The Supreme Court ruled last week that same-sex marriage is legal in the United States. This surprised almost no one. I predicted same-sex marriage would become the law of the land in an earlier post. In that post I wrote that while I was gratified to see the Sixth Circuit address the majority’s view of what is moral as a basis on which to consider the issue, I believed that, in the end, marriage would be found to be a fundamental right. And so it is.
My question now is, is the issue of morality relevant to any discussion of personal behavior anymore? Or, perhaps more narrowly, is the issue of decency relevant? Decency and morality are not quite synonyms but one definition of decency is “social or moral properties.” In that light, which of the following are decent or moral:
The first picture is legal; the Supreme Court told us that. Is it moral or decent? The second, depicting public breastfeeding, is a controversial issue. In some places it’s legal; in others it violates decency laws. But is it moral or decent regardless of its morality? The third is illegal everywhere in the United States. In fact, it probably violates Facebook’s posting standards. It’s illegal and most people would say immoral or indecent.
The question is, what is the difference between each of these? All involve behavior that doesn’t affect anyone else. That was the rallying cry of the same-sex marriage proponents: How does my marriage affect your life? The same question can be asked with respect to each of the other two pictures. How does two women breastfeeding affect your life? How does a naked person in public affect your life?
Some may argue that I’m trivializing the same-sex marriage issue but I disagree. Marriage is a social custom. It’s deeply rooted in society but it’s not natural, i.e., occurring in nature, regardless of whether it is same-sex or heterosexual. Breastfeeding is natural. It’s not a social custom, it’s a fact of nature. The same can be said of the condition of being unclothed. All animals except humans are naked and even humans are born into the world naked.
Without going into a debate about whether any of the three pictures is moral, the question is, does morality even have a place in modern debate over personal behavior?
Rachel Dolezal has opened another door in the hallway of moral relativism. We might call this one reality relativism. Reality is only what we think. My reality is different than your reality. It’s similar to moral relativism only broader in its scope.
Moral relativism is the notion that there are no absolutes in terms of behavior as long as the behavior doesn’t hurt anyone. The moral relativists overlook the difficulty with “as long as the behavior doesn’t hurt anyone.” Whether or not a behavior hurts someone is a matter of your relative view of what “hurt” means.
Reality relativism takes this one more step. No longer is morality only relative but actuality is relative. Who is to say Rachel Dolezal isn’t black? She self-identifies as black so she is black. Who is to say Caitlyn Jenner, f/k/a Bruce, isn’t a woman? He identifies as a woman so he is a woman. Rachel Dolezal’s case is more compelling that Caitlyn’s. Caitlyn has an X and a Y chromosome, which, under the commonly accepted definition of gender, makes him male. Yet s/he can ignore this inconvenient scientific fact because s/he identifies as a woman. What makes a person black as opposed to Oriental or Caucasian? It’s certainly less clear cut than the type of chromosomes one has. Perhaps there is some black DNA in her but maybe not. In such a murky case shouldn’t we all just accept her view of reality?
It seems Rachel’s biggest problem is that she passed herself off as black in order to get a job as head of her local NAACP in Spokane, WA. Apparently the NAACP is incensed that a white person is heading the local chapter. What’s wrong with that? Certainly the NAACP can’t refuse to hire a qualified person on the basis of race — that’s clearly discriminatory and illegal. By all accounts she was doing a good job furthering the cause of the organization. Is the NAACP a racist organization?
By what standard can we say Caitlyn is a woman but Rachel is not black? A generation ago the notion that a person who “identifies” as the opposite sex is really of that gender was as laughable as Rachel is today. Yet the transgender concept now appears to be fully accepted, at least in the Politically Correct world. Anyone who dares to criticize Caitlyn faces charges of being transgender-phobic. But no one is jumping to Rachel’s defense.