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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Last Respectable Prejudice

In a future post I will share the many great resources for following the latest news and commentary on same-sex marriage and related issues that are available online.  My hope is that they will inform your day as they do mine.  This blog, however, is not so much devoted to current events as it is to think about them.  So my posts are more like "think pieces" than news stories.  We need both and I have chosen to present commentary.

The Gay Rights Struggle Is the Moral Equivalent of the Civil Rights Struggle of the Last Century
Part 1

As for today's subject, I do not want to leave the impression that LGBTs have suffered and continue to suffer to the same degree as African Americans have.  There was no refuge in the safety of the closet for Blacks in America; they had no place to hide. Nor have LGBTs had to endure centuries of slavery.  On the whole, life in America has been relatively good for gays as compared to many other countries around the world, and certainly when compared to America's racial minorities.

Nevertheless, in the words of Byrne Fone, in Homophobia: A History: 
"Indeed, in modern Western society, where racism is disapproved, anti-Semitism is condemned, and misogyny has lost its legitimacy, homophobia remains, perhaps the last acceptable prejudice.”  
The fight for African American equality began in slavery, is embedded in the Declaration of Independence, ushered in the Civil War, was enshrined in the 14th Amendment, endured through Jim Crow, made huge gains in the 1950s and 60s, and finally was legally secured with the passing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965.  A host of other legislation, both in Congress and in the states, dealt with issues from school bussing, interracial marriage, and other discriminatory practices.  Although prejudice endures, legal discrimination is markedly on the decline in America.

The fight for LGBT equality is more recent and follows a much less ascendant trajectory. Gays still can be fired for their sexual orientation without recourse in 29 states; transgenders, in 34.  Lynchings have all but ended in the South, but LGBT's lives are taken almost every day.  According to the Leadership Conference, in a report issued in 2010,
Reported hate crimes committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation increased in 2007 to 1,265, the highest level in five years. Of all hate crimes reported in 2007, the proportion committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals rose to 16.6 percent, also the highest level in five years. According to the FBI's HCSA reports, gay men and lesbians have consistently been the third most frequent target of hate violence over the past decade.
As early as the founding of Virginia, gay sex was a capital offence.  It wasn't until 2003 that sodomy laws were rendered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas. The years in between made gay love go underground to survive, and many are still living in the closet to protect themselves.  

Racial slurs are not uttered in polite company these days, but gay slurs still are. You don't hear racist jokes much any more, but gay jokes are still fair game.  Where conservative Christians used to denigrate African Americans by teaching that God desires segregation and approves of slavery, they have largely repudiated those teachings.  But they are free to claim that "God hates homosexuality," and LGBTs are hell bound.  

In 1964, the Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage, allowing African Americans the right to marry anyone they love.  Same-sex marriage is only legal in nine states, but Federal benefits are denied them with the passing of the Defense of Marriage Act.  If the Supreme Court does not make same-sex marriage a universal right in America, it will have to be won state by state and DOMA will have to be overturned.  

So the fight for gay rights parallels in many ways the fight for racial equality: legal restrictions that bar them from full access to rights given to others, societal contempt that often leads to violence, and laws that keep them from marrying, to name just a few.  These struggles are moral equivalents because of this one fact: LGBTs are as fully human and as entitled to live as equals with all Americans, just as we have finally realized about racial minorities.  More and more Americans are convinced that this is the case, with 58% now favoring equality across the board. If the Supreme Court feels the same way, all that will be left will be the same as when  racial minorities received full rights: we will have to discover that there should never have been such a fuss in the first place.

TOMORROW: Part 2, The Moral Implications That Follow from This Equivalency 

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