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In Perspective: Jon Meacham on the gay rights movement

The late American historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. used to say — usually over martinis, and always over a steak — that self-righteousness in retrospect was easy, and cheap.

As a southerner born after the epic events of the civil rights movement, I’ve always wondered how on earth people of good will could have conceivably lived with Jim Crow — with the daily degradations, the lynchings in plain sight, and, as the movement gathered force, with the fire hoses and the police dogs and the billy clubs.

But live with it they did. Someone like me, looking back from the perch of the present, could still shake his head and wonder what took so long. We would never allow such an evil to stand, we tell ourselves.

Except that we are now in the midst of a crisis of conscience every bit as significant as the struggle against segregation, and too many of us are repeating the mistakes of the past and allowing the worst kind of discrimination, a culture of anti-gay hatred, not merely to endure but to flourish. You don’t have to look far to see the evidence. There is a rising number of suicides of young gay people, often preceded by public humiliation because they are gay. It took a California court this week to order the military to stop enforcing its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And arguments over marriage equality are roiling midterm elections.

Here’s, Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor in New York: “I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family. And I don’t want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn’t.”

He later apologized, but remarks like Paladino’s presuppose that there are two legitimate sides to the debate: that somehow homosexuality is anything other than a part of some people’s identity and humanity in the way skin color or gender is. I believe that my children, who are young, will look back on the early years of the 21st century in rather the same way I look back on the middle of the 20th: as a time when seemingly respectable people supported discrimination against Americans simply because those Americans were different from themselves.

So I am checking my self-righteousness about Jim Crow. We have plenty of work to do in our own time — right now — to live up to the most basic standards of human decency.


  • pwayboy

    My tax dollars help pay for crap like this? What a load of garbage! This is not a news story. It is an editorial and should be noted as such.

  • Jesus




  • Dkbowlin

    Public personalities need to pay especially close attention to Romans 1:32 as mentioned in Rachel Rodgers commentary. Those that accept and approve these behaviors are included in this list of evils. Nobody will ever convince me that this unnatural and evil behavior is anything but a manifestation of Satan’s evil in earthly flesh. Illustration is right here on this page in the comments of “M”. God has given us an owner’s manual for our life here on Earth and it is very clear about sin, including gays so where’s the confusion come from?

  • Anonymous

    Here’s one for the self-righteous bible-thumpers who teach hate rather than love …

    A letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger:

    Dear Dr. Laura: Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination — End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.
    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
    3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
    4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put
    to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
    6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?
    7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
    8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
    9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
    10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-12) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14) I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging. Your adoring fan,
    (Authorship in Dispute)

  • Msnickytee

    It’s shocking that the “Christians” posting these comments advocate violence against gays. This is the stuff of the dark ages. As a Christian, I implore people like Rachel and Dkbowlin to stop maligning our faith with your hate and fear. Jesus would be embarrassed to be associated with you and this nonsense. Please refer to Jim8808′s post for a quick lesson. Thanks Jim!

    here are a couple for you, if you’re too busy to scroll all the way back up:

    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

  • John Burton

    God and Religion have no place for this discussion. It is simply about accepting people who are different than yourself. They are doing no harm to anyone else, so why all the hatred towards them?

  • Guest 5

    Well you see here the dichotomy of people who can pick and choose Biblical words to justify a personal faith and belief in what God did and then what the Son of God Jesus said as written by various apostles and disciple and or sections of the Bible like Genesis and or the new and old Testaments.
    Me I go back to Genesis 1.27 and 1.31 and I temper them with one of the ten commandments which is
    “thou shalt not kill”.
    On the other hand Rachel Muhammed thinks he got Gods message I.E Islamic belief ( same God if you did not know) and Muslim practices more precisely and correctly than your version of lifes moralities where each Muslim man my have more than one wife.. OOooPs! Thou shalt not commit adultery!?
    I then can say that some of us may consider gays, lesbians etc an abomination, but am always unsurprised that all the saints etc Leviticus etc actually knew these imperfections, which like it or not, if you believe in God and Jesus both knew existed as well.
    Today we do not enslave people for being black or in the next nation because we have Christian forgiveness and tolerance not hate and the barbaric stoning to death of adulteresses,because as Jesus said let him ( or her) who be without sin cast the first stone.
    You can justify killing, slaughter ,slavery,all on certain biblical writings and often you can contradict all those by others.
    My Dear Rachel , you need a good dose of tolerance or say what you really believe that all sodomites and Lesbians should be put to death!? But then please tell me how and why you justify that in acordance with certain ten commandments ( given by God to Moses like “thou shalt not kill”) and an almost generic abhorrence of many of the barbaric practices in much of the bible. Certain faiths believe that if one confesses ones sins they can be forgiven by God.
    Can you forgive me Rachel for disagreeing with you or must this hetrosexual be stoned to death for marrying more than once and “maybe” (not saying I did but just hypothetically) even having extra marital sex.
    My point you can justify ostracising almost 90 % of the worlds population if you choose certain specific parts of the bible that are frequently contradictory.
    Enjoy your faith please, and practice your beliefs; all I ask is Homosexual or Hetrosexual you allow me to live my life my way.
    I am not gay, but I do not want to live my life by your Evangelical Christian standards or even Jim 8808 so please respect and tolerate the differences god created; meaning the magic of the world is that each and every individual through out the world is different.
    Guest 5

  • Anonymous

    100% agree! I thought this was Need to Know.. not Our Opinion.

  • In Texas

    While this article tried to compare “Jim Crow” to anti-gay sentiments, I believe that in itself, this article is part of the problem. The article assumes that we are past the “Jim Crow” era. That is false. “Jim Crow” still continues today. We still have official subjecting of African Americans to bondage. We still have officially sanctioned “putting the blacks in chains”. Segregation is still quite strong.

    But “Jim Crow” has gone underground. It isn’t so overt as it was in the past. Today, instead of clearly calling it out by race, we have put the burden on the legal system. We have so many laws, that police have the options of which laws they enforce on whom. Thus, while the laws look like they are for everyone, we have selective enforcement allowing segregation to thrive. So, while the laws on illegal drug use seem to target everyone, blacks are sent to prison for drug use at several times the rates that whites are – even though more whites use drugs than blacks do (in raw numbers of people). In the same way, a law asking police to check immigration status only when stopped for other offenses ignores the fact that there are so many traffic laws on the books that police can stop nearly everyone if they choose to. Almost nobody perfectly obeys all traffic laws. Thus, the police are handed the weapon to discriminate if they so choose (and given plausible deniability).

    Yes, America is conflicted. Yes, we have discrimination today. Yes, gays have troubles. I think that the real question is: “Why does our society need to have someone to discriminate against?” We have done it to blacks. We have done it to Mexican Americans and Native Americans. We did it to the Japanese Americans in WWII. We have done it to homosexuals. Today, many towns are enacting laws keeping some people from living within their borders. How can we move past discrimination at all?

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t agree more.
    It is interesting to see the NAACP come out for the decriminalization of marijuana in California. Martin Luther King was assasinated just at the point where he was beginning to fight for economic justice (and ending the criminal Vietnam War), not ONLY repeal of the “Jim Crow” laws in the south.
    While I fully support equal rights for all people reglardless of there sexual orientation, and I DO believe it is a civil rights issue, I would NOT compare it to the suffering of racial minorities in this country. It is GREAT that we have a “black” president but racial inequalities still persist. Look at the number of black males in prison. Look at the unemployment rate for black americans. Look at the current climate of hate and fear towards Muslims and “illegal” hispanics. We still have a HUGE race problem in the U.S. ,and I don’t see it being constructively addressed by the mainstream media at all. (Except for perhaps on Tavis Smiley)
    As Tavis would say: Keep The Faith, and as Curtis Mayfield would say: Keep On Pushing.

  • Anonymous

    Also take a look at the recent trend of “reverse redlining”; the practice of aggressively selling sub-prime mortgages to blacks, immigrants and other racial minorities, when they might easily qualify for normal housing loans. It is absolutely disgraceful. Again, I fully support equal rights and tolerance for everyone, regardless of their (I spelled it right this time) sexual orientation, but do you see these practices being imposed disproportionally on gays?
    P.S. I’ll say it again: I do not support discrimination against anyone based on their sexual orientation and I do not seek to minimize their plight.

  • Anonymous

    Please disregard the quotes around black when I referred to President Obama. It was a mistake, and I apologize for making it.

  • starlite101

    This editorial was in poor taste. I agree violence is wrong, but please do not compare discrimination based on someone’s skin color to discrimination based on someone’s sexuality. Apples and oranges…….

  • Mark S.

    Apples and oranges? Why? Are not both forms of discrimination against other people? Are you saying that your reason for wanting to treat some citizens as second-class is acceptable, but other forms are not? In the end the wrong is wanting to discriminate against other citizens, not the specifics of race, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, etc.

  • Mark

    You are entitled to think as you like as a member of whatever religious group you belong to. That is not the same thing as living in a civilized society founded on democratic principles. You and the rest of the Raving Religious Right need to see that you live in a country where you must share space with people who lives there lives very differently from your ideas.

    Oh, and by the way, check out 1 Corinthians 12: 14-26, especially the last verse: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

  • Ms54302

    Guest5, I am grateful for your comments. It is refreshing to see a heterosexual man say something supportive about gay people. Thank you.

  • michael_elliott

    are both fruits.