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The “Death” of a Movement

January 21, 2011

My Grandma passed away on May 13th, 2010.  She lived 78 beautiful years.  Beautiful to me, anyway; history, however, paints a much different picture. When I sat cross-legged on the floor, she never tainted my young mind with the memories of struggle.  Who wants to remember that stuff, anyway? No, the stories she told me were beautiful.  Stories of mile-long walks through the hills of West Virginia to the grocery store, where, if she was really good, a dime from her mother allowed her to get “the best ice cream I had ever tasted.”

My Grandma was African-American.  Born during the years of the Great Depression, she lived through events that I just heard about. Events, which, without a doubt, shaped who she was far before I came into the world. She lived the segregation. She witnessed the Brown v. Board of Education decision.  She saw Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s speeches. She felt his words in ways incomprehensible to anyone who did not live the experience themselves.  Yet, every story she told me was beautiful.

Just a couple weeks ago a few of my friends and I sat around our living room having what I thought was everyday conversation, until one of them dropped a bomb that was so catastrophic to my world, without even recognizing she had done so.

“I don’t believe in gay marriage. Being gay is a mental-defect. It’s just not natural”

The next couple moments are a blur in my mind. So many thoughts rushing through, all I remember is the overwhelming need to just scream.   How could someone I have considered a friend display such blatant hatred?  I tried to form the words of my thoughts into complete sentences that coherently explained that her feelings were no different than those who thought separation was equal, those who truly believed African-American’s were inferior, as if they had suffered the same sort of mental-defect that she had described, but I could tell I was failing.  Her beliefs about homosexuality had been instilled in her mind since she was a child and nothing I could say would change that. I left the room out of pure frustrating and went upstairs where I could be alone, where I could cry. I had not felt such intense emotion since the day my Grandma died.

We speak of the Civil Rights Movement using verbs of the past-tense.  As if it is a movement that once existed, but its issues have since been resolved. The reality is, the civil rights movement is still alive today.  It is alive for homosexuals who are not able to marry the ones they love, it is alive for Latinos who can be pulled over just because, it is alive for all of us.  For, as Dr. King said in his letter, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Reading through Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I was flooded with memories of my Grandma.  His words were filled with such pain that it brought tears to my eyes, yet such strength that it brought a smile to my mouth.  I am not sure that I, myself, could stay as positive as they did.  Before them, my parents would not have been allowed to drink out of the same water fountain.  Without them, I would not be alive today. For them, I am forever grateful.

The hatred hidden behind their experiences are so ugly, but the stories they tell are so beautiful.


Paige Robinson-Frazier

  1. Stacy Radin permalink
    January 22, 2011 5:00 PM

    I agree and think it is important to realize a fight for civil rights is not just a story we can look back upon and leave in the past. Whether it’s discrimination based on sexuality, race, or gender, discrimination is still occurring on a regular basis. Yes, it’s true that many people grow up in families where they are brought up to be a certain way and believe in a certain ideal, but there are still those out there who can be swayed to see the wrongdoings they are unknowingly creating. Your one friend might be unable to see homosexuality through a different light, but others who are unsure of their beliefs might be more willing to listen to your perspective. Fighting for what you believe in, regardless of consequence, is what brings about change. In The Apology, Socrates acknowledges “I know well enough that this very conduct makes me unpopular” (27b), but he would rather be unpopular and even face the death penalty to stand up for what he believes in. You may not be able to sway your friend’s opinion on certain things, but there are certainly others out there whose opinion you can change.

  2. Michael Ambler permalink
    January 23, 2011 6:18 AM

    What your friend displays isn’t hatred, but ignorance combined with political beliefs about gay marriage that differ from your own. While I understand why hearing your friend express those beliefs is upsetting for you, comparing those beliefs to racism- however accurate the comparison might be- doesn’t seem particularly useful in trying to convince your friend to see things differently. Statements like ‘it isn’t natural’ are so imprecise and ill-defined, not to mention often rooted in religious teaching, that there’s really no way to argue with them. It’s worth asking yourself questions like ‘what makes homosexuality different from a mental disorder?’ or ‘what are the reasons gay marriage should be legalized?’ until you have answers that you’re satisfied with- even if you feel like those aren’t questions that should even come up. That way, you’ll have something more productive than outrage and emotion to respond with, and hopefully help your friend see a different perspective.

    Incidentally, I don’t think the government should be in the business of marrying anyone, straight or gay- it seems unwise for ministers to become temporary government workers when they perform a marriage. I’d support giving civil unions to everyone, and let churches marry- or refuse to marry- whoever they feel like.

    • lernerm permalink
      January 23, 2011 10:29 AM

      Michael, I agreed with you until the last paragraph. I’m not sure I understand your idea that while, “…the government should [not] be in the business of marrying anyone, straight or gay,” you would “…support giving civil unions to everyone…” A civil union is government recognition of marriage outside of a religious context, so you seem to be holding a contradictory idea.

      I am in support of the government’s involvement in marriage because marriage has an affect upon everything from taxes to criminal law. It would not make sense to give the right to marry to outside parties since marriage plays such an important role in citizens’ interactions with the state.

      • Michael Ambler permalink
        January 23, 2011 9:10 PM

        Lenerm, there’s actually a legal distinction between civil unions and marriages. Currently, the government (on both state and local levels) recognizes marriages performed in a religious context, as well as recognizing ‘civil unions,’ which are essentially marriages absent the religious context.

        The problem with this system is that it entangles public policy with religious decisions; a couple who is married in, say, a Catholic church is not only performing a religious ceremony, but also forming a legal contract in the eyes of the government. Similarly, religious beliefs on marriage enter into the debate on which marriages the government should recognize, because a change in those policies affects religious institutions.

        What I’m arguing for is abandoning governmental recognition of religious marriage; give any couple looking for tax breaks, visitation rights, etc. a civil union, and similarly let churches marry whoever they want- but without gaining any sort of special legal privilege. In other words, I’m in favor of separating religious ceremonies from legal contracts, thus protecting both homosexual couples, religious freedom, and the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment. In doing so, I simply adopted the terms ‘civil union’ and ‘marriage’ to refer to ‘govenment-recognized spousal contract’ and ‘religiously-recognized spousal contract,’ respectively.

  3. Melissa Boelstler permalink
    January 23, 2011 1:05 PM

    I like the point you bring up about the civil rights movement still being here today. Most people celebrate Martin Luther King and everything he accomplished, and rightfully so because things that were happening and the segregation was horrible and something needed to be done about it. The problem is, people across the nation will celebrate this, but when it comes to standing up for problems that are happening now, they tend to shy away or pretend like no problems are actually happening, no more issues need to be resolved. Good point, and good blog post.

  4. cfbeckman permalink
    January 23, 2011 1:44 PM

    Frankly, I am surprised this debate is still going on. To me, it seems we’re in too advanced a time to be having debates over whom should be married to whom and who shouldn’t. I do believe the institution of marriage is a sacred one and a state-mandated one at that, like lernerm said before, however, it should be open to everyone, equally.

    If MLK were alive today, I think he’d be fighting for rights for all to marry whoever they please. I also think he’d be a little disappointed to find our society acting the way it is. With the immigration crisis, gay marriage, and even abortion, it seems as though some aspects of civil rights are still stuck on the same debate, still back in the ’60s. Perhaps if MLK was still with us today, he have one of these so-called “Beautiful stories” to share with us, in order to look at these old arguments with new eyes. Then, maybe, we could actually move forward with civil rights again.

    • Michael Ambler permalink
      January 24, 2011 12:18 PM

      I’m not sure your argument about what Martin Luthor King would believe today is true, Cfbeckman. MLK is such an important and transformative figure in American society that, like the Founding Fathers, both liberals and conservatives love to project their own views onto him. Conservatives tend to forget that he was staunchly anti-war and in favor of economic redistribution; on the other side of the spectrum, posts like yours seem to ignore his staunchly anti-abortion and anti-gay positions.

      We should remember that as crucial as King was to the American struggle for civil equality, he was a real person with human flaws. Just because he believed, for example, that abortion is genocide or that homosexuality “…is an increasingly common problem… it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that [homosexuals] have toward boys is not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired” doesn’t mean we have to share those views.

  5. kaycohen23 permalink
    January 23, 2011 4:34 PM

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post. You were able to successfully put a new “spin” on the common conception of the Civil Rights Movement. In today’s society we often neglect to acknowledge that homosexuality is a major civil rights issue that has not been “solved”. We as a culture love to think of ourselves as a progressive group of people by saying that we have overcome the era of civil rights. This is not the case in its entirety. Although significant progress has been made concerning African American rights, homosexuals are still in the midst of an ugly battle for theirs. The ignorance of your friend is eye opening and draws attention directly to the fact that the civil rights movement is not over. I agree with cfbeckman that if MLK was alive today, I believe that he would help the homosexuals in their quest to gain equal rights. Through his “Letter to a Birmingham Jail”, MLK asserts that non violent direct action is necessary in situations where certain people believe that laws are unjust. In my opinion this is definitely one of those situations.

  6. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 23, 2011 10:43 PM

    First off, I want to address Paige’s post. I thought the narrative of your grandma and then later of your friends added a bit of warmth and personality to your post. There are many people with what I believe are despicable views about those who cannot help that they are gay, yet some prefer treating them as second class citizens. They cite the Bible as their source and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, but yet there are certain aspects of the Bible most people ignore such as the edict to “be fruitful and multiply” all throughout Genesis, to not wear polyester in Leviticus 19:19, or to divorce, in Mark 10:8. Plain and simple, even the most stringent of Christians pick and choose what to believe in the Bible, sometimes without even knowing it. And I say this as someone who tries to be a pretty devout Christian.

    You know, it saddens me that the debate on the term “marriage” is still going on. People of all races, genders, creeds, and sexual orientations should be equal, end of story. If the determination of equality is to give everyone a civil union, then great- but there are many who put a lot of stock in the religious sanctity of marriage, so although in theory I would agree to give everyone who wants to go into a union a “civil union,” it will probably just progress to giving everyone a chance at marriage. And I believe that’s what King intended.

    • Michael Ambler permalink
      January 24, 2011 12:03 PM

      John, I want to respond to your argument that we should give everyone the right to marriage (as opposed to civil unions) because “there are many who put a lot of stock in [it’s] religious sanctity…” While that’s undoubtedly true, the religious beliefs of private citizens are not a particularly good reason to change public policy; I’m deeply uncomfortable with the logic of your post, which seems to suggest that we should essentially legislate away the ability of religious institutions to disavow gay marriage. As important as the right to marry is, I’d argue that the right to freedom of belief- and speech- is still more fundamental.

      Separating civil unions and marriage may upset some religiously- inclined people, but it will also negate the ability of religion to dictate marital policy to government, and prevent the government from imposing on the freedom of religions to restrict marriage to whoever they feel like.

      • John D'Adamo permalink
        January 24, 2011 2:24 PM

        Michael, your posts are well reasoned and theoretically sensible. Unfortunately, what you fail to take into account in your posts is political reality in America. Sure, in theory allowing everyone to have a civil union is the best idea. Here’s the problem with that, though- this would probably lead to massive uproar and colossal shifts in government, because there are some couples who are given marriage now don’t want to be given what they consider a “demotion” to a civil union, and there are quite a few people, like it or not, who view it that way. So therefore we are presented with a choice: continue government support of marriage for heterosexuals and give homosexual couples merely a civil union, which is unfair, or allow gays to find a church that would allow them to marry. There are many religious denominations who would be very open to marrying gays and lesbians, including the United Church of Christ- I am certainly not advocating the government utilizing public policy to force churches to marry gays if it is against their belief- but I am advocating extending what is already occurring in California, Iowa, and Massachusetts slowly but surely into the country as a whole.

  7. Michael Ambler permalink
    January 24, 2011 3:41 PM

    John, you’re misreading my explicitly normative argument as a plan for political action. I believe the government should only recognize civil union, just like I believe Obama should have allowed the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire, and the University of Michigan should stop spending money on random construction projects until tuition comes down. I’m not particularly hopeful that any of those suggestions will be followed.

    I would caution you, however, about your assertion that gay marriage is slowly but surely becoming the norm. In California, voters passed laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples; in Iowa, the judges who ruled that gay marriage was a constitutional right were thrown out of office by an angry electorate; on a Federal level, nobody seems to be willing to mount a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996. In the long run, I agree that some form of marriage or civil unions for gays will become legal nationally, but we’re a long, long way from that happening- right now, a lot of the progress is in the other direction.

    In fact, by the time that the prerequisite cultural shifts have taken place to allow DOMA, Prop 8, etc., to be repealed, the growing secularization of American government may have reached the point where civil unions will become the norm anyways.

    • John D'Adamo permalink
      January 24, 2011 4:41 PM

      Michael, you probably should have prefaced that your argument was simply normative before launching a response to my post, which forced me to defend against your argument and use a test using political realities to prove that isn’t very realistic. But with that assertion I can safely concede that portion of the debate… as far as gay marriage, I feel that there is a lot to be done before all 50 states allow it, but eventually my opinion is that it will happen.
      Liberalization of key issues has occurred in very small steps in the last 70 years, but we’ve received a government fund for senior citizens, health insurance for the disabled, seniors, and the poor, the legalization of abortions, and just this past December, allowing gays to serve in the military. One day, I think gay marriage will be a reality in America- it will begin at the state level, and at a certain point along the line the federal government will make it so that people in all 50 states who are gay can get married at a church that will do it. It’s something that won’t happen for years, but sexual orientation equality is something that will be a reality one day.

      • Michael Ambler permalink
        January 24, 2011 4:58 PM

        Since all arguments about human rights are at a fundamental level normative, I’m not sure why you feel some sort of ‘disclaimer’ is necessary; regardless, I’m glad we agree.

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