Democrats & Liberals Archives

Gay Marriage: A Modern Day Civil Rights Struggle?

As a politically engaged, openly gay man, I have endorsed the compromise that would create recognized civil unions, as a way of ending this troublesome debate on gay marriage. By doing so, we would take away a potentially potent ‘wedge’ issue from Bush and the Republicans to exploit. I also argued, that the day civil unions are made law would not be the end of the struggle towards full gay marriage rights. You see, Rosa Parks’ and Dr. King’s successful bus boycott in 50’s Birmingham, Ala., was not the end of the civil rights movement, but yet a major battle won in an ongoing conflict.

By passing on this compromise (and hard fought victory), we risk setting into motion new adversarial fronts: a discriminatory Constitutional amendment drive, endorsed by a reluctant President who capitulates to his social Conservative base; alienating and angering state legislatures who will no doubt repeat the divisive session we witnessed in Massachusetts; and, angering and alienating a growingly sympathetic public, eventually fed up with what seems like a frivolous repeat of the Florida recount.

But, now comes a gutsy, if not brilliant, move by the freshman San Francisco Mayor David Newsome that muddies the playing field.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but other than major pronouncements concerning White House furnishings, First Lady Laura Bush has only been publicly quoted on two major issues – the Confederate Flag and now, Gay Marriage. (The sheer cowardice of George Bush, in both instances, is an argument for another time.) This tactical turn by the boys at RoveVision is a clear indication of how volatile (and possibly damaging) an issue this has become - for the Republicans.

No doubt, dear reader, you’ve caught glimpses of those gay and lesbian couples camped overnight and braving the elements outside San Francisco’s City Hall. And you know damn well, all of America is viewing those triumphant images of excited and committed couples being feted, post ceremony, on the City Hall steps. To this observer, those images have the potential to have a similar effect as certain black and white television footage from the Civil Rights struggles of the 50’s and 60’s.

It should be pointed out, that while condemning these moving images, Republicans from Pat Buchanan to Gov. Schwarzenegger, will only go so far as to argue the violation of California law. They also cite Prop.22, which bans gay marriage, passed with 60% support in a ballot initiative in 2000.

Now, allow me to cite history to support my argument. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1952, she was in violation of a written city ordinance (Code 6, Sec. 10). In 1963, when a white woman sat down with four black Alabama AT&T college students at a Woolworth’s’ lunch counter in Birmingham, they were in violation of state segregation law specifically forbidding white women to congregate publicly with Negro males. Also keep in mind, this was a time when most Negroes were terrified to exercise their right to vote, for fear of violence and reprisals. Jim Crow was the law of the land, and everything from public accommodations on down was separate, yet anything but equal. Negroes were second-class citizens in the eyes of the white majority – and, therefore the law. 60% support of white voters in passage of these laws is probably right on the mark – and, the law is the law. Right?

It remains to be seen, how these irrefutability joyous images of gay couples embracing, honoring, respecting and flying across this country to evoke the vows of commitment and love, will have on a cynical hetero nation. A group that (from this vantage point), takes such privileges for granted, but wants to deny it to those deemed less than an equal.

(Note to Mary Cheney: It’s time to speak up, baby girl!)

Posted by Bert M. Caradine at February 22, 2004 10:25 PM