Ain’t Nobody’s Business

If I should take a notion
To jump into the ocean
‘T ain’t nobody’s bizness if I do

Bessie Smith made that song famous in the Twenties, and singers ranging from Billie Holliday to Hank Williams Jr have offered their own versions over the years, all with the same fairly explicit message: don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. Sure, you may be curious about what someone else is doing, but there are limits to your involvement.
Say for example: your next door neighbor hires a contractor for a home improvement project. As long as your own property isn’t affected, your neighbor is under no obligation to provide you with specifics of the plan.
What if your co-worker takes a few days off for medical leave? You might be a bit concerned for his well-being, but you shouldn’t expect him to share the personal details of his diagnosis and treatment.
Or, turn it around. Perhaps you had intended to join a friend on a shopping trip but suddenly had to cancel because you needed to post bail for your brother-in-law. You’d probably not want to talk about such an embarrassing situation.
Clearly these are examples of how people should mind their own beeswax, right? Unless it affects you directly, life is on a need-to-know basis and you don’t need to know. But why do so many people think the opposite is true when it comes to private, intimate relationships?
Later this month, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments that may lead to the high court deciding once and for all if same-sex marriages should be legal and recognized by all 50 states. There are opponents who are declaring that such recognition would devalue what is seen as “traditional” marriage between one man and one woman. Similar arguments were made years ago in defense of anti-miscegenation laws that criminalized interracial marriage and intimate relationships, but the Supreme Court rejected those statutes with its ruling in Loving v Virginia in 1967. From that point forward, no state could prevent interracial relationships or marriage. Remarkably, it wasn’t until 2000 that Alabama became the last state to remove such laws from its constitution. Loving v Virginia has been cited in some same-sex marriage court cases as a legal precedent, though it’s too early to tell if the nation’s highest court will concur.
Others suggest that the national legalization of same-sex marriage would be a slippery slope ruling, leading to recognized unions of other types. Again, such arguments were made by those wishing to prevent marriages between different races but their predictions have failed to materialize into fact.
Let me be clear: the notion that what two people do within the privacy of their lives together somehow changes the definition of your personal relationship is laughable. If you think that recognition of same-sex marriage will somehow magically cause your own heterosexual union to be worthless… or worth less… then the real discussion should be about why you don’t place more value on your own marriage.
Of course, opponents of same-sex marriage may also point to their religious beliefs as justification. While the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” — guarantees each one of us the freedom to worship as we please, it does not grant us the ability to use such beliefs to infringe upon the rights of others.
On a related note, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law which many say would allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] individuals.
In the wake of this law, the backlash against Indiana’s economy has been swift and continues to grow. Companies such as Angie’s List are withdrawing expansion plans; others are threatening to boycott products manufactured in the state.
Many of the same religion-based arguments used in opposition to same-sex marriage are being cited by supporters of the law; most notably, that a person’s strongly-held beliefs should be considered as justification for that person refusing to do business with members of the LGBT community.
I’m sure some readers find what I’m saying here to be unsettling, and I’m sure I’ll be confronted with assorted scriptural references. Trust me, I’ve heard them before. Remember, we’re not talking about whether someone’s personally held religious beliefs are inherently wrong. Rather, we’re looking at how those beliefs can be used to harm others.

Quite a few people seem to be on a never-ending quest to attack those of a difference sexual orientation. I wonder how much good those politicians, pundits, and prominent religious leaders could do if they channeled the same energy into something positive.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on April 2, 2015.)

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