We cannot know how the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would feel about the struggle underway for marriage equality in this country, but we know he stood with the marginalized. We don't know whether Dr. King would have been a champion for equality causes such as LGBTQ adoption or the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," but we do know that in his view of Christianity, each person is sacred, free and equal to others. We know that Dr. King, whose life we celebrate as a nation on Jan. 21, believed that the real battle for equality and respect is waged in the human heart. I suspect that he would have been very pleased with the historic shift of the nation's heart indicated through the ballots cast last fall. The 2012 election, which saw the people of three more states affirm same-sex marriage and those of another state reject a constitutional ban against gay marriage, plus the election of the first openly gay U.S. senator, shows that the fight for LGBTQ equality today is clearly gaining momentum.
Some say the LGBTQ community is fighting for special rights, not civil rights. But it is not a special right to be free of discrimination, to be viewed in equal light under the protection of the law with respect to the benefits, protections and rights that come with a federally recognized marriage. Dr. King's vision of the Beloved Community -- his biblically rooted vision of humanity transcending its racial and religious differences -- expanded people's rights; it did not restrict them. As a theologian, Dr. King started with the fact that God loves everybody, and that all men and all women were created by God. He based his whole philosophy on God's love for all people.
Sure, there are parallels between the struggles for equal rights for African Americans and LGBTQ Americans. Historically, both African Americans and gays have been targeted because of who they are, have been denied equal protection, responsibilities and rights under the U.S. Constitution, and have been victims of violence, oppression, bullying and discrimination. Both groups have been wronged by the majority culture. But lesbians and gays are absorbing lessons and inspiration from the civil rights movement, not taking away its importance.
Bayard Rustin, a gay man and advisor to Dr. King, brought nonviolent protest tactics from India to the American civil rights movement and was the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin noted, "When an individual is protesting society's refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him." We can only imagine the assessment that Dr. King would make of the progress we've made as a nation in championing equality and affirming dignity, but I believe he would push us harder to accomplish more for the values he held dear: truth, justice, love of God and love for the poor.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, many people will spend their day in service, caring for others, working for justice and making a difference in their communities. All of this will be part of the National Day of Service, which civil rights leaders like Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) have called for to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. King. Yes, the parades, speeches and celebrations are important, but it is equally important that we continue the work of Dr. King by making a difference in our communities. I challenge each of us -- gay and straight, young and old, rich and poor, of all races and nationalities -- to find ways that we can honor Dr. King by participating in the National Day of Service. Let us work for and strengthen our Beloved Community.
Dr. King's life and legacy inspire me to stand firm for the betterment of others, and to see God and God's love in the struggles for equality and that of the poor, for this is the true humanity for which he died.
Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson is Senior Pastor at Cathedral of Hope, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, in Dallas, Texas.