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Why Gay Marriage Isn’t the ’60s Civil Rights Fight

What black Americans suffered is without parallel in our history---a fact all sides of the SSM debate should recognize.
Civil Rights march

The 20-something me would consider the 30-something me a bleeding-heart liberal. Though I still hate political correctness, I no longer find it valuable to attack PC by charging off in the opposite direction, making insensitive remarks that even if right in fact were so wrong in form. I’m not the first political pundit to use excessive hyperbole. I might be one of the few to admit being embarrassed about it.

This embarrassment is particularly true concerning my own region, the South, where slavery, segregation, and institutional racism left a heavy mark. I still detest those on the left and right who exploit racial tension for their own purposes. But I detest even more the inhumanity suffered by African-Americans in our early and later history. T.S. Eliot said, “humankind cannot bear too much reality,” and it is impossible for those of us living in the new millennium to comprehend that absolute horror of being treated like chattel by your fellow man, or being terrorized by your neighbors, because of the color of your skin.

Books, memorials, and museums will never be able to adequately convey such tragedy, at least not in any manner remotely comparable to the pain of those who lived it.

The debate over gay marriage has been portrayed as the civil rights struggle of our time. I’m generally a supporter of same-sex unions and hold the same view as President Obama—I’m personally for it, but believe it should be decided at the state level. I find it legally objectionable that those in longstanding same-sex relationships do not have the same inheritance, tax, and hospital-visitation rights as straight couples. Whatever the courts or states decide now and in the future, I hope this changes.

That said, gay marriage is simply not on par with the black civil rights struggle. Not even close.

When a group of mostly black protesters stood before the Supreme Court to defend traditional marriage last week, some pundits and social-media commentators wondered how people who once fought for their own civil rights could deny them to others.

For one, these black protesters were Christian. Many American Christians are opposed to gay marriage, and people of faith have as much a place in this debate as anyone else. It is amusing how liberals who preach “diversity” are always surprised when it produces frictions or contradictions, which many on the left found last week in black Americans who oppose gay marriage.

But for these African-American followers of Christ, there were no contradictions.

Race isn’t everything.

I have gay friends who are married. The states in which they reside might not recognize their unions, but their friends and families do, and they generally live their lives in peace. No one is turning water hoses on them. They are not being attacked by police dogs. There is no Bull Connor or Ku Klux Klan. They are not being lynched en masse, drinking at separate fountains, or being ordered to the back of the bus.

This is not to say that gay Americans who wish to have the full benefits of marriage afforded to heterosexual couples don’t face adversity. That’s a major part of the current debate. But it is to say that any hardship they face can’t compare to what black Americans faced 50 or 150 years ago.

There have been instances during the gay-rights movement that arguably could be compared to the black civil rights struggle, like the Stonewall riots of the 1960s or Matthew Shepard murder in 1998. Suicides and other problems related to public attitudes about homosexuality have also unquestionably been a horrible ordeal. Still, with the possible exception of the mistreatment of Native Americans, there has been nothing quite like the systematic exploitation and institutional degradation experienced by earlier black Americans.

My purpose here is not to belittle the fight for gay marriage, only to note that those who keep attempting to draw a reasonable comparison to the struggle of African-Americans are in many ways belittling the black experience in the United States.

Jack Hunter is the co-author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington by Sen. Rand Paul and serves as New Media Director for Senator Paul. The views presented in this essay are the author’s own.