Thursday, October 1, 2009

On Same-Sex Marriage: An Open Letter to Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist whom the U.S. Congress eventually called the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement". On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.

In 1960 four black freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro strolled into the F. W. Woolworth store and quietly sat down at the "whites only" lunch counter. They were not served, but they stayed until closing time.

Dear Miss Parks:

Didn't anyone tell you that the seats in the back of the bus are identical to the ones in the front? That they're made of the same fiberglass and vinyl? That seats in the front have old pieces of chewing gum stuck underneath them, just like the seats in the back? That neither seat is particularly comfortable for your back after a long day's work?

Didn't anyone every tell you these things, Miss Parks? Didn't you know?

Someone must have mentioned it, but there you were, pushing your uppity self onto the bus and sitting right down in the front. In a seat that wasn't meant for you. In a seat that was meant for someone else. Someone who had a right to it. What could you have been thinking, Miss Parks?

And there's another thing, Miss Parks. While we're at it, I feel compelled to point out that the food served at the Woolworth's lunch counter was not all that, Miss Parks. Maybe, in fact, probably, there was some negro restaurant right there in Selma or Mobile or Montgomery that served better food than anything they ever even thought to serve at the Woolworth's counter. And I bet a person could get a better milkshake, too. Didn't anyone tell those young people that making a big stink over those seats at the counter was a waste of time? That there was perfectly good food to be had in the colored section of town? Why, then? Why sit down and demand to be served? What did they have to gain?

President Obama opposes same-sex marriage, but supports the idea of civil unions that provide same-sex couples with the same rights as marriage. Let's ignore the fact that civil unions do not, in fact, provide same-sex couples with the immigration protections and privileges that heterosexual couples enjoy, or that a little something called Social Security is a federal program which does not recognize civil unions. Let's not even get into the 1,100+ federal programs that pertain only to male/female couples who are legally married, and not to people in civil unions. Let's ignore the lie about civil unions being almost exactly like marriage in every way. Because, you know what? Even if that were true, "almost" is not good enough, anyhow.

Let's instead, think about another right. Maybe voting. How would it be if one group (I don't know, white men, maybe) had always been denied the right to vote ? And then, as a concession, the new president stated that he felt white men should have all the same basic rights as everyone else, except, techincally, for the right to vote. Let's pretend that, instead, the new president would like to set it up where white men could "opinionate" on election day. In other words, when all the rest of the world was voting, white men could stand on line to "opinionate." Their votes wouldn't really count, in terms of really swaying anything. And the rest of the world would still be the only ones allowed to actually vote. In all other ways, though - standing in line, getting into a booth, having confidentiality - in those ways, voting and "opinionating" would be exactly the same. And when white men had kids, if their kids were boys, they'd have to tell them that, one day, when they were old enough, they could, of course, "opinionate", but not vote. Because voting was for everyone else. For girls. And black people. And Hispanics. God, after all, wants it that way, they'd have to explain. And, really, "opinionating" is almost exactly like voting. Would that feel very nice? Would it be fair? Would that tiny difference in rights seem irrelevant and insignificant? Would it be fair to say that the little white male child who has just found out he can never vote still has all the same opportunities as every other child? That he can still dream and hope for the same things?

I don't think so.

The minute a person - child or adult - finds out that there are very real limits, due to discrimination, to what he or she can actually hope to achieve in life, things change.

I did not grow up dreaming about marriage. Lots of people do, though. And they should be allowed that dream. Even if they're queer. Liberal straight people, who don't want to find fault with the presidential candidate they fawned over in so many shows of political correctness, liberal straight people who are still basking in the self-congratulatory afterglow of the inauguration love to spew the neat, little lie that civil unions are exactly the same as marriage, and every bit as good. And then most of them run out and get married. Funny that!

And really, how dare anyone say it's not a big deal, or that civil unions are almost exactly the same as marriage, or that gays are making a big deal over something irrelevant. Especially a mixed race president - the product of a marriage that, not so long ago in American history, would have been illegal.

How dare anyone who enjoys a privilege take it for granted in such a cavalier way, when others hope and pray for that same, basic privilege to be theirs before they die. When thinking about why the right to marry is important to same sex couples in America, think about Miss Rosa Parks. Civil rights pioneer. Warrior. Stroppy woman.

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Later, recognized as the mother of the American civil rights movement, she noted,
"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.....the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Getting a seat on the bus was not what the greater civil rights movement was about in America. Getting a husband or wife isn't really what the gay rights movement is about. Miss Rosa Parks didn't care about that seat on the bus - that front seat that was almost exactly like the back seats. She saw the bus rules as a festering symptom of a greater systemic injustice.

Those seats in the front of the bus were not all that comfortable, and they were made of the same stuff as the seats on the back of the bus, but you sure as hell wouldn't tell that to Miss Rosa Parks. Nor should any of us have the audacity.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves


FlyingPeanuts said...

Pres. Obama likes to refer to himself as a "fierce advocate" for LGBT issues. I hear that and I laugh, but I mostly get mad. With a "fierce advocate' like that, I need no more enemies.

The back of anything isn't good enough for anyone; "almost" isn't good enough for anyone; "as good as" isn't good enough for anyone. It's just not good enough. Period.

Simone said...

What drives me crazy about this whole thing is how obviously this is "separate but equal" and that people can't see it for what it is. It's not different, it's the same thing.

I used to cringe when my teachers would say this, but history does indeed repeat itself.

ocean1blue said...

And darn that pesky 14th Amendment! People keep thinking that "Equal" protection applies to EVERYONE; that the Bill of Rights gives EVERYONE the same rights. It is gonna be hard to make the US Constitution go away. Lord knows Pres. Bush tried.

Snapper said...

I recently had a discussion/debate about this issue with a friend who is a very nice, very intelligent, open-minded person. His reaction to the whole same-sex marriage debate was, "you just need to be patient and wait." I pointed out to him that, as nice as heis, he is still a heterosexual, married, white home-owner with a 6-figure salary. When the fuck was the last time *he* had to wait for *anything*?

Wait, my ass. Del Martin died in 2008,58 years after falling in love with Phyllis Lyon. She spent a huge chunk of those years fighting for same-sex marriage rights. She fucking DIED waiting.