“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something that people take. And people are as free as they want to be.” – James Baldwin
This week’s online video from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) as part of their crusade against gay marriage, was a perfect storm of bigotry, hypocracy and religious intolerance. But before you think this is going to be a political or anti-religion rant, it’s really about how the idea of personal freedom, which is fundamental to the very existence of religious groups, is being used as a weapon to deny others those same rights.
The Gathering Storm, as explained to us in ominous tones by several informercial actors standing out in an electrical storm, is that gay marriage threatens straight people’s way of life, and that these people are “afraid”. They’re afraid that by allowing gay people the freedom to marry will mean that their own freedom “will be taken away”. The absurdity of the argument, even without the lame special effects and farcical acting, is in the idea that other people gaining freedom, somehow makes you less free.
This fear-mongering employs the same failed tactics as those used against universal suffrage and desegregation, ie; blacks attain civil rights, whites will lose their rights. If women are allowed more freedom, there is less freedom for men. This line of unreasoning assumes that freedom is a fixed quantity, and that gains by one group mean losses for the other. This is akin to saying “your happiness is making me unhappy”.
The reality is this: freedom is not a zero-sum game. It’s an infinitely expanding field, like the inflationary universe. The more you take, the more the pie grows. The more it grows, the more is available to everyone. Freedom breeds more freedom in the way that happiness breeds more happiness, and chauvinism breeds greater intolerance.
The Gathering Storm warns us that gay marriage endangers straight marriage. That’s right: a big gay storm threatens to deluge us all with gayness. This tempest in a teapot of the religious right would be frightening were it not so hilarious.
To paraphrase Toni Morrison: to free ourselves is one thing, to take ownership for our freedom is another. Our liberal democracy has allowed us to pursue happiness without denying others this right. To exclude people because of the fear that there’s not enough happiness to go around, creates a contagious mindset of scarcity.
Freedom is the currency of happiness. We keep it in circulation by exercising it as frequently as possible, creating an ever-expanding pool of choices. When we choke it off, we impoverish ourselves. Taking ownership of our freedom means acknowledging that we create it ourselves. It is not something that others can give or take without our consent.
For those not convinced, click here to join the movement to build a Giant Gay Repellent Umbrella.