BY COURTNEY DUNBAR
CONTRARY TO POPULAR misconception, gay marriage is not a civil rights issue. The traditional connotation associated with civil rights is that of Black America’s continuing fight for equality. Gay marriage proponents have relied upon this historical understanding and made a habit of likening the gay marriage movement to the struggle for racial equality. These analogies are frequently offered in mass media and were relied upon in the Goodridge decision. (Jacobs, New York Times, 3/3/04; Von Drehle and Cooperman, Washington Post, 3/8/04; 440 Mass. 309) Recently, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry likened racism to anti-gay crime (Halbfinger, New York Times, 3/8/04). These comparisons are insincere, opportunistic, and have no place in the gay marriage debate.
The idea that the fight for gay marriage bears any logical semblance to the history of Black enslavement, to the legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education, or to the Civil Rights Movement is not only wrong – it is disrespectful. Black Americans have suffered no less than 300 years of racial hatred in this country. To this day, the legacy of slavery is a palpable factor in every vein of American life. Our ancestors fought, bled and died for the progress we have thus far attained. We dishonor their sacrifices by allowing gay marriage advocates to advance gay-black analogies .
The Civil Rights Movement found its roots in the truth that Black Americans experience social, legal and economic oppression based on the color of our skin. The movement was about leading America to overcome its hideous racial history. It was a fight for racial equality. It is untenable to suggest that the treatment of homosexuals in this country bears any resemblance to that of Black people. It is insufferable to hear that the prohibition against gay marriage is the logical equivalent of now invalid laws against interracial marriage. The Black American experience is one of overcoming racism and ethnic hatred. There is no group – no group – that has been faced with, nor overcome, the obstacles that Black people have experienced in America. But specifically, homosexuals in America have no history of racial enslavement or resulting economic oppression. The bottom line is that it is offensive and racially insensitive for gay marriage proponents to argue that their movement finds its ideological roots in the struggle for Black equality.
I am not suggesting that Black Americans are the only owners of the Civil Rights legacy. Similarly situated groups, domestically and internationally, have adopted the ethos of the movement and applied it to their plight. They are entitled to do so because they are the victims of racial animus or disfavor based on an immutable characteristic. They are the legitimate heirs of the movement.
Gay rights advocates consistently rest their false analogy on a generic notion of displacement to the margins of society. I agree to their assertion of displacement. But they cannot reasonably liken their predicament to that of Black Americans. Race is an immutable, genetic characteristic. Gay rights advocates are content to ignore this glaring inconsistency because it is politically expedient for them to do so; an alliance with the Black community offers them the imprimatur of moral authority.
It is also deeply troubling that many Black politicians have allowed gay rights advocates to co-opt our movement when the very future of our community is at stake. Black America is currently in a state of crisis as there are more Black men in prison than in college, Black women are contracting the HIV virus faster than any other segment of the population, and Black children continue to receive substandard educational opportunities. Moreover, we need to recognize that gay marriage would harm, not help, the already fragile Black family. Empirical data demonstrates that Black males and females have a lower probability of drug use, gang involvement, and sexual activity when both a mother and father are present in their homes. We need to focus our energy and resources on these priorities.
I am not ignoring the difficult circumstances of Black gays and lesbians. There are terrible emotional and medical consequences to homophobia within our community. To be sure, the Black community is long overdue for an honest, internal dialogue about homosexuality. But that conversation need not be exploited as an endorsement of the misappropriation of our history.
I challenge those who favor gay marriage to make the case for their cause on its own merits without any references to the Black struggle in America. If the cause is so righteous and so just, why not argue it on its own merits? If they have truth on their side, should that not stand on its own? Black Americans who led the fight for racial equality did so on the basis of eternal truth. I challenge gay marriage proponents to do the same.
Courtney A. Dunbar is an HLS 3L.