Black identity has everything to do with heritage, with history, and it is (for nearly all African Americans) entirely involuntary: except for a tiny percentage of biracial individuals, you have no choice at all whether the world classifies you as black. Most gay people also view their sexual orientation as involuntary and somehow predetermined, but they still exercise a great deal of choice about just how publicly they want to embrace gay identity – or to claim a victim’s status. There’s abundant evidence that blacks disproportionately grow up in poor homes, but there’s no such pattern for gay identity; in fact, most studies suggest that adult homosexuals are more educated and wealthier (with less money committed to offspring) than their heterosexual counterparts.
Consideration of the weak case for gay reparations sheds new light on the weaknesses in the more familiar case for black reparations. In both cases, advocates want to compensate people who are alive today for the undeniable suffering of others, long ago. The fact that some blacks might claim a distant familial relationship with those oppressed others makes their case only slightly less tenuous. Many African-Americans could never prove that they descended directly from enslaved ancestors, since population figures show that half of the black populace today descends from immigrants to this country (from the West Indies, Latin America and Africa) who arrived after emancipation. In other cases, including that of Barack Obama, mixed-race heritage creates bizarre anomalies: there is no indication that the President’s Kenyan ancestors on his father’s side were ever enslaved, but we know that the Dunhams of his mother’s side were Southern slave owners. Does this mean that Mr. Obama should receive reparations, pay reparations, or both?
With blacks as well as gays, it’s invidious to single out individuals for special treatment and compensatory generosity based on group affiliation rather than personal history. Obviously, any provision of reparations would doubtless encourage those who are eager to cash in to make all sorts of dubious claims of black heritage, as well as similarly questionable claims of gay orientation. Ultimately, you could subject purportedly African American claimants to submit to genetic investigation (as obnoxious and Nazi-like as that sounds) but how would a homosexual verify his claim of privileged gay status?
In America, we’ve always emphasized our national character as a nation of new life and fresh starts, where each individual remains free to shape his own fate and his own future. Heritage may confer distinctive advantages or disadvantages, but focusing on that past to demand different treatment for any group from society at large remains, in the most fundamental sense, un-American.