A PRIMER ON CIVIL RIGHTS

Civil Rights Governor

^ Charlie Baker of MA : a civil rights Governor

—- —- —-

The civil rights of transgender Americans aroused a contentious debate here in Massachusetts, one that led up to Governor Baker signing Senate Bill 2407 into law. The arguments advanced by opponents tell me that a lot of Americans do not understand what civil rights are all about.

First : “civil rights” for transgender people are NOT “favoring the 1 percent over the rest of us,” as opponents claimed. Civil rights are not a matter of numbers. Every single person, individually, is guaranteed his or her civil rights, as basic as the civil rights of a million people.

Second : the civil rights of one person NEVER impedes the civil rights of another. Opponents of civil rights for transgender people liked to say that such rights violate the “privacy rights” of others. This is false. First of all, “privacy” is not a civil right; it is grant that can be limited, and is; and it may, in some cases, be taken away entirely. None of this can be done to a civil right. Ensuring the civil rights of one class of persons enhances the civil rights of all people. As civil rights are, by definition, those rights that the society guarantees to all and each, the guarantee works in both directions : each person in the society respects and defends the civil rights of all, and all defend and respect the civil rights of each. Civil rights are reciprocal rights.

(Opponents of civil rights for transgender people who say that bathroom rights impact other people’s privacy are correct — but beside the point. Civil rights are paramount BY DEFINITION.)

Third : civil rights are different from basic human rights. The right not to be murdered, or tortured, raped, or kidnapped, or subject to cruelties — rights to life and to not have crimes  malum in se committed upon one — are basic to any society whether it guarantees civil rights or not. They are yours no matter what. Civil rights are contractual: covenants of citizenship according to the compact made and ascribed to by those who live in a society. Civil rights can differ from one society to another. We in America have ours. We’ve fought wars, and many have died, to assure our rules:  the right to vote; to have equal protection of the laws; and to have equal access to the services and benefits offered to the public by enterprises, organizations, governments and individuals, as well as the many rights enumerated in Amendments 1 through 8 of the Constitution; and we assure them to each and all.

As for the phrase “right to privacy.” it suffers from imprecise ascription. Many Supreme Court majority opinions concerning contraception, abortion, and sex between consenting adults seem to suggest that privacy is a right. Opposing Justices — Scalia being the most vocal — say there is no such right in the Constitution. What, then, is the right that Courts call “privacy” ? The true answer is to be found in cases such as one (I cannot find the citation) in which Justice Frankfurter described certain rights as those whose violation “shocks the conscience.” The shocks that he alluded to are rights which he, and I, referred to earlier as basic human rights — which even prisoners and inmates of asylums possess. The most basic of these rights is to control one’s body and be sacrosanct in it. I see no difference, legally, between protection from infliction of cruelty and control of one’s sexual and reproductive functions. It would be far stronger for Courts to refer not to privacy but to “basic human.”

So there we are. Civil rights are societal contracts. Basic human rights are inviolable by anyone. And both are reciprocal : each to all and all to each; but different.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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