Does Sexual Equality Require Preferential Treatment?

Taylor Harris, a black University of Virginia graduate now studying writing at Johns Hopkins, had an excellent article (“Racial pawns in the battle for same-sex marriage”) in the Washington Post recently.

“All too often,” she begins, white liberal classmates at the University of Virginia would ask, “Shouldn’t blacks, more than any other group, support gay rights?” She continues:

I never understood my classmates’ need to align the historical struggles of blacks with those of homosexuals and then push their quadratic equation of oppression on me. Was not one point of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, a classic text for college seminars, that blacks deserve an existence free from an assigned role? That they should not be pawns in any social movement? And even if they hadn’t read the book, wasn’t it clear that stereotypical assumptions based on race are regressive?

On that last point, it’s certainly not clear to everyone. What would there be to “diversity,” after all, without the assumption that blacks are one and all “different” enough to provide it to others? For the purposes of “diversity,” in short, blacks are fungible: because they are all “different,” they are all the same. But let’s leave “diversity” aside for now and return to the issue of blacks and gays.

“Hearing that from my white peers was one thing,” Ms. Harris continued,

[b]ut last month, one of our greatest civil rights leaders also sang the same cacophonous tune in an attempt to peg African Americans’ morals and opinions to our socio-historical identities.

“Black people, of all people, should not oppose equality,” Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, declared at the National Equality March in Washington.

Bond’s comment, however, begs and hence raises the question of the content and meaning of the “equality” that blacks, “of all people, should not oppose.”

During most of the history of the civil rights movement -- that is, before the ascent of leaders like Bond -- that meaning would have been clear: people who demand to be treated without regard to their race should not oppose the demand of others to be treated without regard to their sex or sexual orientation. That implicit equation of race with sexual orientation may not have been persuasive -- especially, as Ms. Harris cogently points out, to black Christians -- but at least it would have been consistent, clear, and coherent.

Now, however, it is none of those, because civil rights leaders like Bond no longer believe that blacks should be treated without regard to their race. To the contrary, they believe that blacks should receive preferential treatment because of their race and that those who believe in colorblind equal treatment are either conscious or unconscious racists.

Consider, for example, fair housing, an issue less volatile and religiously charged than gay marriage. Declaring that “discriminatory policies and practices based upon race, color, creed, or national origin” are “unfair, unjust, and inconsistent with the public policy of the United States as manifested in its Constitution and laws,” President Kennedy’s Executive Order 11063 (November 20, 1962) ordered federal agencies “to take all action necessary and appropriate to prevent discrimination because of race, color, creed, or national origin.” That provision was revised in 1980 “to apply to discrimination because of race, color, religion (creed), sex, or national origin.”

Now fast-forward to the present, and the demand of a fair housing group to revise the above language “to apply to discrimination because of “race, color, religion (creed), sex, disability, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”