THE MOVEMENT TO REDEFINE MARRIAGE to include same-sex unions has packaged its demands in the rhetoric and images of the civil rights movement. This strategy, though cynical, has enormous strategic utility. For what reasonable, fair-minded American could object to a movement that conjures up images of Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellows campaigners for racial justice facing down dogs and fire hoses? Who is prepared to risk being labeled a bigot for opposing same-sex marriage?
As an exercise in marketing and merchandising, this strategy is the most brilliant playing of the race card in recent memory. Not since the "poverty pimps" of 35 years ago, who leveraged the guilt and sense of fair play of the American public to hustle affirmative action set-asides, have we witnessed so brazen a misuse of African-American history for partisan purposes.
But the partisans of homosexual marriage have a problem. There is no evidence in the history and literature of the civil rights movement, or in its genesis in the struggle against slavery, to support the claim that the "gay rights" movement is in the tradition of the African-American struggle for civil rights. As the eminent historian Eugene D. Genovese observed more than 30 years ago, the black American experience as a function of slavery is unique and without analogue in the history of the United States. While other ethnic and social groups have experienced discrimination and hardship, none of their experiences compare with the physical and cultural brutality of slavery. It was in the crucible of the unique experience of slavery that the civil rights movement was born.
The extraordinary history of the United States as a slaveholding republic included the kidnapping and brutal transport of blacks from African shores, and the stripping of their language, identity, and culture in order to subjugate and exploit them. It also included the constitutional enshrining of these evils in the form of a Supreme Court decision--Dred Scott v. Sandford--denying to blacks any rights that whites must respect, and the establishment of Jim Crow and de jure racial discrimination after Dred Scott was overturned by a civil war and three historic constitutional amendments.