Homosexual Rights vs. Civil Rights

Astute politicians always try to build coalitions of support based on common interests of constituents. For political strategists, that's key to winning elections. Last month, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in Jackson, Miss., tried to apply this principle at a predominantly black church.

The members of the Greater Bethlehem Temple Pentecostal Church of the Apostolic Faith listened politely to Kerry. The senator used the occasion to compare the homosexual-rights movement to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. Kerry insisted homosexuals and blacks share a common experience in the struggle for civil rights.

His comparison did not draw fervent shouts of “Amen” or “Hallelujah” from the congregation.

Kerry isn't the only politician equating the cause for homosexual rights to the civil-rights movement. Jason West, mayor of New Paltz, N.Y., said, “The people who would forbid gays from marrying in this country are those who would have made Rosa Parks sit in the back of the bus.”

West, who started presiding over homosexual weddings recently, considers homosexual marriage “the flowering of the largest civil-rights movement the country's had in a generation.”

Like West, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a keynote speaker at the 1963 civil-rights march on Washington, sees homosexual marriage as a civil-rights issue. Writing for the Boston Globe, Lewis stated, “I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Julian Bond, national chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, supports Lewis' claim. “Discrimination is discrimination — no matter who the victim is, and it is always wrong,” he told the Associated Press. “There are no ‘special rights’ in America, despite the attempts by many to divide blacks and the gay community with the argument that the latter are seeking some imaginary ‘special rights' at the expense of blacks.”

While some politicians try to link homosexual rights to the struggle blacks endured for civil rights, many black religious leaders reject the idea. For instance, Rev. Walter Fauntroy, one of the planners of the 1963 march, labels same-sex marriage an “abomination.” Fauntroy, a spokesman for the Alliance for Marriage, said, “For most black Americans who know our history, we do not want any further confusion about what a marriage and a family happen to be.”

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, director of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny in Los Angeles, agrees. “Homosexuality is not about family, it's not about love,” he asserted. “It is about sex, nothing but sex.” Boston minister Rev. Gene Rivers contends that “the gay community is pimping the civil-rights movement and the history.”

Between politicians and ministers, the majority of blacks, for now, seem to be listening to their ministers. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a poll indicating that 60% of blacks oppose homosexual marriage. Yet leaders of the homosexual movement believe with time their civil-rights strategy will work. They know Americans and especially minorities shun bigotry as one of the worst social evils. If they can play effectively on fears of the past, the rainbow coalition believes many people will join their cause.

This strategy strikes me as an effective spider web to lure the vulnerable to something harmful that appears credible. In reality, the homosexual-rights analogy to the civil-rights movement misrepresents the truth about blacks' struggle for civil rights. Here's why: On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington with 300,000 demonstrators with a moral mandate for our nation: recognize the God-given rights of every human being.

In other words, the civil-rights movement of the 1960s started and developed as a faith-based movement. The black church gave birth, sustenance and direction to this nonviolent movement. For this reason, the civil-rights movement needs to be understood within the tradition of the African-American church.

This tradition held that God, not the state, gives us our rights and dignity as human beings. However, the civil-rights movement challenged the state to recognize and to protect by law the rights God gave to everyone. In short, blacks placed God firmly at the center of the civil-rights movement. They believed God gave them courage to endure and to confront the evil Jim Crow laws throughout the South.

In contrast to the moral underpinning of the civil-rights movement, the homosexual-rights movement embodies the worst of secularism. It makes no coherent appeal to God, religion, morality, natural law or tradition to construct its ideology. This might explain why the homosexual movement enjoys so much support from agnostics, atheists and libertarians.

Clarence James, a professor at Temple University, characterized well the essence of the homosexual movement: “The homosexual movement is part of the sexual revolution. It is about negative freedom and freedom from moral restraint.” For this reason, James concludes, “The homosexual movement has nothing to do with civil rights.”

Homosexual-rights advocates disagree. Unjust discrimination, they charge, points to a common denominator between the two movements. A closer look at this argument will display flawed reasoning. As I said before, the civil-rights movement started in the black church as a faith-based movement. It should be understand in this context.

During the civil-rights movement, black Christians understood justice as fidelity to God's law. Consequently, in the mind of black Christians, unjust discrimination occurs with the violation of God's law. They believed institutionalized racism broke God's law of charity. Furthermore, it dishonored their ethnicity as people created in the image and likeness of God.

Homosexual activity deals with behavior, not ethnicity. To disagree with the legalization and promotion of this behavior doesn't violate any ethical or moral precept. Therefore, it doesn't constitute unjust discrimination.

Blacks believed in the civil-rights movement because it stood on God's truth. That's what makes any cause credible. And, to this day, we take the words of Christ seriously: “The truth will set you free.”

Legionary Father Andrew McNair teaches at Mater Ecclesiae International Center of Higher Studies for consecrated women in Greenville, Rhode Island.