Dear Dr. Martin Luther King;
A very close clergy friend of mine each year writes a letter to you that assesses the current state of racial and other matters against the background of your significant leadership. His letter is read throughout the United Methodist Church and beyond because of its quality, consistency and his prominence.
This year on the eve of what would have been your 83rd birthday on January 15th I also pen these words with the hope that they may help to bridge a justice gap that continues to exist in 2012.
I am a proud foot soldier of the civil rights movement --Mississippi Freedom Summer, the March on Washington, the Selma to Montgomery March and the March in Boston that you led in April of 1965.
When we first met at our alma mater, Boston University School of Theology in 1958 when I was 24 and you were five years older, I always addressed you as Doctor as my way of celebrating your academic achievements that were linked to your justice leadership.
Today if you were still with us, I think you would agree that there is still a justice gap that we must address.
This justice gap exists among some persons who affirm the legitimacy of the struggle for racial civil rights, but have not yet embraced the civil rights struggles of gay, lesbian, bisexuals, and transgender persons (GLBT).
Most persons acknowledge that the civil rights movement was the name of the effort that you and so many others led to achieve racial justice. But, some believe that the human/civil rights efforts to achieve justice for GLBT persons and same sex couples somehow transgresses upon the unique specificity of the quest for racial justice of the Civil Rights Movement.
I, as an African American straight ally and advocate of gay rights and a foot soldier in the civil rights movement disagree with those who believe that the negation of the gay rights movement somehow is necessary in order to give proper respect to the black rights movement that we all know as the Civil Rights Movement.
Whenever I encounter words and attitudes that deny one movement in order to respect another Movement, I remember your words in “Letter From Birmingham Jail", Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." I believe that persons who have no doubts about the legitimacy of the racial justice movement, but deny the legitimacy of other justice movements isolate and thus weaken their arguments for racial justice.
Finally, Dr. King, many of the arguments against Constitutionally-granted justice for gay persons and couples are shaped by a kind of biblical interpretation that links Bible to bias. We experienced that in the Civil Rights Movement as some persons resisted racial equality on biblical grounds. But our Movement proclaimed to the nation that bias, no matter how deeply rooted in biblical interpretation or cultural traditions, could not, should not and would not defy or deny the equal justice language in our national Constitution.
We believed on matters of race that in the USA, some persons could not be more equal than others. If that is true on matters of race, it must be true for all persons, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Our discussions and debates within religious bodies will continue, but those debates must not weaken the concept and practice of equality that defines and describes who we are as Americans.
Gilbert H. Caldwell
Retired United Methodist Minister
Asbury Park, New Jersey
Member of the national Board of PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays)