As a gay man who opposes hate-crime legislation, I’ve oftentimes found myself alone at cocktail parties. Telling my queer brothers and sisters that I won’t be adhering to our marching orders from the de facto gay-fundraising wing of the Democratic Party, the Human Rights Campaign, really seems to startle some of them.
That’s not my only antisocial stance, of course. I have no desire to get married; I support the legalization of prostitution; I publicly discuss my years of struggles with sobriety; I believe recreational drug use should be decriminalized; and I consider my HIV-positive status to be a morally neutral fact. (After all, it was a result of engaging in perfectly natural human behaviors, like having sex, which is something that plenty of HIV-negative folks do, too.)
With all of this in mind, I suppose I am a bad gay. I’m sure not palatable to “mainstream America”; in fact, I’m pretty much exactly the bogeyman the antigay far right has trumpeted for decades. I share very little in common with, for instance, an engaged couple of monogamous gay men in Cherry Hill registered at Macy’s who enjoy the stability of white-collar careers and “a house down the shore.” I mean, the only thing I’m engaged to is the idea that relationships are just as fine, and fun, when you can measure them in hours. Many Americans, gay or straight, would describe my life as unseemly. And I’m fine with that, because I understand that I am a small minority within an already small minority.
While sexual and gender minorities enjoy widespread attention and mainstream acceptance in modern society, we still represent a small share of the American population. Because of the nature of our, well, nature, we cannot accurately gauge our size. Some say 10 percent; hilariously wishful thinkers say 25 percent; life experience leads me to suspect that queer folks represent, at best, around five percent of the global population. (Regardless of the fact that your friend in that fraternity experimented with you way back when, if he identifies as heterosexual, let’s just take him at his word on that one, folks.)
With this in mind, we need to recognize that it is perfectly acceptable for people to disagree with our marriage-equality agenda. And more than that: It is perfectly OK, even, for some backward Americans to find us disgusting.
Which brings us back to hate-crime laws.
I oppose hate-crime laws on the grounds that Americans have every right to hate me, and that their hatred in and of itself simply doesn’t alter the reality of whether or not they’re guilty of making the decision to assault or murder me. After all, once I’m dead or brain-damaged from a savage beating, isn’t the person who attacked me equally vile, equally criminal, equally deserving of punishment, whether they did it because they saw me as an abominable faggot or because they wanted to steal my iPhone?
It is completely OK for Americans to express consternation as to whether or not living our lives openly is a choice. While it is, in fact, a choice to fully express who you are, it is not a choice to be who you are. Personally, I find it an outright assault on the pursuit of happiness to deny Americans either of these things.
As a reminder, though: The pursuit of happiness is not a constitutional right.
But here’s what most certainly is a constitutional right: equal protection under the law.
There are several constitutional amendments, in fact, devoted to the idea that Americans, regardless of what demographic group they might fall into, enjoy the same rights that all other groups do. And, of course, because of the brutality of the American South toward African Americans after one of those amendments emancipated them from slavery, we had to pass federal anti-discrimination and right-to-service laws to ensure that blacks could stay in hotels and use restroom facilities. In other words: The American public has long since voiced its opinion that all groups of Americans have a right—not a privilege, but a right that cannot be taken away—to be treated equally.
Which brings us, in turn, to the new pro-discrimination laws that politicians in Arizona and Kansas have sought to pass.
Members of the Arizona or Kansas legislatures may find me personally repugnant. They may find even the more conservative, marriage-minded members of the gay community personally repugnant. Fine. They may not, however, find us to be subhuman and undeserving of providential rights. And that’s what they’ve attempted to do.
It is a curious thing indeed for so-called conservatives to be arguing in favor of taking away rights under the guise of asserting rights. To champion “religious freedom” when, in reality, these far-right radicals are denying a right to equality of service is a breathtaking exercise in chicanery. It is a disingenuous ploy standing in opposition to decades of jurisprudence surrounding American equality and commerce—not to mention centuries of American ideals surrounding individual liberty.
I will resist the tiresome and inaccurate comparison of the African American struggle for freedom and civil rights with the gay rights fight. Hundreds of years of slavery and continued racial injustice is a quintessentially American perversion that sits, as it should, by itself in our shared history. Selma and Stonewall, while acknowledged by our president as similar fights, are intrinsically different. Even so, there is something hauntingly familiar about states legislating discrimination under the guise of freedom.
It is their right to feel hate. To express it, even. We, the reasonable majority in America, simply ask that they stop trying to force their warped and ugly worldview upon the rest of us. After all—it’s such a difficult conversation to have with the children. I mean, those two nice husbands in Cherry Hill shouldn’t have to explain to their innocent adopted daughter why all these angry radicals are trying to shove their flamboyantly boring lifestyle down everyone’s throat.
Oh, we get it, Arizona: You’re here. You’re not at all queer. We’re very much used to it. But we have a sacred text that we live by here in America. It’s called the Constitution. And it simply doesn’t allow for your filthy legislative behavior.
Josh Kruger is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. His PW column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” will present stories and ideas that challenge our cultural understanding of what “normal” means in American life anymore.