Legislating Identity

In a recent article about the current movement in the Minnesota legislature to ban gay marriage by amending the state’s constitution, Sen. Warren Limmer, the author of the bill, asked an interesting question in relation to the LGBT community and civil rights protections:

“[Sen. Limmer] offered his view on civil rights based on sexual orientation versus those based on race. “Sexual orientation may be perceived as more of action [sic],” he told the committee. “Do you teach a person to be black?””

Can you “teach a person to be black?” I would say yes, absolutely—by your interactions with them. Even if they don’t necessarily consider themselves to be black. And of course we’ve had plenty of laws in the history of this country that helped support that particular education, laws that any legislator would now condemn.

What’s the long-term social impact on legislating identity? Again, if history teaches us anything, it’s that the need to define someone, even in counter-intuitive sense of removing their ability to claim a particular identity (as in reducing gay identity to an “action”) is a step towards a dangerous edge, an edge that, as a country, we’ve stepped over before—to our own detriment.

It’s time we learned our lesson.

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