There was a contentious exchange on Morning Joe Thursday, and Jonathan Capehart, usually an excellent spokesperson on LGBT issues, sort of dropped the ball. The argument involved the need for a referendum on same-sex marriage in New Jersey and in Capehart’s defense he was up against the state’s governor Chris Christie who recently vetoed a bill to legalize those marriages. Capehart stance was that a civil right should not be subject to a popular vote.
Christie is both an overwhelming presence and a bully who ends most arguments by telling his opponent to shut up, which he did a little more politely than usual, informing Capehart he wasn’t about to “be cross-examined by you.” I could almost hear the words “by the likes of” preceding the pronoun.
With Christie no longer engaging, Joe Scarborough jumped in, asking Capehart and Harold Ford who was also on the show if they thought there was a moral equivalency between same-sex marriage and civil rights in the 1960’s, except Scarborough, who is rapidly devolving into the biggest non-Fox jerk on television, couched it something like this. Would you compare the status of how a relationship is recognized by a state to little children being blown up in a church? Or by Bull Conner tearing the flesh off of people because they want to eat at a lunch counter?
Harold Ford quibbled around the edges, arguing about whether marriage was a civil right, but eventually said no, he would not compare the two. Capehart (who, in case you don’t know is both gay and Black) was nodding his head vigorously while Ford spoke and blurted out “Yes” the minute Ford finished.
Then Capehart gave what was a very moving response. I am paraphrasing just a bit, but I think I got most of what he said.
“Yes, because it is an issue of civil rights, equality of rights, an equal treatment under the law issue. If I were to get married to my partner and if we were to have children would my children have the same protections as your children have because you can legally marry? No one is asking for special rights or special favors, we are just looking for the same rights and responsibilities and the same protections that come with marriage. “Looking at this overall it is a civil rights issue. What Afro-Americans continue to struggle with is exactly what gays and lesbians are struggling with today.”
Yes, Capehart’s answer was obviously heartfelt, but he should have gone farther. He should have more directly met Scarborough’s rather ham-handed challenge, especially since equivalency is a herring the right has trailed repeatedly, especially since Christie suggested a referendum a few weeks ago. It needs a stronger rebuttal. Maybe it is arrogant of me, but despite the fact I am old and straight I feel the need to make it. Please allow me, for a moment to do a Lawrence O’Donnell and rewrite Jonathan’s answer,”Joe, I think you are looking at things with a microscope rather than a fish-eye lens. First of all, while the Afro-American struggle for civil rights was certainly a dangerous and bloody one, many gays and lesbians have also died or suffered, and like the little girls in Birmingham or the marchers in Selma they were beaten or killed whether they were protesting or going quietly about their business solely because they were different. Surely the pain, humiliation, and loss suffered by any minority because of discrimination are equivalent to that of any other.
“And would you have questioned the passion of those marchers in Selma or Birmingham on the basis that it was only a lunch counter? I hope you could have seen that struggle as one for all the rights that Afro-Americans were being denied, not just a single perhaps less than consequential one. They were denied service but they were also denied the vote, equality of education, housing, and employment. Each one was a battle that was fought separately, each is still being fought in isolated battles today and each was necessary to win the war. And each is a battle that the LGBT community has been and continues to wage. The right to marry our partners is just one of those battles, but it is crucial to the war.
“And that Joe is the point you, and Christie, and all of the other people who question the importance of the right of marriage seem to miss. Denying us the right to marry says that society considers us to be lesser citizens, lesser people than the rest of you who can marry and this opens us up to every other kind of discrimination from those who need little excuse. As long as we are not treated the same as everyone else when it comes to any of our rights or responsibilities the bullies will feel free to beat us in the streets, employers to refuse our resumes, and landlords to turn us out. And our youth will continue to feel so hopeless they take their own lives.”
Then Capehart should have said, “Moral equivalence? Absolutely, and like my rights as a Black man in 1960, my rights as a member of the LGBT community must not be subject to majority rule.”