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    Marriage rights – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Don’t I have a right to marry whoever I want, whether or not they’re Jewish?

    A. The word “rights” is used so often these days that it is empty of meaning. Other versions of this word are “freedom” (“I need to be free to do whatever I want”, “love” (“You can’t tell me who to fall in love with”), “happiness” (“If it makes me happy I’m going to do it”). The implication is that if you like it/want it/enjoy it, that’s your right.

    The question is where the right comes from. The law? But the law never says you are entitled to do anything that comes into your mind, nor does it say that enjoyment is an accepted standard of judgment. Is God the source of your “rights”? But God’s criteria are laid down in black and white and are phrased in terms of duties, not rights. I know that if you have a duty not to kill me, I have a right to stay alive, but that’s not the way the Divine standards are articulated.

    Do your rights come from your own gut feeling? What if your gut feeling is selfish and changes from day to day? Even if you decide to call your gut feeling conscience, that isn’t particularly helpful unless “conscience” means something like “the spirit of God”. Do one’s rights come from society? If so, there must be an underlying social contract accepted by the group, and what happens if there are personal predilections that aren’t approved by the social contract?

    Whatever the answer to your question, rights have to be granted, agreed upon or sustained by an external, objective standard. And no-one can claim that they have the right to decide on their own rights.

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