Monthly Archives: March 2013

Gay Marriage and Other No-Brainers

(Note: this is a slightly tweaked version of a piece I wrote last year.)

For those couples whose engagements don’t fall by the wayside, statistics show that divorce after the wedding is a real possibility. Let’s look at some of the reasons why people have divorces: spousal abuse, fights over money, adultery, and different expectations. What is interesting is that, among the reasons I have listed for increased divorce, gay marriage is not one of them. Yet there is an idea among many Americans that, somehow, heterosexual couples will dissolve their marriages upon seeing married gay couples. It is supposedly the fault of gay couples who have been married that Newt Gingrich and John Edwards repeatedly failed to keep their trousers on. Of course, blaming the unpopular minority is always easier than starting with the person in the mirror, so what do you expect? Why precisely is it so important that gay marriage be legalized? Sexual orientation is an immutable trait, meaning that it is inherent and unchangeable. For those heterosexual readers who disagree, I would ask them to try and remember when they chose to be heterosexual. If they’re honest with themselves, they can’t remember, because sexual orientation is not a choice. And this is where some people get touchy. Because if sexual orientation is immutable, then it is just as immoral to deny a person equal rights based on sexual orientation as it is to deny a person equal rights based on race. Obviously, there are major differences between the “Gay Experience” and the “Black Experience.” However, differences do not mean that comparisons are unfounded. For instance, slaves were often not allowed to marry, and most states at one time or another banned marriage between blacks and whites. While interracial marriage was legal in all of the Northeast and much of the Midwest by 1890, laws banning it were in force throughout the South until the 1960s. Some people around today who are involved in interracial relationships, such as former NAACP chairman Julian Bond, realize the similarities between bans on interracial and gay marriages and are hardly shy about pointing them out. There’s a very interesting quote I want everyone read: “Marriage between one man and one woman only was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.” Who said this? Well, it was Jefferson Davis. And it wasn’t about gay marriage, it was about slavery. The fact that I can replace “slavery” with “marriage between one man and one woman only” and have the quote sound almost exactly the same should give one pause. Jefferson Davis was a fork-tongued, sanctimonious racist, but he knew his Bible. Leviticus, Chapter 25, Verses 39-46 state, “And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant. But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee. And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return. For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God. Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bond maids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor.” There isn’t much wiggle room: Bible verses exist which condone race-based chattel slavery. If the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality is infallible, so is the Bible’s support for slavery. Realizing that the Bible cannot be used to support their views, opponents of same sex marriage sometimes argue that marriage has “always” been exclusively between a man and woman. So? The fact that something is tradition does not make it right. Otherwise, slavery, genocide, and rape would not be wrong. And if marriage has indeed always been defined as exclusively between men and women, that is because of societal and governmental bigotry, and the definition of marriage should be changed. Will this lead to polygamous, incestuous, or inter-species marriages? It does not need to. Heterosexual Americans have the right to marry the individual that they love–gays simply ask for that same right. Polygamists want a new right that nobody in America has been given–the right to marry multiple people. In the case of incest, there is no reason to believe that some people are intrinsically attracted to family members, meaning that banning incestuous marriage does not violate anyone’s civil rights. Finally, silly though it may be, I will address the claims of people like Bill O’Reilly who suggest that legalizing gay marriage will mean legalization of marriage between people and turtles: Bill, good luck getting a turtle to sign a legal document. Some people, who want gay activists to simply go away, have suggested civil unions as a compromise. That is nothing short of separate but equal. It is the same principle that condoned separate drinking fountains, schools, and the like for people of different races. If marriage is indeed a religious institution, then get the government out of it and leave it to churches. As long as there is civil marriage, it must be granted to gay couples. Even those gays and lesbians who do not wish to get married should understand that a legal ban on gay marriage labels them as second class citizens. The arguments against gays serving in the military, adopting children, or being protected in employment and housing by workplace protection laws are just as silly. They consist of putting what some narrow-minded, bigoted heterosexuals want above what gay people are entitled to. Unfortunately, many of these heterosexuals scream that they aren’t bigoted. And in their attempts to be conciliatory, many gay people say, “Of course, we know not everyone who is against gay marriage, adoption, etc. is bigoted.” Um, alright. I would argue that bigotry consists in feeling that a group of people is inferior based on immutable traits/supporting systems that keep them as second class citizens. So indeed, believe that marriage, adoption, etc. should be reserved for heterosexuals is inherently bigoted. Limiting the definition of bigotry to outright hatred for a group of people limits the root of the problem to a few crazy people, like the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan, rather than a far reaching poison imbedded in our country for centuries and solidified with the U.S. Constitution in the 1780s. (Read Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3.) Other countries have already given gay people equal rights. If we really are the “Land of the Free,” we had better follow suit immediately.

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Bayard Rustin: A Forgotten American Hero

(Note: This is a repost of a blog I originally ran a year ago today.)

For most, March 17th, 2012 holds no particular significance. However, it marks a day of great historical importance, for it is the 100th anniversary of Bayard Rustin’s birth. So who was Bayard Rustin? For decades, he was one of the most important black leaders in the United States.

Rustin was born in 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania to an unwed teenage mother and raised by his maternal grandparents. It was not until the age of ten that he learned that his grandparents were not his biological mother and father. Three significant aspects of Rustin’s character make him one of the most admirable historical figures ever.

Rachelle Horowitz, a fellow civil rights activist who worked with Rustin for many years, once stated, “He was all-absorbing, a universal man…I don’t think he had a racist bone in him.” As such, Bayard was vehemently opposed to black separatism. He publicly debated Malcolm X on the merits of integration, arguing that racial equality should be pursued and that the abilities of anti-racist whites as well as blacks needed to be utilized in the struggle for equality.

When Rustin discovered that Stanley Levison, a left-wing Jewish businessman, had much to contribute to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, he introduced Levison to Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the same time, Bayard Rustin was never ashamed of his race. This can be seen in his relationship with the Communist Party. In his early career as an activist, he joined the Young Communist League. It cannot be denied that throughout his life, Rustin believed in massive wealth redistribution as part of the solution to poverty and racial inequality. But this does not diminish his fifty-plus-year career of fighting discrimination and injustice.

In the 1930s, the Communist Party tapped into the dissatisfaction African Americans felt at being neglected by both major parties. When World War II first broke out, Communist leaders in the United States urged African Americans not to fight in a “capitalist” war when they were denied equal rights at home. Once Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, however, the Communist Party changed positions and made supporting the Allied war effort a top priority. Thus, they decided that activism against racism in America had to take a back seat.

Rustin quit the party and began working for an anti-war, anti-racism organization called the Fellowship of Reconciliation as Race Relations Secretary. In this capacity, he travelled the country conducting workshops to promote racial harmony. He traveled to California to help protect the property of Japanese Americans who were placed in internment camps. He also served as the first Field Secretary of the Congress of Racial Equality. In addition, he helped plan and participate in the Journey of Reconciliation.  This served as the prototype for the later and more well known Freedom Rides.

Around the same time, he played a decisive role in getting President Harry Truman to issue an executive order banning military segregation. He began working with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1950’s, starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He went on to organize the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957 and the National Youth Marches for Integrated Schools in 1958 and 1959.

He served as Deputy Director and was the head organizer of the monumental 1963 March On Washington, where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. According to John Lewis, another of the Civil Rights Movement’s most important figures, the March On Washington would have been “like a bird without wings” without Rustin.

From the 1950’s to the 1980’s, Rustin was also involved in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He organized the Committee to Support South African Resistance in 1951.  In 1983, he published a report that led to the founding of Project South Africa, a group that worked to mobilize American support for peaceful anti-apartheid groups. Finally, for the last ten years of his life, he was romantically involved with a white man, showing that love cannot be restricted along racial lines.

His debate with Malcolm X notwithstanding, Rustin’s role in the Civil Rights Movement was primarily behind-the-scenes. The reason for this lies in his interracial relationships. Many black civil rights leaders, from Frederick Douglass to James Farmer, were involved in interracial relationships and were able to remain in the spotlight. Rustin’s interracial relationships were much more controversial, however, because they were with other men.   Bayard Rustin was gay.

His discovery of his sexual orientation was not without trauma. At the age of fourteen, he was taken advantage of by a man.  It was then that he discovered he was gay. In a society where homosexuality was legally classified as a criminal offense, and the idea of monogamous same-sex couples was simply not discussed, Bayard found it difficult to form a committed relationship. For years he engaged in a number of short-term relationships. Finally, however, in his sixties, he settled down with a young Jewish man named Walter Naegle.

The two men remained a couple until Rustin’s death in 1987. During this time, he gave multiple interviews discussing the impact of homophobia on his life’s work. He received invitations to address gay rights groups, and he testified in favor of a proposed gay rights bill in New York City. To the aging Rustin, gay rights was simply a logical extension of black civil rights, and much to the chagrin of many, he was unafraid to draw a comparison between the two causes.

To Bayard Rustin, unjust rules were made to be broken. Around the time he split with the Communist Party, the United States government attempted to conscript Bayard Rustin to fight in World War II. Believing in non-violence and probably not wanting to fight in the U.S. military for “freedom” when blacks (to say nothing of gays) were denied freedom in America, Rustin refused to register for the draft. He spent the next three years in federal prison.

The Journey of Reconciliation that he helped plan and participated in involved intentionally violating segregated seating restrictions on buses and trains in the South. Not surprisingly, he, along with other activists, was subjected to physical violence, arrests, and fines. It was at that time that Rustin spent 22 days on a North Carolina chain gang.

Some admirable figures in history, such as John Brown, have used violence in an attempt to achieve equal rights for oppressed people. Others, such as Rustin, used non-violence. One of Rustin’s greatest achievements was showing that non-violence did not have to be passive or accommodating. While he did not resort to physical force, Rustin made it clear that he would not stand for his rights being denied. He is indeed one of the paragons of non-violent civil disobedience.  No one epitomizes this philosophy better than Rustin.

At the centennial of Rustin’s birth, he remains an obscure figure in most people’s minds.  This is partly due to the way that he was kept behind closed doors in the Civil Rights Movement. Both liberal black Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and southern segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond tried to use Rustin’s sexual orientation to discredit him. Children do not learn about Rustin in school. When Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month roll around, people hear little or nothing about him. But in this day and age, with the fight for same sex marriage and other forms of gay equality gaining more momentum than ever, it is time to bring the man Professor John D’Emilio called a “lost prophet” out of the shadows and give him the respect and accolades that he deserves.

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