Ken Blackwell, former Ohio Secretary of State now working for the Family Research Council, has a rather absurd column in the Washington Times claiming that marriage equality is “illiberal” and that there’s no comparison between the struggles for black civil rights and gay civil rights.
My first point is that there can be no comparison between the fight for racial equality and the movement supporting homosexual marriage. To begin with, race occupies a singular place in our country’s history and laws. Our country fought a bloody Civil War and passed three separate constitutional amendments to rid our society of the injustice that was slavery. The segregation laws that followed were ugly remnants of a culture of racial slavery, and they were immoral and unjust. They defied the American promise “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Black Americans were enslaved, literally deprived of their liberty, often robbed of life, and denied the opportunity to pursue happiness. Segregation laws were a legal statement of inequality. No other law in American history spells indignity and injustice like they did, and no other law so explicitly rings false to our country’s founding principles.
Well yes, blacks were terribly mistreated and enslaved for centuries. And even after we ended slavery, we continued to have legal discrimination against blacks that violated their civil rights. But if it’s wrong and unjust to allow discrimination against black people and it violates the principle of inalienable rights, why isn’t it equally wrong and unjust to allow discrimination against gay people? Blacks have been protected against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation for more than half a century now, but gay people have no such protections. And guess what? Ken Blackwell is a staunch opponent of extending the same anti-discrimination protections he demands for himself to gay people.
The other obvious reason why black civil rights and gay civil rights are comparable is because the inequality they were fighting against then and now was justified on exactly the same grounds, and the arguments against equal rights were exactly the same as well. And Blackwell himself makes those very same arguments.
For the second point: Applying the racism of segregation-era America to today’s “social battles” does not make for a compelling comparison. To state what should be obvious, not all racists oppose same-sex marriage, and not all who oppose same-sex marriage are racists. To say otherwise is disrespectful and frankly ludicrous.
My third point refers to the idea that those who are concerned about religious liberty rights in and around homosexual marriage are covertly advancing some right-wing agenda. This is misleading, false and insulting. Religious liberty is a real, fundamental right, first in our constitutional amendments. It’s what allows a man to be a conscientious objector or a church to choose its own minister. In general, it’s what protects religious people who hold views that are out of political favor. Mr. Michaelson admits that intellectuals and politicans on both ends of the political spectrum support religious liberty. He simply thinks that religious liberty should be much more limited than it is or ever has been.
As the recent, large batch of cases against the Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate demonstrates, America has a diverse and principled religious population of citizens willing to fight for the right to express their faith in all aspects of life. That some, such as Mr. Michaelson, don’t agree that buying contraception for others violates a person’s faith will not suddenly appease their concerns. Those who advocate strong conscience protections — whether from a contraceptive mandate or from federal recognition of same-sex marriage — do so sincerely.
But when it comes to religious liberty, the situation with same-sex marriage is absolutely identical to the situation with interracial marriage 45 years ago. Just as there are many churches that oppose same-sex marriages and refuse to perform them, that was also the case with churches and interracial marriage then (and as recently as last year, in fact). And just as no church has ever been required to perform an interracial wedding, no church will ever be required to perform a same-sex wedding.
And when it comes to matters of public accommodation, the situations are identical as well — except that, as I noted above, there is no protection for gay people in federal civil rights law (or in most states). In those states that do include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination laws, businesses will be required to do the exact same thing for a same-sex couple that they have had to do for interracial couples for more than 50 years, which is not discriminate against them.
If Blackwell were to go around claiming that laws banning discrimination against black people are a violation of the religious liberty of business owners, then I might take him seriously on this issue. But he doesn’t. Because he’s a hypocrite. He demands such protections for himself and screams “religious liberty” when he’s the one who wants to engage in discrimination.