Regardless of what the selfish religious zealots may say, this is in fact a question of civil rights. And no steps forward in civil rights have ever been taken by a referendum. That is to say civil rights have never advanced in response to popular demand. If public consensus were needed to advance civil rights, all previous steps in this direction would have preserved the white- and male-only aspect of our culture from 100 years ago.
Understand that advances in civil rights have occurred only through inspired, visionary leadership from an enlightened governing body. Many times this enlightenment is forced upon our governing body by a judiciary which must interpret both the spirit and letter of the law — the two of which do not always manifest clearly via a simple reading of the text.
Whether it's taxes, hospital visitation, inheritance, or being forced to testify against your spouse (married couples don't have to), civil unions and domestic partnerships are part of being second-class citizens. Civil rights are those rights which are shared by all members of a society. They are not to be selectively applied when convenient and withheld when justified by means contrary to the Constitution (in this case, religious means).
As the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision on May 17, the decision which once and for all placed Constitutional force behind equality between blacks and whites, gays and lesbians launched a new chapter in their own struggle for equality. But the black clergy that lit the fire for change half a century ago is now out to dampen that flame, at least where same-sex marriage is concerned.
"If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them," Reverend Gregory Daniels, a black minister from Chicago, announced from the pulpit in February.
In a speech at Harvard Law School in February, Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke out against same-sex marriage and rejected comparisons between the civil rights and gay rights movements. "Gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution," he said, and "they did not require the Voting Rights Act to have the right to vote."
You're right, Jesse, but blacks didn't have the "Defense of Marriage Act" specifically made law in order to deny them marriage rights. We do. What's the difference?
African Americans were denied the right to marry white people, and now they dare to deny matrimonial rights to gay people. This is hypocrisy at its most evident and most savage. Also note that it's "civil rights" for them and "gay rights" for us.
The argument has been that the gay marriage question is in no way comparable to the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. would disagree, I'm afraid.
In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, King said, "When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I believe it is a betrayal of King's legacy and life's work for the black community to now come forward and deny the civil rights of yet another minority. Perhaps this once minority community has already forgotten the struggles and the unfulfilled promise America had made to them. Perhaps they believe that the promise doesn't apply to gays based on religious reasons. In any case, they are denying the legacy of King and standing on the platform he built for them in order to bestow yet another discriminatory outrage on yet another minority.
How dare you!
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"
King did not mean these words only for the black cause. He did not mean them only for that single struggle. He, in his greatness of mind and spirit and foresight, meant them for all people everywhere in every time. He understood that civil rights are guaranteed to everyone. He would weep to see your denial of them to yet another minority that you can now stand upon to declare your own selfishness. That you would deny others the rights he so fervently fought to bestow upon you is betraying him and everything he stood for.
Civil rights, such as that of marriage and the benefits that come with it, should not be denied the homosexual community by anyone. One would expect the African American community to understand that better than others, but perhaps the struggle is long forgotten and it's now easier to become what they hated most — the discriminator, the denier of the rights of others, the master over the slave.
Denying the right of marriage to gay couples is a violation of civil rights. Part of our civil rights "package" is equal protection under the law. Does marriage for heterosexuals and civil unions for gay couples sound equal?
When you fill out your taxes, is there a box for civil union? Does being in a civil union provide for the same tax breaks as being married? What about hospital visitation? What about health care decisions? What about testifying against your partner in court?
When filling out a bank loan application, I remember the choices being "unmarried man," "unmarried woman," or "husband and wife." I do not recall a space for "domestic partners" or "married or equivalent."
And how can we as Americans preach equality and civil rights to other countries when we cannot — do not — practice them at home? Are we not the crux of hypocrisy to demand equal rights in other countries while denying them here? It's no wonder terrorists hate us so much — we are precisely what they say we are. We demand of others what we are not willing to provide ourselves. We expect action from others that we won't take ourselves. We say one thing and do the complete opposite.
The truth is that civil unions are not equal. They are not equivalent. They are, in fact, segregationist. One group may have one thing while another group gets something entirely different. Is this equal protection? More basic than that, is it right?
Civil unions may get us on the bus, but we are still in the back. Way back.
This is a fight for civil rights. You don't have to agree with that for it to be true and correct. The African American community should understand that better than any other group of people.
Let me close with one more quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. and his "I Have a Dream" speech.
"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"