Michael Cobb’s God Hates Fags: The Rhetoric of Religious Violence – the “Like Race” Analogy
In 1967, The Supreme Court rendered a verdict in Loving v. Virginia. Their decision struck down laws in our country that prevented interracial marriage. The case was a result of the Loving couple—Mildred and Richard Loving—of mixed race, who were sentenced to one year in prison for violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which contained an anti-miscegenation statute that made interracial marriage illegal.
They could serve a suspended sentence if they left the state of Virginia and could only return to visit family if they did so separately.
This case, and the type of misguided, bigoted laws it challenged, is often used in arguments in favor of gay rights. Why? Well, in principle, the case attacks injustice that has been perpetuated by antiquated moral arguments. We can’t mix races… that would be unnatural. Think of the children of such a union… These were the type of reasons offered to justify keeping different races from marrying.
In his book, Michael Cobb understands why gay marriage specifically has approached our fight in the same manner as those who challenged Loving v. Virginia. He also sees several other places where our community has invoked the “like race” analogy. And although he understands why this important, he also believes that doing so has limited us in the long run. Basically, we need to find our own language to express what we have—and what we continue—to experience as members of the LGBT community in this country.
But what is the “like race” analogy? As Cobb discusses, when those within our community “argue that they are “like race,” the less legible category, queer, relies on assumptions about the more known category, race, which has more value and legibility as a conception of the history of the United States” (45). Therefore, this analogy works because race is understood to be a “legitimate form of minority difference”, and as such has been “deemed worthy of explicit government action,” dating back—but not limited to—the end of slavery (117). Basically, this continues to work because it “provokes emotions that influence law and politics” (132).
According to Cobb, there are a few important flaws in this comparison because it limits our ability to present a clear idea of our own experience, which contains its own history, unique struggles and experiences. First, the “comparison between queers and people of color is emotional, not genetic” (13). This distinction is important, for the “pain and violence” inflicted on our community is similar to the “pain and violence” inflicted on racial minorities by conservative groups and individuals (19). The comparison should stop there. Yet the comparison is often misunderstood to be about a lot more. Perhaps for this reason, “this assertion of a “like race” status sidesteps authentic or realistic claims that riddle and often limit much minority-based writing and politics” (Cobb 13). Furthermore, referring to the work of Janet Jakobsen, we should worry about what happens, because by aligning the queer experience with those of race, “historical specificity is elided, forgotten, or undercut” (45).
Basically, we stumble telling the complete story of our own experience.
This is why Cobb sees that the analogy fails to fully explain the community’s experience. In order to accomplish this ourselves, we must find, develop, and use our own language. As Cobb states, this “like race” analogy, “is a substitute for explicit testimonials and definitions of minority sexuality” (46).
Here is a different way to understand Cobb’s point: any time you suggest one thing is like another, you always fall short, for what it is like fails to describe what it is. We’ve done a good job using instruments forged and harnessed by others; now we need to move forward on our own, and maybe then we will be able to effectively convey who we are. Doing this stands the best chance for those on the outside to see us as a unique group, worthy of not just equality but respect. And when that happens, we won’t need the Supreme Court (or any court) to step up on our behalf.