There’s one problem with the National Organization for Marriage’s pro-Tom Emmer ad that invokes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message of equality and tolerance to oppose gay marriage: According to his late widow, King supported gay equality.
The TV ad, created with the Minnesota Family Council, uses some tricky rhetoric, equating the right to vote in elections – presumably a reference to the Civil Rights Act, which gave African Americans that right in 1964, four decades after white women got the right – to the right to vote on constitutional amendments, like ones supported by NOM and MFC that would ban same-sex unions. It uses the term “civil rights” – a term some have used for the right of gays and lesbians to legally marry – in a debate that has long talked referred to “civil unions.” And it upends rhetoric used by many marriage equality advocates, who liken the prohibition against same-sex marriage to segregation-era laws that barred whites from marrying blacks.
With imagery of King and civil rights rallies in the ’60s superimposed on the U.S. Constitution, the ad slyly suggests that those promoting marriage rights for LGBT people are somehow in opposition to King’s values.
Ed Brayton, a science blogger and editor of our sister site in Michigan, wrote just after the 2006 passing of Coretta Scott King, that Mrs. King said “her husband believed that all struggles for equal rights were bound together and that it was necessary to fight against bigotry in all forms, not merely the form that affected you personally”:
“We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny…I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be,” she said, quoting her husband. “I’ve always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy.”
She was unabashed in linking anti-gay sentiment to other kinds of bigotry: “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.”
Since gay marriage wasn’t an issue in King’s lifetime, he didn’t specifically weigh in on this issue, but given Coretta Scott King’s strong statements about his thoughts on discrimination against all people, gays and lesbians included, it’s hard to believe the National Organization for Marriage and the Minnesota Family Council is being faithful to King’s spirit by tying their cause to his.
While one King is a NOM backer – Alveda, a niece – it’s MLK’s widow who was closest to the slain civil rights leader and, presumably, most in tune with his values. Herself an ardent opponent of gay marriage bans, Mrs. King said in 1994:
For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law…I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” On another occasion he said, “I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.” Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.