The federal Martin Luther King holiday has special meaning for America. It is a day of reflection, particularly for African Americans who sought to find the true meaning of what it meant to be born in a nation that rejected their citizenship on one basis and one basis only — the color of their skin.
One hundred years after the abolishment of slavery and the legislation of full and equal protection under the law was legislated by amendment (the Fourteen Amendment) and political rights were conferred (again by amendment), freedom, justice, and equality was still being refused to African Americans. Even in the face of a judicial decree (Brown v. the Board of Education) meant to stop segregation and social alienation, the southern part of the nation engaged in the second largest social rebellion in America’s history (after the Civil War), the so-called “Massive Resistance.”
Massive Resistance was an organized engagement by Congress, the States, and American society to continue the race caste system that subjugated the rights and privileges primarily of blacks (though other non-white citizens were also caught up in the resistance). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attempted to lead a non-violent social revolution in America. Despite political and judicial victories to bring about social and economic equality in America, Dr. King’s life was violently ended to preserve white supremacy and white privilige.
Fourteen years after his death, the nation was guilted into honoring his life and his mission with a national holiday — the only such honor conferred upon an individual born in the 20th Century. While “King Day” has turned into everything from parade celebrations to chicken dinners, many have chosen to use the day as a reminder of the one person who sought to hold a mirror up to a nation that refused to change and provide an intellectual assessment as to how far the society had come since the murder of a 20th Century prophet. Keeping King’s “dream” alive (one of social and economic equality that had, by and large, not been attained) has been a perpetual discussion, usually engaged around the day that bears his name. Yet, the day has taken on a different meaning for some.
For the past few years, the King holiday has been an opportunity to subvert the conversation of social and economic justice through the interjection of political agendas surrounding same-sex marriage. In two of the past three years, I’ve been on panels or programs organized to invoke the memory of King’s life and advocacy, only to end up debating (involuntarily) the merits of gay marriage rights. The first year it occurred, I viewed it as an anomolous discussion in the context of the evolving equality discussion of the 21st Century.
The questions of whether “gay rights” is the new civil rights and why society should view nontraditional same-sex marriage as central to the nation’s civil rights agenda have been persistent. Absent a strong moral argument for legalizing same-sex relationships in traditional institutions like marriage, gays have chosen to use the 200-year black equality struggle as the basis for their advocacy, despite the fact that there have been religious, women’s, and immigration movements that have occurred during this same period.
This year, I’ve concluded that this is a strategy to tie the legacy of Dr. King to a culture shift around same-sex marriage that is short on symbols and short on logic. The cooptation of the civil rights movement is in full effect by gays and lesbians looking to rationalize why society should adopt a cultural norm that has been rejected since the beginning of time, the mainstreaming of homosexual practices in the context of family and marriage.
Gay activists have, in fact, correlated their struggle to that of blacks in America and even monikered their struggle as the contemporary equality movement, calling gay “the new black.” This probably wouldn’t have gained much salience in the black community as the black movement was (is) the most successful and protracted movement in America, a door through which all so-called minorities (ethnic, gender [women], religious and disabled) have passed. Sexual orientation also made its way through the door within the past 25 years.
It wasn’t until the passing of Proposition 8, the traditional marriage initiative, that the African American community found itself in a quandary, as gay activists began assailing the black community for not voting against the initiative. For the record, African Americans voted for traditional marriage in the majority, as did Whites, Latinos, and Asians. People grounded in religious affiliations disproportionately voted in favor of Prop 8 across the racial spectrum. Traditional values associated with marriage are reinforced in ALL the holy books (the Torah [Old Testament Bible], the Gospel [the New Testament Bible], and the Ingil [the five holy books revealed in the Qu'ran]), yet African Americans were the only ones called out for the way they voted, supposedly because “we” should have a greater sensitivity to being discriminated against.
It’s a flawed and convoluted argument that looks past African American’s social conservatism tied to their religious beliefs. Blacks are not homophobic, and are probably more sensitized to gay lifestyles than most of the public, given that most African Americans have gays in their families. This also means that tolerance of gays is higher because of family and friend relationships. While tolerance breeds acceptance of the norm, it doesn’t default to support for modifying core beliefs around cherished institutions.
Blacks had religion when they didn’t have anything else, and religion is the last thing they will separate with. It was their religion that got them through the viciousness and inhumane conditions of slavery and segregation. It was family that gave them strength in separation and assault. The flaw in the gay advocacy is the unreasonable expectation that anyone would go against what they believe, particularly when it is re-enforced by their spiritual belief system.
Slavery and segregation were legalized (but unconstitutional) caste systems that called for a total indiscriminate exclusion of African Americans from American society. That is NOT the gay struggle. Sexual orientation is seen by most as a choice, and even if it is not a choice, it is a right of enjoyment by which the government has no role. Who you love and who you co-habitate with is a right of privacy that is not denied gays. There were no signs up that said, “No Gays Allowed.” Or “Straights Only.” Blacks had no “closets” to hide in to mainstream themselves until they decided to marry. There was NO PLACE to hide for blacks.
Even when blacks passed for white, they could be separated (outted) if one of their black relatives came around. The Lovings case (1967) that outlawed interracial marriage was a decade-long attempt of a white man to bring his black wife “out of the closet” of social separation. America’s history of lynchings, whippings, and bombings were active demonstration to keep blacks out of the mainstream of society. “Coming out” was never a choice for the African American, and the only place where they could find solance was the church–as the church led the movement.
Same-sex activists’ problem is they want to go against the church without attacking the church. They, instead, find it easier to attack African Americans for siding with their religious beliefs, and call themselves “the new black” in an effort to sensitize society to their own cause and guilt blacks into supporting them. That was, and still is, their most serious mistake, and one that needs to stop.
The church is the biggest barrier to this cultural shift. Why doesn’t the gay movement confront the church? Or declare gay marriage “the NEW BIBLE?” In fact, I DARE THEM TO. If they wanna be bold and blasphamous, BE bold and blasphemous — If their desire is to bring about a culture change with the church standing in the way, they won’t be successful. They need a religious symbol that society reveres.
Thus, enters Martin Luther King, Jr. and his philosophy of love and compassion. King took on the white church when it sat silent on segregation and criticized him for direct action in Birmingham (Letter From A Birmingham Jail). King dealt with the conflictions of the church’s morality as they related to segregation. King could also argue (for the first time since Reconstruction) that the law was on his side.
But there is nothing in the historical literature, anywhere, that suggests King advocated for equality in sexual orientation. In fact, the Civil Rights movement had its issues with gayness in the movement and for that reason offered gay activist, Bayard Rustin, little more than an organizing role in the movement because of his sexuality. It’s a far stretch to suggest if King were alive, he would have supported gay marriage.
Yet, gay rights actvists have this pressing need to tie King to their cause, to legitimize their movement. They can’t find adequate venues to engage the black community on the issue of gay marriage, so they hijack King Day programs where they can dominate question and answer periods by interjecting questions around gay marriage. And they never want to have a morality conversation, as critical as that conversation is to a conversion (and shift) of America’s cultural mindset.
I just think it’s time the gay marriage activists host their own forums on gay marriage and why society (not just Blacks) should support it. And we should resist the effort to merge our struggle with theirs. Black people are not going to be guilted or bludgeoned into support. Culture shifts for race and gender equality took 100 years. Gays are in the first 25 years of their advocacy. And the law (not black people) isn’t on their side. That’s reality.
Presenting this legal challenge before the California State Supreme Court is the best way to address the violation of gays’ constitutional rights. Force the courts to challenge America’s (and the State’s) view of marriage morality and the church’s stand on traditional marriage. That’s their constitutional right.
I wish they would stop hijacking King’s dream by an inferred association and find ways to bring about their dream of gay marriage. Come out of the closet on the conversation, and leave African American comparasions out of it. With a legitimate rationale to educate the public and the law on their side, there just might be more support in the black community.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Politics. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com