Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Legislation requires you to lie.

There is a case of interest brewing in Michigan. A woman named Tracie Rowe put up an ad at her church saying: "I'm looking for a Christian roommate."

For that she is facing charges in court for violating the federal fair housing laws. The bureaucrats pushing the case say it is a clear case of "an illegal preference."

Let me state immediately that while I'm an atheist and opponent of bigotry, I support this woman's right to make this decision.

Rowe was specifically looking for someone to share her living quarters, much the way that someone looks for someone to share a life with, which includes living quarters. Having a roommate encompasses many of the same issues that being married entails. There is an intimacy to sharing living space that does not exist in other human relationships.

Right-wing Christian groups are defending Rowe. The Alliance Defense Fund said, "This is outrageous to think that the government can come into your private house and try and tell you who you can and cannot have as a roommate. It's just absurd."

I have no love for the Alliance Defense Fund, they are a nasty bunch of bigoted fundamentalists. But here they are right, even if they are stunningly hypocritical. Why do I say that?

ADF is one of the religious Right groups wanting to deny gay couples the right to marry. Let us take the ADF's comments about the Rowe case and rewrite it very slightly: "This is outrageous to think that the government can come into your private house and try and tell you who you can and cannot have as a spouse. It's just absurd."

So, it is absurd for government to regulate roommates, but not absurd for government to control who is your legal spouse?

The lawyers from ADF say that this is a matter of freedom of association. True, it is. But so is marriage. In fact, under the law, as it has evolved, the government grants far more freedom in marriage than it does in others are of life. You can't racially discriminate in hiring, but you can in marrying. You can't refuse to perform business services for a Jew but a Catholic priest can refuse to perform a marriage for the same Jew. If anything, the legal case against state control of spouses is greater than the case against state control of roommate advertisements. Who one marries is ultimately more important to them than whether one's roommate has the same religion.

Need I remind the readers from the Left, with whom I share many values, that before they laugh at the utter hypocrisy of the Right in this case, that they should also consider their own contradictions. The law under which this woman is being prosecuted is one the Left supports. They said that the freedom of association of this woman must be infringed in the name of "fair housing."

What is particularly bizarre is that the woman can still only take on a Christian roommate, she just can't advertise for one. As was reported: "Haynes (one of the bureaucrats) says Rowe can live with whomever she wants, but law '804-C' is about what you publish. The law says you can't print publish, or advertise based on race. limitation, sex, or religion." So, an atheist such as myself can't say, "No religious need apply." But I can still only share a house with atheists if I prefer, I just can't tell the truth in my ad.

Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, so the Constitution says. Yet many of my friends on the Left who are quite willing to apply free speech protections to pornography (as I would) are not willing to apply this same principle to stating housing preferences. Remember that the crime here is stating the preference not indulging it.

And who are these bureacrats helping? Is it the people who would be discriminated against? No, not at all. Remember Rowe was still allowed to pick only a Christian roommate, she was only forbidden in expressing that preference. So individuals, looking to share a house with someone, could take time off of work to meet with Rowe, they could go out of their way to get to her home, spend their precious time and resources to meet with her, without ever having a chance to actually be a roommate. They aren't allowed to get advance warning that they are throwing away their time and money to meet with Rowe.

This does NOT mean they will be roommates as Rowe is still free to reject them. But Rowe is not allowed to let these people, doomed to failure in the roommate search, know that they would be wasting their time. The law itself inflicts additional damages on the unsuccessful roommates by requiring them to spend resources foolishly because the knowledge they needed to spend it wisely is censored under federal law. So the "victims" of the discrimination are not made better off by the law. All the law does is increase the costs for everyone. But it gives parasitical bureaucrats an excuse for squandering more tax funds.

Looking at roommates and spouses as a matter of freedom of association means I oppose both the Left and the Right. I oppose the Left when it comes to "anti-discrimination" laws, such as the one at stake in the Rowe case, but I equally, and for the same reasons, oppose the Right-wing attempts to have government control whether or not one may marry a person of the same gender. I agree with the Left when it comes to their general support (Obama is a big exception) for marriage rights for gay couples, but I equally, and for the same reasons, support the right of private individuals to decide who to room with.

By the way, the case for gay marriage is even stronger that that of roommate preferences. Government discrimination is far more onerous and troublesome than private discrimination. With private businesses that discriminate it is easier to move from one company to another; there are literally millions of employers seeking employees. But with government monopolistic power structures that is very difficult to do. If the US government discriminates, as it does with marriage rights, then you are screwed unless you can get another government monoply power structure to see things differently and allow you to live there, which is very difficult

It is far easier to avoid private discrimination than it is to avoid legislative discrimination. A non-Christian wanting to rent a room would have a much easier time locating a roommate who isn't so picky than a gay person would have in finding a government that will legally recognize his marriage. Government has more control over larger areas of life than any one private business can ever have, that is why private discrimination is not nearly as worrisome as state-mandated bigotry.