Shelby Steele: From Selma to San Francisco?

Roundup: Media's Take

Shelby Steele, a fellow of the Hoover Institution, and author of A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America (Harper Collins, 1998), in the WSJ (March 18, 2004):

It is always both a little flattering and more than a little annoying to blacks when other groups glibly invoke the civil rights movement and all its iconic imagery to justify their agendas for social change. I will never forget, nor forgive, the feminist rallying cry of the early '70s:"Woman as nigger." Here upper-middle-class white women -- out of what must have been an impenetrable conviction in their own innocence -- made an entire race into a metaphor for wretchedness in order to steal its thunder.

And now gay marriage is everywhere being defined as a civil rights issue. In San Francisco, gay couples on the steps of city hall cast themselves as victims of bigotry who must now be given the"right" to legally marry in the name of"equality" and"social justice." In the media, these couples have been likened to the early civil rights heroes whose bravery against police dogs and water hoses pushed America into becoming a better country."I don't want to be on the wrong side of history," a San Francisco radio host said about gay marriage."Maybe we're looking at thousands of Rosa Parks over at city hall."

So, dressing gay marriage in a suit of civil rights has become the standard way of selling it to the broader public. Here is an extremely awkward issue having to do with the compatibility of homosexuality and the institution of marriage. But once this issue is buttoned into a suit of civil rights, neither homosexuality nor marriage need be discussed. Suddenly only equity and fairness matter. And this turns gay marriage into an ersatz civil rights struggle so that dissenters are seen as Neanderthals standing in the schoolhouse door, fighting off equality itself. Yet all this civil rights camouflage is, finally, a bait-and-switch: When you agree to support fairness, you end up supporting gay marriage.

But gay marriage is simply not a civil rights issue. It is not a struggle for freedom. It is a struggle of already free people for complete social acceptance and the sense of normalcy that follows thereof -- a struggle for the eradication of the homosexual stigma. Marriage is a goal because, once open to gays, it would establish the fundamental innocuousness of homosexuality itself. Marriage can say like nothing else that sexual orientation is an utterly neutral human characteristic, like eye-color. Thus, it can go far in diffusing the homosexual stigma.

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