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Stop Calling Yourself 'Socially Liberal and Fiscally Conservative'

04/28/2015 11:43 am ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015

People -- especially those running for president -- don't like to admit that they are wrong, but have no problem jumping rope to make it seem like they are right. Take Ted Cruz, who recently said he doesn't want to see marijuana legalized, but so long as the states want to do it, that's "their prerogative." Or Marco Rubio, who said that while he doesn't support same-sex marriage, he would still attend one because "I don't necessarily have to agree with [a loved one's] decision or the decisions they've made to continue to love them."

As public support has rapidly shifted on issues such as same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization -- the so-called "social issues" -- we've seen a major rise in the "social liberal, fiscal conservative." But I'm not buying it. This contortion is nothing more than a red-herring -- a convenient cover intended to shield the real issues.

The terms "social" and "fiscal" rights are better understood by political scientists as "negative" and "positive" rights. Negative rights are those that require no action -- the right to free speech, the right to marry, the right to smoke pot are all categorized by the government not doing anything, by leaving you alone. On the other hand, positive rights are those that require the government to take action -- the right not to be discriminated against in the workplace, the right to receive health care and food if you cannot afford it, and the right to be compensated if you are injured at work all require the government to step in.

Thus, what the "socially liberal, fiscally conservative" person is really saying is: "I support the plight of the marginalized, so long as I don't have to do anything about it."

Yet you cannot support one without the other. Social rights mean nothing without economic rights alongside them. Think of the Civil Rights Movement. We tend to refer to the March on Washington, forgetting that organizers advertised the event as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Martin Luther King stressed that genuine equality "means economic equality. For we know that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?"

This sentiment resonates for all marginalized groups. As same-sex marriage was set to head to the Supreme Court, lawyers were not just concerned about securing the right to marry, but also protecting against other forms of discrimination, such as in the workplace. Women, who generally have all the same negative rights as men, are still fighting for wage-equality and maternity leave. In short, you cannot claim to support any form of equality until you support it in all forms. Otherwise, the fight just continues.

It's time for people like Cruz and Rubio to put their money where their mouths are. Rubio's attendance at a same-sex wedding doesn't mean much if he simultaneously believes employers should have the right to fire an employee because she is gay, and Cruz's endorsement of a state's right to legalize pot means little if he is unwilling to extend the right to whole country he is running to represent.

It's time we stop accepting support for only partial equality. Those who deem themselves "socially liberal and fiscally conservative" carry the burden of explaining why equality, to them, is only worth defending when it is in line with the polls.