Last week, in a poignant moment of
historical continuity, two civil rights movements separated by half
a century, but unified by a common struggle, crossed paths. On May
16, the state of Massachusetts granted its first same-sex marriage
license, while the very next day, citizens around the country
gathered to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Supreme
Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.
In an uncanny coincidence, the Brown decision was not merely
celebrated the day after Massachusetts issued its first gay
marriage permit but provided the legal precedent that made the
Massachusetts High Judicial Court’s ruling, forcing the state
to legalize same-sex matrimony, possible. Despite their temporal
separation, both watershed developments were unintentionally
observed together, reaffirming their common rejection of the
separate but equal philosophy.

Mira Levitan

Although Brown sent the Plessy v. Ferguson
“separate but equal” precedent regarding racial
segregation into the annals of history, the Massachusetts court
showed that the Brown decision established a precedent that
transcends the limits of race relations. The current movement
championing civil equality for homosexuals is, in many ways, an
extension of the original civil rights movement of the 1960s, as
yet another minority community strives for equal rights and legal

Of course, in an effort to sidestep the highly-combustible issue
of gay marriage, many politicians have embraced “civil
unions.” It is argued that these “unions,” while
not called marriage, provide benefits similar to those that
marriage bestows. Hence, a gay couple, while excluded from
marriage, is still entitled to the same rights, albeit under a
different name. However, if it is to be accepted that
“separate but equal” creates inherent inequality, then
the civil union / heterosexual marriage dichotomy is unsustainable.
Upon recognizing this paradox, the Massachusetts court forced the
state to issue gay marriage licenses.

Unfortunately, many elected officials remain oblivious to this
contradiction. Even in traditionally liberal circles, gay marriage
is not accepted. John Kerry, junior senator from Massachusetts and
presumptive Democratic candidate for president, has publicly stated
his opposition to gay marriage, calling instead for a system of
civil unions. While John Kerry calls marriage an institution
between one man and one woman out of one corner of his mouth, he
extols the virtues of Brown from the other. This example of
divided logic only begs the question: if one accepts the premise of
Brown, how can one simultaneously support the intrinsic
segregation created by relegating homosexual couples to civil

If we follow the reasoning of the Massachusetts court and
observe civil unions as an extension of the failed “separate
but equal” doctrine, it is then merely a question of time
before the right to marriage becomes universal. While civil unions
were a well-intentioned attempt to provide legal protections to
same-sex couples without tackling the dangerous issue of gay
marriage, they only institutionalize unequal treatment for
homosexuals. In the end, politicians, as well as citizens, must
realize the fundamental hypocrisy behind supporting Brown
but opposing gay marriage in favor of civil unions. For the promise
of Brown to be fulfilled, its precedent must be extended to
all frontiers in the struggle for equal rights.

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