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Paging Dr. King 

Your daughter doesn't get it

"The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom."-- Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The quote above is my favorite moment in King's "I Have a Dream" speech delivered Aug. 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial. The speech appealed to Americans' higher moral conscience and is credited with inspiring adoption of the Civil Rights Act a year later. The genius of this particular passage is its recognition that acts of oppression also limit the freedom of the oppressor. There can be no general presumption of liberty when it is denied by one group toward another.

I'd like to suggest that Eddie Long, pastor of Lithonia's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., meditate upon this passage. They seem to have forgotten the message of the man whose memory they desecrated Dec. 11, when they and thousands of others convened at his gravesite to begin a hateful march in support of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

As is well known, African-American voters generally are more supportive of such an amendment than are white voters. While Long and Bernice King could have chosen -- in a world fraught with increasing violence and poverty -- to march for less manipulatively political reasons, their choice to make gay marriage the focus of their march was pure pandering. Some critics have speculated Long may be trying to position his 25,000-member church to receive funds from President Bush's "faith-based initiative." (Long refuses to discuss the question.)

Typical of right-wing religious activists, Long spoke out of both sides of his mouth. While his website listed gay marriage as the march's primary concern, he also claimed last Saturday that "We are not marching against folks."

Isn't that special? You can gather a crowd with a volatile, hateful issue -- and a pointless one, since the U.S. Congress is never going to ratify such an insane amendment -- and then, once you have everyone assembled, claim that you aren't really taking a stand against people. Nothing makes a pious demeanor more attractive than a hateful agenda.

Many black conservatives enjoy claiming that you can't compare gay people's struggle to that of their own community. Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, feels differently and opposes the marriage amendment. And, as is well known, King himself refused to distance himself from Bayard Rustin, his gay black adviser. Rustin was mainly responsible for organizing the 1963 march on Washington and writing the charter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. As evidence of how ubiquitous the hatred of gay people can be, everyone from Adam Clayton Powell and Strom Thurmond to President Kennedy and his brother Bobby demanded that King give Rustin the boot because of his homosexuality. But King refused.

Although King never addressed the issue of gay rights publicly, it is safe to assume on the basis of his behavior toward Rustin, that he would do so today. How grotesque that Long, whom Bernice King anointed at the march as "the new prophet appointed by God to speak the mind, heart and gospel of God," panders to the current president rather than standing for the freedom of people to love whom they choose.

And, in the way King suggested that the freedom of one group is always tied to that of the other, Americans should understand that the effort to once again control the bodies and hearts of gay people is part of a larger movement to control everyone. That is why the "gay issue" has become so generally important. It is obvious to anyone who suspends religious rumination for 30 seconds that a gay married couple in no way threatens the marriage of a man and woman. But what it does do is destroy taboos and authorizes more freedom of the body -- unthinkable in a society so threatened by its own over-running hedonism that it must sequester and criminalize it.

There has been a huge amount of writing, ever since Hannah Arendt's work on Jewish complicity in the Nazi state, about the way the oppressed can take up the role of the oppressor. That seems to be happening among many in the African-American community in their attitude toward gay people's struggle to secure civil rights.

As someone who participated in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements at a young age, deeply moved by Dr. King's vision of peace and freedom, I feel betrayed by people like Long and Bernice King. Those for whom I marched and was arrested have become my oppressor.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. Write him at cliff.bostock@ creativeloafing.com.

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