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Dr. King and Gay Marriage

Liberty Hill's Online Communications Consultant Rebecca Rona-Tuttle covered the Dr. King holiday weekend for us. Here's her report from Culver City's MLK Celebration.

What would Dr. King think of gay marriage? My husband, Rick, and I were seated in the audience at Culver City’s Martin Luther King Celebration this past weekend. I was especially interested in what Dr. Anthony Samad--the syndicated columnist, immediate past president of Los Angeles 100 Black Men and professor of political science and African-American studies, and a panelist last weekend—would have to say. 

Another African-American panelist took the question first, saying that Dr. King, having been a devout Baptist preacher, would obviously have been opposed to gay marriage. Dr. Samad followed up her comment, saying the civil rights movement had its own cultural conflict issues around the social conservatism of black people.  He said also that Dr. King was fighting for the rights of people who were discriminated against on the basis of a trait that was immediately obvious—their color—while gay people are indistinguishable from those who are straight.

As he spoke, I remembered the wonderfully thoughtful answer to a similar question posed during a panel discussion a few years back:  What would Bobby Kennedy have thought about gay marriage? After all, many years ago the attorney general had expressed his discomfort with homosexuality. But the insightful panelist had reminded us that in the ensuing years, the ideas and feelings of many straight Americans had evolved into an acceptance of gay marriage, and it was likely that Bobby Kennedy’s beliefs would have evolved too.  I hoped this would have been true of Dr. King as well.

Dr. King

I simply sat there, thinking, but my husband, also a stalwart believer in the rights of gay people, was intent on injecting additional information and another point of view into the conversation. After a nod of agreement from Dr. Samad and the moderator—after all, the format didn’t allow for audience members to speak--Rick went up to the microphone and reminded listeners that the 1964 Civil Rights Bill also extended to religion and national origin, traits that are not obvious to the eye.
And then Rick talked about what seemed most important to me: When the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was being crafted and debated, Congressman Howard Smith, the powerful segregationist chair of the House Rules Committee, added a “poison pill” to the bill’s language--gender.  Gender, and therefore women, would also become a protected class if the bill were to pass. Evidently this was laughable at the time, as women were so dismissed by society, and many liberals worried that including gender would kill the bill. But the relevant point is that the civil rights coalition, including Dr. King, was agreeable to including gender, which Rick said “suggested that Dr. King had a broad view of civil rights.”  Rick’s implication was that in 2010 Dr. King might very well have approved of gay marriage.

Dr. Samad spoke to me later about the “problem blacks have in comparing the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement.”  Unfortunately, we will never know what Dr. King would have thought of gay rights and gay marriage.  But because Martin Luther King is such an iconic figure to Americans, it’s understandable although unfortunate that both those in favor of gay marriage and those opposed to it often claim that Dr. King would have been on their side. 

Regardless, when Rick told me that a number of people had come up to him afterward to thank him for his comments, I was really moved, thinking of the gay people who yearn for full acceptance.

"Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

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