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The Costs of an Offensive Analogy

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Why did 70% of California African-Americans vote against gay marriage on November 4th?

While a narrow majority of white voters opposed Proposition 8 (which defined marriage as "valid and recognized" only between a man and a woman), and a small majority of Latinos supported it, the black community overwhelmingly said "no" to the top "civil rights" priority of gay activists.

Liberals explain this surprising result with insulting (and occasionally racist) claims that black voters didn't understand the real nature of the fight, and suggestions that they were misled by TV advertisements or their impassioned pastors.

Conservatives, on the other hand, hail the tally as a sign of powerful, sturdy black support for traditional marriage --- an odd conclusion for a community with disproportionately high rates of out-of-wedlock birth and single parent households.

In fact, my conversations with several leaders and thinkers in the African-American community lead to another explanation for the one-sided rejection by black voters of the homosexual agenda.

At least in part, the support for Proposition 8 reflected deep resentment for the gay community's appropriation of the rhetoric and symbolism of the black civil rights struggle, along with understandable anger at the offensive analogy between African-American identity and gay sexual orientation.

For three reasons, the comparison of the gay struggle with the black struggle insults the memory of black heroes of the past and trivializes the problems of the African-American community of the present.

1. The expression of gay identity is a matter of choice, while only individuals with complicated mixed backgrounds (like Tiger Woods) get any element of choice in determining their racial identity. Even if you accept the politically correct argument that homosexuality is no more controllable or correctable than left-handedness, an individual still chooses how he wants to act on his inclinations, or the extent to which he wants to identify with a movement based on sexual orientation. My finest teacher in high school (a brilliant, challenging, completely dedicated English instructor and an inspiration to his students) was, I now suspect, gay. Of course, no one in the 1960's ever knew or ever asked (and I still don't know anything about his personal life with any certainty). In other words, Mr. S---- never experienced discrimination or hostility of any sort because he never chose to discuss or reveal his sexual identity. The black teachers in our school (or in any school) obviously enjoyed no such luxury ---everyone knew within moments of meeting them that they were African-American, and reacted accordingly, for better or worse. No one would argue that homophobia doesn't exist, or deny that many innocent people suffer from external reactions to their actual or perceived homosexuality. But a comparison of the inconvenience and unpleasantness of hostile reactions to gay identity (which homosexuals can avoid in many if not most facets of their lives), and the omnipresent, crippling ravages of racism in America's past (and, alas, present) is dishonest and appalling.

2. The best evidence that racism plays a far more destructive role in our national life than homophobia involves the relative success of members of the gay community, especially when compared to the continued economic struggles of African-Americans. Despite spectacular and altogether admirable progress in the last generation, black people remain handicapped by their history and identity, trailing their white counterparts in income, accumulated wealth, education, and other familiar measures of success. Gay people, on the other hand, according to figures from "The Advocate" and elsewhere, exceed the national average in education, income and professional success. Comparing the gay struggle to the black struggle is ridiculous on the face of it, due to the fact that gay people already enjoy at least the same standard of living and opportunity as their straight fellow-citizens, while African-Americans continue to lag behind whites (and Asians, for that matter). When gay activists insist that they only seek their "basic human rights," the claim sounds like self-pity and whining for a community that's already privileged in educational and economic terms.

3. An interracial marriage isn't profoundly or fundamentally different from a single race marriage, but a same sex couple is irreducibly distinct from any mixed sex union. Comparing a right to gay marriage with the right to interracial marriage therefore highlights the distinction between a racial influence on identity (which is relatively minor) and a gender influence on identity (which is huge and unavoidable). The Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia (1967) found that a marriage between a white man and a black woman differed in no substantive way from a marriage between two whites or a marriage between two blacks: the identity of the spouse you chose didn't change the essential nature of the union you entered. This argument of course bears no application to the case for same sex relationships. There, the choice of a partner of the same sex (as opposed to a partner of opposite sex) fundamentally and profoundly alters the terms of the union – for instance (and most obviously) eliminating the chance that the two partners will produce a child together. It's important to understand that the essence of this difference between male-female and single sex couples is based on gender, not sexual orientation. For instance, most sane and objective observers would concede that it's important for a child (particularly in its early years) to benefit from the care of a mother. There's very good reason, then to give preference in adopting an infant to a male-female couple, or even a female-female couple, above a male-male couple. The key distinction involves gender, (which is profoundly important) rather than race or sexual orientation (which are far less significant). That's why legal distinctions based on gender (women don't register for the draft, and they get obvious preferential treatment in custody cases in divorce court) persists where discrimination based on race, national origin or even sexual orientation would look far more questionable.

In short, the analogy between the gay struggle and the black struggle for equal rights, as well as the comparison between a right of inter-racial marriage and a right of same sex marriage (precisely the comparison on which the California Supreme Court based its now infamous – and overturned- prior decision) make no sense and win no arguments.

Those analogies also no doubt contribute to the overwhelming rejection of the radical gay agenda by members of the African-American community. The invidious comparisons should produce the same indignant and outraged reaction from all Americans of good will, regardless of race.

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