So there’s this guy in Utah who’s decided to go on a hunger strike. His name is Trestin Meacham. He’s a Mormon, a former candidate for the Utah State Senate (he lost), and a member of the Constitution Party. As you might guess, the Constitution Party is a pretty conservative group. Their goal:
[T]o restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries.
They want a moratorium on immigration, English as the official language of Utah and the United States, an end to legal abortion (even in cases of rape and/or incest), a ban on pornography, to criminalize certain sexual behaviors, and marriage to be legal only for a man and a woman.
It’s the last issue that’s sparked Meacham’s hunger strike. The day after District Judge Robert Shelby ruled Utah’s Amendment 3 (which prohibits same-sex couples from marrying) was unconstitutional, Meacham began to fast. He wrote:
“I cannot stand by and do nothing while this evil takes root in my home. Some things in life are worth sacrificing one’s heath and even life if necessary. I am but a man, and do not have the money and power to make any noticeable influence in our corrupt system. Never the less, I can do something that people in power cannot ignore.”
He’s been called crazy, a nut case, an unhinged whack job, and an extremist. He may well be all those things. But even though I disagree with his beliefs and his position on same-sex marriage, I respect his approach.
The hunger strike belongs to a very long and honorable tradition. Under Brehon Law (the civil law which governed behavior in pre-Christian Ireland), it was called troscadh. A person who believed he’d suffered an injustice would set himself outside the door of the offending party and refuse food. He would remain there, outside the door, until the offending party relented, or until he abandoned the troscadh, or until he died.
The moral weight of the act was staggering for both parties, especially in a culture where hospitality was so highly honored. There was tremendous social pressure on both the person fasting and the person accused of the injustice to reach a settlement. It was rare for the injured party to be sincere enough in his claim to actually starve himself to death, and for the offending party to be sincere enough to allow that to happen. On those rare occasions, it was understood that the person accused of the injustice would pay compensation to the family of the dead man.
When used by an individual against a group or a policy or an entire government, the act was called cealachan. It was more about social justice than individual justice. It was used by the Irish against the British for centuries, but the practice of the hunger strike is pretty universal. Gandhi used it several times, American suffragettes used it, Cuban dissidents used it, and detainees in Guantanamo have used it.
And now Trestin Meacham is using it. I confess, I don’t understand his reasoning. I can’t think of how allowing same-sex couple the legitimacy of marriage could be considered an injustice. This is what he says on his blog:
On Friday the 20th of December, a federal judge overturned the State Constitution of Utah and ruled against and its restriction against same sex marriage. In so doing, Article 1 Section 8 and the 10th Amendment of the U.S Constitution were violated. Even worse a law voted on by a strong majority of the people of Utah was rescinded, thus robbing the people of their voice in government. And if this law remains, the natural rights of free speech and religious freedom, vouched safe by the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, will be violated.
But how is free speech violated? He has a blog that can be read by anybody, in which he openly expresses his religious and political views. That IS free speech. Nor can I see any barrier on his ability to openly practice his religion. Nobody is preventing him from attending services, nobody is interfering with his right to live his life according to his religious beliefs. Nor is anybody interfering with his hunger strike, which is in itself an expression of his civil rights.
This has nothing to do with hatred of a group of people. I have friends and relatives who practice a homosexual lifestyle and I treat them with the same respect and kindness that I would anyone. This is about religious freedom, and an out of control federal government.
Well, no — it’s not about religious freedom. It’s a ludicrous claim. Nor is it about ‘an out of control federal government.’ It’s about the simple fact that Meacham’s religious and political beliefs are in conflict with the law. He may not hate gay folks — I can’t see into his heart, so I don’t know. But I do know he wants the right to discriminate against them.
Suffragettes engaged in hunger strikes to secure the right of women to vote. Gandhi went on hunger strike to support Indian independence from Britain and to stop violence between Muslims and Hindus. IRA hunger strikers were fasting to assert their right to be recognized as political prisoners, not common criminals. The Gitmo hunger strikers are protesting their continued incarceration without having been tried or convicted of a crime.
Trestin Meacham, on the other hand, is fasting to prevent people who love each other from marrying.
I support Meacham’s right to protest the law. I support his right to speak out against same-sex marriage in Utah. I support his right to go on hunger strike, and starve himself to death for a cause he believes in — despite the fact that I think his cause is absurd and hateful. I even support his right to claim he’s doing this a noble cause.
But there’s nothing at all noble about denying other folks the rights you enjoy yourself.
Addendum: Today Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor put a halt to Utah’s same-sex marriages pending an appeal of Judge Shelby’s ruling. More than 900 same-sex couples were married during the interval between Shelby’s decision and Sotomayor’s order. None of this had anything to do with Meacham, his fast, or his civil liberties.