The Blog

Same-Sex Marriage:
Hijacking the Civil Rights Legacy

The indiscriminate promotion of various social groups' desires and preferences as "rights" has drained the moral authority from the civil rights industry.

12:00 AM, Jun 1, 2006 • By EUGENE F. RIVERS and KENNETH D. JOHNSON
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Moreover, the analogy of same-sex marriage to interracial marriage disregards the whole point of those prohibitions, which was to maintain and advance a system of racial subordination and exploitation. It was to maintain a caste system in which one race was relegated to conditions of social and economic inferiority. The definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman does not establish a sexual caste system or relegate one sex to conditions of social and economic inferiority. It does, to be sure, deny the recognition as lawful "marriages" to some forms of sexual combining--including polygyny, polyandry, polyamory, and same-sex relationships. But there is nothing invidious or discriminatory about laws that decline to treat all sexual wants or proclivities as equal.

People are equal in worth and dignity, but sexual choices and lifestyles are not. That is why the law's refusal to license polygamous, polyamorous, and homosexual unions is entirely right and proper. In recognizing, favoring, and promoting traditional, monogamous marriage, the law does not violate the "rights" of people whose "lifestyle preferences" are denied the stamp of legal approval. Rather, it furthers and fosters the common good of civil society, and makes proper provision for the physical and moral protection and nurturing of children.

Well-intentioned liberals shudder upon hearing the word "discrimination." Its simple enunciation instills guilt and dulls their critical faculties. But once malcontented members of any group--however privileged--can simply invoke the term and launch their own personalized civil rights industry, the word has been emptied of its normative and historical content.

Defending the civil rights legacy should prove cold comfort to its historic advocates, because the loss of its distinctive nature is our own fault. It was our failure, philosophically and politically, to develop a compelling historiography of the movement that contributed to its decline and decay. From the teaching in schools, to the use of the phrase in political discourse, the notion of civil rights has been diluted, ahistoricized, and nearly emptied of content in relation to the lived historical experience of black Americans.

It is especially sad and disturbing that many self-proclaimed civil rights leaders have failed to resist corruption and co-optation by the homosexual movement. People who should be vitally concerned with promoting marriage and rebuilding the institution of marriage in African-American communities are either silent or complicit in a campaign which, if successful, will trivialize marriage.

In light of the prospect of judicially mandated homosexual marriage, we believe that black leaders--and especially black clergy--need to speak forcefully in favor of President George W. Bush's proposal for a Federal Marriage Amendment. If their support for true marriage alienates them from their white liberal friends, so be it. No community has suffered more than has ours from the weakening of the institution of marriage at the hands of purveyors of the doctrines of the sexual revolution. It is our sons and our daughters who have paid the costs imposed by a cultural elite that seeks to overthrow cultural and Biblical principles of sexual restraint and responsibility. Leaders of our community should therefore be in the vanguard of the movement to prevent further moral erosion and begin reversing historical declines.

Eugene F. Rivers is Founder and President of the Seymour Institute for Advanced Christian Studies ( and is a pastor of the Church of God in Christ, the nation's largest historically Black Pentecostal denomination.

Kenneth D. Johnson is Senior Fellow for Social Policy and Civil Society at the Seymour Institute for Advanced Christian Studies.