Society and Rights: A Brief Response to an Article on Gay marriage

Doug Mainwaring

I just read an interesting article from Doug Mainwaring, co-founder of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots. The article is called I’m gay, and I oppose gay marriage. Have a read. It’s brief, but thought provoking, and raises the connection between marriage and children, which we tend to overlook or sideline as irrelevant in the debate over the definition of marriage.

To my mind the article highlights the huge gap between people’s motivation for seeking marriage, and how the society and the state relate to it as an institution. No one thinks in terms of an institution anymore—we can only really think in terms of our own individual rights.

I think we have become so focused on our own personal rights that we’ve lost sight of the fact that society is a web of different but interconnected people with institutions and measures in place to serve the collective, not just the individual. We no longer really care about a “society” or see ourselves as part of a collective. We only see individuals and care only about individual rights. As such, we try to banish anything that impedes those rights, even if it may be legitimately contributing to a common good. “Me” completely trumps “us”. This attitude that demands no barriers to marriage, and refuses to see children as having anything to do with marriage, is the same attitude that is hamstringing the US federal government in relation to gun reform: every “one” has a right, and it’s wrong to deprive any “one” of that right, no matter what.

We have so reified the concept of the individual that the concept of society—the coming together of different persons for a common good—is waning fast. The individual is becoming the new society, not just a unit of it. In other words, “us” is being replaced by “me”. We do not all hold the same ideals, and yet we still have to share the same space with each other. We are losing our ability to perceive an “us”, because we can only really think of our society as a bunch of “me’s”. We are no longer planets orbiting together around a common sun. We are stray meteors and comets doing our own thing on our own course. Occasionally we are colliding with each other.

In practice, we are no longer led by a principle that commends sacrifice for the other. Rather, we demand rights, and more of them, as something to be grasped, and cannot possibly conceive of emptying ourselves for the sake of others within a common good. Sure, we have Anzac Day next week, and we celebrate fallen warriors and their sacrifice. But we have absolutely no intention of emulating the ideal once the veterans’ parade is over. We momentarily enjoy the sense of togetherness and identity that these kinds of remembrance give us. We enjoy a day’s orbit around a common good and the warmth it gives us for a short while. But we are not willing to continue that orbit the next day. We each go off on our own merry way, determining our own individual course, and God help anyone who gets in our way. Our common system is unravelling.

The concept of rights, which was originally crafted to vouchsafe society and a common good, is ironically now undermining it. We have sacrificed personhood and society on the altar of rights and individualism. It’s the wrong kind of sacrifice to be making.

Society can no longer relate to us as the people we are—as men and women; as boys and girls; as husbands and wives; as fathers and mothers; as sons and daughters. Society can only address us as individuals: anonymous, genderless, ancestorless, and childless. The terms that define us and our identity, which also link us to each other, are being eclipsed by the great “me”—a concept whose only identifying link is “not you”. There is no room anymore for “us”. And when we lose sight of “us”, we actually start to misunderstand “me” as well, since as human beings we actually mutually define each other. We are losing our identity.

And we complain when the banks treat us as just a number!

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