Bernice King, daughter of famous civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is once again using her father’s name to speak out against marriage equality.
The younger King has denounced the LGBT community’s right to marry in the past, saying that her father “did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage.” In 2004, King participated in anti-gay Pastor Eddie Long’s protest of marriage equality.
The march, which attracted an estimated 25,000 participants, began at Dr. King’s gravesite.
“It’s painful to know they could ignore the pain of LGBT people and what they did to us,” activist Kevin Bynes, a gay rights activist, said at the time of the march. Bynes protested in favor of gay rights amidst the anti-gay protestors.
Bernice King’s stance against marriage equality has once again brought up the debate over what her notoriously humanitarian father would have thought of today’s civil rights movement. While there is little record of Dr. King’s opinion of homosexuality, many are optimistic that he would have been in favor of gay rights due to his friendship with openly gay fellow civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.
“Dr. King never publicly welcomed gays at the front gate of his beloved community. But he did leave behind a key for them—his belief that each person is sacred, free and equal to all to others,” said Michael Long, author of Keeping it Straight? Martin Luther King, Jr., Homosexuality, and Gay Rights.
Before her death, Coretta Scott King said her husband supported gay rights, and she herself was in favor of LGBT equality.
“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice,” she told Reuters in 1998, just days before the 30th anniversary of her husband’s assassination. “But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’
“I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
But Bernice King, the reverend’s youngest daughter, disagrees and adamantly opposes same-sex unions. However, while she is outspoken against marriage equality, King denies she is homophobic.
“People have labeled me homophobic. If I was homophobic, I wouldn’t have friends who are gay and lesbian, so that can’t be true,” King said in an interview for the August issue of Atlanta Magazine. “But because I have a certain belief system, I am now the enemy. And I’m not the enemy. I have love for everybody, period.”
King’s comment is reminiscent of an earlier scandal in June with celebrity chef Paula Deen, a conservative television host who lost her contract with Food Network after her alleged repetitive use of the N-word, as well as her poor treatment of black employees, enraged the public. Deen later countered the accusations of her racism by claiming she has black friends. The excuse is, unfortunately, a familiar one and is actually studied in social psychology as racial microaggression—an indicator of prejudice.
However, King says she will not lobby for anti-gay laws or policies despite her belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
“When my mother was living they tried to pit us against each other,” said King. “I love my mother and she loved me. They couldn’t divide true love. We had good conversations concerning this whole issue. But I think we have to be careful in our nation that we don’t demonize everyone who doesn’t agree with us. […] I value marriage between a man and woman. Spiritually I value that. Psychologically I value that.”