Social conservatives and their ilk come up with the most clever ways of justifying their anti-gay politics. The most common defense, of course, comes as "hate the sin, love the sinner." It's a quaint sentiment, although one that's almost entirely empty. Melinda Fredricks, new vice chair of the Texas GOP, offers us something with a little more meat, although just as impotent.
The Lone Star State's Republican party received much-deserved criticism after adopting a platform that, in all seriousness, criminalizes -- and demonizes -- homosexuality. In addition to declaring "we oppose the legalization of sodomy," Texas' Republicans want to the world to know that, "homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases." It's as if we homos are alien parasites hell-bent on eating earth. The platform continues, "Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable 'alternative' lifestyle in our public education and policy...."
Fredricks tried to explain that platform this week. She didn't do a great job. "People feel threatened," she claimed, "that their children have to be taught that it's an equal lifestyle to heterosexuality." Because teaching equality, again, would tear through time and space. "At the same time, you can't say people are subhuman. (Homosexuals) still deserve the dignity entitled to them."
Wait a second here! A gay "lifestyle" doesn't even deserve respectful conversation, yet gay people deserve dignity? Is such a thing even possible? No. Doesn't the use of the d-word totally neuter Fredricks' message? Yes.
"Dignity," like "gay," comes complete with multiple nebulous meanings, and there's no universal agreement on the word's definite definition. At its linguistic heart, however, dignity means worthiness, or at deserving of respect. It came into popular usage during the Enlightenment, that wonderful period in which man's inherent, natural rights were celebrated. Dignity was not about value, as Immanuel Kant said. It was about innate worthiness.
"In the kingdom of ends everything has either a price or a dignity. What has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; what on the other hand is above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent has a dignity," he wrote in his groundbreaking Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. "Morality is the condition under which a rational being can be an end in itself, since only through this is it possible to be a lawgiving member in the kingdom of ends. Hence morality, and humanity insofar as it is capable of morality, is that which alone has dignity."
Dignity means that anyone who acts in a moral manner, i.e., not raping and murdering, possesses dignity. Their lives are their to lead, and must be respected. In that light, Fredricks' assertion that gays deserve dignity translates to a tacit, and no doubt unintentional, approval of gay people's free agency, including their "lifestyle." Her argument thus falls on its face.
Those who claim we gays deserve dignity, but not equal rights, are offering a deeply flawed argument. The entire concept of dignity rests on innate, God-given equality. Therefore, without equality, there can be no dignity for us gays. And that dignity becomes even more endangered when people claim we "tear at the fabric of society," an entirely undignified position that, despite Fredrick's assertion, turns gay people into monsters not deserving of dignity, or even life.
Image via Humiliation Studies.