The Struggle for Gay Rights; A Continuation of the Civil Rights Movement

December 10, 2011

Political action, Political Theory


Lansing, Michigan

A ban on domestic partner benefits in the state of Michigan is one signature away from being official.  Once Governor Snyder signs the legislation banning domestic partner benefits to public employees in the state of Michigan, many residents of the state will have to rethink where they can live and work.  The legislation will come into affect immediately, causing an upheaval in the lives of many (Maynard).  Although this law applies to all domestic partners, many see it as an attack on the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community (Tagharobi).  Many of the gay couples that this affects would rather not be in a domestic partnership in the first place, but would be married instead.  Because the state of Michigan does not allow gay citizens the opportunity to get married, one of their only choices is to enter a domestic partnership.  With this new legislation, couples that have been together for years will lose another benefit that married couples receive.

In my mind, I see the current day situation with gay citizens as a form of intolerance similar to that of the Civil Rights Era (and unfortunately before and after as well).  Although gays are not being blasted with hoses, made to drink from separate water fountains, forced to sit in the back of buses, etc. they are still seen as second-class citizens by many people in the United States.  There are still hate crimes that LGBT persons are involved in, causing irreparable harm.  Whether it is physically murdering a member of the gay community, or bullying them enough so that they feel no other option other than to give up, injustices against the LGBT continue to damage society.

One of the most frustrating things for me about intolerance of gays is the removal of their rights.  Legislation banning domestic partner benefits can be seen as something similar to literacy tests.  Neither is not technically a direct attack on either the gay or African American community, but the people in these communities are the ones affected most and very blatantly targeted.  There are, however, direct attacks associated with laws and regulations.  For example, gay men are still not allowed to donate blood, in fear of AIDS.  Many still feel uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality, and allow the stigma associated with gays to continue.

Despite the long list of injustices, progress has been made.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was recently repealed by President Obama, and same-sex marriage is now legal in six states and Washington D.C. (Ring).  However, intolerance and homophobia is still abundant in the United States.  In Presidential candidate Rick Perry’s recent political ad, Perry displays his opposition to LGBT rights, protesting their ability to serve in the military (Perry).  Perry knows that he can appeal to many Americans who are still against marriage (or relationships in general) being between anything other than a man and a woman.  In many of the ways that Rick Perry and others speak out against LGBT rights, people of the 1960’s protested equal rights for African Americans.

Many similarities exist between the oppression of African Americans and the oppression of LGBT people.  Just aas race is not a choice, neither is sexual orientation.  However, people use these two portions of identity to classify citizens’ roles in society.  The inequalities and struggles of African Americans in the 1960’s are illustrated well in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  King outlines the problems that the African America community faced during the Civil Rights Movement, and explained why peaceful demonstrations seemed to be the only option.  He believed that where negotiation fails, more action must be taken, but only in a peaceful manner (King Jr., 2).  I believe that sooner or later the movement to attempt to gain equal rights for gays will end up becoming even more similar to that of the Civil Rights Movement than what it is now.  There are marches and demonstrations that currently occur, but I think that the movement will gain more momentum once more people are further exposed to the injustices that are present in society.  As King said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King Jr., 1).  Although bigotry is more prominent in some areas than others, things like Perry’s ad wake citizens up to the fact that this kind of mindset exists and intolerance continues to thrive, and must be corrected unless people want it to spread any further.

With the help of the internet, LGBT activists spread awareness and educate people about the rights and dreams of the gay community.  Through persistence, and showing the world the shocking truth (such as police dogs attacking children), parts of the country that was not involved in as much racism as the South found out about what was going on and decided to take a stand.  The Civil Rights Movement succeeded with the hep of the media, national attention, and legislation.  In the future, just like with African Americans, I am confident that gays will be given the same rights as everyone else.  Hopefully people will take a leaf out of Dr. King’s book and choose the peaceful route to spread the word and show people the light.

Sources:

King Jr., Martin Luther.  A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  1963.

Maynard, Mark. “Michigan legislature moves to outlaw domestic partner benefits in violation of the State Constitution… Will Snyder veto?.” http://markmaynard.com/?p=16739. December 8, 2011.

Perry, Rick. “Strong.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PAJNntoRgA.

Ring, Wilson. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal: Navy Lt. Gary Ross, Partner Dan Swezy Wed As Military’s Gay Ban Formally Ends.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-wedding_n_971128.html. September 20, 2011.

Tagharobi, Sherene. “Michigan One Signature Away from Domestic Partner Benefits Ban.” http://www.wilx.com/news/headlines/Domestic_Partner_Benefits__135348608.html.  December 9, 2011.

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6 Comments on “The Struggle for Gay Rights; A Continuation of the Civil Rights Movement”

  1. Danielle Studenberg Says:

    Like you, I am also very passionate about the LGBT rights movement. It’s shocking to me that a law ending domestic partner benefits would be passed in Michigan since it’s one of the only options a homosexual couple can take to be somewhat legally apart of each others’ lives. If this legislation is passed there will be much uproar from the public regarding their loss of freedom. Personally I don’t see why this ban would benefit our community, although I have not researched the legislation or have heard about this in the news at all.

    I do agree with you that the LGBT rights movement is similar to the Civil Rights Movement. In the future I think more and more protests will occur and eventually gay rights will be passed, just as civil rights were. There will always be a part of the public though that still disapproves of the LGBT community, for example Rick Perry and his followers. I also saw his commercial online and was very appalled by it. Although I’m speaking from a pro-gay rights point of view, I cannot imagine that a candidate thinks he would win presidency with a campaign based around taking away others’ freedom.

  2. antuck Says:

    I agree with basically everything you wrote. I particularly agreed with your point about the parallel between the literacy tests of Jim Crow South and the subtle attack on gays through the banning of domestic partnership benefits.

    There are a lot of other similarities between the Civil Rights Movement and the gay rights movement—similarities that show us the uniformity of human nature across time. We can see this in the way that people justify their bigotry, for example. “Separate but equal” was a phrase used to justify the segregation of black Americans. And every time I read this phrase, I think of the infamous phrase used by religious fundamentalists in their attack on gays, the one phrase that angers them above all others: “Love the sin, hate sinner.”

    There is, of course, the philosophical problem of whether the two phrases are even logically possible, or whether they are oxymorons. However, there’s no denying that even if they could be true in principle, they are almost never true in practice, with the second halves of both phrases consistently forgotten.

    So yeah, on top of the more obvious political parallels between the Civil Rights Movement and the gay rights movement, we learn a bit about human nature as well, such as our dependence on using though-terminating cliches to justify irrational bigotry.

  3. chadmach Says:

    I would agree with you saying that the LGBT movement is similar to that of the Civil Rights movement. However, although I would agree with you when say that being homosexual is not a choice, many people do think it is a choice and thats where someone may disagree on the similarities of the two movements. People during the Civil Rights movement understood that Blacks could not change the fact that they were black, people these days think that homosexuals can change their homosexuality and become heterosexual. I believe that that is where change needs to occur. People should learn to recognize that homosexuals are homosexuals, there is no change, you cannot go back and forth. Once that is realized I think the homosexual community will receive more support and see more things put into place to ensure their rights.

    A possible solution to equal marriage rights is to just get the government out of marriage. This is a platform that GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul supports and one that I agree with (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGaBAb_oS84). Government does not need to decide who we love and wish to start a family with. This would ensure civil liberties to everyone, let marriage be between two people and supported by your religion or something else, there is no need for the government to support who you choose to love.

  4. schoemad Says:

    This is a fantastic article and I definitely agree with your views. The LGBT community are truly treated as second class citizens and I believe most Americans are aware of that. Homosexuality is definitely gaining approval in the society and I would say a majority of the nation at this point in time are pro-gay marriage. Unfortunately, I think the government is not representing the majority. As it becomes more and more acceptable to be gay, more and more people are coming out of the closet and even pretty early in their lives. I know someone who came out as a Freshman in high school and it takes a lot of bravery to do that. I was talking with a friend who is in his 30s and he said that no one came out in high school when he was younger. This trend of coming out early really proves to me that the nation is changing and quickly.

    Once a week there is a new video on youtube that becomes popular and spreads like wildfire that pertains to the LGBT community. The internet and other media is definitely doing a fantastic job at showing how the community is mistreated, but there will always be ignorant people. I agree with the author of this post that the right to marry is something American citizens need to fight for, however what is fair will be reflected soon. I believe that the worst thing for the LGBT community’s fight in the near future would be the presidential campaign. I believe that if a Republican candidate is voted in, most likely a step back will be taken, unless there is enough pressure on the issue by the election. If the candidate happens to be against LGBT civil rights, then maybe enough people won’t vote for them. We will have to wait and see.

  5. beaurh Says:

    It is pretty appalling that domestic partnership benefits are being stripped from hard-working citizens. The issue is that these workers are being viewed as homosexuals first, then Americans trying to thrive just like everyone else. I am not active in the Gay Rights movement, it is just incredibly disheartening to see legislation this deleterious and deliberate still occurring today.

    On the other hand, this is certainly an issue of dirty hands. Ridding public workers in domestic partnerships from receiving their benefits is a way to save money for the state. Government officials are obviously aware of the immoral implications of their legislation and the community uproar that it will cause, but believe that these consequences do not outweigh the greater benefit for everyone. The money saved from stripping benefits could be reallocated to bettering public education in inner-cities or to alleviate taxes.

    Although the benefits are great, it is sad that legislators had to use the LGBT community as a scapegoat to save money. They lose their Dirty Hands legitimacy through this targeting. Stripping domestic partners of their working benefits can not be the only means of cutting costs and certainly cannot be that necessary.

  6. ianbaker2041 Says:

    One thing that this post makes me think of is our sense of division over continuity. I’m taking a history class on Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation Europe taught by an amazing professor-bachelor’s degree from Yale and Ph.D from Princeton. This professor claims that we should not see things like Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the Renaissance as sharp divisions from the Medieval past. Today (in the last lecture of the class), he closed by saying “when people ask me what changed the Middle Ages into modernity for good, I say nothing at all. We are still living the Middle Ages. We want to think that we are better than the past, but we are still there. Our culture is eerily similar to Medieval culture; with that said, history is nothing more than a continuum that we continue to live every day. Just because we think we are modern and civilized does not mean that we are.” I though this was really meaningful. For such an intelligent professor to say that we are, in essence, still living the Middle Ages shocked me, but I think he’s right. While we like to think that we are “superior” or “more cultured” than past generations, the reality is that we aren’t; we still struggle with problems that past generations did, and inequality is just one of them, in this case surrounding gay rights.

    That same professor remarked to me at office hours that the separation of church and state in the western world is a gigantic myth. He used gay rights to illustrate this. There is nothing in the legal framework of the US Constitution that should allow politicians to declare gay marriage illegal. It’s all because the three great monotheistic religions all take moral issue with gay marriage in some way and find something sinful in it, he argued. Those fighting for gay rights, he said, are fighting for secular rule-something that has been done thousands of times in human history. While I saw the gay rights movement as something fresh, new, and unique, he sees it merely as one small dot on the timeline of the world. While it is an important dot for our generation, I thought that my professor’s way of thinking about it was interesting and worth sharing here.

    With that said, I will say that I agree with you in seeing gay rights as fundamentally linked to the civil rights movement. Both attempt to get equality under the law for a certain group of people. Unfortunately, in the case of gay rights, proponents face the historical pattern of discrimination, and this complicates the matter. Even though there is no legal reason to ban gay marriage in the United States, it nonetheless remains illegal in most places because of religious ideology. I have no idea how to reconcile these two seemingly opposed concepts, but it seems that legalization of gay rights would not only be a step towards a more “equal” society but also a step towards a more secular one.

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