Gay Rights Are Civil Rights

Gay Rights Are Civil Rights
by: Dr. Maura J. Cullen

(This article is from and is written by Dr. Maura J. Cullen)

Our biggest tragedy as a country was the enslavement of Black people who were stolen from their native lands and forced into slavery. In order to end this tyranny, courageous people risked their own lives in what has become known as the Civil Rights Movement. This movement was forged on the backs of People of Color and has become a force that has changed the face of America. Because of its success it now serves as a powerful model for every civil rights movement that followed.

There is a saying that history repeats itself and without a doubt that is what is currently taking place in this country with the gay rights movement. People who supported slavery, denied white women and people of color the right to vote, were all on the wrong side of history by denying people’s basic human and civil rights. And today, there are many who are still on the wrong side of history by denying gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans basic civil rights.

We are governed, in theory, by a document that allows all citizens the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and where all people are treated equal. Yet it is very apparent that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans are exempt from these equal rights. That is how it is now, but not as it always will be, because as history demonstrates, justice will eventually prevail, but unfortunately it always takes a fight.

This country was founded on the premise of protecting the minority view, of allowing all voices to be heard and to provide equal rights for ALL Americans. Democracy has never been a majority rules proposition and nor should it be. Many fled to this country to escape religious persecution. Now, many of those very people’s ancestors are the same people persecuting gay Americans today.

Same-Sex Marriage

The religious-right has taken it upon themselves to be the torchbearers for denying equal rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. They assert that permitting same-sex marriage would jeopardize the institution of marriage. It is challenging to take this claim seriously given that heterosexuals have a divorce rate of close to 50%. You can’t blame that failure on gay people. In fact, it is hard to believe that same-sex couples could do any worse than their heterosexual counterparts in the marriage department.

As a lesbian couple, my wife Dawn and I were legally married in the great state of Massachusetts, which was the first state to permit same-sex marriage with all of the rights and benefits that go along with it. We have since moved to Maryland, a state that does not recognize nor permit same-sex marriage. As a result, we no longer have the rights that we had once experienced in Massachusetts including health care. We are now once again relegated to second-class status.

Yet history is repeating itself. Just as same-sex couples are now denied the right to marry in most states, there was another group of people in our history as a nation who were also denied the right to marry.

It was not until 1967 that inter-racial marriage was legalized. As a result of the case of Loving v Virginia, all race-based legal restriction on marriage were prohibited. Opponents believed inter-racial marriages to be repugnant, abhorrent and an attack on morality. Sound familiar?

In 2006, South Africa became the 5th country to legalize same-sex marriage. This is impressive given apartheid was legal until 1994 and where the impact of unequal treatment is still apparent today. South Africa has done what the United States has yet to fully grasp; they have taken a lesson from their own history and are determined not to repeat that painful chapter by imposing injustice on a different group of people.

Military—Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Until the 1954 decision of Brown v The Board of Education, legal segregation existed in the U.S. Military. Black soldiers have participated and died in every war this country has fought and has done so with distinction.

The 1994 passage of the Clinton’s administration of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy prohibits anyone who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the armed forces of the United States, because it “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”

To date, over 12,500 gay and lesbian soldiers have been forced out of the military as a result of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. These soldiers have served with distinction. They are willing to lay down their lives to bring democracy to other countries, yet they are denied equal treatment in their own. Military men and women have been trained to handle all situations and yet we have dismissed 12,500 well-trained soldiers because some of the heterosexual soldiers are afraid they may make a pass at them? The United States military is over-taxed with our involvement in so many regions of the world and we cannot afford to lose so many qualified and talented people.

It is time that we as a country learn from our past mistakes. These mistakes have taken a huge toll on all of us. Some history does not bear repeating.

About The Author

Dr. Maura Cullen is the author of the bestselling book “35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say: Surprising Things We Say That Widen the Diversity Gap”. She is a highly-acclaimed diversity trainer who has educated and inspired people worldwide in over 400 universities and organizations on how to be more inclusive and authentic when communicating with others. With over 25 years of experience as a keynote speaker and her doctorate in Social Justice & Diversity Education from the University of Massachusetts , she is widely considered one of the nation’s foremost authorities of diversity issues today. Visit

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One Reply to “Gay Rights Are Civil Rights”

  1. I agree America's history of slavery is tragic. The Civil Rights Movement did demonstrate our society's ability to evolve, however bear in mind it took another 100 years from the resolution of the Civil War for African Americans to enjoy the full protection of the law.

    You said:

    "This country was founded on the premise of protecting the minority view."

    That is true, however it is only part of several premises of our founding documents. I think it is fair to say that our strain of Democracy was built to protect the rights of the individual while having the government represent the popular will. We elect people who get the majority of votes, not the other way around.


    "Many fled to this country to escape religious persecution. Now, many of those very people’s ancestors are the same people persecuting gay Americans today."

    This is a non-sequitur that I wanted to explore. It is more accurate to say that the Puritans were expelled from England. They were crazy religious extremists that the Crown did not want to deal with so they were packed off to cold and dismal America. What did these people do when they got here? Killed native americans and burned women because they were "witches". Is it surprising that some of the ancestors of these people would not look favorably upon "Queer" people.

    "They assert that permitting same-sex marriage would jeopardize the institution of marriage."

    The Religious claim that same-sex marriage would jeopardize the institution of marriage is ludicrous. Religious organizations have absolutely no place in dictating public policy. The fact that the Religious Right does exert so much influence in this arena only indicates that there is a strong public will from perhaps another "minority" of people who do not believe gay people should be allowed to marry. Their view is certainly protected.

    This is one of the trickier parts of securing same-sex marriage rights. Although the separation of the church and state is another of the premises of our founding documents, the fact remains that you cannot separate yourself from your beliefs. There are a great many people in government office who are religious and that certainly affects their judgement in the administration of their duties. I have no idea as how to go about solving this except that if more gays and lesbians found themselves in public office that would do a lot to change the political culture. For instance all the states that recognize same-sex marriage have a higher number of openly gay politicians in office.

    "The United States military is over-taxed with our involvement in so many regions of the world and we cannot afford to lose so many qualified and talented people."

    That is so true! Whether the conflicts we are involved in are justified is another open discussion. Did you hear about the Arabic translator (of which there are already a deficit) who was discharged from his duties because he was gay? How does something like that even happen?

    I have heard stories of roman legions where entire units were composed of homosexual males. The rationale was that these men who were all intimately connected with each other and surely had lovers would fight harder to protect those they loved. Whether that is true or not, it is interesting to think about.

    Thanks for the article!

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