Homosexuals and American Life

April 27, 1993

The exact number of marchers at Sunday's gay rights rally in Washington, D.C., is still in dispute, but there is no disagreement about the message: Gays and lesbians are Americans, too. Few issues touch such deep emotions in American life, and many supporters of gay rights had worried that the occasion would give extremists an opportunity to steal the national spotlight and hand conservative anti-gay groups a propaganda bonanza.

Indeed the march did have its share of bizarre characters. But any honest view of the gathering must take into account the diversity of the group, a diversity that makes it impossible to condemn or stigmatize homosexuals.

There were decorated military men and women revealing their sexual orientation for the first time. There were gay parents with signs reading, "I'm gay and in the PTA." There were businessmen and women, bureaucrats and others who lead ordinary, middle-class lives. And there were plenty of non-gay people who came to register their support.

Beyond a few well-publicized issues -- removing the ban on military service for gays, increased funding for the fight against AIDS -- the political agenda of the gay rights movement is less clearly defined. That in itself can lead to fears that gays are demanding special treatment beyond the protections that should be guaranteed to any American.

In our view, the message all Americans need to hear -- and the rights that gays should be able to take for granted -- are basic. Chief among them is, of course, the right to life and liberty. The prevalence of gay-bashing is telling evidence that gay Americans cannot take this liberty for granted.

In terms of the broader agenda, too many homosexuals have served honorably in the military for the nation to accept without question the shrill arguments against lifting the ban on gays in the armed services. We also favor a more focused, effective fights against AIDS -- although funding for AIDS-related research must also take into account the need for medical advances against other devastating diseases.

Many Americans have a difficult time coming to terms with homosexuality. But those who regard homosexuality as a sin or perversion have to come to terms with the thousands of Americans who insist that their orientation is not a choice, but an innate predisposition. We suspect that the real answer to the demand for gay rights lies not in science or law but in human relations. After all, the American willingness to tolerate diversity is essential to every citizen's freedom.

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