It seems that for as long as I can remember, we have heard the same arguments being used against LGBT rights and equality. The tired tropes that we have long known aren't based in fact have been repeated so often that they become accepted and legitimized as part of the political and societal debates around civil rights for LGBT people. Two big recent events have significantly damaged these anti-equality arguments.
"Gay Rights Aren't Civil Rights"
Perhaps the most high-profile argument we see crumbling right now is the "gay rights aren't civil rights" meme. As more and more Americans haven't gotten to know LGBT people, both in their personal lives and through pop culture, the idea that basic rights for our community are a pressing civil rights issue has risen sharply. While there is still perceived tension between "religious liberty" rights and LGBT equality in some circles, the conversation itself has shifted from the idea that basic LGBT equality is a "special right" for a small group to a broader discussion on our community's inclusion in the rights laid out in the constitution.
This was illustrated this week to remarkable effect when the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, came out in full support for marriage equality. "Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law," NAACP President Ben Jealous said during the announcement. "The NAACP's support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people." Jealous also broke down in tears during the marriage equality vote, telling the story of how his own parents had to travel between states to marry because of anti-miscegenation laws that barred people of different races from marrying.
His powerful story and emotional connection between denying same-sex couples the right to marry and African-American struggles for equality and marriage rights also breaks down the long-standing talking point of many on the right that comparing those movements against discrimination aren't equal. We've seen anti-equality activists like the National Organization for Marriage attempt to use a definitive plan to drive a wedge between people of color and the LGBT community in recently released memos from the group. In fact, Ben Jealous challenged that cynical race-baiting plan flat-out, saying "The well-funded right wing organizations who are attempting to split our communities are no friend to civil rights, and they will not succeed."
And his words are proving true. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds support for marriage equality remaining consistent at 53 percent, with a growing number of African-Americans backing the freedom to marry. In fact, support for marriage equality is HIGHER among black Americans than in the general population numbers, with 59% of black Americans now supporting marriage equality for LGBT people. That number is actually up from the 41% in polling before the historic announcement from President Obama, the sitting US President, saying that he supports marriage equality.
"Pray Away the Gay"
But beyond just marriage rights, supportive Presidents and politicians, and civil rights, the most basic argument against LGBT equality has been crushed recently as well. The claim that a person can "pray away the gay" and become heterosexual (or "ex-gay") if they want it bad enough has completely fallen apart.
The "ex-gay" movement is centered around this damaging practice of so-called conversion or reparative therapy, which focuses on changing a person's sexual orientation. Despite the fact that all major medical organizations (including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Counseling Association) have blasted the idea of conversion therapy as harmful and ineffective, the "ex-gay" claim has remained the main weapon of those fighting against LGBT rights.
And that weapon has now been completely removed from their arsenal.
As their last thin shred of supportive evidence, anti-gay organizations have long cited the controversial 2011 study by psychologist Dr. Rober Spitzer which appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and claimed "highly motivated" gays and lesbians could reverse their sexual orientation. Spitzer's research was particularly harmful because he was the only non-socially conservative scientist to produce a study claiming some people could "pray away the gay" and he had previously led the charge in 1972-73 to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.
Virtually every anti-gay organization in the country quotes Spitzer's work, including in legislative and judicial fights for LGBT rights, like those defending California's discriminatory Proposition 8 in court. Their argument boils down to the idea that if a person can change their sexual orientation, they can change and not suffer the discrimination of being gay-- like by marrying someone of the opposite sex. It is the main and most potent argument they have had against including LGBT rights of all kinds, from marriage equality to employment protections.
A recent development, however, changes the landscape of the LGBT rights movement. Truth Wins Out, a group dedicated to combating ex-gay myths, obtained a letter from Dr. Spitzer officially invalidating his infamous 2001 study and apologizing for the way it has been used. "That renunciation kicked out the final leg from the stool on which the proponents of ‘ex-gay' therapy based their already shaky claims of success." Truth Wins Out says. "It removed from the ex-gay fringe movement its only shred of scientific support."
The move opens the door for sexual orientation to be deemed "immutable", which calls for heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, like other classifications of race, national origin, sex, nonmarital parentage, and lineage that get that form of legal scrutiny. It could be one of the most important moves in the legal battle for LGBT equality.
Crumbling Arguments Mean a Desperate Movement
While the fast pace movement of our country's views and policies on LGBT rights is encouraging, we can't be complacent or think change is inevitable. Anti-equality forces, with their long-used arguments quickly crumbling, will become even more desperate in their fight. Fear-mongering and divisive tactics are sure to become even more pronounced, as we have seen in this political cycle. We've seen moves to chip away at existing rights on state and local levels, as well as a lurch even further right from the most anti-gay in our society.
Change is happening, but we have to remain vigilant. We have to not only combat foes of equality, but also keep pushing allies to move forward. We have to build on our successes and keep momentum on all our issues, from marriage to employment discrimination to transgender rights.
Their arguments are crumbling, so now is the time to fight even harder for the rights our community needs.