The other day, my roommates Alex, Kelly and I gathered as we often do in the family room to debrief each other about our days and watch CNN to find out about the world’s problems that our busy day of activities pushed from our minds. Typically, the problems spark dialogue between us, and this day was no different.

While we attentively watched CNN, the news reported the victories that gay people are experiencing in their fight to legalize same-sex marriage, gain civil unions or replace civil unions with marriage in certain states.

As we spoke about our views on gay rights, I began to question internally why I felt that gay people deserved only civil unions and not marriage. My roommates voiced this question as well, and I explained that I felt marriage was a religious institution. Allowing gay people to marry and have their marriage be recognized in a religious institution would be juxtaposing two conflicting ideologies. But when I began to explain my views, I felt challenged by myself. When I looked at the issue from a new perspective, I realized I needed to redefine my stance on this controversial topic.

While I believe Alex understood why I held this stance against gay marriage — though she may not have agreed — it was evident that Kelly did not. Kelly explained that she saw a parallel between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement. At first I disagreed, but I was willing to listen. She explained that these movements were structured by marginalized groups that felt systematically oppressed. She also asserted that both groups called for their political rights to be heard through organized community efforts and for them to be addressed by the lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

I argued that the movements were different because the question of race was contested during the times of the civil rights movement, while the gay rights movement focused on the question of sexuality. While I still feel strongly that differences lie between the movements, I understand and agree with Kelly that a parallel does indeed exist between the two. While both the gay rights movement and civil rights movement have unique characteristics that should not be simplified and therefore generalized, there is undeniable overlapping.

Both movements have fought — and continue to fight — for rights that the majority of Americans exercise freely. Both advocate for people who have been marginalized by society because of their race or sexuality. And perhaps most note-worthy, both movements support the right of these people to pursue happiness, no matter what their definition of that feeling may be. Though these people live in the land of the free, they are restrained from living as they choose and choosing how they wish to live.

I am now a self-declared supporter of gay marriage. This change in philosophy might never have happened if Kelly had not pointed out the similarities between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement. As a human being, I do not have a supreme right to put a constraint on someone else’s livelihood. Nor do I, as an African American, have the right to act as the Jim Crow to another group’s socialization. I don’t have the right to set limitations on the length at which gay people should be able to express their love for each other by only supporting civil unions and not same-sex marriage.

Brittany Smith can be reached at smitbrit@umich.edu.

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