Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Do We Need These Laws?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Do We Need These Laws?

Article excerpt

Before I make myself irreparably unpopular, I might as well start with a concession. Almost all the arguments the fundamentalist right uses against gay "special rights" are phony ones. If there's legal protection for blacks, whites, Jews, Latinos, women, the disabled, and now men in the workplace, then it's hard to see why homosexuals should be excluded.

It's also true that such laws would ban discrimination against straights as well as gays, and so they target no single group for "special" protection. Nevertheless, there's a reason the special rights rhetoric works, and that is because it contains a germ of truth. However evenhanded antidiscrimination laws are in principle, in practice they're designed to protect the oppressed. So while the laws pretend to ban discrimination on the neutral grounds of sex, race, ethnicity, or disability, they really exist to protect women, blacks, Latinos, the disabled, and so on. They are laws that create a class of victims and a battery of lawyers and lobbyists to protect them.

The real question, then, is this: Are gay people generally victims in employment? Have we historically been systematically barred from jobs in the same way that, say, women, blacks, and the disabled have? And is a remedy therefore necessary? My own view is that, while there are some particular cases of discrimination against homosexuals, for the most part getting and keeping jobs is hardly the most pressing issue we face. Aided by our talents, by the ability of each generation to avoid handing on poverty to the next, and by the two-edged weapon of the closet, we have, by and large, avoided becoming economic victims. Even in those states where job-protection laws have been enacted, sexual orientation cases have made up a minuscule proportion of the whole caseload.

Most people--gay and straight--know this to be true; and so they sense that the push for gay employment rights is unconvincing and whiny. I think they're right. The truth is, most gay people are not victims, at least not in the economic sense. We may not be much richer than most Americans, but there's little evidence that we are much poorer. Despite intense psychological, social, and cultural hostility, we have managed to fare pretty well economically in the past few generations. Instead of continually whining that we need job protection, we should be touting our economic achievements, defending the free market that makes them possible, investing our resources in our churches and charities and social institutions, and politically focusing on the areas where we clearly are discriminated against by our own government. …

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