Eve Tushnet asks whether the fight for equal marriage rights is "the new civil rights struggle". No, it's the same struggle. It's a struggle to ensure that one's legal rights do not depend on race or sex. It's a struggle to recognize that we are all first and foremost human beings. Representative John Lewis, a true civil rights leader who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, recognizes this. Last October he wrote in the Boston Globe:
We hurt our fellow citizens and our community when we deny gay people civil marriage and its protections and responsibilities. Rather than divide and discriminate, let us come together and create one nation. We are all one people. We all live in the American house. We are all the American family. Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles, and dreams. It's time we treated them as equals, as family.
This recognition of common hopes, troubles, and dreams lies at the core of the civil rights movement. In 1969 Representative Shirley Chisholm, another great leader in the civil rights struggle, gave a speech on the floor of the US House introducing the Equal Rights Amendment. She explained why discrimination against women persisted:
The unspoken assumption is that women are different... The fact is that a woman who aspires to be chairman of the board, or a Member of the House, does so for exactly the same reasons as any man. Basically, these are that she thinks she can do the job and she wants to try.
Today we see the same argument used to try to prevent same-sex marriage. People claim same-sex couples are different than opposite-sex couples. They say marriage is designed only for straight couples and that gays and lesbians are trying to marry for the wrong reasons. They see gays and lesbians as something different, something other. Their relationships are not worth the same amount of respect or dignity. People should and will realize, though, that same-sex couples share the same dreams. They want to get marrried for the same mix of reasons. They too want to protect their families. They too could use some help in caring for them. It doesn't matter if the people opposed to same-sex marriage think they are doing it for noble reasons. Some people opposed to equal rights for women thought they were protecting women and were ensuring that children were cared for by their mothers. The blindness to our common aspirations is still insulting and damaging. I am hopeful, however, that people are starting to recognize that same-sex couples aren't different. We discover in our friends and family someone who is gay. We want that person to have the same opportunities in life that we have. This is the key to winning the struggle for civil rights.