate. For if marriage were sacred, government would not need to have anything to do with it at all. It would be a purely religious function, not a civil one. So, while gay marriage brings a plethora of benefits, both economic, social, and simply psychological, to same sex couples, it is impossible to name a single harm it causes to its opponents. Their marriages are not diminished. They do not lose any money or any of their “rights.” The only thing that happens if gay couples marry or have kids is that gay couples will marry and have kids. And though that may harm your sensitive sensibilities as a social conservative, it in no way infringes on your life in the slightest.

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Clearly, not all social issues are that simple, and it is, honestly, very rare for a contentious public issue to pass my simple “libertarianism” test. Though I am pro-choice, the abortion issue obviously has competing parties. Though I support the legalization of almost all illegal drugs, once again, it’s fair to say that the government has an interest in protecting its citizens from drug abuse (I just think making it a medical issue and not a criminal one is the right way to handle it). I could say the same thing about gambling laws, prostitution, pornography, and a litany of other social issues. But, for me, the idea of negative utilitarianism, the idea that society should minimize pain whenever possible in order to maximize societal benefits, answers where I stand on other public policy issues but that’s a discussion for another day and another blog post.

So, although I do not believe in rights and think that discussing public policy in terms of “civil rights” and “human rights” and so forth is naive and accomplishes little, I still tend to form what some would call radical leftist beliefs. Marriage equality is going to happen. No matter what the Supreme Court ends up deciding in its current crop of marriage equality cases, the tide of public opinion has begun to rapidly shift towards the acceptance of same-sex equality. I can not imagine a Constitutionally sound interpretation of our American political system that doesn’t come to this conclusion. 50 years from now, those who oppose equal recognition of members of the LGBT community will look as silly and misguided as those who opposed ending discrimination and prejudice on racial grounds. America, it is time to stand up as one nation and put an end to same-sex discrimination. There is no logical reason to oppose it.

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