A Day Without Property Rights Is Like a Day Without Sunshine
Anita Bryant and the gay rights movement have both missed the point.
It wasn't only the weather that was heating up as April turned into May in Dade County, Florida. What started out as a protest against a local ordinance turned into a knockdown and dragout that put Dade County on the national media map. With Anita Bryant on one side and the gay movement on the other, the lines were firmly drawn. When the day of reckoning came, 45 percent of the voters—a record for a Dade special election—had taken sides. Miss Bryant's forces won, hands down. Dade County cooled off after the vote on June 7, but with both sides of the battle there vowing to blitz the country with similar campaigns, things are just warming up.
Put simply, the Floridian tempest in a tea pot surrounded the issue of rights.
The former Miss America and spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission claimed that her rights were violated when the Dade County Metropolitan Commission voted 5-3 to prohibit private employers from discriminating against people on the basis of "sexual preference." For their part, gay spokespersons, in response to Miss Bryant's concern for the moral atmosphere the Dade County ordinance might create, claimed that the legislation was necessary to insure "job rights" for homosexuals.
It may well be that the situation in Dade County was only a prelude to bigger things to come. Rep. Edward I. Koch (D-NY) is proposing an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that would tack on "sexual orientation or affectional preference" to the existing list of "thou shalt not discriminate" characteristics. Koch's legislation would affect all private employment and "public accommodations" nationwide.
Trust William Raspberry, who in a Washington Post editorial observed that "anyone who tells you the question is easy is not to be trusted." The matter is complicated by the propensity, on both sides, to link up the question of "job rights" and the question of the right of consenting adults to engage in various types of sexual activity. In fact, a number of things were not the issue, even though they entered into the Florida debate.
First, whether or not homosexuality is immoral is irrelevant, for a variety of reasons. Miss Bryant is fond of quoting verses from the Bible without acknowledging the fact that some people don't accept its moral teaching, while others have different interpretations of the verses quoted. Besides, is it the proper function of government to legislate morality? If Miss Bryant can make use of the strong arm of the State to enforce her moral doctrines, what principle would prevent Jehovah's Witnesses from making blood transfusions illegal? or Christian Scientists from outlawing the medical profession? But Miss Bryant should know, anyway, that the Christian doctrine of free will is violated if people are not permitted to choose "sin." Again, however, the morality question is irrelevant so long as coercion is absent.
Another issue raised by Miss Bryant at the outset of her campaign was the recruitment of children by homosexuals, or child molestation. Miss Bryant's reasoning was that since "only parents can reproduce…in order to survive and sustain their lifestyle they [homosexuals] are going to have to recruit." Joseph Fitzgerald, an attorney for the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami, chimed in with the comparison of letting homosexuals hold teaching positions to "putting a fox in the chicken coop."
Facts demolish this prevalent stereotype. Los Angeles Police Department statistics show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the vast majority of both misdemeanor and felony child molestation cases involve heterosexual men with little girls. Moreover, in most cases the males were friends or members of the molested child's family. Again, this is not the issue to be debated. If anyone forces any other person into a sexual act, the victim has unquestionably had his or her rights violated.
But Miss Bryant changed her tune in the course of the battle. At first, she was vociferous about the connection between homosexuals and child recruitment, but towards the end she gave indication of having been confronted with reality. The Los Angeles Times of May 3 quotes her as saying: "I'm concerned about how it might influence the children. I don't mean in terms of child molestation—I know that homosexuals are not more likely to be child molesters than anybody else. I don't even mean in terms of actually encouraging children to be homosexuals. I mean people who are role models being able to stand up and say 'I'm homosexual and I'm proud of it'—implying for our children that they have another legitimate choice open to them."
So Miss Bryant was concerned about two things: the moral atmosphere her children grow up in; and homosexuals being open about their sexuality, at least in role-model positions. Did Miss Bryant seek to calm these concerns by preventing employers from hiring gay people? She did not say. Thus, for the time being, it too is not the issue. She only sought to repeal an ordinance that would prevent private employers from choosing not to hire gay people. She did not campaign for an ordinance that would prohibit employers from hiring a gay person if they wanted to.
The final question that was irrelevant in Dade County—but debated nonetheless—was the legality of homosexuality. Neither Miss Bryant and her cohorts nor gay spokespersons made any distinction between prohibiting a private employer from discriminating against a gay person by withholding a job, and the question of the right of consenting independent individuals to engage in sexual activity. "When the act of homosexuality is no longer illegal it might even get to the point where it would be normal, and straight heterosexual life, as God instituted it, would be abnormal. That's a very fearful thing," Miss Bryant declared.
Leaders of the gay movement, too, wrapped both questions into one package. They were concerned that there could well be a reaction against their job rights demand that would include a reinstatement of "sodomy laws" (in fact, many states still maintain these laws). In offering this package deal, it is these very leaders who have set up the gay community for such a pogrom. Even if the issues were the same, which they emphatically are not, wise political strategy would dictate handling them separately.
What was the real question in Dade County? In the broadest terms, both sides agreed—the issue revolved around rights. Miss Bryant claimed that her rights as a parent were violated, and gay spokespeople insisted that their "job rights" must be protected. But with the question of rights so essential, the absence of either side's attempt to define what they meant was strange indeed.
The Declaration of Independence puts it down in black and white that there are certain inalienable rights that each person has, among them, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Significantly, rights differ from the favors a society may grant, a favor being a goodwill gesture that can be withdrawn upon the decline of goodwill. A right, on the other hand, exists independently of goodwill and does not proceed from society. (This is one of the basic political differences between collectivist and capitalist economic systems.)
Without the right to life, no other right can exist. And what are our lives but the time, labor, effort, and ability that we put into our existence? So it is only proper and logical that we have the right to the products of our lives—that is, the right to property.
An ongoing attempt of the gay movement (as well as the other social-change movements) is to amalgamate "job rights" with the right to work, that is, the right to offer one's services to potential buyers. But this is nothing less than Orwellian double-think, for it is an attempt to espouse and implement contradictory concepts.
The idea that people have a right to a job presupposes that someone else has an obligation to provide that job. As Ayn Rand succinctly points out in "Man's Rights": "Any alleged 'right' of one man, which necessitates the violation of the right of another, is not and cannot be a right. No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as 'the right to enslave."' The ordinance passed by the Dade County Metropolitan Commission, as well-intentioned as it may have been, was an attempt to allege just such a right.
GAYS AND PROPERTY RIGHTS
The right to work, on the other hand, is indeed a valid right, for it is a clear function and implementation of the right to life and in no way enslaves anyone. This right would possibly be violated if a legislative body were to block a school's hiring a gay person.
Ah, the touchy subject of schools! The thing that confuses the issue is not the employment of homosexuals but the very existence of public schools, which are funded by all tax-paying citizens. Of course, Anita Bryant has the right not to have her children taught by homosexuals—or by anyone else not of her choosing, for that matter—provided she places them in a school paid for by herself and those of like mind. But as long as homosexuals are forced to subsidize education through their tax monies, they should be given equal consideration for employment in those schools. The thing that compounds the situation is not homosexual teachers but public schools.
At this point, gay people may come back with a plausible question: If an employer is permitted to fire me from my job for no other reason than that I am gay, what happens to my right to the pursuit of happiness? Please note, however, that the Declaration of Independence does not, and in fact realistically could not, guarantee that attainment of happiness, but only the right to pursue it. What is happiness for one may be sheer misery to another.
Those within the gay movement who are so strenuously advocating "fair employment legislation" would do well to consider the following questions: How could legislation be the key to ending oppression, for what assurance is there that the law enacted will be effective? Why should the National Gay Lobby spend the planned $100,000 to get the Koch Bill passed if it may only be a token achievement? Even if the legislation were passed, what would prevent an employer from firing a gay person and giving another reason as the excuse? If such legislation were uniformly enforced, what would happen to the right of a gay property owner to withhold his or her property from use by a blatantly antigay person? As gay businesses begin to prosper, should they—wouldn't they—be forced into hiring people with a mentality like that of the current police chief of Los Angeles (who is rabidly antigay), although qualified for the position to be filled? And if gay businesses were forced to employ such people, how long would it be before they would lose their gay clientele?
GAY LOVE VS GAY JOBS
Gay activists have fought some tough battles, notably, in getting the archaic and repressive laws that restrict consensual sexual activity repealed. But contrast the arguments used there with those needed to support laws such as the Koch Bill. Take the California State Senate debate over the Willie Brown Bill, which repealed that state's prohibitions against any sexual activities (including those engaged in by married, heterosexual couples) outside of the missionary-position variety.
The arguments in favor of the bill were as follows: The right of privacy is a basic American right, and the State has no authority sticking its head into the bedroom of consenting adults. Individuals' bodies are their property to do with as they please, and society should have neither the interest nor the say-so in the matter.
Those arguing against the Brown Bill: The moral fiber of our land is being eroded by the increased immorality about us. Historically, homosexuality was present in Rome and Greece prior to their downfall. In the Old Testament God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for it. Homosexuality is immoral and wrong and should not be approved by society.
One thing is patently clear. When gay activists and organizations support "fair employment practices legislation," they do so only by contradicting the very principle articulated in the battle to make gay love legal.
In the argument for the Brown Bill, it is said that privacy is a basic right and that those who own property (in this case, their bodies) have the right to do with it as they choose, with the provision that when it involves another person, that other person be a consenting partner. Notice also the argument to limit the power of the government in the affairs of its citizens.
In order to defend the Koch Bill, a complete reversal of principles is required. Now it becomes necessary to talk about "public accommodations," even though they are privately owned. By the same token, it must be argued that an employer should not be permitted to use and dispose of his or her property as he or she wishes and is thus made to be an unconsenting partner. Thus, State power in this circumstance is comparable to rape. Both depend on the use of force and require an unwilling partner. Rape is the sexual expression of collectivist economics.
Now gay activists may be on to something. For it is plausible that it is morally wrong for an employer arbitrarily to discriminate against a gay person. But are gays now prepared to believe in the legislation of morality? What much of the gay leadership fails to understand is that in fighting against the right of job owners to control their property, they are in principle also fighting against the right of gay people to practice their lifestyle. The fundamental issue is the same—property rights.
Suppose we got people to agree that discrimination in employment on the basis of non-job-related characteristics is immoral and unfair. And it is agreed that it would be equally immoral to obstruct the right of an employer to control his or her property. What is the solution?
An answer to this question requires, for one thing, an examination of why some people discriminate and why they have homophobic (antigay) prejudices. Anita Bryant is a good example. She has stated that she fears the influence upon her children. Other people think that gays are unstable or psychologically ill. But the fact of the matter is that there are no studies that scientifically show that gay people are either ill or unstable, and we certainly know that child molestation is much more a heterosexual than a homosexual problem.
The point being that the cure for homophobia is a potent dose of education. But people cannot be educated by force.
Consider the ultimate effects of argumentum ad baculum (argument by the club). While parents may know that squash is good for their child and may taste good if prepared properly, strapping a child into a chair and cramming squash down its throat will only succeed in creating a revulsion for squash, sometimes for the rest of that child's life. Rather than helping the child to become aware of the benefits of the vegetable, the parents would have accomplished the exact opposite.
The same is true of those who make negative, collective evaluations of gay people. Using the law (the club) to violate their property rights will not correct their mistaken ideas and may well serve to reinforce their hatred. Indeed, at least some of the antigay sentiments expressed in Dade County were probably reactions only to being told "to hire gays or else."
Education is volitional by nature; legislation could not be any more the opposite. Although many reformers harbor the sentiment that education can be achieved through legislation, in fact it is a form of education like a subpoena is a species of party invitation.
There neither exists, nor is there a need for, legislation in Los Angeles to prevent private employers from discriminating against gays. The fact that the majority of Angelenos are knowledgeable about the subject of homosexuality, due to the visibility of the gay community, has gone a long way toward creating a more relaxed and fair-minded atmosphere. Besides, if a person were fired from his or her job for being gay, an effective boycott could easily be organized to encourage people voluntarily to withdraw their economic support from the offending business. This in itself would be a real education, accomplished without the violation of anyone's rights.
The Dade County experience was unfortunate. Because the issue became so polarized, when the time came to vote on the repeal of the ordinance it seemed tantamount to voting against homosexuality. Indeed, for thinking gay people in Dade County who could vote, there existed a real test of principles. Should a person vote in favor of the ordinance and thus in effect say, gays are people too? or vote against the ordinance, defending the right of property owners yet at the same time implying that Anita Bryant was correct in the things she said about gays?
To do the latter would allow Miss Bryant to define the issue. Whereas she may have been correct in the position she took with regard to the law, she couldn't be more wrong in the "reasoning" process that got her there. The fact is that Miss Bryant hit upon a libertarian stand by accident, not by principle.
The plight in Dade County bespeaks a blurry understanding of what rights are. The solution is for articulate, knowledgeable people to clarify the issue. Ayn Rand's insights in "The Cashing-In: The Student Rebellion" could just as well have been written in response to the predicament in Florida: "The battle consists, not of opposing, but of exposing; not of denouncing, but of disproving; not of evading, but of boldly proclaiming a full, consistent and radical alternative."
Formerly executive director of the Gay Community Services Center in Los Angeles, Mr. Sirico is California chairperson of Libertarians for Gay Rights.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "A Day Without Property Rights Is Like a Day Without Sunshine".