Retire the Term “Gay Rights”

Is it time to stop talking about gay rights and start talking about civil rights?

No doubt it’s wise for gay rights groups to choose their battles carefully, but that doesn’t change the fact that gay rights are the civil rights issue of the present generation. Martin Luther King Jr. is never referred to as a champion of “black people’s rights.” His cause, and that of the many Americans of all races who contributed to it, was civil rights. Adam Liptak’s
article in today’s New York Times reports that gay rights groups are not planning to aggressively challenge the new state amendments.

“There is no putting lipstick on this pig,” said Matt Foreman, who is the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and who will give the keynote address on Friday morning at the group’s conference in St. Louis. “Our legal strategy is at least 10 years ahead of our political and legislative strategy.”

His adversaries also expect that court cases will embolden their ranks. Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, a public interest law firm that represents religious causes, said that challenges in the federal courts were losing propositions for gay rights groups – whatever their outcomes.

“If the same-sex marriage advocates win,” Mr. Staver said, “that will be like pouring gasoline onto the fire for purposes of the federal marriage amendment.”

I suggest it’s time to stop talking about gay rights and start talking about civil rights again. This will have several beneficial effects. First, it will increase the comfort factor for some sympathetic straights who may not know a lot of gay people and perhaps still feel personally uncomfortable identifying with them even if they believe philosophically in equal rights. Second, it will help raise awareness among the general forward-thinking population. Third, it would reduce the potency of the anti-“special privileges” argument.

And fourth, the overall battle for free speech (for unpopular or opposition points of view) and civil rights (for women and for minorities) isn’t completely over. The fact of discrimination being written into state constitutions reminds us that hard-won gains can always be lost. Opposition to the loss of civil liberties (cf. the “Patriot Act”) and to the denial of civil rights can and should find common cause.

2 Responses to “Retire the Term “Gay Rights””

  1. Steve S says:

    The term gay rights is almost used exclusively by the right, who also use the phrase special rights. Gay organizations don’t really use the term, rarely do they use civil rights either, because that upsets people who think we are trying to equate our plight with the historical plight of African Americans. Mostly, gay groups use the term equal rights. Although there are probably exceptions I’m unaware of. I refuse to go to newspaper sites that require me to log in (I don’t know why that bugs me so much), so I don’t know who Adam Liptak is, if he is an advocate for our cause or just a reporter who doesn’t realize and is repeating what he’s heard from the right.

  2. Jon Sobel says:

    Not true – “gay rights” is a term used heavily in the mainstream press. (Today’s NY Times has a front page headline: “Groups Debate Slower Strategy On Gay Rights.” That’s what I was referring to. I take your word for it that the term isn’t used much in the community.