Civil Rights and Gay Rights

In case you didn’t see it, Jonathan Capehart had an excellent and thoughtful essay in yesterday’s Washington Post.  Titled “Blacks and gays:  the shared struggle for civil rights”, it laid out the reasons why blacks (and I might add Asians, Hispanics and other minorities) need to support gay rights.  I am going to try to give you the highlights, but you really should read the entire essay.

It opens

You may recall that last month Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and I sparred over same-sex marriageon “Morning Joe.” You may also recall that at the end of the interview, the show’s anchor, Joe Scarborough, asked me, “[W]ould you compare the civil rights struggles of African Americans over 300 years in America to marriage equity?” Without hesitation, I said, “Yes.”

“It’s an issue of civil rights, as you said. It’s an issue of equality. It’s an issue of equal treatment under the law,” I said. “No one is asking for special rights. No one is asking for any kind of special favors. We’re just looking for the same rights and responsibilities that come with marriage and also the protections that are provided under marriage. In that regard overall we’re talking about a civil rights issue and what African Americans continue to struggle with is exactly what lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are struggling with today.”

That didn’t go over so well with more than a few African Americans. They don’t see the struggles as comparable, equivalent or even related. Last Wednesday, @Brokenb4God tweeted to me, “@CapehartJ still can’t believe u think the choice of being gay is congruent to the struggle of blacks. Ain’t never seen no gay plantations!”

Clearly, she’s from the misguided pray-the-gay-away cabal, so no need to address that. I’ll leave the cheap and provocative “gay plantations” stink bomb alone, too, and get to my main point. What links the two struggles is the quest for equality, dignity and equal protection under the law. In short, gay rights are civil rights. It’s that simple.

Capehart goes through several points of similarity under topic headings:  “Bullying and Murder”, “Denied equal protection:  the right to marry” and finally, “Black leaders.”  He quotes Reverend Al Sharpton and John Lewis.  Lewis quoted Dr. Martin Luther King during the debate in 1996 on the Defense of Marriage Act. 

You cannot tell people they cannot fall in love. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say when people talked about interracial marriages, and I quote, ‘Races do not fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married.’ Why don’t you want your fellow men and women, your fellow Americans to be happy? Why do you attack them? Why do you want to destroy the love they hold in their hearts? Why do you want to crush their hopes, their dreams, their longings, their aspirations? We are talking about human beings, people like you, people who want to get married, buy a house, and spend their lives with the one they love. They have done no wrong.

Lewis supported Massachusetts activists during the debate over marriage equality.

In a 2003 opinion piece for the Boston Globe, Lewis wrote, “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. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

Much of the resistance to the Maryland Marriage Equality law came from black churches who are traditionally unwilling to acknowledge a gay and lesbian presence in their own communities.  One exception is my husband’s church, Union United Methodist in Boston.  Their pioneering was highlighted in this recent article in the Boston Globe

Eziah Karter-Sabir Blake swiped the play debit card through a plastic reader during a game of Monopoly recently. Another multimillion-dollar sale. The buyer, Giftson Joseph, rubbed his hands together, a glimmer creeping in his eyes as he playfully nudged the Rev. Catharine A. Cummings.

The three – one gay, one transgender, one straight – sat around a table at a new youth drop-in center at Union United Methodist Church, a historically black congregation in the South End, the heart of Boston’s gay community.

Simply by being there, the trio was straddling a divisive line between the gay community and the black church, where many gay and lesbian minorities have long felt ignored or unwelcome in the pews.

“It’s a big risk they are taking in the black community,’’ said Joseph, an 18-year-old African-American college student who is gay. “There’s already enough stigma in the church. But this is a church that is accepting of all races and sexual orientations.’’

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In 2000, Union began the process of educating themself about homosexuality and gay rights.

 In 2000, church member Hilda Evans pushed Union United to again change course, and the church agreed to defy United Methodist leaders by declaring itself an open and affirming congregation to gays and straight people alike. It held its first gay service in June 2007 at the height of the state’s same-sex marriage debate.

Other black church leaders and churches in Boston have not followed Union’s lead.  But as the Globe story pointed out

Union United has a long history of bucking tradition. In the 1800s, black worshipers walked out of their segregated Beacon Hill church home after whites grew uncomfortable and complained about their vibrant, African-style of worship. In 1818, members founded the May Street Church, which became a stop on the Underground Railroad, according to the church’s website,

What the Globe does not point out is Union’s civil rights activism during the 1960’s.  You can read about that in the J. Anthony Lukas classic, Common Ground..

It takes a long time for people to see themselves in someone else’s stuggle but we can look at Jonathan Capehart for his articulate arguments about what is right and to places like Union United Methodist Church for leading the way.

Did Obama win Iowa?

Mitt Romney won the Republican Caucus by 8 votes over Rick Santorum.  They both got just under 25% of the vote followed closely by Ron Paul.  You can read this as 75% of the vote went to other Republicans with the two closest rivals representing extreme positions.  Two interesting comments I heard on the MSNBC coverage last night.  First, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts noted that he thinks Mitt’s 25% is about what his support is.  Not clear if he was talking about Iowa or generally amoung Republicans.  Second, Rev. Al Sharpton who hoped that Santorum and/or Paul stayed in the race for a while so that Mitt had to keep moving right to get the nomination.

(Daniel Acker for The New York Times)

Robert Creamer writes in the Huffington Post today that the Iowa was bad news for the Republican establishment which just wants to nominate Mitt and be done with it.

To maximize their odds of reclaiming their hold on the White House, the Republican establishment believes they need two things:

• To nominate Mitt Romney;
• To effectively end the Republican nominating process as soon as possible.

Last night’s results from Iowa lower the odds they will get either.

In fact, what we saw in Iowa last night was the Republican base gagging on the presidential candidate the Republican establishment is trying desperately to cram down their throats.

The problem is that Mitt is not good at displaying human qualities.  Brian McGrory wrote in his column in today’s Boston Globe

For not foreseeing his rise from the State House to, potentially, the White House, I shouldn’t, in truth, be so hard on myself. Romney has made a habit of getting in his own way.

First, there was the small matter of that gubernatorial campaign. His very best day was the one right before he declared. On the stump, he was, in a word, terrible – hollow and plastic in speeches and mannerisms. “How are you?’’ he would repeatedly ask, never waiting for a response.

There was one October campaign swing through Boston’s North End with Rudy Giuliani when a burly laborer in a crowded Mike’s Pastry called out “Let me buy you guys a cannoli.’’ Brilliant, I thought. The cameras would capture Romney with ricotta cheese on his strong chin, a man of the people. Then Romney called back, “No thanks, got to run,’’ as he headed for the door. He said it with that nervous smile, which was still frozen on his face when Giuliani said to the guy “Let me buy you the cannoli!’’ The place erupted in cheers.

Mitt and the establishment have other problems.  Like the fact that Rick Santorum was able to peak at the right time and become the anti-Mitt.  Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul will also continue in the race.

All of which leads me to ask whether Obama actually won Iowa.  He had some 25000 people show up to watch a live message, signed up over 7000 new volunteers and has 8 field offices open in Iowa.  He had almost as many people at meaningless caucuses as Romney, Santorum and Paul each got as vote totals.  Sure maybe people aren’t as excited as in 2008 and everyone – even supporters  can name at least one thing he did they don’t like, but I’m with Rev. Al:  Let this go on for a while and let Mitt move to the right.  Then we shall see what the general election will bring.  Even better the Republicans could nominate Santorum.  Howard Fineman said in the Huffington Post late last night: 

The final Iowa results aren’t in but we already know one big winner: President Barack Obama.

The dismal, nasty campaign here was not good for the Republican Party or the country. There was precious little debate on anything other than who literally was Holier than Thou; the dollars spent on attack ads were, vote for vote, enormous. One GOP top finisher is unpopular with the base; another is too far out of the mainstream to be nominated, let alone elected; the third lost his last Senate race, in Pennsylvania, by 17 points, and is far to the right of the country on social issues.

All of which is good news for a president with a 40 percent job approval rating and a desperate need for a weak opponent next November.

The winner in Iowa.

I’ll leave Richard Viguerie with the last word.  In an interview today with the New York Times, Viguerie said

The conservative direct mail pioneer and activist Richard Viguerie predicted that the pack would continue to seek out a more ideologically pure standard-bearer this year than it did in accepting Senator John McCain as the Republican nominee in 2008.

“Romney has just seemed to have gone out of his way to try to get this nomination without giving conservatives anything, and that’s troubling to a lot of conservatives,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to go away quietly into that long dark nominating fight — I‘d be surprised if the conservatives didn’t mount a serious effort to derail Romney.”

On to New Hampshire!