Do you remember those puzzles you would do as a child, where there was a sequence of pictures and you were supposed to determine which one did not belong? There might be a glove, a baseball, a hockey stick and a bat, for example; clearly the hockey stick does not belong because it is not related to baseball. Well, I felt a bit like I was doing one of those puzzles as I listened to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. In it, he said this:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
The president’s alliterated reference to defining moments in the fight for equality likely went either unnoticed or not understood by many who heard it–especially those of younger generations. As a student and teacher of history, though, it did not escape me.
Seneca Falls is where the first convention focused on women’s rights was held in 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were the most notable names involved probably, but the Declaration of Sentiments that emerged from the convention made it abundantly clear that women wanted the right to vote. Years later, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified these women were up in arms since, for the first time, the Constitution now included the word male when addressing voting rights.
Selma, of course, is the town in Alabama that is usually considered to be the launching pad of the civil rights movement.
But what about Stonewall? Most of us thinking of Confederate general T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson when we think of any historical significance to that term, but the is certainly not what the president had in mind on Monday. Instead, he was referring to the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City where a riot occurred in 1969. The riot was sparked by a police raid on the bar, apparently one of the few bars in the city where homosexuals could gather. Not only were gays openly discriminated against at the time, but it was a crime to serve alcohol to homosexuals. Police were there with a search warrant to investigate reports on the illegal sale of liquor. The result was a riot in which the bar’s patrons began throwing just about anything they could find at the police officers, four of which were injured in the melee. Rioting continued for the better part of a week.
According to Martin Duberman, a professor, author and gay-rights activist who founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at City University of New York, Stonewall became symbolic for the gay rights movement. In 1999, the Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
My contention is that Stonewall doesn’t fit with Seneca Falls and Selma. I am not suggesting that discrimination against homosexuals is okay in the areas of basic rights–making it a crime to serve alcohol to them, for example–but the connection that President Obama was trying to make was that because gay marriage is still not permitted, homosexuals are still being discriminated against. Not too long after the excerpt above, Obama said,
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
Notice he said nothing about housing, employment, voting, even drinking alcohol. I do not know anyone who reasonably and rationally believes that homosexuals should be denied any of those rights. Rather, the president was focused on gay marriage–“the love we commit to one another” he called it. And for it to “be equal as well” he wants marriage to be redefined to include homosexual marriage.
I have addressed this issue in this blog before; homosexuality and gay rights is not the civil rights issue of our day, as so many people like to assert that it is, and as the president seemed to be suggesting in his speech. Why not? Because gay marriage is not a civil right. Homosexuality is not the same as gender or race. Homosexuality is not an irreversible fact of life over which individuals have no control. Even if I were to grant the argument that there is such a thing as a “gay gene” and homosexuals are born homosexual (something I do not grant, by the way) engaging in homosexual behavior is still optional; being a woman or being black is not optional.
Perhaps it should not surprise me, but it does, that Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP, had this to say in response to Obama’s remarks:
In his speech, I think the president did ultimately what he does best, which is to really speak to the commonality across so many different groups in our society, the commonality across so many different struggles for rights, and get right down to the core that at the end of the day, what we’re all seeking to do — and what the freedom fighters at Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall are all trying to do — is just simply move our country towards the realization of its own pledge, that this be one nation, with liberty and justice for all.
We need to wake up. The “commonality across so many different struggles for rights” is no commonality at all when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. Gay marriage is not included in the founder’s embrace of “liberty and justice for all.” Gay marriage is not a right, it is not a civil rights issue, and if it ever becomes the law of the land it will result in a fundamental redefinition of the basic unit of humanity. Oh, and it will throw wide open the doorway to redefining just about anything else, too; if homosexuals are granted the right to marry, after all, how can we deny polygamists the right to marry multiple wives? That is but one example of where that doorway might lead; the others are addressed elsewhere on this site, and for the sake of time and space and climbing out of the mud I will not elaborate here.
Bottom line…Stonewall does not belong, and never will belong, with Seneca Falls and Selma.