The Chocolate Milk Test
Culture and Politics - Sex and Culture
Written by Douglas Wilson
Tuesday, 11 September 2012
In talking about gay rights, we have to distinguish between different
kinds of rights. If someone tries to ramp up the stakes by saying that
he is talking about human rights, then we have go on to distinguish between different kinds of human rights.
The first kind of right is a liberty right -- the right to be left
alone in certain specified areas. These are rights we have over against
an officious government or a meddling neighbor. I have, for example, the
right to keep and bear arms. This right was given to me by God, not
James Madison. I also have a right to free speech. I have a right to
free assembly together with others exercising the same right. I have the
right to worship God as He requires in His Word.
Now in this sense, I absolutely believe in gay rights. Homosexuals are people and habeus corpus
applies to them as much as to anybody else.
They have a right to a fair
and speedy trial. They have a right to not be convicted of a crime on
the basis of stupid rumors. In fact, I cannot think of a single genuine
right that I have that homosexuals do not have together with me, and for
the same reasons.
At this point in the proceedings, someone clears his throat and says,
"Umm, marriage? You have a right to marry, and they do not." But
"marry" is not an unspecific verb with no direct object. I have the
right to marry a woman, and so do they. A man and a woman together is what marriage is. The fact that they don't want to
marry a woman is their look out. I have a right to own a gun and so
does your spinster Quaker aunt. The fact that she doesn't want to
own a gun is perfectly acceptable. But what she is not free to do is
redefine everything, and say that gun ownership is very important to
her, but that for her, gun ownership means owning a quilting rack.
Marriage was defined by God in the garden, and He wove it right into our identity as having been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).
Not only did He weave this definition in, He did it with a thread count
that we cannot begin to count or comprehend. Redefining marriage is
therefore not a project of weaving something else; it is the destructive
project of tearing up what was already woven.
But there is more. Liberty rights mean that other entities (like the
government or your meddlesome neighbor) have a corresponding duty to
respect that right. They respect it by leaving you alone. You buy a gun, and they do not attempt to take that gun away from you. They respect your rights by doing nothing. All they have to be is "not a busybody." In this sense, such rights are negative rights.
This leads us to the other conception of rights, which are not rights
at all. They are "positive" rights, in the sense that something must be
given to you. These would be things like the right to "affordable
housing," or a "living wage." With the gun, you buy the gun and other
people leave you be. With the affordable housing, you provide the lack
of a house, and somebody else has to buy the house. You provide the need
for a job, and somebody else has to pay the wage. Your "rights"
understood in this way amount to an obligation on the part of someone
else to provide it.
You have a right, and they have a corresponding duty, not to respect
what you bought, but rather to buy you something. Your right is
purchased with corresponding duties from them. The more freedom you have
under this definition, the less somebody else has. So not everybody
leaps to do their duties in this regard -- enter the government in order
that we have somebody to make them do their duty. The government takes
money from them in order to pay for the "right" to an affordable house, a
living wage, or a hot lunch.
This notion of positive rights is therefore the intellectual
framework of slavers. The former, the idea of liberty rights, is the
theological framework for a free society. With liberty rights, you pay
for your own gun, and other people leave you alone. With the positive
rights, under that definition, say that you had the right to gun
ownership. This would means somebody else would have to buy you a gun . .
. with a gun pointed at them in case they didn't want to.
So what does this have to do with gay rights? All we have to is ask
whether or not anybody is going to have to be coerced in outlandish ways
order to establish, say, the right of homosexuals to marry. With
negative rights, when a right is recognized and acknowledged, the
experience of liberty grows, and it grows for everyone. With positive
rights, when such a "right" is established," real liberty -- in all
sorts of areas -- shrinks.
Go back to gun ownership. A man has a right to own a gun, and the
owner of a restaurant has the right to require all guns to be checked at
the door. It is his restaurant. Of course, he should also have the
right to go the other way too. This is Idaho, at least where I am, and
we have one restaurant in town that gives you a discount for "open
carry." It's kind of endearing.
So say that homosexuals are given the right to marry, as has occurred
in a number of states. Do Christian photographers have the right to
turn down the job of shooting the wedding? Do Christians caterers get to
say "No, thank you. We don't do gay weddings."? Do the Christian owners
of a bed and breakfast have the right to decline being the scene of the
honeymoon? No? Well, then, there's your answer. Those driving this
particular agenda are no friends of liberty.
I sometimes describe the mentality of soft despotism that surrounds
us on every hand as the "free chocolate milk for everybody" mindset. So
let this be your litmus test. Do I have a right to buy chocolate milk if
I want? Or is someone else being obligated to buy me a chocolate milk
whenever I want?