Early in 2004, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom began giving out marriage licenses—illegally—to same-sex couples. One of the homosexuals who traveled to San Francisco in search of a marriage license explained his rationale succinctly: “I am tired of sitting at the back of the bus.”1
The allusion, of course, was to the famous story of Rosa Parks. Parks is the African-American woman who, one day in 1955, boarded a racially segregated city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, sat down near the front, and refused the driver’s order to “move to the back of the bus.” Parks’ act of civil disobedience violated one of the “Jim Crow” laws that enforced racial segregation in various public services and accommodations in some states.
Parks’ arrest for her courageous defiance sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, led by a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr., which is generally viewed as the beginning of the great civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It culminated legislatively in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning racial discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
The stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. have become an inspiring part of American history. It’s not surprising that homosexual activists have tried to hitch their caboose to the “civil rights” train. They do this in the context of efforts to change the definition of marriage in order to allow same sex “marriages” (by comparing same-sex “marriage” to interracial marriage) and efforts to pass “hate crime” laws (which stigmatize opposition to homosexual behavior as a form of “hate” comparable to racism). The arguments in this essay are relevant to those debates, but focus particularly on laws that would ban employment “discrimination” on the basis of “sexual orientation” (such as the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is regularly introduced each Congress).
This essay is not a legal treatise, but an exploration of the philosophical justification for including various characteristics as categories of protection under historic civil rights laws—and why “sexual orientation” simply does not compare with them.
Defining Terms: What Are “Civil Rights,” Anyway? …
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“Homosexuality is Not a Civil Right” by Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council