Marriage Equality is the New Civil Rights Movement

It’s probably been fairly obvious for a while that I am a supporter of marriage equality.  I have always viewed same-sex marriage as a cut and dry case of civil rights. I believe that marriage is a governmental institution, not one that belongs to the church. Marriage, in its many forms, pre-dates the church. And as discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in New Zealand, it is obvious to me that to deny same-sex couples the right to marry is discriminatory.

I myself got married fourteen years ago, on a bright winter’s day in June. I hardly thought about marriage as a right back then. All I knew was that I was in love with a beautiful girl and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. It was a case of opposites attract, and we had no idea how much work our love was going to take, but here we are all those years later, and the cliché is true. We are more in love than ever before.

For us, marriage was a right of passage, the beginning of a journey that forced us to grow up like nothing else could. Statistically speaking, marriage improves every success marker for the couple and the children that may come from that marriage. Marriage done well makes everything better – and I can vouch for this. Marriage is also the ultimate gift. There is no other commitment quite like it. Marriage is the fullest demonstration of love that can be given from one person to another. It’s an amazing, life-giving transaction and it can only build stronger families and therefore stronger communities. Why would we want to withhold this incredible gift from anyone?

After watching Selma recently I finally came to the conclusion that the current battle for marriage equality is akin to the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960’s. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue. It has similarities with the world-changing battle that Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis and many others fought (and sometimes died) for. Marriage, for the spiritual, emotional, physical and legal benefits it offers, is a civil right.

In New Zealand we have been fortunate enough to have had both civil union and same-sex marriage legalised. But until same-sex marriage was legalised couples who were joined by civil union could not avail themselves of the Matrimonial Property Act, or adopt children. In other countries where same-sex marriage has not been legalised, gay couples are significantly disadvantaged. They are withheld rights to hospital visitations, medical decision making, adoption, parenting rights and automatic inheritance, among other rights.

John Lewia on Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965
John Lewis on Pettus Bridge in 1965

You may not recognise the name John Lewis, but he was with Martin Luther King on the bridge at Selma, and is considered one of the ‘Big Six’ civil rights leaders. He is the only member now still alive. He is a Christian and has been an American Congressman for more than 25 years. If there is anyone who has the right to compare the fight for marriage equality with the civil rights movement it is him. He was there in the thick of it then, and judging by his political and religious positions he is still in the thick of it today. There is literally no one else on the face of the planet who can look at these two issues, compare them, and speak to them with as much authority as John Lewis.

As a response to President Obama’s public support of Same-Sex Marriage Congressman John Lewis said:

Once people begin to see the similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences, they come to recognize that equality is essentially a matter of human rights and human dignity.

Even as early as nine years prior to President Obama’s public statement, John Lewis was beating the drum for marriage equality. In 2003, the man who was at the front of the march with Martin Luther King wrote an article for the Boston Globe that stated:

“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.”

Sometimes it takes courts to remind us of these basic principles. In 1948, when I was 8 years old, 30 states had bans on interracial marriage, courts had upheld the bans many times, and 90 percent of the public disapproved of those marriages, saying they were against the definition of marriage, against God’s law. But that year, the California Supreme Court became the first court in America to strike down such a ban. Thank goodness some court finally had the courage to say that equal means equal, and others rightly followed, including the US Supreme Court 19 years later.

Some say they are uncomfortable with the thought of gays and lesbians marrying. But our rights as [human beings] do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being [human beings].

John Lewis today
John Lewis today

He couldn’t be clearer; the fear and intolerance that leads people to seek to withhold the right for same-sex couples to marry is the same as the “fear, hatred and intolerance” that Lewis and the civil rights movement faced in the 1960’s.

As a follower of Jesus I want to be in the camp that stands up and speaks out for the disenfranchised. I want to speak up for those whose voice is not always welcome, not always heard. You can throw all the bible verses you like at me, and I’ll say simply that Jesus’ commandment to love one another trumps them all.

Some people may be unaware that the work I do for elephantTV is done jointly with my wife Idoya Munn. Although I am the presenter of the episodes, behind the scenes the project is carried 50/50 between us. This is the first post in a series, and we’ve written the next one together.

As I said in my earlier post, genuine comments and healthy, constructive conversation are welcome.