Monday, May 12, 2008

Who exactly is seeking "special rights"?

It seems like whenever LGBT people try to get anti-discrimination laws passed, the religious bigots invariably trot out the argument that we're somehow seeking "special rights." So my hypocrisy alarm went off when I heard that a conservative legal-advocacy group is looking for a church willing to be a test case to challenge IRS tax laws against using the pulpit to endorse political candidates. Now the thing is, churches are perfectly free to engage in pulpit partisanship -- as long as they're willing to give up the exemptions from taxes that the rest of us pay. (A principle even Reagan-appointee courts have upheld.) So who exactly is seeking "special rights"?

While we're on the subject... It's not uncommon for religious bigots posing as "reasonable people" to argue that protections for LGBT people are "different" (i.e. less legitimate) than those against racial protections because LGBT people supposedly chose their "lifestyle," as the bigots usually put it. Sadly it's too-often an argument put forth by bigoted people of color.

Sadly too, the "it's not choice" argument we in the LGBT communities too often buy into ourselves, sometimes invoking contorted personal histories to reassure ourselves and others that "it's not my fault" that I'm [insert descriptor here]." Now before everyone starts firing up the flamethrowers, I do think both sex/gender identity and sexual orientation can -- and usually do have -- a biological component; and I recognize that the "born that way" argument is in part driven by the way U.S. civil rights law is written -- since it generally (and I'll come back to that point in a minute) holds that innate characteristics are protected and personal choices aren't. But the thing is, both sex/gender identity and sexual orientation are spectrums -- even though our society generally views them as binaries -- and while there's a hard-wired aspect about where one falls on that spectrum, biology isn't destiny. Which is why the "it's not a choice" argument always has an Achilles Heel: there's just too many examples of people choosing to act in ways contrary to their "nature" -- from "political lesbians" (some of whom weren't necessarily sexually attracted to women) to men who engage is same-sex act when they aren't women available (in prison, among immigrant populations, etc.) to people who choose to remain closeted about their sex/gender identity and/or sexual orientation (even if they pay a heavy emotional cost for doing so).

So we'd be a lot more honest if we acknowledge that choice can play a role in how one's sex/gender identity and sexual orientation gets expressed. But religion is a choice too and we still see fit to protect people from religious discrimination. Now the religious bigots in the United States would point out that's because those protections are written into the Constitution. And they're right. In fact protections against religious discrimination predate by decades (if not centuries) protections against discrimination based on race, sex, pregnancy, national origins, disability or age. But the common thread among all of these is that they involve aspects that are so central to who someone is that we consider them worthy of protection.

If the Framers were willing to protect a "chosen" part of one's core identity, why shouldn't we?


Renee said...

While I don't think that the way we feel is a choice (in almost anything, not just sexual or gender orientation), I once had a professor of mine pose the question, "So what if some people do choose, does that make them any less worthy of protection?" And the answer is no, it doesn't make them any less worthy of legal protections.

Excellent post!

Unknown said...

Not only is religious worship and belief a chosen behavior that isn't immutable, practically every protection outlined in the bill of rights covers a chosen behavior- speaking, assembling, publishing, petitioning for redress of grievance, keeping and bearing arms, refusing to testify against yourself, hiring and being represented by an attorney when accused of a crime...all behaviors that one can choose to engage in or not.

The argument that "chosen behaviors" do not deserve to be protected by law is patently absurd and to argue against it in the context of LGBT equality by insisting that being LGBT isn't a choice plays into that absurd notion...fact of the matter is that the framers had no problem whatsoever with protecting chosen behaviors, and *that* imo is what needs to be highlighted when dealing with this specious and disingenuous argument from religionists who enjoy "special rights".

And if they make the erroneous argument that those rights are rights only because they are in the Constitution, point them to the second to last amendment in the Bill of Rights-

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

In other words, just because a right isn't specified as such in the Constitution doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

Bigots can always deny and disparage the feelings and opinions of those they despise, and many enjoy it to no end- but they tend to clam up and even (gasp) *think* when confronted with the fact that their "truths" are in direct contradiction to the legal principles they claim to want to protect...and even if they don't others can see through the hypocrisy.