Gay Marriage- A Civil Rights Issue?

As support for gay marriage seems to be gaining traction across the country, there’s a bone of contention that’s arisen with some people in the black community. That would be the comparisons made between the struggle for gay rights generally and the civil rights movement spearheaded by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the vanguard of black opposition to both that framing and gay marriage is a large number of black clergymen.

One major flashpoint for this debate happens to be in New York State, where Gov. David Paterson, who is black, is championing a gay marriage bill making its way through the state legislature. Last month, he likened the fight for gay marriage to the fight to end slavery. Further, he took religious leaders to task for not speaking out on the issue.

In fact, many have. In California, for example, the fight to pass Proposition 8 restricting marriage to opposite sex couples was helped by support from both black clergy and black voters. Despite polling that says attitudes against gay marriage may be softening in the general population, black communities seem to be holding firm against it.

The gay rights-civil rights comparison is red meat to the black clergy, many of whom recognize the central role religious leadership played in the struggle for equal rights. They subscribe to the notion that being gay is a “lifestyle choice”, unlike being black. On the other side of the coin, black religious leaders have to contend with the fact that numbers of their congregants are themselves gay, though in many cases not out of the closet.

So how to cope with this disagreement among two groups who ought to be allies? It’s always tough to speculate on what those who have passed before us would do if confronted with this question, but it is fair to ask what would Dr. King do? Would he oppose gay rights after having fought so hard for black rights? One would like to think he wouldn’t. 

Have black clergy who oppose gay marriage and the gay rights-civil rights comparison become, in the words of one black clergyman “the very thing that oppressed them”? That may be a little harsh. These folks, and the people in the black community they represent, do have long held beliefs about homosexuality. 

Yet they still can’t answer the central question of the gay rights debate. How are they, or any other group for that matter hurt by allowing gays to live their lives as full citizens? 

What do you think? Is it wrong to compare the struggle for gay marriage to the civil rights movement?

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