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August 08, 2005

What is a right?

I got to thinking about the ideas of "rights" earlier today. At first, it seems like a very simple idea. As Americans, the Constitution defines many of the things that we are allowed to do. Thomas Jefferson named the three basic human rights "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independance, stating that these were "inherant" (these were based on views held by Thomas Paine and other philosophers). Rights appear to be anything that are allowed by law, right? So, abortion is a right, correct?

Voting is a right, correct?

If instated, gay "marriage" would be a right, correct?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Let's start with the first of these "rights", abortion. People who call themselves "pro-choice" assume that only one member is allowed a choice, that of the mother. While a number will claim that they would prefer the alternative, Democrats in power do little, if anything, to discourage abortion. Still, while some might argue that there is no scientific basis to claim that conception is the beginning of life, there appears to be plenty to at least suggest that a person is alive well before birth (for example, the heart starts to beat twenty-two days after conception, and brain waves are present at six weeks). Going back to Mr. Jefferson's first inherant right, "life", the unborn child is alive, and has equal rights to anyone else. Thus, the mother does not have the moral highground to end the life of this child. It is no wonder that liberals argue intensely that life does not start until birth.

So, voting must still be a right, correct? Not quite. Everyone remembers from their middle school civics course that voting is a duty. So shouldn't felons be responsible for their duties? Well, a duty implies that the person responsible can be trusted to uphold morality. In committing a felony, that person has proven that they would serve their own selfishness and utter lack of respect for others before aiding the general welfare. By allowing them to vote, we would send a message to felons that their crimes will be punished with a slap to the hand, followed by no further action. Voting is not a right.

Well, certainly, marriage must be a right and, by default, this should hold for both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, right? Of course not. Now, rights can be broken down into two groups: individual rights and collective rights. But do collective rights even exist? By definition, collective rights protect the integrity of groups of people. What this boils down to is that people cannot be judged by a stereotype or an example posed by a member of that group; that is, each individual is protected. So, collective rights are little more than a subgroup of individual rights.

So, this still leaves the question, why do traditional marriages hold as a right while homosexual unions are not? Well, to start with, marriage is not a right. Much like many of the benefits that follow marriage (such as tax benefits, adoption, and others), it is conditional. It is a privelege; by definition, it is allowed to certain people or groups of people. Is this discriminatory? Perhaps, but as a society, we have to set standards and live by them. I challenge anyone to find a right that is held by a couple if they wish to challenge this idea, but there is no doubt that rights go to individuals, not couples or groups.

The definition of a right needs to be reinforced; these days, anything that is allowed or demanded of the law is a "right". Thankfully, my hope will not be as dangerous for me as it was for Thomas Paine, but the philosophy of Paine, Jefferson, and many others must be reinstated for the preservation of our society, just as it was in their day.

UPDATE 8/9/05 5 PM: Welcome to all Commonwealth Conservative readers (and thanks for the link John).