Gay rights and the battle over King's legacy

By Mark Follman

Published January 17, 2005 7:10PM (EST)

The AP's Louise Chu looks at the widely reported split in the King family over the issue of same-sex marriage. Martin Luther King has long been "a handy weapon for both sides to wield," notes NAACP chairman Julian Bond. "We hear all kinds of people quoting him to promote their point of view. But if you're saying Martin Luther King wouldn't do this or would do that without any foundation, that's just your opinion."

While the King's youngest daughter Bernice King and her cousin Alveda C. King participated in a recent march in Atlanta against gay marriage -- they've argued that Martin "did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage" -- those who say King would have supported full civil rights for homosexuals sound far more convincing.

Discrimination of any kind is not something King would have stood for, said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, according to the AP. Lowery co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King. "I don't recall any experience," he said, "that would put Dr. King in the category of excluding people."

"The sight of the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. standing at her father's grave site with thousands of demonstrators to denounce gay marriage was painful," wrote author Earl Ofari Hutchinson in Salon in December. "The Rev. Bernice King and march organizers deliberately chose King's resting place in Atlanta to imply that he would have stood with them. But Martin Luther King's uncompromising battle against discrimination during his life -- and his persistent refusal to distance himself from a well-known gay civil rights leader -- show that King never would have endorsed an anti-gay campaign."

Perhaps more uplifting is news that numerous gay rights groups have taken this year's King commemoration to announce a new alliance with an ambitious strategy regarding civil rights issues.

"To underscore their determination, 22 LGBT organizations, representing a spectrum of political goals and strategies, have, for the first time, released a joint list of priorities," reports the Washington Post. "They include pushing for equal employment opportunities; adding sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes law; fighting for protections for children of LGBT couples; overturning military restrictions on gay soldiers; opposing anti-gay state and federal legislation; and fighting for the freedom to marry.

"The statement of purpose does not specify how the groups plan to coordinate their efforts. But leaders of several organizations described a multi-pronged strategy, including fighting vigorously in the courts, launching a campaign to inform the public about the inequities LGBT couples must confront and lobbying politicians for incremental changes that might get through a Congress or state legislature hostile to same-sex marriage."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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