10/20/06: Discriminatory amendment has other negative repercussions

This op-ed appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on the date shown.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

There is no one more revered in the civil rights movement than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Like a soldier in war, he paid the ultimate price in the battle for the civil rights of blacks in this country. Lest we forget, King was first and foremost a minister, a man of God.

Were he alive today, I believe King would be voting no on Ballot Question 1, the Marshall-Newman constitutional amendment, also known as the “Marriage Amendment”:

“That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

“This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”

The above quote on injustice from King came from his “Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.” He goes on to say: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” So goes this amendment.

King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, came to the same conclusions as I have about where her husband would have stood on this issue. In a speech she gave in 1994, Coretta King said:

“I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband … said ‘I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.’ Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others. … The great promise of American democracy is that no group of people will be forced to suffer discrimination and injustice.”

In an attempt to deny rights to gay Virginians, the legislature has proposed an amendment that goes far beyond that and ensnares any unmarried pairs. Business groups are concerned about its effects on legal agreements and their ability to attract and retain qualified employees. Women’s groups are concerned about its effects on domestic violence laws. All are concerned about this invasion of privacy. For the first time in history, Virginians are being asked on Nov. 7 to take away rights, rather than grant them.

I’m gay, and contrary to what supporters of the amendment will tell you, this amendment is not about gay marriage. Gay marriage has been illegal in Virginia for more than 30 years and will continue to be illegal whether this amendment passes or fails.

What the framers and supporters of Ballot Question 1 are trying to do is to impose a morality on all of us, one that is based on their interpretation of the Bible. This is a familiar tactic and is the same one that was used as justification for denying blacks civil rights.

Amendment supporters have reached out to black pastors, trying to convince them to turn a blind eye to this parallel. Some black pastors have taken the bait, preaching from their pulpits misinformation similar to that of the white bigots of yesteryear.

King discredited that argument more than 40 years ago. His Bible — and mine, and that of my father, also a minister — is one of love and acceptance, not one of hate and discrimination. King gave his life in his belief 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.

In the words of the song sung frequently in our churches, “May the life I live speak for me. May the service I give speak for me.”

Let the life of King, the service of King, speak to us and lead us to do the right thing. Vote No on Ballot Question 1. We should not allow discrimination against anyone to be written into our Bill of Rights.