I thought at first it was a joke. "The European Union has declared travelling a human right, and is launching a scheme to subsidize vacations with taxpayers' dollars" for the poor, the elderly, for young people ages 18 to 25, for the disabled and others with undefined social distresses, the press reported.
Antonio Tajani, the man appointed by Silvio Berlusconi as EU commissioner for enterprise and industry, is standing tall for the proud new human right "to be tourists." As a Tajani spokesman said: "Why should someone from the Mediterranean not be able to travel to Edinburgh in summer for a breath of cool, fresh air; why should someone from Edinburgh not be able to travel to Greece in winter?"
It has to be a joke but it's not; it's an Italian's idea of promoting enterprise and industry. Taxpayer-subsidized beach vacations for all!
Europe has become a parody of itself.
But before we laugh too hard at our brothers across the pond, consider a more American iteration of the same impulse to expand human rights: "gender expression."
The Maine Human Rights Commission announced plans to give every person in Maine the right to express his or her gender at will, eliminating the right of schools or colleges to establish some standard for who counts as a transgendered person.
Transsexual is so last century. Why insist on surgical reassignment of gender? Why not just embrace the new gender fluidity? In Maine, basic human rights include the right to get up in the morning and decide what gender you feel like expressing that day. Government, in this view, has no business keeping the boys out of the girls' bathroom, or even the showers in the girls' locker rooms.
The new guidelines were spurred after a ruling last year that the Maine Human Rights Act required letting a 12-year-old transgender boy use the girls' bathroom in public school. With commendable purity of principle and comedic lack of common sense, the Maine Human Rights Commission went on to opine that gender divisions ought not be used in sports teams, school organizations, locker rooms or showers, either. Forcing a student to use a particular room based on his or her biological gender was discrimination -- a violation of basic human rights. A boy had the right to shower with the girls if he was feeling female that day. (After Fox News picked up the story, the commission announced this week it was postponing work on the guidelines.)
Now the shrinks are getting into the fray. The American Psychiatric Association is in the middle of massive revisions to its Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders. A proposal to relabel "gender identity disorder" as "gender incongruence" is sparking a heated dispute, but not along the usual fault lines. Today's culture war is a fight between those who want gender identity disorder to follow homosexuality all the way out of the mental disorder box, and those who prefer their human rights with public subsidies attached.
There's just one problem with this progressive strategy: If gender identity is not a disorder, then insurance won't pay for sex-reassignment surgery or hormone therapy. How to keep the perks of having your orientation defined as a mental illness while losing the social stigma? Aye, there's the rub. The new human rights battle for the 21st century has begun.
(Maggie Gallagher is president of the National Organization for Marriage and has been a syndicated columnist for 14 years.)