The striving for equality and the principle of non-discrimination are among the noblest goals of humankind. However, once you start implementing equality, it is easy to fall into the trap of your own. Authorities do not confine themselves to ensuring formal equality against the law and government institutions any more and start rooting “genuine,” “real” equality. Thus insensibly the fundamental principle of equality is transformed into total equalisation. The principle of non-discrimination turns into the prohibition of choice. It’s undeniable that we make choices, which means that we choose one things but don’t choose others. And this refers not only to services and products and, accordingly, to their producers and sellers. It’s probable that even Santa Claus has gifted everyone unequally… Some have been singled out justly, while others, perhaps, with no “justifiable” grounds.
When one starts striving for unachievable levelling, real inequality slips out of sight and begins to thrive. Many defenders of human rights have a feeling they have found all answers: if people are treated differently with justification, then we deal with differentiation, which is quite okay, but if they are treated differently without justification, then we have discrimination, which cannot be tolerated on any condition. The only problem is that when equality is perceived not formally from the point of view of natural law, but as a programme aimed at achieving that no one is really discriminated, only those who propagate total elimination of discrimination, rather than ordinary common-sense people, know the difference between what is justified and what is not.
Let’s take the retirement age as an example. The retirement age of women established by the state social insurance is shorter than that of men, although the average life expectancy of women is nearly ten years longer compared to men. A male with the average life expectancy does not receive his pension at all since he dies earlier. This sort of discrimination is almost a taboo in public debates. But, most interestingly, when privately funded insurance emerged and insurers, aware of these demographic facts, started to inform clients that pension benefits will be different for men and women (namely as result of the different potential life expectance), concerns have been repeatedly voiced that women will be discriminated because they will be paid smaller monthly pensions.
Another example: the European Commission clearly declares that its 2004 directive on anti-discrimination prohibits such things as “women’s parties” at clubs and bars. Parties for people “who are over thirty” which were popular at one time in Lithuania have become illegal either. What then will happen to our right to give parties what we like and to invite guests what we like?
Prohibition to discriminate may go far. For instance, Swedes “removed” male privates from a heraldic lion – the symbol of Sweden’s army – in order to avoid discrimination. In Lithuania, as defenders of equalisations say, persons who have changed their sex would not be discriminated only if the state had covered all of the expenses of their sex-change operation, that is, all citizens but not the sex-changing person himself or herself.
The fact that until 1 January 2008 child benefits have been paid to children until they turn 9 was discrimination, said a Lithuanian member of parliament who “amended” the situation and pushed a proposal for child benefits that are now paid until children turn 18. Here’s what he said: “I am certain that the former order was nothing less but children’s discrimination on the grounds of age: a nine-year-old child was somehow more valuable to the government than a ten-year-old child.”
The Law on Equal Opportunity prohibits discrimination on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnic dependence, religion and beliefs – everywhere except in the family and private life. Practice shows that every more or less public action falls under prohibition to discriminate. If this trend is not reversed – we would come to a dead-end in terms of human relationships, societal values and a realistic approach towards the world.
As philosopher Algirdas Degutis notes, freedom to reject is the freedom which bourgeois societies gained by abolishing the feudal order where this freedom was constricted because individuals legally belonged to classes. Vesting government with the power to prohibit private discrimination means vesting it with the power to selectively intrude into private individuals’ relationships. In other words, granting to the government the power to regulate private discrimination, the government itself is granted freedom to discriminate – freedom to treat its citizens differently by conceding privileges to some at the expense of others. Therefore, we need to watch more closely whether the government does not discriminate without any grounds and that free individuals are allowed to choose freely.