Is the Gay Rights Movement Akin to the Civil Rights Movement?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Civil rights marchers walked from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. (Peter Pettus/Wikipedia Commons)

In a landmark moment for the gay rights movement in America, President Barack Obama announced, for the first time, his support of gay marriage. This comes years after Obama’s views on the issue have "evolved." Many gay rights leaders have long compared their fight to the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. But do the two compare?

We talk with two people on very different sides of the gay marriage debate, but who both believe gay rights are not akin to the civil rights movement. 

Dr. Patrick Wooden is a pastor at the Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh, North Carolina. He supported North Carolina’s Amendment One which won a popular vote in the state on Tuesday. Dr. Wooden does not believe gay rights are on par with civil rights. We also talk with Ann Pellegrini, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at NYU, and the author of "Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance." Pellegrini believes it is more accurate to compare the gay rights movement to the fight for religious freedoms.


Ann Pellegrini and Patrick Wooden

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Kristen Meinzer

Comments [13]

Bobbie from Brookline

When my husband and I married in 1963, our marriage was illegal in nearly half the states in the U.S. because he was white and I am black. Our marriage lasted for 44 years and produced a son. Over the centuries,those with the power to do so have declared that some of us could only be slaves; then that we had to be separated from others; that we could not vote or hold particular jobs or live in certain neighborhoods--or that we could not marry whom we loved. As blacks in America, our history should teach us how painful it is when our lives--including the most important aspect--whom we marry--can be decided by those who don't know us and who believe we are not really human.

May. 11 2012 09:34 AM
Nathan from Tulsa, OK

With regard to the pastor's comment that "5000 years of history defines marriage as between one woman and one man," the pastor refuted Celeste's objection based on Solomon's many marriages, but neglected to mention God's unequivocal support of polygamy in the story of Jacob, or others. Besides that, the Christian history of marriage isn't quite as simple as commonly portrayed. Read this:

May. 11 2012 12:02 AM
David from Massachusetts

First, I am wondering why the pastor was allowed both opening and closing statements when Ann Pellegrini was not given a final comment? Secondly, it seems rather disrespectful that the pastor is referred to as Dr. Wooden, and Ann Pellegrini, PhD, is not given the same title when she holds a doctorate from Harvard. Finally, the pastor seems to have forgotten that the primary values taught by Jesus were love, forgiveness, and non-judgement. The bible also states that eating shellfish is an abomination, that a daughter may be sold into slavery, that an adulterous wife should be stoned to death, and so on....

May. 10 2012 09:38 PM
George Lucas from Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

A very wise young African American preacher in the DC area said recently that despite what your religious beliefs are, "religion should be practiced, not legislated". This says it all. This is a civil matter not a religious matter. 2 same sex people are not a threat to the family. If they were truly trying to protect the family, they would have constitutional ammendments against divorce. Even if ALL same sex US citizens got married, that would only be 10% of the population. This is the next step after interracioal marriage.

May. 10 2012 06:14 PM

I listened to the program early this morning & wanted to comment then, but my day got away with me. So here I leave three brief points: First, why did Prof. Ann Pellegrini have only one turn on the mic? It seems to me that a guest who is trying to enrich a discussion by addressing some of the complexities of this issue might receive at least equal air-time. I was frustrated that Pastor Wooden got the first and last word in this brief segment of today's show. Second, just to address Pastor Wooden's throw-away fear-mongering comments about "the destructive nature on the human body of men who have sex with men" -- let's consider a) that gay men are by far not the only people who have anal sex (seen any hetero teen movies recently?), and if we were to make illegal everything that is "unnatural" because it has a potentially "destructive nature on the human body," a whole lot of things would be on the chopping block including childbirth, contact sports and processed foods. Third, and finally, if Pastor Wooden and his lot are so dedicated to following the letter of the bible and turning it into law, I'm curious, for example, why I don't see him and his followers promoting an amendment to ban the death penalty in NC, or a national ban on the military. (And I could go on: we're all familiar, I'm sure, with the Bible's stance on slavery, shellfish, etc.). Here's hoping for more air-time that draws attention to the pernicious ways that the US legal system is in the thrall of a single-minded religious-political-sexual doctrine that wraps its bigotry in prayer.

May. 10 2012 04:58 PM

I agree that marriage as a sacrament vs marriage as viewed by government are and should always be two completely separate ideas. I don't believe any church should be forced to recognize marriages that are not supported by their faith, but they also should not have the ability to make the government view marriage only through the lens of their faith.

May. 10 2012 03:32 PM
anna from new york

Ann, it's strange that in such a lengthy comment you forgot to differentiate between a religion and pretensions. American assertions of religiosity are comical since only a tiny minority is religious (on some margins) and the rest is religious on Saturday (or Sunday) only. Yes, I mean to say that the rest is hypocritical in a country where it's respectable to be religious. In other words, it does make a difference whether one accepts or opposes because of genuine belief or not. Please don't let me die from laughter by insisting that Obama or Cuomo (or any other American politician) are religious.

May. 10 2012 12:07 PM

I have followed this thoughtful comment stream with great interest. One of the things I wished I had had time to stress this morning in the brief window allowed me is the crucial difference between marriage as a civil right and marriage as a religious sacrament. Churches, synagogues, and mosques are free to sanctify same-sex marriages; they are also free to refuse to do so as they see fit. Although Pastor Wooden asserted his own religious objections to same-sex marriage, religious views on this subject vary tremendously. In fact, many religious groups do support same-sex marriage: from the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists to Reform and Reconstructionist Judaisms. (Rabbis in Conservative Judaism are permitted to perform same-sex marriage, although the Conservative Movement as a whole has stopped short of authorizing same-sex marriage.) This freedom for religious communities to say yes or say no is in keeping with a vital component of First Amendment religious freedom: free exercise. However, another vital component of the religion clause is disestablishment. In a nation in which Church and State are constitutionally separated, religious claims cannot set the terms for secular public policies or laws. The state should not be in the business of picking and choosing which religious marriages are valid. The state is neither a church nor a referee among religious viewpoints. Let religious groups follow their convictions and say yes or no in accordance with their deeply held views; but let everyone have access to the *civil* rights and benefits of marriage on an equal basis.

Of course another elegant solution would be to get the state out of the marriage business altogether with civil unions for all, gay or straight. National healthcare would also take care of one very material reason many same-sex couples NEED civil marriage: to be able to access heathcare insurance via a spouse. If we all got healthcare as a human right, and not through the luck of our employment situation, that would even answer to some of Anna's and Angel's desires to focus on the "real" issues. I guess my point here is that same-sex marriage -- the reason many gay and lesbian people want and need it, in fact connects to just these issues. (Personally, I do not think gay marriage is enough; it would not address larger issues of social justice, such as the pressing need for universal access to healthcare.)

May. 10 2012 10:24 AM
anna from new york

Angel, I agree with you to a degree. I would add "that extremely wealthy, very powerful and privileged gay activists are diverting attention from the most important issues, such as barbarity of American workplace, lack of access to health care, affordable education and housing." They are practicing some form of gangsterism.

May. 10 2012 09:34 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

The Constitution is the first and last word for governing this nation. It is NOT a bible, any bible.

The whole problem with gay marriage is the word "marriage" which is a religious tenet and has no business in government. I can't help but feel that homosexual activists are using the government in their push to be accepted by their (or their parents') religion. So it's a war between two extremes and the majority of the population, tolerant of both groups, are caught in the middle.

All of these social non-issues are holding us back from our true dream of being the best nation on Earth.

May. 10 2012 09:23 AM

Let's just say that "marriage" should be defined as Woodsen implies, then WHY write an amendment that prevents civil unions or domestic partnerships? By his thousands of years argument, that pretty much implies that Woodsen would also have supported maintaining slavery. Further, he is stating that we should draw the definition of marriage from the New Testament, which implies that this argument should be defined by Christianity and that religion alone and yet it should be applied to all people regardless of their religious beliefs. Further, we need to find out what his argument would be if a person had a sex change (and that argument goes in both directions, if a hetero married couple has one partner who changes sex and the idea of a man marrying a woman who used to be a man.)

May. 10 2012 09:15 AM
anna from new york

People, people, people, "principles" and Obama can't be used in the same sentence. Charlatans don't have principles. Obama supports gay marriage for the same reason, Cuomo supports gay marriage.
I've watched something indicative. Kenneth Cole, a gay ex(?)-brother-in-law of our governor had a huge billboard in support of gay marriage. The bill passed. Kenneth Cole replaced this billboard with the one which promoted his new line and RIGHT-WING CAMPAIGN AGAINST TEACHERS AND UNIONS. I am not making this up.
These are you "liberals" (look like far, far, far, far right to me). What a confused, idiotic nation.

May. 10 2012 08:15 AM
Wayne from Massachusetts

Congratulations to Celeste for preventing this discussion from turning into a "false equivalency forum". She did a great job of calling shenanigans on Dr. Wooden's slippery slope arguments and on his misrepresentation of what The Bible does and doesn't endorse.

May. 10 2012 08:12 AM

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