By Lane Filler
April 29–It’s odd coming from an opinion writer, but I feel the right way to structure our society and our behavior is around a principle of freedom and liberty based in the concept: “Nobody asked me a darn thing about what they oughta do . . . And unless they do it to me, it’s not my business.”
Faithful readers (both of them), family members, friends and people I shout at on the street can attest that I fail to live up to this credo with metronome-like regularity, but it’s the right goal for me and the right philosophy for our nation.
And that’s why three seemingly disparate, but in fact related, news stories this week are driving me batty: Same-sex marriage is before the U.S. Supreme Court, Bruce Jenner is before the court of public opinion, and the right of 18- to 20-year-olds to smoke is before the governor of Hawaii.
With the Supreme Court hearing arguments Tuesday on whether states can ban same-sex marriage, many top opinionistas will parse Justice Anthony Kennedy’s facial expressions and the starch level of Justice Stephen Breyer’s robe creases to determine whether the wind is blowing pro-gay or nay. Then there is another school that wants to argue about whether same-sex marriage is a right, or whether the courts or the voters and legislators should decide, or whether the states or the federal government should decide.
But since all of those bodies reflect the public will, the important question is this: Why won’t people whose liberty will not be directly affected by the marriages of Mike and Mack or of Sally and Susan leave those people alone and embrace the “Nobody asked me” philosophy?
You don’t have to get gay-married. You don’t have to dance the hokey pokey at same-sex weddings. You almost certainly don’t have to cater such events, because gay people don’t want homophobes in charge of their receptions. Just tell ’em they disgust you and they’ll be on their way. But if you want to do the right thing, you do have to stop fighting to take gay people’s liberty just to satisfy your preferences.
And while we’re on gender and sex stuff that makes some folks feel confused or icky: Is it a worthwhile use of emotional energy to care whether Wheaties-box boy wonder Bruce Jenner wants to be treated like a lady by society and treated to become a lady by doctors? How does our life get better if she doesn’t take this step? How does our life get better if we call Jenner he instead of she, as she will prefer? And how does our life get better if Jenner can’t enjoy every right and liberty as a woman that she did as a man? I don’t know whether it makes sense or whether she’ll be happier or whether God wants her to undergo the switch. I just know it’s not my call, because it’s not my happiness or my liberty.
And while I’m on the subject of equal protection under the law and butting out of people’s business, let’s talk about butts. Lawmakers in Hawaii passed legislation Friday that would make it the first state to ban smoking for people younger than 21. Gov. David Ige is not sure whether he will sign it.
In New York City and Suffolk County the age for buying tobacco is 21. In Nassau it’s 19. But in the United States you are an adult at 18. You can join the Army, which is pretty dangerous. You can marry, which is really dangerous. In New York, you can be a gay, married 18-year-old Army soldier, potentially quite stressful, and not be able to unwind with a smoke. That’s just wrong.
I get that we don’t want anyone to smoke, and that it’s dangerous. But people do have the right to do stupid stuff.
Liberals and conservatives, leave adults to their paths, as long as they don’t actively block yours. Stop caring. You’ll be amazed how freeing it is.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.