The scapegoat game

August 24, 1992

Oregon is regarded as one of the more socially progressive parts of the country. But in November, voters there will decide on the most far-reaching anti-homosexual measure ever considered by a state. It would require the state to actively discourage homosexuality, would pre-empt local provisions protecting the civil liberties of homosexuals and, in the opinion of some legal scholars, would serve as the basis for removing homosexuals from state jobs or teaching positions.

It doesn't take a gay-rights supporter to spot the dangers in that proposal. If successful, the measure would contribute to a climate reminiscent of witch hunts. The law wouldn't put only gays at risk, but also any teacher or state employee who is considered tolerant of homosexuality -- even someone who voiced parental support for a gay son or daughter, as President Bush has said he would do. Moreover, any serious efforts to enforce the measure would put the state into the Peeping Tom business, requiring a virtual army of investigators to make sure no one on the state payroll ever spoke favorably of homosexuality. Is that how Oregonians want their tax dollars spent?

If this proposal became law, vicious crimes against Oregon's gay citizens would undoubtedly escalate. Even the Catholic Church, no friend of gay rights, has joined the battle against the measure, chiefly because of the encouragement it would lend to crimes committed against people simply because they are gay. The causes of homosexuality are hotly debated, but the reality is that it will not disappear because a majority of voters declare it evil. If it were possible for persecution to eradicate homosexuality, it would have disappeared centuries ago.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of this initiative is that such a mischievous and misguided measure could get on the ballot at all. The organization sponsoring the proposal, Oregon Citizens Alliance, has shown a keen ability to tailor its message in ways that appeal to subtle prejudices -- largely by suggesting that gay citizens are clamoring for special privileges beyond the basic civil liberties guaranteed to any individual or group. That is a distortion and should be exposed as such.

It is always tempting to blame those who are different for problems plaguing society. But the scapegoat game produces only losers. For proof of that, look to the former Yugoslavia, where centuries of hate have now produced "ethnic cleansing" -- another version of the scapegoating game.

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