06/05/2013 11:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Just Ask Rosa: Why Gay People Aren't Satisfied

Rita Mayfield is one of the Chicago-area Democrats who helped scuttle the marriage equality bill in the Illinois State House -- at least for the time being. She's pretty clear that she will not give gay people the same rights she enjoys because her religion treats gay people as pariahs, as someone less than herself, as unequal in moral stature. She says, "We do not allow those types of behaviors in our church at all." She doesn't want to deal with people who are "blatant," and leading "that lifestyle." That lifestyle?

Which lifestyle would that be, Ms Mayfield? If someone spoke of the "black lifestyle," Ms. Mayfield would denounce that as stereotyping and bigotry. She would be right to do so. It is bigoted. To imply that there is a gay "lifestyle" is no different. It is the kind of thinking that created the Klan, the kind of thinking that justified patriarchy, slavery, gas chambers and a whole lot more.

It is a rank form of collectivism. Ayn Rand said racism is "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism" because it ascribes specific moral character to an individual on account of his or her race. What Ms. Mayfield is doing is barely any different. She ascribes to individuals a certain "lifestyle" based entirely on their sexual orientation, and then wants to determine rights based on this alleged "lifestyle." She does not see LGBT people as individuals, with a multiplicity of "lifestyles." Instead, she lumps them into one grand collective with "that lifestyle."

The 20-year-old with a new boyfriend every week, partying with friends and indulging in recreational pharmaceuticals is apparently part of the same "lifestyle" as an older lesbian couple, in a monogamous relationship, out in the middle of farm country who care for their horses and each other. It's all the same.

Mayfield engages in the same kind of bigoted stereotyping that has been forced onto African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, "immigrants" or any other group subjected to legal discrimination.

Discrimination exists because discriminators -- bigots, if you want the accurate label -- mentally ascribe a status of "Other" to the group they dislike. For them, "all Jews are good with money," "gays are artistic and amusing but anti-family," or "blacks are fleet-footed criminals who the police have to keep in line." The Other is not an individual, but part of a collective identity, with a specific trait or lifestyle that makes them all the same. This status then justifies denying to them the same legal status as those doing the labeling.

I see no out for Mayfield, or others who refer to the "gay lifestyle." The very use of the term "lifestyle" is indicative of a bigoted view, one that creates stereotypes to justify legally repressing the Other as a means keeping them down, in their place, or worse.

As Prof. Deirdre McCloskey wrote, in Crossing, "Demonizing Others is the first step on the railway to the gas chambers."

Of course, most bigots don't wish to go to such extremes, but bigotry is an imperialistic emotion, always seeking new territory to conquer. When it is loosed others may take it much further than "moderate" bigots are comfortable with. The anti-black Southerner who wanted "colored folks" "in their place" may not have desired the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls. but their ascribing "other" status to black people helped make it possible. Others took the "moderate" premises to their logical conclusion.

Mayfield opined, regarding the gay community, with this bit of wisdom: "I'm still not clear on why they feel the need for marriage when you've got civil unions. One of the answers I was told is that civil unions didn't give them enough. How much more do you want?"


Is it good enough to have civil unions? Why did Rosa Park have to sit at the front of the bus? Why did black people find the theory of "separate but equal" unacceptable?

When Ms. Mayfield actually figures out the answer to those questions, she'll know why civil unions aren't "enough." How much more do gay people want? The easy answer is they want full equality of rights before the law. No more. No less. The back of the bus isn't good enough anymore, just ask Rosa.