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Post Partisan
Posted at 05:04 PM ET, 03/15/2011

Maryland gay marriage debacle reveals cowards and civil rights myopia


Today's Post editorial on the marriage-equality debacle in Maryland wisely takes the long view. “The trend in public opinion continues in favor of equal rights for gays in general and same-sex marriage in particular,” the editorial board points out. “The direction of the debate seems clear enough; the pace is frustrating.”

A pace not helped at all by cowards in the state legislature who talked out of both sides of their mouths to the gay community and who refused to heed the call of leadership. Or by African Americans who can’t or refuse to see that one’s civil rights should not be encumbered by race or sexual orientation.

Y’all saw me open a vein on the treachery of Del. Sam Arora. He’s the first-term Montgomery County Democrat who raised a ton of cash from the gay community and progressives based on his stance on marriage equality. He was a proud co-sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill. But when it came time, Arora disgracefully wavered after getting push-back from some of his constituents. That he voted for it in the Judiciary Committee and would have voted for his marriage-equality bill on the floor was completely undercut by his newfound support for civil unions and for a voter referendum on the bill. A referendum that most everyone agrees would render same-sex marriage illegal in Maryland.  

And then there was that other spineless profile in courage, Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George’s). She, too, was a co-sponsor of the marriage-equality bill. But when it came time to vote in the Judiciary Committee, she literally fled the House. Alston, her chief of staff and Del. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore) rode around for 15 minutes to avoid casting votes. Alston said she would have voted no.

I feel really strongly that people who love each other should be able to get married, no matter what their gender. But I also realize that that’s not my function here. I’m here to represent the 110,000 people back home, many of whom had called and e-mailed and said, “We don’t want that bill.”....We send our soldiers off, sometimes to die, to tell people that ours is the best damn government in the world, so we can’t bastardize that by not letting the people have their say.

Alston and others who use that lame argument should contemplate what would have happened if “the people” had their say back in the 1950s and 1960s on questions of integration, voting rights and discrimination. Putting the civil rights of a minority up for a popular vote is never a good idea. As we have learned so many times in this nation’s history, sometimes “the people” need to be led by public officials with the guts to do the right thing even when their constituents are not (and may never be) supportive. The most notable example were Senate Republicans who bucked their party to vote in favor of the repeal of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.

What I find even more troubling is the wedge being driven between African Americans and gays. After the marriage-equality bill was tabled, the Family Research Council gave “particular thanks” to black preachers, their churches and legislators “who spoke out against the attempted hijacking of the concept of ‘civil rights.’ ” Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County) is one of those who found the linkage offensive. “The civil-rights movement as I knew it … had nothing to do with same-sex marriage,” he said. "And those who decide to ride on our coattails are historically incorrect."

Fine, don't listen to the gays. Listen to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an architect of the famed 1963 March on Washington who was beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday,” one of many beatings he suffered.  “I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation,” wrote Lewis back in 2003. “I've heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”  

Here — once again — is what Lewis said in 1996 before casting a vote against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. The last part of Del. Burns's otherwise wrong-headed quote is actually true. “The civil-rights movement was about puttingteeth into the Declaration of Independence.” It still is. The strugglefor civil rights and equality is part of a continuum. As Dr. Martin Luther King often said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” African Americans neither own that arc nor have exclusive right to it. Gay men and lesbians have every right to followit until it bends toward justice for them.   

By  |  05:04 PM ET, 03/15/2011

 
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