Civil Rights

04.01.13

Let's Not Call Marriage Equality the Civil Rights Movement of Our Time

Jack Hunter of The American Conservative makes a very valid point when comparing the Civil Rights movement with the same-sex marriage movement: you cannot equate the latter to the former.

[I]t is impossible for those of us living in the new millennium to comprehend that absolute horror of being treated like chattel by your fellow man, or being terrorized by your neighbors, because of the color of your skin.

Books, memorials, and museums will never be able to adequately convey such tragedy, at least not in any manner remotely comparable to the pain of those who lived it.

This doesn’t mean that equality should be seen as anything other than a ‘civil rights issue.’ Quite the contrary when you think about the emotional and physical injury that homosexual people have suffered over the course of American history.

There have been instances during the gay-rights movement that arguably could be compared to the black civil rights struggle, like the Stonewall riots of the 1960s or Matthew Shepard murder in 1998. Suicides and other problems related to public attitudes about homosexuality have also unquestionably been a horrible ordeal.

It just means that

No one is turning water hoses on them. They are not being attacked by police dogs. There is no Bull Connor or Ku Klux Klan. They are not being lynched en masse, drinking at separate fountains, or being ordered to the back of the bus.

For the vast majority of Americans who do not remember the south in 1955, Civil Rights seems like the most convenient comparison to the LGBTQ equality movement. However, we must try to avoid seeing the two issues in the same light. Doing so does nothing except make the equality movement seem ill-informed.

In this conversation about equal rights for the LGBTQ community, there is a need for action regarding the terrible trials and tribulations that many have, and still face, around the world. In many countries, sodomy is still punishable by death. Lawrence v. Texas was settled only a little over a decade ago, which meant that in many states, what happened behind closed doors was still punishable. It wasn’t even remotely socially acceptable to be out until the last quarter of the 20th Century. However, while there have been cases of lynching members of the LGBTQ community in our history, it is not as if there are mass examples of socially sanctioned violence going unpunished, as was the experience of the African American community under Jim Crow.

The black experience since the 13th Amendment has been marred by extreme and irrational discrimination in all facets of life. And while homosexuality has always had a large stigma attached to it, the number of gay people denied a job because of their sexuality just utterly pales in comparison to the number of black people denied jobs because of their skin color. 

If you need any more evidence of this false comparison, I implore you to go look at a picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year old boy who was killed in the Mississippi Delta for supposedly “whistling at a white woman.” His two killers admitted to brutally torturing and murdering him, yet they were acquitted after a deliberation that took less than an hour.

Equality is certainly a civil rights movement. It is not the Civil Rights movement.

Video screenshot

The gay marriage debate is roiling. Watch some of the highlights.