Catching up on the post-election email avalanche I found this reflection by Peter Laarman -- Executive Director of Progressive Christians Uniting -- that deserves a "Here, Here!"
I was grateful this morning to friends and family members who understood, without my having to say anything, what I would be feeling upon hearing that Californians had voted anti-gay discrimination into the state constitution. They knew I would share in the exultation over Senator Obama's historic victory while also wondering how many of the people chanting "Yes We Can!" on election night had lent their support earlier in the day to a "No You Can't" measure appearing on the same ballot.
My sister, a lawyer in Wisconsin, wrote this to me: "What on earth are people doing taking away other people's civil rights/liberties that have already been given a legal blessing? But then this is the story of a lot of things - such as a woman's right to choose -for many decades." My ex-boyfriend wrote from Florida that "it might be time for us to create our own version of the Montgomery Bus Boycott."
Barack Obama didn't write a personal note, but he said this in Chicago and it came back to me with renewed force this morning: "It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day."
Obama was tweaking a familiar quotation. Martin Luther King used the same image in his great "Staying Awake" speech: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." King himself was quoting firebrand abolitionist Theodore Parker. But neither Parker nor King spoke of everyday people putting their hands on the arc of history, even though their own lived examples of passionate activism implied that positive change requires precisely this kind of individual and collective audacity.
I do not have a precise roadmap to offer, but I know for sure that the way forward for gay people and their allies now is not to mourn for too very long, and certainly not to retreat from the public stage. We need to put our queer hands on the arc of history!
Given the many legal benefits that only equal marriage rights can confer, it's not too much to say that Prop 8 and similar measures elsewhere have enshrined a 21st century form of Jim Crow. Putting it this way will doubtless offend many African Americans, but I believe that the historical analogy is indisputable.
Civil disobedience and public shaming (soul force) eventually undid Jim Crow. I humbly suggest that LGBT people learn from this history. We should not waste our energy vilifying the straight majority or vilifying the anti-gay bigots. We need to rise above their level. We need to demonstrate courage and discipline in ways that will shame the majority and bend that arc of history yet again toward liberty and justice for all.