Martin Luther King's support of gay rights

Yesterday there was this little glurgey chestnut making its way around the various social media, something to the effect of “Martin Luther King would have supported gay rights” or “MLK would have supported gay marriage”. My first reaction was “yes, which we’ll never know since there weren’t any gay people in 1956 :rolleyes:”

But had there been any significant gay rights movement at the time, would MLK have supported it? I think not, and my speculations/observations are:

  1. His major power base was the network of black churches, who were (and still widely are) homophobic.
  2. He was mainly focused on gaining civil rights for blacks - he wouldn’t have seen gay rights as a civil right, since gays were not prohibited from voting.
  3. In all his soaring speeches about equality for every stripe of the rainbow, somehow gays never rated a mention.

So, MLK was a swell guy and he did great stuff for black people, but I think it’s a stretch to enlist him posthumously in the gay right movement. What say you?

There simply was not the same kind of public presence for homosexuals back then. If there were, maybe King would have been (quietly) in favor of helping their movement. As it was, the time was simply much more hostile to gays and King, even if he had sympathy for them (which is debatable) would not have wanted to alienate his heavily-religious constituency by throwing down for them.

So yes, the idea of posthumously enlisting King in anything other than the causes he was directly involved in is kind of a cheap move. You want to make a statement, then build up charismatic leaders of your own and make a case for your activism that is timely and relevant.

FWIW, Bayard Rustin was a prominent Civil Rights leader who was homosexual. It appears he was forced off the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Council in the mid-50s because of his homosexuality, but was still able to help create the March on Washington in '63 with King (he can be seen on the podium behind King in the videos). Don’t know too much about him (and unfortunately don’t have more time now to research further), but he might help provide a clue.

Perhaps the best authority on what MLK might have wanted would be his widow, the late Coretta Scott King. See also these quotes from her.

I can see why you didn’t actually post any quotes from those links, since her endorsement of SSM is tepid, at best. Seems she would be fine with Civil Unions.

For what it’s worth, though, his daughter Bernice disagrees on what her father would think, and has been outspoken against gay rights.

I agree with those people who say it’s impossible to say for sure what King would have thought about gay rights, absent some direct comment by him. And, of course, what King thought about gay rights in the 60s might have been different than what he would think about gay rights now, had he lived.

Wasn’t Bernice, like, four or five when her father was killed? Seems like a bit of a reach to imagine she could have much of an educated opinion on the subject of “what her father would think” about any topic outside of bedtime and stuffed animals.

She would have been five. I think, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what King would have thought about gay rights. He would have either supported them and been right, or opposed them and been wrong.

King did plenty of good already, and we can rightly remember and honor him for that good that he did do. There’s no need to invent positions for him to make him even better.

Meh… well, she’s speculating. We can also speculate that her speculation is revisionist. Based on his rhetoric, he ought to have supported gay rights. But in 1956, his rhetoric didn’t really need to meet that test. I think that had he faced that test, he would have failed. He was so driven toward black civil rights and dependent on the support of a homophobic black church establishment that I think he likely would have pulled an Obama… i.e. “Yes, gay rights, fine and wonderful thing, but not until we get some other things done first.”

This. But is it just the churches, or blacks in general, that are homophobic? I remember a lot of people were shocked that blacks voted overwhelmingly against it in California.

One could try to generalize beyond the churches, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m also not entirely certain to what extent we can make a distinction between African-American voters and the influence of the churches.

I want to dig up a Washington Post story from late last year that showed that young blacks tended to support same sex marriage while older blacks, including many involved in civil rights in the 1960’s opposed it. So it’s the same generation gap on the issue you find with whites.