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Don't compare gay rights, civil rights PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Morphus on Monday, 08 August 2011 00:57   

In many respects, they are more different than they are alike. To point that out does not diminish the importance of the battle for equal treatment for gays


It has become fashionable to wrap the gay rights movement in the mantle of America's earlier struggle for racial equality. As Sen. John McCain's daughter, Meghan, put it during one televised interview, "Gay marriage and everything having to do with the gay rights movement (is) my generation's civil rights issue." To make that assertion is not only to claim moral legitimacy but to invite comparison with the epic efforts that ultimately forced America to end its homegrown racial caste system.


Certainly, there are similarities between the movement for racial equality and the movement for gay rights. Both movements share the goals of ending discrimination and fostering decency. But in many respects, they are more different than they are alike. To point that out does not diminish the importance of the battle for equal treatment for gays. It merely acknowledges that each battle must be understood on its own terms.


Perhaps the most enduring lesson of the civil rights struggle is something that has little applicability to the fight for gay rights — and which also underscores its fundamental difference from it. And that has to do with the weight of history — with the legacy of subjugation that is not simply wiped away with the passage of prejudice and time. Decades after the civil rights movement proclaimed victory, blacks are still trapped in ghettos and prisons out of all proportion to their numbers. Black youngsters are much more likely than whites to be stuck in second-rate schools — or in lower tracks in decent schools — and to face a future of joblessness or marginal employment. The obstacles gays face are somewhat different.


Racial identity changes everything


In some sense, the "don't ask, don't tell" program makes the difference clear. The thoroughly discredited policy (most recently repudiated by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) essentially ordered gay soldiers to stay closeted — to "pass," in other words, for straight. That would have been roughly equivalent, in racially segregated times, to demanding that black would-be soldiers "pass" for white. And many blacks did pass for white. But most could not. The racial markers were evident enough that, for most people, there was no hiding from the American system of classification. One's racial identity, for the most part, was as clear as the nose on one's face. That ability to instantly and easily (albeit, imprecisely) categorize was one thing that made it possible to organize an entire society around the principle of racial difference. It also allowed the practice of racism to be relentlessly oppressive, as entire communities were cordoned off and disadvantage was handed down through generations.



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