Distinction between Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

“I just wonder when [Obama’s] gonna get the memo that pot is the new gay marriage.” – Bill Maher, 5/3/2013

You know, I love Real Time. I watch it every week. I love the discussions and I love the bits Bill does, but every once in awhile, he sticks his foot in it. While thousands of people are in prison for unfair prosecutions of a drug that I wholly support the legalization of, none of those people have pot-use written into their identity. While we can make a case for how many of them may have been predisposed to drug use because of poorly funded educational institutions, widespread poverty, institutional racism and the lack of a social safety net to ensure basic life necessities; there is no statistically significant number of those people who did not make a choice to use that drug or become involved in its distribution. And those that were wrongfully convicted should be vindicated on the wrongfulness of their convictions – it has nothing to do with the nature of the crime they were convicted of.

Homosexuality in our society, on the other hand, suffers from a completely different set of circumstances. I think Bill misspoke in comparing the two. Sure, the movement to legalize recreational marijuana use is gathering momentum and will probably be the next large issue we discuss as a nation, but comparing it to the fight for civil rights (as opposed to civil liberties) is inconsiderate.

There is no evidence to suggest that people are killed solely for the use of pot. People who use pot are not denied, under the laws of many states, access to housing or medical services. The truth is most people who smoke pot lead completely normal lives and no one knows any better. They are still able to visit their partners in the hospital in every state in the nation, and they are able to adopt children together, and apply for tax benefits on a federal level.

Yes, legalization of pot will probably be the next big issue we discuss, but it will never be the next gay marriage. The next gay marriage will be society addressing the fundamental rights, which are nominally guaranteed to all people under the constitution, denied to a specific class of people due to an intrinsic quality of their character.

Let’s just be clear about that, Bill.