Friday, November 7, 2008

Our common destiny

Canadian journalist Barbara Kay doesn't have a very high opinion of the gays. In fact, she argues in her latest opus in the National Post, people arguing that gay rights are a civil right and therefore akin to the struggles of racial minorities are all wrong and likely in need of a good spankin'.

This comes from several recent editorials (and the opinions of many, I'm sure) concerning the high percentage of African Americans who voted in favor of Proposition 8 in California, the proposition aimed at amending the state constitution to strip gays of their right to marry.

Most of the editorials are dumbfounded that a group that has suffered so much at the hands of discriminatory laws and attitudes would turn around and vote to do something similar to another minority group.

However, Kay (who is white) claims, " people just can't get too worked up about the "discrimination" of gays who haven't had any rights taken from them, can have legal sex together, live together, buy homes wherever they want, socialize wherever and with whomever they choose, and flip back through their family albums for any number of generations without finding a single slave."

Where to begin? First of all: Kay has apparently decided to conveniently deny the fact that plenty of homosexuals are also people of color. I'm sure some of them could "flip back through their family albums" and find a few ancestors who were enslaved. She is, like many others like her, marginalizing the experiences of some of the most marginalized people in our society. Way to go, Kay! That's very charitable of you.

Secondly: gay people haven't always been able to "have legal sex together" - they had to fight to overturn several draconian state-level laws that forbade this very personal and intimate act, even as recently as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law. The ruling had a broader effect, too: it wasn't just Texas that still had the complete ridiculousness on the books, but 12 other states as well.

Sometimes, when it comes to the basic human and civil rights of people, you simply cannot leave it up to the states. Our Constitution is supposed to grant all of these rights and protections for everyone already, but still we have to fight for further clarification, for people who can't quite seem to grasp its full meaning.

Thirdly: It's so kind of Kay to allow that homosexuals can "live together" and "buy homes wherever they want." Though I have a sneaking suspicion that she'd rather that weren't so, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and simply point out that again, this wasn't always so (and still isn't so in some places). Throughout history, homosexuals have had to hide their true selves else risk being ostracized, abused, and even killed simply for loving differently. And unlike what Kay surreptitiously claims, this isn't all the result of a "mere sexual preference" (a convoluted way of saying "choice") - we're talking inborn traits that are as much a part of people as their need to breathe.

There are so many points with which to take issue in this article (she calls the push for gay marriage rights "political entitlement that has been fabricated from whole ideological cloth" for instance), but I'll end on this one:
African-Americans, Jews, aboriginals, the Roma people and other historically disadvantaged ethnic or racial groups experience their collective memory through the narratives they inherit from their parents and grandparents and ancestors. Indeed, they are a true identity group because they have a collective history and common memories. The sufferings they endured are directly related to who they are historically, to characteristics and events they cannot change, to their skin colour and bloodlines, to the deeds of their ancestors. Where is their commonality with individuals disconnected from the great chain of human history, whose "identity" isn't a culture, an ethnicity, a race or a civilization - just a mere sexual preference that rules out both a collective past and a collective future, the sine qua nons of a true identity group.
What a load of bull. All of these groups have unique histories and cultures. There are some shared qualities where rampant discrimination and the struggle for fair treatment comes in, but ultimately this is all a comparison of apples and oranges. I think few gay rights advocates are arguing that African Americans and homosexuals are just the same, and that the former should support the latter because of that. The incredulity stems, I think, from the idea of one traditionally oppressed minority group turning around and oppressing another. This isn't to say that all African Americans (or Latinos, or Christians, or Mormons, etc.) are against gay marriage, because they aren't. But I think it's fair to wonder why such a large percentage of them voted for Prop 8, and what we can do to change perceptions and attitudes so that everyone can get on board with the crazy notion that everyone deserves equal rights under the law.

That's not political entitlement. We're not asking for anything more than what everyone else already has. I really, really don't understand what's so hard to understand about that.

It's time, I think, we all started being honest with one another. What really scares and/or puts off those who so vehemently oppose gay rights? So many of them couch their feelings by claiming not to have any problems with gay people, just gay people getting to take part in the "institution of marriage." Well I'll tell you what: you're so keen on that "traditional institution," why don't you bring back arranged marriages, dowries, and the utter male domination of women (no divorce rights, no parental rights, no financial rights, etc.)? Because that's your "traditional institution of marriage" right there.

The great thing about history is that we can learn from it and improve upon ourselves and our society. We keep around what worked, and throw out what didn't. Discrimination, oppression--that doesn't work. Equal rights, freedom to be who you really are--that works.

I'm going to end with the words of Mormon church spokeswoman Kim Farah, who issued a statement in response to the recent uproar by anti-Prop 8 activists against the church for so heavily supporting the proposition. She probably wouldn't like me using her statement in this way, because it's clear her intent was fraught with hypocrisy, but the sentiment is still good: "No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information." [emphasis mine]

Amen, sister. Barbara Kay? You'd do well to take that to heart.

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