Since I started following the news about HJR-3, the proposed Indiana amendment that would ban same-sex marriage (which will not appear on the 2014 ballot after all), I have gotten more and more involved in debates on why gay marriage should be legal, what gay rights are, and whether the phrase “gay rights” should even exist.
One Indiana blogger, Sam Kean, wrote in a blog post titled Sexual Identity & Equality that “The LGBT culture attempts to claim rights as a minority against which discrimination is happening. That claim for equal rights as a minority is based on sexual identity, as if sexual identity must be equated with other essential (permanent) descriptors of human identity–race/ethnicity, gender, nationality (origin), age.” Kean discusses other aspects of sexuality in his blog post, which I won’t get into here, as my main goal is to demonstrate that gays and lesbians do, indeed, deserve minority status. Here’s why.
Kean argues that gender and race are primary descriptors of identity, and are deserving of minority status “because of their being apparent to the observer of the individual and inherent to the individual at birth and unchanging unless acted upon determinately.” I would agree that gender and race are indeed potential determinants of minority identity – but that these two criteria (apparent by sight and inherent/unchanging) are not sufficient.
Sociologist Joe Feagin in Racial and Ethnic Relations (1984) defines a minority as having five characteristics: (1) suffering discrimination and subordination, (2) physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group, (3) a shared sense of collective identity and common burdens, (4) socially shared rules about who belongs and who does not determine minority status, and (5) tendency to marry within the group.
This list of characteristics comes from a respected sociologist. It gives us an academic, empirical way to discuss minority groups. It includes religious groups, for instance (and I’d say there’s a very strong argument to be made for religious groups constituting minorities; look at the persecution of the Jews). And it includes cultural/ethnic groups that are not identifiable upon sight, such as the Roma, who have been persecuted over time, and still are in Europe today.
In the next few posts in this series, we’ll examine how these characteristics apply to LGBT folks.