This past Tuesday U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a group of people assembled at the Vice Presidential Mansion that gay rights “are the civil rights issue of our day.” He said that protecting LGBT citizens from persecution is a core duty of a civilized country, and added, “I don’t care what your culture is. Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice”
In his customary state of mental confusion Mr. Biden appears to be confounding “civil rights” with universal “human rights.” They are not, however, the same thing. Civil rights are defined by a particular society. They are the rights you enjoy by virtue of being the citizen of a given county. But as such they are culturally conditioned. Mr. Biden, on the other hand, seems to be reaching beyond that to something broader – something that transcends local culture; in short, a universal human right.
But what are these human rights, and where do they come from? The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” What makes these rights “unalienable” (i.e., that cannot be taken away from you) is that they derive from a Power higher than any human authority. Thus no human government can deprive you of them. As Martin Luther King put it, “every man has rights that are neither conferred by nor derived from the state, they are God-given” (Where Do We Go from Here, p. 84). Thus no human government can deprive you of them.
But on this ground it is virtually impossible to rationalize a homosexual relationship. If it is true that there is a moral order to the universe, and that everything exists by design, then the clear implication is that everything has a specific purpose and function. And in the cosmic scheme of things the obvious primary purpose of sex is heterosexual procreation. To that end it is only natural for a man and a woman to form an emotional bond with each other and have children together. The proper and fitting thing for them to do, therefore, is to commit themselves to each other in the bond of matrimony, start a family and raise their biological children together. Any sexual activity outside of this bond should be strictly prohibited. Seen in this light homosexuality is something profoundly dysfunctional, a perversion of something that was intended for an entirely different purpose.
It goes without saying that the modern secularist will have none of this. They openly scoff at the “Divine Command” theory of morality, and try instead to argue that we came into existence through a blind, purposeless, natural process. Hence we simply exist, with no particular definition or purpose at all. “Morality,” then, is seen as something entirely man-made: it is the common set of rules that we choose collectively to abide by as a society.
But on this basis it is virtually impossible to support the idea of any kind of universal human rights. All of our rights are culturally conditioned. There is no higher law by which to judge an entire society. The law is whatever the local authorities say it is. In Saudi Arabia women do not have the right to drive an automobile. Period. End of story. Mr. Biden might fuss and fume, pound his fist and stomp his foot, and shout from the rooftops that “I don’t care what your culture is.” But on a purely secular basis human culture is all there is. He has no grounds on which to say that things should be any different from what they actually are.
As one modern ethicist, Alasdair MacIntyre, put it, “there are no such [universal, human] rights, and belief in them is one with belief in witches and unicorns.” He went on to say that “In the United Nations declaration on human rights of 1949 what has since become the normal UN practice of not giving good reasons for any assertions whatsoever is followed with great rigor” (After Virtue, 3rd. Ed., p. 69). According to him “universal rights” simply do not exist. They are, as he puts it, “fictions” (p. 70).
Thus either way one chooses to look at it, there is no such human right as a right to practice sodomy. Either homosexuality is terribly out of sync with God’s creative purposes, or there are simply no such universal human rights at all.
What it comes down to is this: our rights are either God-given or else they are man-made. And if they are man-made they are malleable, relative, and can be taken away. If there is such a thing as a universal human right, it is universal precisely because it derives from our Creator. Human rights are a part of the moral law that binds all of humanity together. That moral law includes both rights and responsibilities, and that includes the duty to behave responsibly in all of our family relationships. It is a principle that God has ordained for the well-being of human society, and we ignore it at our own risk. Mr. Biden would do well to take note and heed.