Is the LGBT equality movement the civil rights movement of the 21st century?

Story and slideshow by RENEE ESTRADA

Explore the Utah Pride Center and the Office for Equity and Diversity.

Throughout America’s history there have been movements toward equality. Americans who felt alienated or limited by the government protested, petitioned and fought for their rights.

The African-American civil rights movement followed after and spanned three decades, the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Currently, the LGBT equality movement is under way. The basis of the equality movement is to allow gay, lesbian and transgender couples the right to marry and all the rights that come with it, including, but not limited to health insurance benefits, tax benefits and estate filings.

According to David Frum of the Daily Beast, proponents of marriage equality have called it the “civil rights movement of our time.”

Not everybody is happy about this, including Frum and Jack Hunter, another conservative opinion columnist.

In Hunter’s article, “Why Gay Marriage isn’t the 60’s Civil Right’s Fight,” he argues, “There have been instances during the gay-rights movement that arguably could be compared to the black civil rights struggle, like the Stonewall riots of the 1960s or Matthew Shepard murder in 1998. … Still, with the possible exception of the mistreatment of Native Americans, there has been nothing quite like the systematic exploitation and institutional degradation experienced by earlier black Americans.”

Edward Buendía, an associate professor in the ethnic studies department at the University of Utah, disagrees with this notion.

“One of the arguments, against this movement as a civil rights movement, is that you don’t have lynching,” Buendía said in a phone interview. “Yes, there are not gay people being lynched, but we do have individuals that have lost their lives. Some people believe you have to be on the same level of scope to legitimize it and from my point of view, one life is too many to lose.”

In Frum’s article, “Let’s not call marriage equality the civil rights movement of our time,” he argues, “And while homosexuality has always had a large stigma attached to it, the number of gay people denied a job because of their sexuality just utterly pales in comparison to the number of black people denied jobs because of their skin color.”

Frum’s statement brings up another point. You can see when someone is African American. Meanwhile, you cannot see that someone is a homosexual.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has endorsed same-sex marriage. According to a statement from the organization, “The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the ‘political, education, social and economic equality’ of all people. Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens.”

Regarding the endorsement, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said at a press conference, “Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.”

In 2004, Utah residents voted to amend the state constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriage. In 2013, three couples challenged it. One of the couples is married in Iowa, but the marriage is not recognized in Utah.

Considering the Advocate, a national gay and lesbian news magazine, named Salt Lake City the gayest city in America in 2012, the statewide same-sex marriage ban is interesting. Granted some of the criteria were more humorous than serious, but the title still revealed Salt Lake City has a large, active, gay community.

“They [same-sex marriage bans] don’t make sense. They are restrictive and anti-people, because anytime the government says, you as a people, even though you didn’t do anything wrong, we are going to deem your existence illegal. That’s discrimination, and that’s wrong,” said Max Green, Equality Utah’s advocacy coordinator.

Green also offers another point. He believes the equality movement is taking an approach that is not seen very often. Supporters and advocates are tackling the most challenging aspect, and then moving on to more basic issues.

“This is the first time we’ve seen a sort of top down approach to an equality movement,” Green said. “In all other movements we’re seen bottom up. With the Civil rights movement, it was let’s start with something like desegregating the buses and desegregating schools, and then desegregating the military … so they went from the base up to the top. With the marriage equality movement it’s really starting at the top and going down, which is an interesting way to do things.”

Civil unions are offered as an alternative to same-sex marriage.

Thomas Allen Harris, who directed and produced a short documentary titled, “Marriage Equality,” disagrees with this alternative.

During an interview with NPR, Harris said that civil unions create a second-class label for gays and lesbian couples, making them less than heterosexual couples.

Some same-sex marriage advocates, including the three couples who are challenging Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, believe these bans are illegal, because of the decision affirmed by Loving v. Virginia.

The case Loving v. Virginia dealt with the legality of interracial marriage. According to a story in Slate, Mildred Loving and Richard Loving were sentenced to one year in prison for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that the act violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was clear in the decision of the court that the Justices found this to issue to be a civil rights issue.

In 2007, Mildred Loving issued a statement for her support of same-sex marriage.

“I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry … said Loving. I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life.”

Some say Loving v. Virginia has paved the way for Hollingsworth v. Perry, given their similarities.

Hollingsworth v. Perry is a case that was heard by the US Supreme Court on March 25, 2013. Plaintiffs argued Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California, violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The decision of Hollingsworth v. Perry will not be out until June 2013. It seems until then Americans will have to see if the court deems same-sex marriage to be a civil rights issue.

Buendía sees the legal aspect is where the two movements intersect and share the most similarities. There were been many legal battles over segregation, and there are ongoing legal battles over LGBT rights, including housing and workplace rights.

While the movements bear some resemblances, it is clear there are distinct differences.

“We have to be careful of the significant difference for some people around race and color versus gender and sexual orientation,” Green said. “For some people those qualities don’t mix. We have to respect that and be aware not to rob someone of their identity.”