By Joy Freeman-Coulbary
Last month, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, commemorating his visionary spirit and legacy. We are now wrapping “Black” History Month in which we celebrate the significant accomplishments and contributions of African Americans to American culture, a keystone of which is King’s non-violent Civil Rights Movement for equality. King and his movement eviscerated the very tenants of separate but equal.
Therefore, in the spirit of Black History Month and the moral principles and imperatives of the Civil Rights Movement, what better overture than to become a society that embraces civil rights for all by recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry? King’s society would be one of equality—a sex-positive utopia that embraces diversity in all its forms.
Same-sex marriage and interracial marriage have historic parallels in gaining public support and legal recognition. At one point interracial marriage—the legality of which was birthed during the Civil Rights Movement—was considered taboo, illegal, and indeed un-American and a sacrilege. That was until Richard and Mildred Loving—a white man and black woman from Virginia—put their loving to the test by taking their case to the Supreme Court, which 1967 overturned laws barring interracial marriage.
While interracial marriage is now recognized in every state, and no longer considered taboo by the vast majority of Americans, the fight for same-sex nuptials is still seemingly an uphill battle. According to NPR, “New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage effectively doubled the number of Americans living in states where gays can marry.” However with legal challenges afoot, the legalization of same-sex marriage “may hinge on the Supreme Court.”
Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week vetoed a same-sex marriage bill and opponents in Maryland are gearing up for a referendum fight in November if the General Assembly passes a bill as expected.
As someone who has had two heterosexual marriages, I find it laughable that social conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage think that heterosexuals are better equipped to honor and uphold the civil institution of marriage any more than same-sex couples. With the high rates of infidelity, divorce and acrimony among heterosexual married couples, the institution has already lost much of the sanctity those in opposition protest to uphold.
From news coverage, many of those opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland appeared to be the religiously faithful and many African Americans. A Washington Post poll confirms that a slim majority of African Americans in Maryland oppose same-sex marriage, while a vast majority of whites in the state support same-sex unions.
As someone of African-American descent, albeit who opposes labels, I find it highly ironic that such a large contingent of my fellow African Americans would have drifted so far toward social conservatism as to oppose another minority—those who identify as gay and lesbian — having the right to marry and access all of the benefits and rights this institution confers. Such opposition runs counter to the basic tenants of King and the Civil Rights Movement, which emphasized equality and human rights.
Marriage is an institution embedded into the fabric of our culture and society and has assumed broader significance than being a holy Sacrament. As a libertarian and a lawyer, I’d argue that marriage is a contractual matter between individuals that should be free from religious and governmental interference. As a pacifist and civil rights proponent, I’d argue that marriage is a fundamental, universal human and civil right that should not be denied to individuals based upon race, gender or sexual orientation.
So in the spirit of King, Black History Month, and the Civil Rights Movement, let’s continue the progress that Mildred and Richard Loving so bravely began decades ago, and impart the right to marry to all individuals regardless of gender and sexual orientation.