Riding in the Back of the Bus: The New Civil Rights Movement

December 23, 2010
Since the 19th century, there have been three major battles for marriage equality in the U.S. First, during the days of slavery, there was the fight to allow African-Americans to marry; marriage rights for blacks were allowed with the end of the Civil War and the termination of black slavery in the U.S. Next, from the 1660’s up until 1967, inter-racial couples—usually involving a black and white spouse—fought for their respective rights to marriage equality. Today, more than 149 years since the Civil War era and since marriage equality became an issue, we’re still protesting for marriage equality. This time, however, the battle cry is, “gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right.” There are three issues that surround the SSM battle: (1) the rights to financial security, equal rights, and dignity/respect; (2) whether or not this should be a battle among the states; (3) the Christian Right.
Separate but Not Equal: Civil Unions vs. Marriages and the Right to Dignity and Respect
The Gay Rights Trinity: financial security, equal rights, and dignity/respect. It sounds daunting, but it’s actually quite a simple concept. Financial security and equal rights can both be recognized when two terms are discussed: marriage and civil union. In the past and currently, the right to civil union has been provided in select states in the U.S. to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered/Transsexual) people. Despite popular opinion, a civil union is not the same thing as marriage. Civil unions are only recognized in the state that they are performed in, while marriages are recognized in all 50 states. Because of this, civil unions do not get federal marriage protections such as domestic violence intervention, joint parenting rights, etc. In all, there are over 1,000 benefits and protections afforded to married couples by the federal government that civil unions do not get. If these marriage rights were given to same-sex couples, then SSCs (same-sex couples) would be allowed financial security in their homes and equal rights in their social lives. People often get marriage and civil union confused because if generalizations are used, marriage and civil union sound identical. They both are a union of two consenting adults that love each other. However, if looked at with a legal eye, these two terms are most definitely not the same, and ultimately do more to separate and create more distinctions between same-sex and heterosexual couples. Dignity and respect are not light-heart subjects when it comes to the battle for SSM. SSCs, in being denied marriage rights, are ultimately being treated as second-class citizens. Imagine just for a second that you are a black male living during the Civil Rights era. Simply because of the color of your skin—just because of one tiny aspect of what makes you who you are—you are ten or more times more likely to be murdered than a white person. The police are not on your side, and oftentimes go so far as to beat you publicly in the street. Church offers no solitude, for from the theology that is preached to where people sit, racism and segregation abound. While the specifics may be different, i.e. homophobia replaces racism, generally speaking, same-sex couples go through the same difficulties, challenges, and obstacles today. They are not important enough, are not of enough value, to be allowed to visit their partner when he/she is on his/her deathbed in the hospital. Couples must go through “second-parent adoption” in order to have joint custody of their child. Where is the respect in this? Does the LGBT community not deserve more dignity? Have we as a society truly stooped this low? It is a sad day when our society, our country—supposedly a beacon of freedom to the world—has reverted to a time akin to the bloody riot that was the Civil Rights movement.
The 50 States May Rhyme, but not All of Them Provide SSM Equality
As of mid-May 2010, five states have legalized civil unions: California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Six other jurisdictions permit same-sex marriage: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Vermont. A court case is attempting to reinstate SSM in California. A few other states recognize legal same-sex marriages that were performed in other states. In all of these jurisdictions, married or civil unionized couples receive all of the state benefits, protections, obligations etc. that opposite-sex married couples obtain, for themselves and their children. However, DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) denies them about 1,100 federal benefits and obligations. According to our Constitution, giving out licenses is a state privilege; this is why SSM debate is on a state level. However, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, marriage is a natural, human right. The question we are facing now is this: which is higher authority—the Constitution or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Which is of higher value: state rights or human rights?
The “Christian Right” is Neither

As with any political/social issue, there are some who are for the issue and some who aren’t. In regards to SSM, conservatives—namely the Christian Right—are vehemently opposed, and for three reasons: religious freedom, the well-being of children, and pro-SSM teachings.
For most Americans, marriage is a religious sacrament or ceremony. In allowing SSM, the definition of marriage would be changed, and if it is changed, some religious individuals and groups feel that they will become at risk of having to violate their beliefs by being forced to marry same-sex couples. (However, they fail to realize that churches are allowed to make executive decisions about what their beliefs are and what they will or will not condone).
Children are very important—they are our future, after all. Many religiously conservative researchers have found that children thrive best when reared in a home with a married mother and father. Therefore, argue conservatives, boys and girls have needs that are uniquely met by parents of the opposite gender, and if boys and girls were to have same-sex parents, the children’s needs wouldn’t be met. (Again, they fail to see logic: research has proven that homosexual couples have greater egalitarian lifestyles than heterosexuals do. Furthermore, their relationships evolve through the same stages of development, are (dis)satisfying for the same reasons, and are typically as rewarding as those of heterosexuals’ relationships).
And finally, the role of marriage in society is a major topic taught in public schools. I still remember playing with Barbie dolls in grade school; Barbie always married Ken, and they lived together in the Dream House (well, technically, that’s not quite how it went with my personal Barbie dolls—I never had a Ken doll and the first thing I did with my Barbies was rip their clothes off—but generally speaking, that’s how most girls played with theirs). If SSM is legalized, schools would be required to teach that same-sex marriage is equivalent to opposite-sex marriage, starting as early as Kindergarten. That would violate the beliefs of many parents. (Again, logic: if the parents don’t like the curriculum, pull the child out of the school and find another one that doesn’t teach a pro-SSM curriculum—or better yet, home school the child).
We Give a Damn: Organizations That Fight for SSM
Thankfully, however, there are many organizations out there, from the homespun grassroots variety to global mega-organizations, that are fighting for SSM. Some of the more famous include the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Freedom to Marry Coalition, the Equality Campaign, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Gay Liberation Network, Lambda Legal, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Empowering Spirits Foundation, the Give a Damn campaign, etc. While not all of these organizations and/or non-profits fight for SSM, they all benefit the LGBT community in some way, be it legal defense, suicide prevention, general awareness, HIV/AIDS prevention, etc. I personally have joined/receive email updates from GLSEN, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, HRC, the Empowering Spirits Foundation, and the Give a Damn campaign (and possibly others that I can’t remember off the top of my head ?).
“You Gotta Give ‘Em Hope”: Why This is Important to Me
As you can tell from my extensive paper and the amount of organizations I receive updates from, this is an insanely big issue for me. After all, I am a lesbian--how could I not be concerned about my future and my rights as an American citizen? However, this goes deeper than just my personal well being for me. Yes, I am a homosexual, and yes, that plays a factor. But it’s just a small, tiny factor. To focus on this issue so deliberately and in-depth as I have solely because these are “my rights” would be selfish to say the least. I don’t do this for myself. I don’t sign online petitions and make calls to senators—both of my senators either openly oppose or have “no comment” about SSM, by the way—simply because it makes me feel good or benefits me because I am gay. No, I do this for others.
I watched the docudrama Milk shortly after it won its Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Leading Male Actor. The movie tells the based-on-true-events story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), California’s first ever openly gay supervisor. Milk did for the gay community what MLK Jr. did for blacks during the Civil Rights movement—he gave them a voice. He gave them “hope for a better world…hope for a better tomorrow.” When Milk was assassinated, he passed on his legacy, his torch, to the next generation—mine. And I feel that it is my utmost duty to pick up that torch and carry it onwards to wherever it may lead me.

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iron-jawed__angel said...
Jan. 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm
Uggh, the formatting's screwed up :(  Sorry!
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