Writer: 안경환 (Kyung-hwan Ahn)
Ahn doesn’t just swing and miss with his ambitious title; he swings and cracks a hole in reality, leaving us all unsure of the conventional concept of ‘law’, ‘society’ and ‘human rights’.
Lu Xun(1881-1936), a leading figure of modern Chinese literature, once wrote “Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads across the earth. For actually earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men pass one way, a road is made(Hometown, 1921).” The overall tone of Ahn throughout his book resembles that of Lu Xun. There is no limit to the pursuit of human rights. We have come a long way, but we’ve still go a long way to go.
Ahn compares law to love. Yet, it is not his love for law as an emeritus professor of jurisprudence, nor is the categorical imperative that law should be based on love. As love, law itself is the imbrolio of denotation and connotation. As love, every attempt to define law is a Jason’s quest. An eminent British modern poet, W. H. Auden(1907-1973)’s last verse of his poem ‘Law like Love’ depicts the metaphor in an abbreviated form.
Like love we don’t know where or why / Like love we can’t compel or fly / Like love we often weep / Like love we seldom keep
Thus, law is the inevitable fate of man; the fate in which every human being must endlessly endeavor to improve the quality of the person and of the community within the contraints of human imperfection and inevitability of community birth, morality and ethical consciousness, and sense of right and obligation. (p.22)
Yet, every society had a range of values. 20th century studded with warfares and revolutions, was the time when the primary role of law was to regulate the conduct of the individual for the purpose of preserving public order. Meanwhile Ahn contends that the main function of law has changed since 21st century where every day security is relatively guaranteed. Thus, present day law should protect every person to be guaranteed to the right to life, liberty and security without distinction of any kind. Very few people deny the principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Nonetheless, we must be aware of the fact that pursuit for human rights is endless since what is said to be ‘my right’ can be ‘my duty for others’. Generally, people who insist upon their exclusive right solely have a tendency to neglect their responsibility for others. Their blindness hardens when ‘others’ become ‘many others of strangers’. One afternoon in Genesis, God approached Cain about the whereabouts of Abel just as Lord did with Adam and Eve with their sin. Cain countered the all-knowing God with the infamous question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Aren’t we the Cain?
Cast: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, Jason Robards
The movie <Philadelphia> begins when a competent lawyer Andrew Becket who gets fired from a law firm. Becket prosecutes the company for firing him because of his AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), but the company insists that Becket was fired not due to his sexual preference or disease but due to his incompetence. Becket, with lawyer Joe Miller, eventually wins the court at the end of a long legal dispute. This movie is set in Philadelphia in 1993. In the movie Miller says, “We’re standing here in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, the birthplace of freedom, where the founding fathers authored the Declaration of Independence, and I don’t recall that glorious document saying anything about all straight men are created equal. I believe it says all men are created equal.”
In 1990, some states in the United States had ‘Sodomy (Crime against the nature) law’, which regulated sexual activities between homosexual couple punishable as crime. This law existed until it was declared unconstitutional by Lawrence v. Texas case in the federal Supreme court in 2003. This movie is based on an actual case, Bowers v. Hardwick. Hardwick prosecuted the attorney general of the state of Georgia after getting arrested for a sexual activity with another man. Unlike the movie, however, he lost the case. In 1994, there was a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ military law, which banned those who came out as homosexuals from serving in military. In 1990, LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community was obviously excluded from the society. With time passing, misunderstandings and discriminations against sexual orientation and sexual preference in American society are slowly crumbling. Obama administration empowered the community in 2009 by legislating “Matthew Shephard and James Byrd jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act” in commemoration of a victim of gay hate crime, Matthew Shephard. Yet, the infamous LGBT club mass shooting in Orlando 2016 was just one case of horrible hate crimes still left existing in the vacuum of laws. Asia is a no exception. According to the statistics from Statista in 2016, 61% of the respondents in Philippines, 36% of the respondents in Pakistan, and 29% of the respondents in Japan replied that they have LGBT acquaintances. However, 29 hate crimes against transgenders occurred in Philippines since 2008, and 5 people were killed during the gay pride parade in Israel. There are only 2 Asian countries legalizing same sex marriage, and only 11 Asian countries with whole or partial anti-discrimination law for all sexual preferences. In Brunei, homosexuality can even be punished by up to death. According to Korean National Statistical Office survey in 2016, when asked whether they would tolerate a homosexual person as a neighbor, Australia replied 13.4%, China replied 52.7%, and Korea replied 78%. When asked whether they would tolerate an AIDS patient as a neighbor, Australia replied 15.4%, China replied 73.2%, and Korea replied 92.3%. It shows that people in societies still fear and exclude other people with different values.
In the movie, people around Miller question Miller’s own sexual preference, just because Miller supports Becket, a homosexual. In the beginning of the film, Miller was also full of disgust in homosexual people. However, as he got to know Becket in person, he understood that Becket also had a childhood, also worked hard and loved just like any others did, which makes Becket no different from heterosexual people. Becket says, (Becket) “Subsequent decisions have held that AIDS is protected as a handicap under law, not only because of the physical limitations it imposes, but because the prejudice surrounding AIDS exacts a social death which precede the physical one.” Then, Miller follows, (Miller) “This is the essence of discrimination: formulating opinions about others not based on their individual merits, but rather on their membership in a group with assumed characteristics.” Human mind utilizes generalization, stereotypes and prejudices to avert the fear of unknowns. A person not particularly evil will judge the world by his or her perspective; acknowledging someone with a different value is not an easy task. Law is a critical tool to compensate for such void of logic and to maintain the society. Everyone is equal under the law. The judge and Miller has an impressive conversation. (Judge) “In this courtroom, Mr. Miller, justice is blind to matters of race, creed, color, religion, and sexual orientation.” (Miller) “With all due respect, your honor, we don’t live in this courtroom, do we?” LGBT community around us constantly go through misunderstandings, threats, discriminations, and psychological, physical, verbal and sexual abuses. Like Becket mentioned, law can serve justice. I will wrap up with a reminder that anti-discrimination laws and social atmosphere in Asian countries are necessary to be established, because everyone deserves to be sure that their lives won’t be threatened, regardless of their sexual orientation or preference.
(주)노아종합상사, (주)부원공업, (주)파라다이스, (주)대덕휴비즈, (주)디자인210, 트리코인베스트먼트(주), 의료법인 오해븐의료재단, 재단법인 정암, 고고밴, 한국외국인학교, 일동제약 CSR, 상명여중 휴먼라이트, 압구정중 Right Helpers, 청심국제중 CS 휴라시아, Korea International Human Rights, 신동 휴라시아, 숭의 휴라시아, 한성 휴라시아, 아시아퍼시픽국제학교 휴먼아시아피스, 대원휴라시아, HAHR, 서울과학고 휴라시아, 하나 휴라시아, S.C.C.W, S.A.W. 세화고등학교 휴라시아, 원촌중학교