Apart from being an interesting legal scenario, this case got me thinking about civil rights. The argument that because black people can’t opt not to be black or women can’t opt not to be women that that makes them civil rights victims but that homosexuals are something else. Usually, this is the argument that ultra-religious blacks use so as not to be “grouped” with gays in the civil rights struggles. They feel that racism and homophobia are separate issues with no connection.
In all honesty, I have mostly seen the two things as different. Mostly due to the concept of choice. Over time, however, my point of view has shifted but not because I no longer see the issue of choice. Rather, because of it.
On it’s face, the argument seems to have legs: Take a picture of Denzel Washington or Whoppi Goldberg and there’s little doubt they are black. But take those same pictures and there’s no obvious markers as to their sexuality unless you knew more about them. The problem is, not every black person (or ethnic minority) is so obvious.
Long before civil rights activism, black people who had light enough skin and “good” enough hair routinely “passed” for white. It was a survival tactic they felt forced into and at the time, if given a choice, more black people than not would have likely chosen that route. Even today, there are black people who could, if the wanted, not identify with their black heritage and avoid a lot of the “stress” that comes with being black. Not that she is doing that, but actress Rashida Jones (daughter of Quincey Jones) comes to mind. Rarely is she grouped with other young black actresses, her body of work is not the typical “Tyler Perry” fare and her phenotype expression is not obviously stereotypically black.
Black people don’t deserve civil rights because they have no choice but to be black. They deserve it because they are citizens of this country, humans on this planet and not some inferior species. In other words, there are black people who had, and still have, a choice. If they choose go through the soul-shattering stress of “passing.” Obviously, this is suboptimal so the idea that homosexuals have the option of doing the same thing is somewhat moot.
But going a little further, the concept of race is in and of itself a choice. Race is not a genetic marker - it is a social construct. America is perhaps the best (or worse) example of this. It is our long-held principle of hypodescent that creates the bulk of our racial tension - and the need for racial categories. When a child is born to two white parents that child is considered white - and that is the highest level of decent, everything else is below that. So, when a child is born to a white parent and a black parent the child is considered black - which is lower - and that is a choice. Why isn’t the child white? It certainly isn’t a genetic issue, it is a matter of societal choice. Going further, if that bi-racial child has a child with a white person the resulting child is still considered black even though more of it’s genetic material is presumably white. Again, the question of choice.
This is not to say that I think choice is a bad thing. In fact, I believe that it is choice that gives us humanity. Our ability to reason (however illogically) then choose, and not be totally bound by nature, chemistry, biology, destiny or any other predetermination is what separates us from all other life forms on this planet.
For this reason, I don’t think the question of whether or not homosexuals choose to be gay or not is an important issue. I personally believe a person can choose whatever they want - even who they want to love or at least be physically intimate with. I think it is dangerous to rely on the “born this way” principle. If homosexuals are in fact, like blacks, what happens when - given scientific progress - we find out what makes a person’s brain gay? What happens when a parent can decide they don’t want a gay child and just abort - or take a pill to change the fetus or got to a lab an engineer one that’s straight? Same could be said of “race.”
I believe that being black or being homosexual or whatever is a choice. I also believe that civil rights in a free society is about protecting and celebrating choice. Gay rights should not be a part of the civil rights movements because they have no choice but because everyone has a choice. Our society should protect the valid choices people make. And therein lay the real issue - validity. If we decide that being homosexual is valid (choice or otherwise) than that should be the end of the issue, they should have the same rights and protections as every other category of people.
Categorizing the issue of civil rights is dangerous. There is always strength in numbers so the larger the group the stronger it is. But more than that is the idea of validity. If a group of people with a legal perspective, point of view and lifestyle is treated differently what stops the “powers that be” from becoming embolden against other groups who once thought they were safe? “Hmm, we won on this gay thing, lets revisit all these protections we extend to the handicapped or the blacks, or the Native Americans.” Sounds like hyperbole right now but I bet nobody thought the events a generation or two ago in Germany would have been reality.
Humans are capable of great achievement and horrible atrocities. It is our ability to choose that separates the two. When it comes to civil rights, choice is not the enemy and it is not the differentiator.