Commentary Race

Racial Injustice: The Case for Prosecuting Buyers as Sex Traffickers

Yasmin Vafa

Those of us fighting trafficking as part of a broader human rights movement must recognize that failing to advocate for the use of these laws to punish both buyers and sellers serves to perpetuate very serious racial disparities in who we are deeming culpable and who we are criminalizing for trafficking.

Recently the U.S. House of Representatives took historic action on behalf of trafficked and exploited youth by passing five anti-trafficking bills aimed at protecting victims and bringing their exploiters to justice. Until now, most federal efforts to end sex trafficking have aimed at penalizing pimps. But now, one of the new bills, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, represents significant progress in the movement to end sex trafficking, in that it finally seeks to end the culture of impunity for those who purchase sex, and particularly, sex with minors. The bill targets the demand side of sex trafficking in three key ways:

1) calling on law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute buyers, and not just pimps;

2) directing the federal anti-trafficking task forces throughout the country to bolster state and local law enforcement efforts to go after buyers of who purchase sex with minors; and

3) clarifying that purchasers—not just pimps—can be tried and prosecuted as traffickers under existing federal anti-trafficking laws.

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Needless to say, we were thrilled when the bill passed unanimously in the House on a 409-0 vote. The act is now being considered in the Senate.

For years, we have witnessed law enforcement and the federal government focusing their anti-trafficking efforts almost exclusively on pimps and other exploiters who profit from selling minors, despite the fact that demand reduction is a proven primary prevention strategy. It is high time that we recognize the importance of addressing not only the supply, but also the demand side of sex trafficking that is fueling the market. The glaring need to stop purchasers becomes painfully clear when listening to survivor accounts of their violent and degrading experiences with buyers and when recognizing that the vast majority of these men escape with no punishment, or at most, misdemeanor solicitation charges, even when purchasing sex with minors.

Though at first blush it may seem that only pimps can legally constitute traffickers, there are strong legal, moral, and racial considerations for why both purchasers and suppliers ought to be viewed and treated as traffickers under the law. First, as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act strives to make clear, the relevant statute (section 1591 of title 18, United States Code) was always meant to encompass buyers. In fact, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “[t]he unambiguous text of § 1591 makes no distinction between suppliers and purchasers of commercial sex acts with children.” Yet far too few prosecutors are pursuing buyers in this manner. To remedy this omission, the act removes all doubt as to section 1591’s applicability to purchasers, thereby alerting U.S. attorneys that they can and ought to use section 1591 to prosecute buyers in appropriate cases.

Second, failing to prosecute buyers under federal anti-trafficking statutes suggests that buyers are somehow less culpable. Though some may argue that there is a significant distinction between the role of the buyer and the pimp, both actors clearly contribute to the exploding market for sex with underage victims, and neither should therefore escape the consequences of their actions. By definition, buyers are responsible for sustaining the market for sex with minors. And pimps and buyers alike exercise control, ownership, and violence toward victims—the former lures, manipulates, and markets victims for sex, while the latter purchases their bodies as a commodity, often to engage in violent fantasies. These politely dubbed “johns” even rate the girls they pay for on online forums known as “john boards” and exchange tips on how to evade law enforcement.

There is a very real and entrenched culture of impunity for men who buy sex in this country. And particularly when looking at minors who are bought and sold, it is clear that when the rape of these girls is commoditized and paid for, that it is no longer deemed rape or child sexual abuse, but instead is written off as juvenile prostitution. As a result, it is the victims who are criminalized, and their purchasers—who in any other situation would be considered perpetrators of sexual assault, statutory rape, or worse—escape with little to no consequence.

Some may theorize that perhaps these men do not know they have purchased a minor, but from speaking to survivors, we know this to be false. Take Tami’s story. Tami is a survivor I met through the organization Saving Innocence in Los Angeles. At 15 years old, Tami decided to tell each of her purchasers she was underage and desperate for help. For six months she pleaded with each and every man who paid to rape her to help her. Not one of them did—not surprising when you consider that buyers often pay more to have sex with minors. What’s more, according to a 2011 study, two-thirds of men recognize that most prostituted individuals are often “lured, tricked, or trafficked.” Therefore, the notion that these individuals are clueless about their actions is simply not the case.

Finally, we must consider using federal anti-trafficking laws to prosecute buyers from a racial justice perspective. Members of the anti-trafficking community in the United States often characterize themselves as “abolitionists” fighting against modern-day slavery. Many even evoke the imagery and icons associated with the African-American slavery narrative. Those of us fighting trafficking as part of a broader human rights movement must recognize that failing to advocate for the use of these laws to punish both buyers and sellers serves to perpetuate very serious racial disparities in who we are deeming culpable and who we are criminalizing for trafficking. Pimps tend to be Black and brown men—men who are often undereducated and from impoverished communities that we routinely criminalize anyway. But the buyers, by contrast, tend to be white, middle- to upper-middle-class, educated men. A terrible irony therefore arises whereby “abolitionists” are advocating for the continued incarceration of Black and brown men for trafficking, while the typically white buyers escape with lesser consequences for their role in perpetuating this crime.

We must be mindful that in failing to take this equitable approach to applying our trafficking laws, we are signaling that the buyer is not as culpable for trafficking, despite the exploitation of young victims and exercise of violence, ownership, and degradation of their bodies. And if the analogy to African-American slavery were to hold, we would essentially be deeming the slave traders more culpable than the slave owners themselves. This cannot be the intent.

The facts remain clear: Until we as a movement take conscious steps to condemn both the supply and demand for commercial sex, we are failing to address this crime from all relevant angles. Further, we are risking discrediting ourselves as human rights advocates—and certainly as modern-day “abolitionists”—for our role in perpetuating serious and harmful racial inequities in our fight to end human trafficking.

Commentary Human Rights

How Sex Workers’ Rights Made the Mainstream

Melissa Gira Grant

When law enforcement targets sex workers and the websites they use, mainstream outlets and organizations tend to give them a pass. But with the raid on, that script has flipped.

Homeland Security agents raided in late August, seizing the escort ads website and displacing an estimated 10,000 advertisers. As with similar crackdowns on online sex work, sex worker rights groups were the first to draw attention to the politics behind the Rentboy raid. But not long after, they were joined by high-profile organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the editorial board of the New York Times. On Thursday last week, LGBTQ, civil liberties, and sex workers’ rights activists gathered outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn where Rentboy staff were arraigned, calling for charges against them to be dropped and for the decriminalization of sex work—a topic that has, for the moment, become one of mainstream media interest.

The crackdown may have felt unprecedented to some, but it’s the public’s response that’s new. When law enforcement targets sex workers and the websites they use, mainstream outlets and organizations tend to give them a pass. But with Rentboy, that script has flipped. Rentboy was a website where men sought sex with men, and as such, media and advocacy groups who don’t typically bring a political analysis to sex work responded to the raid primarily as an anti-gay attack, while also calling for an end to the policing of sex workers. Some American LGBTQ organizations in particular have rallied around the political nature of the raid—in a way women’s rights groups in the United States, when women sex workers are targeted in similar raids, have not.

In fact, it might be the relative silence of women’s rights groups on the Rentboy raid that has provided space for sex workers’ rights to become the main focus of the story.

The “Pink Scare”

The Rentboy raid was the latest phase of what an anonymous sex worker, writing in the Guardian, referred to as the “Pink Scare”—an escalating panic directed at the intersection of sex work and technology. Though the focus on a men’s site is a twist, the overall agenda is not new: About one year ago, federal agents also raided the escort website MyRedBook, a site used primarily by women escorts. “Neither bust is surprising, although both landed like a punch to the face,” Charlotte Shane wrote at Jezebel. “To sex workers, it’s just more evidence of the campaign against us.”

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When law enforcement came for MyRedBook for sex work ads—and before that, Craigslist and Backpage—there was criticism, but not like this. Immediately, commentators recognized the Rentboy raid as not only an attack on civil liberties, but on sex workers’ rights, including the right to set the conditions of their work.

Perhaps this comes, in part, from the mid-August announcement from Amnesty International in support of sex workers’ rights and the decriminalization of sex work. A week before the Amnesty vote, an anti-sex work organization called the Coalition Against Trafficking Women added a raft of celebrities’ names to their letter opposing Amnesty’s proposed sex work policy before it had even been officially announced. Though the celebrity reaction failed to sway Amnesty, it did garner a response from media outlets that normally might not cover these kinds of policy changes.

Once Amnesty did vote in favor of sex workers’ rights, this attracted another wave of international press attention. Media presented Amnesty’s decision as just the latest in a long fight about sex work, framing sex workers’ position as going against “women’s groups,” as if sex workers were not themselves present in women’s groups, or were maybe even not included in the category “women.” As incomplete as this coverage was, for a moment the issue of criminalizing sex work was back in the news.

In turn, these responses primed the public to examine the impact of criminalizing sex work—rather than dwell on abstract debates—when the Rentboy raid took place. In targeting Rentboy, the New York Times editorial board wrote, law enforcement “shut down a company that provided sex workers with a safer alternative to street walking or relying on pimps.” Critics understood prosecuting online advertisers as an occupational health and safety concern for sex workers. As ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio wrote on the organization’s website, platforms like Rentboy “provide a safer alternative to street-based work where there is less time to negotiate safety needs and higher risk of violence from both clients and law enforcement.”

Much of the coverage also framed the shutdown as an attack on the safety of the LGBTQ community, which includes sex workers. At MSNBC, Hayley Gorenberg of Lambda Legal and Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality wrote, “No one’s life has been improved by the raid on Rentboy, and thousands of lives—a great many of them LGBTQ—are ruined by the criminalization of sex work every day.”

LGBTQ and human rights groups placed responsibility for this harm firmly with law enforcement. “The criminal charges against by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are misguided and a terrible waste of resources,” the National Center for Lesbian Rights wrote in a statement.

“It is hard to see the harm done by,” Grame Reid, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, wrote on the HRW website, “but it’s easy to see the harm done by the raid on society at large.”

Sex Workers’ Rights as Women’s Rights

Rewind to last summer, when federal agents shut down in a similar raid. As with Rentboy, the agents served warrants against the site administrators, charging them with violations of federal law as a result of operating a website where escorts placed their own advertisements. As in stories about Rentboy, news reports circulated somewhat surreal images of federal agents removing boxes of evidence. And as with Rentboy, advertisers on MyRedBook and those in community with them were displaced, losing peer-support networks they fostered through the website. The raid was a direct hit not only to their income, but to their ability to work collaboratively, share information, and support one another without fear of law enforcement surveilling or intervening.

But where some LGBTQ rights activists and organizations joined sex workers in condemning the raid on Rentboy, when sex workers spoke out against the MyRedBook raid—a site primarily used by women to advertise to men—women’s rights organizations said nothing. Where the attacks on Rentboy were understood by activists and organizations as attacks on the LGBTQ community, attacks on MyRedBook were met with comparative silence from feminists, along with cursory reporting and little editorial support from mainstream media.

Why this gap? It could be dismissed as just the result of ongoing “sex wars” within feminism, but there’s more to it than just differing opinions on sex work. Journalists look to feminists as authorities on sex work—something feminists have played into, often to the exclusion of sex workers themselves. This is how “feminists” and “sex workers” are often pitted against each other as discrete groups. As a result, the question of “taking sides” then trumps a struggle for rights, in the media and in the movement. We saw as much in the response to Amnesty International’s vote: the media dwelled on the “controversy” of feminist groups rather than on the actual issues at hand.

What’s lost in this reliance on seeing sex work politics only through “debates” and “sides” is where sex workers fit in. It also obscures the truth: Women’s rights groups have long held a range of perspectives on sex work and sex workers’ rights. In 1973, for example, the mainstream National Organization for Women passed a resolution calling for the decriminalization of prostitution. But that was by no means a unilateral decision: In No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism, scholar Stephanie Gilmore notes the diversity of approaches NOW chapters took on the subject. Some San Francisco NOW members were members of COYOTE, founded by Margo St. James as the first American prostitutes’ rights organization. (The term “sex work” would not be adopted until the end of the 1970s, after its coinage by sex worker Carol Leigh.) Kansas City and Dallas NOW members were also notably active in COYOTE, engaging in legal advocacy and contributing to its national newsletter, Coyote Howls.

By contrast, New York’s NOW members, like author Susan Brownmiller, promoted the idea that prostitution was intrinsically a form of violence against women, and that men who buy sex should be harshly punished. Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW-NYC and NOW New York State, continues this stance today, most recently opposing the Amnesty International decision. Terry O’Neill, national NOW president, also opposed Amnesty’s sex work stance.

Some feminist groups, like the international movement for Wages for Housework and their American chapters, have also stood with sex workers in the past and continue to do so. (I was part of one such effort, I should note, when on staff in 2010 at the Third Wave Foundation—now Third Wave Fund—we issued a collective statement in the wake of attacks on the online sex trade.) There are also many individual American feminist activists, writers, and community organizers who support the rights of sex workers, who may lack the power to issue organizational statements or to shape advocacy campaigns that influence media narratives.

Still, when it comes to standing against law enforcement crackdowns on sex workers, or supporting sex workers’ rights, silence from the overwhelming majority of feminist organizations is the norm. This exclusion of sex workers’ rights from feminism is supported by a range of feminist groups, not only those who explicitly oppose sex work.

There are a few reasons for this, feminist writers and organizers told me.

Some stem from what’s understood as conflict within organizations, where silence is seen as a “neutral” ground. “I was involved in NOW between 2002 and 2012. I didn’t speak publicly in support of decriminalizing sex work until well after I had resigned from my position as a national officer in 2012,” Erin Matson told me. She’s now the co-founder and co-director of the direct action group Reproaction.

“From the perspective of someone who used to be on the inside of an establishment organization,” Matson continued, “I can say there was enormous pressure not to reopen old controversies that I was told had nearly split the organization in two. Literally I was trained to say things in media interviews/public speaking appearances like, ‘there are two sides to that question’ and avoid taking a stand. I was taught that was what ‘leadership’ meant in a divided organization; to silence myself, or be responsible for driving more members away.”

In turn, this silence can create a culture of confusion and exclusion, especially for newcomers. “I’m a third-wave feminist without the gender studies credentials,” Katie Klabusich, freelance writer and host of The Katie Speak Show on Netroots Radio, told me. “I have approached established feminist spaces—places where people from mainstream, well-known organizations and talking heads gather—without preconceived biases. What was initially surprising and is challenging to navigate as an untethered feminist is the open hostility toward sex workers in mainstream, corporate, ‘white feminism.’ It’s challenging to call out for some (I do it anyway) because it can cut ties and close doors. You can’t be sure where the hostile people are and they swarm to discredit people who support sex workers. I don’t understand where the solidarity gap comes from with feminists and sex workers.”

Nicole Cliffe, co-editor of The Toast, told me she’s “a feminist who supports sex work.” She recalled her part in “discussions of sex work legality that solidify very quickly among generational lines, obviously with a handful of exceptions on either side, and it is almost impossible to convince some older, otherwise fantastic women that being pro-sex workers isn’t some nonsense cooked up by men that young dummies like me have bought, hook line and sinker.” Sex work, she says, “is a job, and a job that the vast majority of studies suggest is substantially safer for all when it’s decriminalized.”

“For me, I came to support sex worker rights because my belief in bodily autonomy means including women’s right to be a sex worker by choice,” freelance writer and feminist activist Lauren Rankin told me. “Honestly, it’s really not hard to say that. It shouldn’t be. For mainstream feminist organizations who are trying to appeal to those in power, taking a stance in support of sex workers may be too much of a risk. (When I say ‘those in power,’ I mean those who occupy patriarchal positions of power. In the case of sex workers, that would mean police officers, conservative legislators, overzealous or sexist prosecutors, or those who occupy a role in power in the prison-industrial complex more broadly.) But we should never make decisions about where we stand as feminists based on what those in power want. That’s how we know we’ve gone astray.”

It will be “a serious black mark on the feminist movement,” Rankin continued, “if we can’t get past this and support the human rights of sex workers. It’s great that independent feminist activists support it, but without structural and organizational support, it won’t be enough.”

Feminism and Rentboy

Even as feminist organizations have remained relatively absent on sex workers’ rights, feminist analysis and action goes on. On the Rentboy raid in particular, writers and commentators have approached the story with a nuanced feminist read on sexuality and gender. They pointed out that media condemning the Rentboy raid was not without its sexist over-simplifications, particularly when contrasted with previous narratives about women sex workers.

At the sex worker-run blog Tits and Sass, Morgan M. Page observed that the media depiction of sex workers affected by the raid on Rentboy was still drawn from law enforcement’s own gendered narrative about sex work. “Male sex workers and the largely male third parties who advertise their services are … ‘running a racket,’ a ‘global criminal enterprise,’ according to the press release. They are positioned as having agency in their lives and thus are not in the pitiable condition of exploited cis women.”

To that end, “The Times board advanced the notion that the men using the site—on both the buying and selling side—were rational actors who were victimized only by hectoring law enforcement,” Lily Burana wrote for The Cut. “Leaving aside the faulty assumption that all men who professionally service other men are gay, a question emerges. Why can’t the issues concerning female providers be presented so pragmatically?”

As it stands, the burst of reactive statements and quick-hit media responses, promising as they may sound to activists, are not the same thing as a lasting movement. Some activists have raised concerns that the recent calls for support of sex workers’ rights from LGBTQ organizations in the wake of the Amnesty decision and the Rentboy raid might not amount to much. “It’s not in their DNA to actually take up a cause like this,” Yasmin Nair, a writer and activist with Against Equality, told Truthout. For LGBTQ groups to support sex workers’ rights will mean more than denouncing a raid, but re-evaluating how much sex workers are understood as a core part of their movement.

“[T]he discourse in the raid aftermath has been a unique ‘privilege’ granted to indoor male sex workers, one that we need to extend to all sex workers—of all genders and races—working in all circumstances,” Katherine Koster of Sex Workers’ Outreach Project USA and Derek J. Demeri of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance wrote at the Huffington Post. Responding to some gay commentators’ claim that the Rentboy raid was “the Stonewall of sex work,” they observed, “If this is the ‘Stonewall’ of sex work, let it not be the aftermath of Stonewall where a privileged minority colonizes and benefits off the work of society’s ‘others.’”

This is a historic part of movement struggles that feminist activists share with LGBTQ activists. Like some LGBTQ activists, some feminists have also pushed back on the mainstream of their rights movement for over-emphasizing white, cisgender, and middle-class concerns.

Still, on sex workers’ rights, few women’s rights groups have yet to arrive at even the statement-making level. NOW’s own 1973 vote is mostly a memory. Individual feminists, as well as those striking out in new organizations and with their own media, continue to feel pushback from the mainstream for their refusal to treat sex work as a matter of debate. Perhaps big-F mainstream feminism will never address the exclusion of sex workers’ rights from their organizations. It may not matter, if the rest of the movement just progresses.

Meanwhile, the criminal and political campaign against sex workers continues apace, “nothing but a knot in the ever-expanding dragnet of state violence,” as the same anonymous sex worker wrote at the Guardian. “It is population control by other means, and it does nothing to improve our lives or our safety.”

In his words, “we can’t afford to lose even one more tool that keeps us alive in this economy of violence.”

Commentary Human Rights

Prison Sex Doesn’t Prove Homosexuality Is a Choice—and It’s Offensive for Ben Carson to Argue as Much

Martha Kempner

Our newest potential presidential candidate, Ben Carson, apparently believes that inmates having sex with each other in prison is proof that homosexuality is a choice—and that it's OK to discriminate against those who supposedly made that decision.

Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, announced on Tuesday that he is forming an exploratory committee and considering throwing his hat into the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary. In one of his first interviews as a potential candidate, however, Carson told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he believes being gay is a choice. While this isn’t a new justification for denying same-sex couples rights, Carson’s reasoning for it—that prison sex proves people have control over their sexual orientation—is a somewhat novel spin on an old offensive argument.

Carson explained that, in his view, states should individually legislate the issue of same-sex marriage. Even if states passed discriminatory laws, Carson said, it would not necessarily be a violation of equal protection because people have control over their sexuality. When asked if being gay was a choice, Carson said “Absolutely.” He went on to give what he sees as proof:

A lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight but when they come out they’re gay. So did something happen while they were in there, ask yourself that question.

Carson then used this to justify a system in which same-sex couples would be entitled to everything but marriage.

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Late Wednesday evening, Carson apologized for his comments, saying that his words did not reflect his “true heart” on gay issues. In a statement, Carson said: “I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.” Yet even in his apology, he argued there’s no definitive research to say that sexual orientation is not a choice: “Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.”  

Though he clearly regrets them after the fact, Carson’s remarks—and even his apology—still show a disturbing level of misunderstanding about sexual orientation that is very dangerous when combined with his willingness to discriminate against same-sex couples. Our discussions about marriage equality have come so far since even the last presidential election; it’s unfortunate that Carson would take such a giant leap backward on his very first day in the field of hopefuls.

Perhaps now, while he is reflecting on his first major foot-in-the-mouth moment of the upcoming campaign, would be a good time to provide a quick lesson on sexual orientation and explain to Carson why his remarks were offensive on so many additional levels.

So here’s some 101-level reminders: Sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical and emotional attraction to others. And it is about far more than just whom a person has sex with. It also has to do with sexual fantasies, emotional attachments, and lifestyle preferences. Moreover, it’s not always an either/or situation; people are not necessarily exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual. As sex researcher Alfred Kinsey wrote in 1948, “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats … The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”

Most importantly, though, sexual orientation is an identity that each person gets to decide for themselves. And the bottom line when it comes to dealing with Carson’s argument is that regardless of their past or present sexual behavior, every person (prisoners included) can identify as gay, straight, or something else. It’s up to them.

Carson himself admitted Wednesday night that it was not up to him to label others’ sexualities. But the second half of his prison argument may be even worse—because he concluded that prison sex means a man has chosen to be gay. Overall, research on prison sex has been scarce; inmates are often wary of telling the truth, for fear of retribution. However, we do know that a lot of the sex that takes place in prison is non-consensual or coercive, and that rape is common. A 2012 Justice Department report, for example, found that nearly one in ten inmates in state prisons, local jails, and post-release treatment centers suffer sexual abuse while incarcerated, at the hands of both fellow prisoners and facility staff. Even consensual prison sex is more complicated than it might be under other circumstances, and decisions to engage in it likely take into account far more than the gender of the other person.

Prison sex is a serious human rights issue and bringing it up in relation to gay marriage shows a lack of understanding about sexual orientation, consent, and human rights. The existence of prison sex cannot be used to prove that homosexuality is a choice; it can only be used as a proof that our prison system is failing.

There’s also the fact that Carson is, according to most scientific and medical studies, just plain wrong about whether sexual orientation is biologically predetermined. A 1991 study published in the journal Science, for example, found that one section of the hypothalamus (a part of the brain which controls sex hormones), is bigger in heterosexual men than in gay men. Other brain studies have found that the brains of homosexual men and heterosexual women are more symmetrical than in heterosexual men and homosexual women. Research has also focused on the corpus callosum—which connects the two halves of the brain—with varying results.

In my mind, however, these studies, and the others done on genetic explanations for sexual orientation, don’t actually matter. Whether or not orientation is biologically determined or a “choice,” everyone deserves access to the same rights—and the only time anyone brings up the debate is when they are trying to advocate homophobic practices, such as “reformative therapy” or discriminatory policies against LGBT individuals.

And that’s exactly what Carson is still using this argument for: discriminating against marriage equality. In the interview with Cuomo, he said it was fine for a same-sex couple to seek the legal rights and property benefits that come with marriage—but marriage itself should be saved for one man and one woman.

Despite his assertions of fairness, this position shows Carson’s willingness to treat same-sex couples as second class citizens. After all, few people accuse heterosexual couple of getting married just so they can file joint taxes come April 15. Heterosexual couples are said to be marrying for love, commitment, or a desire to start a family. This may be news to Carson, but same-sex couples have the same motivations and deserve the same respect.  

Offering rights short of marriage to same-sex couples is a position that politicians on both sides of the aisle were espousing not that long ago. Thankfully, though, many have now come around and evidently realized that “separate but equal” is never truly equal. Today, 37 states allow marriage equality as a result of laws or court rulings, and the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The Court is expected to give a ruling on the matter by the end of the summer.

Carson’s first day in the field, however, should remind us that bigotry and homophobia are not gone from our country’s politics, and that the struggle for LGBTQ rights will not end if and when we secure marriage equality rights in every state. People face prejudice based on their sexual orientation on a daily basis and some states are even attempting to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the name of religious freedom. This is not the time to be complacent—and it’s not the time for candidates who display such clear homophobia. 


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