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Omid Safi

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What Would Dr. King Say About Amendment One?

Posted: 05/08/2012 11:05 am

Today, citizens in the state of North Carolina are going to the polls to vote on Amendment One.

In some ways, the controversial Amendment is superfluous, as same-sex marriage is already illegal in this state. What this amendment would do, however, would be to write the ban into the state constitution.

While this Amendment is being presented as banning same-sex marriage, its scope is much broader: it would do prohibit any other type of "domestic legal union" such as civil unions and domestic partnerships as well.

There have been many passionate arguments for and against this amendment. My intention here is to simply call on the authority of one of our great moral exemplars, Dr. Martin Luther King. What would Martin have said about same-sex marriage?

Martin's own struggles focused on racial, economic and peace concerns, and he did not opine much on gender and sexuality matters. However, there was a person very close to him who knew him better than any other, who has spoken out courageously and clearly on this topic. That person is Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King:

It is worth reading Coretta Scott King's comments in their entirety:

Mrs. King On Inclusivity

"We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny ... I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be," she said, quoting her husband. "I've always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy," Mrs. King told 600 people at the Palmer House Hilton in 1998, just days before the 30th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. assassination that occurred on April 4, 1968.

She said the civil rights movement "thrives on unity and inclusion, not division and exclusion."

Her husband's struggle parallels that of the gay rights movement, she said (Chicago Sun Times, April 1, 1998, p.18).

Connectedness Of Prejudice

"Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood," she stated.

Indivisibility Of Justice

"For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law. ... I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience," she said.

"I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people. ... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people," she said.

"My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' On another occasion he said, 'I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.'

Like Martin, I don't believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others. So I see this bill as a step forward for freedom and human rights in our country and a logical extension of the Bill of Rights and the civil rights reforms of the 1950s and '60s. The great promise of American democracy is that no group of people will be forced to suffer discrimination and injustice (Coretta Scott King, remarks, press conference on the introduction of ENDA, Washington, DC, June 23, 1994).

On Banning Same-Sex Marriage

"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriage." She made these statements in a 2004 speech at the Richard Stockton College in New Jersey.

These voices are not unique ones. One of Dr. King's worthy heirs today, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, likewise has spoken out against discrimination against gays and lesbians:

But it is a great wrong. An even larger offense is that it is being done in the name of God. Show me where Christ said "Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones." Gay people, too, are made in my God's image. I would never worship a homophobic God.

"But they are sinners," I can hear the preachers and politicians say. "They are choosing a life of sin for which they must be punished." My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?

The wave of hate must stop. Politicians who profit from exploiting this hate, from fanning it, must not be tempted by this easy way to profit from fear and misunderstanding. And my fellow clerics, of all faiths, must stand up for the principles of universal dignity and fellowship. Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.


As we go to the polls today and reflect on the these important issues, it is good to bear in our conscience the voice of our most prophetic leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mrs. Coretta Scott King and Desmond Tutu.

If the message of love, inclusivity, civil rights, and innate dignity of all human beings appeals to you, vote against Amendment One.

 
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