“Gay is the new black” is one of the mottos of the movement to redefine marriage to include two people of the same sex.
The likening of the movement for same-sex marriage to the black civil rights struggle is a primary argument of pro same-sex marriage groups. This comparison is a major part of the moral appeal of redefining marriage: Just as there were those who once believed that blacks and whites should not be allowed to be married, the argument goes, there are today equally bigoted individuals who believe that men should not be allowed to marry men and women should not be allowed to marry women.
It is worth noting that the people least impressed with the comparison of the gay struggle to redefine marriage with the black struggle for racial equality are blacks. They voted overwhelmingly for California’s Proposition 8 which amends the California Constitution to define marriage as being the union of a man and a woman.
One reason given is that blacks tend to be socially conservative. But another, less verbalized, reason may well be that blacks find the comparison demeaning and insulting. As well they should.
One has to either be ignorant of segregation laws and the routine humiliations experienced by blacks during the era of Jim Crow, or one has to be callous to black suffering, to equate that to a person not being allowed to marry a person of the same sex. They are not in the same moral universe.
There is in fact no comparison between the situation of gays in America in 2008 and the situation of most black Americans prior to the civil rights era. Gays are fully accepted, and as a group happen to constitute one of the wealthiest in American life. Moreover, not being allowed to marry a person of the same sex is not anti-gay; it is pro-marriage as every civilization has defined it. The fact is that states like California already grant people who wish to live and love a member of the same sex virtually every right that marriage bestows except the word “married.”
A certain number of gay men will feel better if they can call their partner “husband” and some lesbians will enjoy calling their partner “wife,” but society as a whole is not benefitted by such a redefinition of those words. Society as a whole does not benefit by removing, as California did, the words “bride” and “groom” from marriage licenses and substituting “Partner A” and “Partner B.”
But hoping that the more radical gays and straights of the gay rights movement will ask “what benefits society?” before “what makes some gays feel better?” is useless.
And so, the movement appropriates the symbols and rhetoric of the back civil rights struggle when that struggle and the movement to redefine marriage have next to nothing in common. How can a seriously moral individual compare forcing a black bus rider to sit in the back of a bus or to give up his seat to a white who demands it, or prohibiting a black human being from drinking from the same water fountain or eating at the same lunch counter as a white human being, or being denied the right to vote, or being prohibited from attending a school with whites, let alone being periodically lynched, to either the general gay condition today or specifically to being given the “right” to redefine marriage for society?
The vast majority of Americans, including those who oppose same-sex marriage, know that the homosexual is created in God’s image every bit as much as is the heterosexual; and acknowledge that the gay man or woman has a right to love whom he or she wants and that commitment has the right to be given legal protections.
But radically redefining the most important institution in the life of a civilization; and routinely labeling as the moral equivalent of racists every individual who does not want children regularly asked whether they will marry a boy or a girl when grown up, and who rightly fears that every traditional religious community will be labeled as a hate group — these are not commensurate with civil rights.
Gay and straight activists who liken their demand to redefine marriage to black suffering under Jim Crow merely cheapen historic black suffering. Most blacks know this but for the sake of their political coalition won’t say it. They should. Rosa Parks is in a different moral category than the protestors against Proposition 8.