There is one theme that pervades the discussion on gay marriage: “this debate is the same as the debate we had on skin color in the 1960s.” Memes fly around the internet comparing the two fights. One recently on my newsfeed showed a picture of an interracial couple from the 1950s and a gay couple from today side by side with a statement “both illegal marriages.” When Arizona tried to pass its “religious freedom bill” that would allow the religious to refuse service in some situations to homosexuals, the response was clear: ‘this is the new Jim Crowe’. As a result, Jan Brewer vetoed the bill (probably fearing looking like the new George Wallace).

But the comparison is a bad one. The two causes should not be compared. They are nothing alike. To compare them is not only confusing but insulting to anyone who hates racial discrimination.  

The comparison is wrong for one reason: Behavior is not skin color.

People often point to the idea that homosexual desire is innate. If it is innate, they argue, it is like skin color (something we cannot change) and therefore worthy of the same sort of civil protections. But is this true? A moment’s reflection shows the error of this thought. We are all born with a wide variety of innate impulses and desires (sexual and otherwise). Some of our innate desires and impulses are good and some are not. We all judge our desires and make decisions on when, how, and whether to act on them. These innate impulses are not behaviors. The fact that we have an innate desire/impulse in no way means that acting on that desire (behavior) must be accepted, licensed by the state, or endorsed by the public.

This concept is manifestly true based on the fact that we all regularly do not act on a whole host of our innate desires. We don’t because doing so would often be often be socially unacceptable (and sometimes illegal depending on which desire in which context). Only some behaviors are socially acceptable (depending on the culture, legal code, and situation). We all filter our innate desires and choose which behaviors are good and which are bad.

We cannot automatically assume that because a desire is innate the corresponding behavior must be accepted by all…..that is almost never true. Desire is not behavior. Behavior is not innate.

Very few behaviors are established as civil rights in our country and I have a hard time seeing why this one sexual behavior should be classified alongside skin color. 

The current debates (i.e. gay marriage, sodomy laws, and conscience laws and etc) are all about behavior. No one is discussing thought control. The innate desires are not being restricted – no, there are questions about behaviors. And such discussions are appropriate and good. There is nothing hateful when we determine to reject certain behaviors as bad (we all do that every day).  In fact, behaviors must be evaluated, judged as ethical or not, and rejected (or embraced) as part of living in a civil society.

There is fundamental difference between skin color and behavior. It seems obvious but our society continues to confuse the two. It is time this confusion ended.