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Dr. Martin Luther King and marriage equality

Rev. Gilbert Caldwell
Posted by Rev. Gilbert Caldwell on January 16, 2012

Today we celebrate the birthday and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, whom I met in 1958 at our alma mater, the Boston University School of Theology. I am 78 and he would be turning 83. I marched with Dr. King in Boston and in the Selma to Montgomery March. And I believe if he were alive, his deep reverence for equality would make him a champion of marriage equality today.

Indeed, Dr. King’s words in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail – “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – have served to guide my commitment as a straight ally and advocate of equality for LGBT people. I continue to be astonished that some who believe they are committed to equality have a blind spot when it comes to same-sex couples who want the same freedom to marry that my wife and I have had in our 54 years of marriage.

The celebration of Dr. King gives us another opportunity to remember how racial insensitivity, often expressed in prejudice and bigotry, once was accepted as having legitimacy. Today, many persons find it incomprehensible that some states once had laws against interracial marriage. “God did not intend for people of different races to marry,” some had claimed. Such marriages, allegedly, were going to harm the ‘institution’ of marriage’.”

Sound familiar?

Neither interracial marriage then, nor marriage equality today, have anything to do with protecting marriage as an institution. The challenges my wife and I have had over 54 years have nothing to do with persons in a committed relationship with someone of the same sex who want to marry.

Dr. King once said, “The Church is neither the master nor the servant of the state. It is its conscience.” I am proud that clergy from 19 faiths, denominations and movements in New Jersey support marriage equality. I contend that even those religious bodies that do not recognize marriages of same-sex couples, like my United Methodist Church, should be supportive of civil marriage equality. There is a contradiction in religious institutions adamant about the state not intruding upon their beliefs and practices, who then have no qualms about intruding on the right to civil marriage and Constitutionally determined equality, justice and fairness.

As a civil rights foot soldier, I have been arrested four times for civil disobedience, and today I serve on Garden State Equality’s Board. It is inconceivable that I could be silent about the discrimination same-sex couples face. Dr. King and his foot soldiers reminded the nation that segregation was at variance with a nation built on the promise of equality. That promise is for all, and in 2012, it includes marriage equality.

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