By John Blake, CNN
(CNN)– Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was writing an advice column in 1958 for Ebony magazine when he received an unusual letter.
“I am a boy,” an anonymous writer told King. “But I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don't want my parents to know about me. What can I do?”
In calm, pastoral tones, King told the boy that his problem wasn’t uncommon, but required “careful attention.”
“The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired,” King wrote. “You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.”
We know what King thought about race, poverty and war. But what was his attitude toward gay people, and if he was alive today would he see the gay rights movement as another stage of the civil rights movement?
That’s not the type of question most people will consider on this Monday as the nation celebrates King’s national holiday. Yet the debate over King’s stance toward gay rights has long divided his family and followers. That debate is poised to go public again because of the upcoming release of two potentially explosive books, one of which examines King’s close relationship with an openly gay civil rights leader, Bayard Rustin.
The author of both books says King’s stance on gay rights is unclear because the Ebony advice column may be the only public exchange on record where he touches on the morality of homosexuality.
Yet King would have been a champion of gay rights today because of his view of Christianity, says Michael Long, author of, “I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters,” who shared the story of King’s Ebony letter.
“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,” says Long, also author of the upcoming “Keeping it straight? Martin Luther King, Jr., Homosexuality, and Gay Rights.”
Did King’s dream include gay people?
One person close to King, though, would disagree.
Rev. Bernice King led a march to her father’s graveside in 2005 while calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. She was joined by Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Church in Georgia, where she served as an elder at the time. Long, who recently settled out of court with four young men who filed lawsuits claiming he coerced them into sexual relationships, publicly condemned homosexuality.
King did not answer an interview request, but she has spoken publicly about her views.
During a speech at a church meeting in New Zealand, she said her father “did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage.”
Yet her mother, Coretta Scott King, was a vocal supporter of gay rights. One of her closest aides was gay. She also invoked her husband’s dream.
Ravi Perry, a political science professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said King’s widow once said in a public speech that everyone who believed in her husband’s dream should “make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
There is no private or public record of King condemning gay people, Perry says. Even the FBI’s surveillance of King’s private phone conversations didn’t turn up any moment where King disparaged gay people, she says.
“If Dr. King were anti-gay, there would likely be a sermon, a speech, a recording of some kind indicating such,” she says. “And knowing how closely his phones were tapped; surely there would be a record of such statements.”
Those who say King did not condemn gays and would have supported gay rights today point to King’s theology.
Though King was a Christian minister, he didn’t embrace a literal reading of the Bible that condemns homosexuality, some historians say. King’s vision of the Beloved Community – his biblical-rooted vision of humanity transcending its racial and religious differences – expanded people’s rights, not restricted them, they say.
Rev. C.T. Vivian, who worked with King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says King would have championed gay rights today.
“Martin was a theologian,” Vivian says. “Martin starts with the fact that God loves everybody, and all men and all women were created by God. He based his whole philosophy on God’s love for all people.”
King’s relationship with ‘Brother Bayard’
Those who say King would have championed gay rights also point to King’s treatment of one of the movement’s most important leaders, Bayard Rustin.
Rustin was an openly gay civil rights leader who is widely credited with organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He was an organizational genius, the man who insisted that King speak last on the program, giving his “I Have a Dream” speech the resonance it would not have had otherwise, says Jerald Podair, author of “Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer.”
“He was the kind of guy who could tell you how many portable toilets you needed for 250,000 people in a demonstration," Podair says. “He was a details guy. King needed him for that march.”
But Rustin could do more than arrange a demonstration. He was also a formidable thinker and debater. He was born to a 15-year-old single mother and never graduated from college.
The movement was led by intellectual heavyweights like King, but even among them, Rustin stood out, Podair says. He read everything and was a visionary. One aide to President Lyndon Johnson described him as one of the five smartest men in America, says Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“People who heard him speak were transfixed,” Podair says.
Rustin became one of the movement’s most eloquent defenders of its nonviolent philosophy, says Saladin Ambar, a political scientist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
“He was one of the few individuals not afraid to debate with Malcolm X in public,” Ambar says. “Rustin more than held his own and really challenged Malcolm to push his thinking.”
Rustin was a special assistant to King and once headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. During the planning of the March on Washington, King resisted calls to jettison Rustin because he was gay, Podair says.
King, though, didn’t speak out on behalf of gay rights because he was doing all he could to hold the movement together, historians say.
He had to constantly fend off rumors that the movement was infiltrated by communists. He was also criticized for expanding the movement to take on poverty and oppose the Vietnam War.
“The movement superseded any discussion of gay rights,” Ambar says. “King was dedicated to the cause at hand.”
With all that was going on, King couldn’t afford to wage a public campaign defending Rustin’s homosexuality, says Vivian, a SCLC colleague of King’s.
“Any employee that would employ a gay person at the time who was outwardly gay would have problems,” Vivian says. “I don’t care if you were the president of the Untied Sates, you would have trouble doing that.”
After the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin remained as King’s adviser. The two, however, drifted apart when King became more radical during the last three years of his life, says Adair, Rustin’s biographer.
When Rustin died in 1987, he was starting to receive attention from gay and lesbian activists who linked civil rights with gay rights, Podair says.
Rustin was a late convert to their cause.
“He never put it [homosexuality] front and center,” Podair says. “He never politicized it until the end of his life. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
It’s no longer unusual today for gay and lesbian activists to draw parallels between their struggles and King’s legacy. Vivian, King’s SCLC colleague, says the comparison is apt.
“There was a time when black people were afraid to be themselves among white people,” he says. “You had to fit a stereotype in order to be accepted. They’re going through the same thing but now they feel better about themselves.”
Vivian says the movement shouldn’t be limited to race.
“As we were freeing up black people, we’re freeing up the whole society.”
Long, author of the upcoming books on King and Rustin, says King’s vision transcended his personal limitations. Maybe he could have said more to that anonymous boy who wrote him at Ebony. But he did leave him a key to the Beloved Community– even if he didn’t realize it at the time, Long says.
Now, Long says, it’s up to those who claim King today to use that key.
“A turn of that key and a gentle push on the gate, swinging it wide open so everyone can enter into the Beloved Community,” he says. “That’s the best way to advance the legacy of Martin Luther King.”
C'mon, MLK lived in an era when gay meant happy. Historical figures should only be judged within the framework of the society they lived in.
If they can do a Three Stooges remake, why can't they do an Amos and Andy remake?
Sorry, I cannot buy into this story. MLK truly believed in telling others to always consider, "What Would Jesus Do?". MLK was able to stop the aggression of his followers, just by reminding them to consider what Jesus would do if he were present.
So what do you think your mythical Jesus of the slave owner manual bible do? Arrest all gay and lesbian Americans, stone us to death and set us on fire?
His wife said he would be FOR equal rights for gay people. Do any of you people really think you know him better than her?
Doesn't have an illegitimate child? Perhaps she didn't know him as well as she thought...just saying.
Even his wife really can't know what the Reverend Doctor would have thought 44 years later. He was an intelligent and thoughtful man. His thoughts would doubtlessly have evolved over 44 years, but there is no way to know how they would have evolved. He was 39 years old when he expressed his last thoughts. Today, he would be 83. How many people who are 83 still think the same way they did when they were 39? Find a couple The Kings were married about 15 years, but 15 years does not predict 44 more.
It really is disrespectful of anyone to put words into the mouth of a man 44 years after his death.
"It really is disrespectful of anyone to put words into the mouth of a man 44 years after his death."
Really, so the scribes that added to the bible about the story of jesus you don't respect and the fact it was written 50 – 70 years after he died. That would be awesome.
"Really, so the scribes that added to the bible about the story of jesus you don't respect and the fact it was written 50 – 70 years after he died. That would be awesome."
It is one thing to continue to report a quote from someone even centuries after his death. But it is quite another to INVENT new words for a person.
"But it is quite another to INVENT new words for a person."
I know like the word homosexual being added later in Cor. by bias and prejudice scribes!
Whatever ideas, demons, or hatred people may hide or encourage inside themselves, one thing is certain...every man is free to live. And he whom ever thinks he is better or can preside over the life of another is damn3d.
Blacks in MLK's day fought for human rights. Gays today are fighting for a piece of paper that confers some tax benefits. No one can compare the two without insulting MLK.
Blacks fought for acceptance (and still are) just like gays today are fighting for acceptance. It's more than just a piece of paper for tax purposes .. but if I have to explain, you really didn't want to know anyway.
Tax benefits? Wow someone doesn't have a clue what they're talking about.
Filing joint income tax returns with the IRS and state taxing authorities.
Creating a "family partnership" under federal tax laws, which allows you to divide business income among family members.
Estate Planning Benefits
Inheriting a share of your spouse's estate.
Receiving an exemption from both estate taxes and gift taxes for all property you give or leave to your spouse.
Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts.
Obtaining priority if a conservator needs to be appointed for your spouse - that is, someone to make financial and/or medical decisions on your spouse's behalf.
Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses.
Receiving veterans' and military benefits for spouses, such as those for education, medical care, or special loans.
Receiving public assistance benefits.
Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse's employer.
Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.
Receiving wages, workers' compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse.
Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse's close relatives dies.
Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility.
Making medical decisions for your spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to express wishes for treatment.
Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures.
Making burial or other final arrangements.
Filing for stepparent or joint adoption.
Applying for joint foster care rights.
Receiving equitable division of property if you divorce.
Receiving spousal or child support, child custody, and visitation if you divorce.
Living in neighborhoods zoned for "families only."
Automatically renewing leases signed by your spouse.
Receiving family rates for health, homeowners', auto, and other types of insurance.
Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities.
Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families.
Other Legal Benefits and Protections
Suing a third person for wrongful death of your spouse and loss of consortium (loss of intimacy).
Suing a third person for offenses that interfere with the success of your marriage, such as alienation of affection and criminal conversation (these laws are available in only a few states).
Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can't force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications between you and your spouse during your marriage.
Receiving crime victims' recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime.
Obtaining immigration and residency benefits for noncitizen spouse.
Visiting rights in jails and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family.
That's only one aspect of the Gay liberation movement
You're right Barnaby .. IF we all (society) say that it's OK to marry little girls then yes, that's what is culturally acceptable. However, what's culturally acceptable is NOT necessarily right. If two consenting adults wish to marry, who are you, or society for that matter, to say it isn't OK.
It was MLK's deep biblical conviction that racism was a sin (e.g., Gal.3:28). That was his prophetic message – especially to the racist South (pointing out their hypocrisy WITHIN their own system).
There is no such biblical conviction supporting ho'mos'exuality. That's where this article's analogy fails.
"There is no such biblical conviction supporting ho'mos'exuality."
That's funny, then explain all the gay churches, the pastors, clergy, rabbis, nuns going on recorded stating being gay as we know it today is not a sin. Then try to explain how the laws are changing so gays can get married. It's people like you that cherry pick the scriptures so they can feel justified in their hatred and bigotry that are the stupidity of this country.
@GuessWhat: you are making a cultural appeal. I said there's no such biblical conviction.
Lots of people claim to follow Jesus but do radically different things. What does the source say?
Mr. Russ is exactly correct. One must always remember that the Reverend Doctor King was first and foremost in his own mind a Baptist Minister. And when it came to morality and spirituality, he was actually quite conservative. If you want to try and guess what he might think about some issue today, look at what other conservative Baptists of our day think.
My GUESS is that the concept of gay marriage would have horrified Rev. King.
In other words Russ, he just believed in parts of the bible...not the whole book itself. Hmm.... 1 Corinthians 6:9
"Lots of people claim to follow Jesus but do radically different things. What does the source say?"
No where in your bible does it condemn the saved loving relationship of gay people as we know and understand it today.
Ok wait for it folks, the good ole standby of prejudice and bigotry will now be cherry picked from the bible. All of which can be shown not to disclaim what i am saying...waif for it.... wait for it...
@UnLost: I can't figure out if you've misread me or the passage you site. But clearly it's one or the other.
LOL! the world homosexual was added later and has nothing to do with what we know about gays today. Uh...male prostitution anyone?
@GuessWhat: it sounds like you've bought into the notion that such relationships were unknown in those days.
Read Plato's Symposium (400 years b/f the New Testament). Aristophanes' speech makes exactly that claim. It's a Jerry Maguire ('you complete me') type argument – exactly like today.
SUM: the ancient Hellenistic culture articulated the same basic values the ho'mos'exual agenda is advancing. Paul's negative response to ho'mos'exuality then still holds now.
@GuessWhat: 1 Cor.6:9 lists two forms. According to Bruce Metzger (the leading Greek NT scholar of the last 50 years), these are the two words for both the dominant & submissive parties. And for clarification, Rom.1:26-27 (also Pauline) state the case more directly.
"the ancient Hellenistic culture articulated the same basic values the ho'mos'exual agenda is advancing. Paul's negative response to ho'mos'exuality then still holds now."
wow are you really that stupid? Paul was writing about using sex to worship a pagan god, (don't forget to read the above scripture to get the full text.) Plus in Roman culture men raped their slaves for dominance. That has nothing to do with the saved loving partnership of gay people as we know and understand it today. Do you really think they knew about the differences in the brains, that the hormone leves in the womb, that it's not a mental illness? Really? You can't be that stupid.
@ GuessWhat: name-calling doesn't help the discussion. Let's keep it about the substance.
As I said, read Plato's Symposium, Aristophanes' Speech. It's same view of relationships that the current hom'os'exual lobby advances and claims didn't exist before – and that's a popular Hellenistic view 400 years before the New Testament was written.
Secondly, 1 Cor.6 is not solely about temple worship. It's about Christians misusing their bodies in general. The Corinthians have written Paul asking him questions. He's answering them.
Finally, Rom.1 clears this entire question. It is a direct statement that is an overarching appeal to our created intent. This is not simply about temple practices. Paul is addressing humanity's broken existence and citing hom'os'exuality as one example among many (as the 1 Cor.6 vice list shows).
"Paul is addressing humanity's broken existence and citing hom'os'exuality as one example among many "
Wow are you a brainwashed christian or what it's prejudice bigots like you that is ruining our society. Paul's writing from the perspective of a straight man, he has no clue about gays as we know and understand it today. That it has to do with their brains, how the are developed in the womb, no he doesn't have a clue. Most of Romans culture was about using sex to worship pagan gods and that is spelled out in Romans 1 or are you picking and choosing again, skipping over that part. There were no gay marriages back then, no loving partnerships, unless of course you want to look at David and Jonathan or Ruth and Naomi or Daniel and Ashpenaz. All Paul saw and condemn was how Roman culture was using male prostitutes, worshiping their gods and using gay sex to be dominant over other men, it has NOTHING to do with the loving partnership of gay couples today. When a gay couple is christian, married before their god, they do not sin, now think about that for a moment before your prejudice heart kicks in with another stupid response.
@ Duh: simply saying "they had no idea of modern love" is not a worthwhile argument. i'm not just saying "yes they did;" i'm giving you an example. read Aristophanes' Speech in Plato's Symposium. he describes hom'os'exual love in exactly the terminology we use today (e.g., Jerry Maguire: "you complete me!").
Don't just say "there were no... loving partnerships." That's not being honest about the complexity of ancient society. And – as a result – it's an oversimplification of Paul's counter-argument.
"hey had no idea of modern love"
Nice twisting job you must be a christian. Where did I say that? I was talking about the science behind it moron.
@Duh: you said: "it has NOTHING to do with the loving partnership of gay couples today". I put quotes around what I thought was the same idea ("they had no idea of modern love") mainly to clarify that it was your idea but not mine.
If that is what has offended you, help me understand how that is not the same idea. If not, I welcome your thoughts on my main point: that very notion not only existed but was demonstrated in a majorly influential Hellenistic work 400 years prior to the New Testament.
"welcome your thoughts on my main point: that very notion not only existed but was demonstrated in a majorly influential Hellenistic work 400 years prior to the New Testament."
Again, they did not understand the brain, the womb and psychology the way we do today, especially since the experts today have shown that what was written in the past was done by bias and prejudice people! If you are trying to refer to Sodom and Gomorrah, then that can be cleared up in Ezekiel. or didn't you comprehend that either? By the way got to love sodomy cause it includes both gays and straights or are you so prejudice you only refer to it as gays. LMAO!
@Duh: they may not have had the same scientific precision we have, but the foundational psychological premise is there – and that's the primary discussion here.
If I'm hearing you correctly (and I'm reading you in light of a the prevailing cultural take on this), the contention is that the ancient world had no idea of the psychological and genetic complexity of this discussion. At a basic philosophical level, that contention is both ethnocentric (oversimplifying the depth of their understanding b/c they are somehow 'primitive' despite factual evidence to the contrary) and mistaken (as I repeatedly point out: read the Symposium).
All the foundational arguments for orientation that are popular today are seminally present in Aristophanes' Speech. Love as completion in another, being 'made that way', etc. Saying that's not the case is simply refusing to read what Plato has written. It lacks academic integrity.
"Aristophanes' Speech. Love as completion in another, being 'made that way', etc. Saying that's not the case is simply refusing to read what Plato has written. It lacks academic integrity."
What you are not addressing is that it's written from the perspective of being straight. There is no way they knew about the brain as we do since mir's didn't exist. Now, please provide where in that speech it talks about gays as we know it today.
In today's news....MLK day hijacked by the gay rights movement...tx, CNN!!!!
CNN has once again trivialized a topic for the sake of popularity. Their McNews approach obscures the real issues at hand.
What is the purpose of speculating about the opinion of someone not here to give it. In that case, what would George Washington think? How about good old Ben Frank? Point being, it was not addressed by these men or any other law maker for a reason. Being gay is a personal choice, not a civil right.
Rev. King is a proven rocket engine. It's not surprising that others are going to try and hitch their wagons to his legacy. It's shameful... but not surprising.
I fought against racism though – I am white, I fought against mysogeny and for women's rights – though I am male, I also fought against the Viet Nam war and against the draft. Through all of those movements, I always believed that one day it would be "our turn" to regain our rights – gays and lesbians! As Kate Millet stated at the first National Gay/Lesbian Rights March on Washington in October of 1979, "And remember that they neither granted nor withdrew them (our human rights), they only stole them! So keep fighting and keep loving and soon there will be enough!"
if you leave religion out of it and it should be left out of it...we are the same as any other tax paying citizen..the only problem with us is were LAZY and never have really organized and fought for our rights like the black folks...any black person that has been discriminated against should never open their mouth about a group that is the number one target of discrimination today. Since we are the same as any other tax paying citizen we should have the same rights..its really that simple..
Mr. Bellestarrr prefaces his remarks saying, "if you leave religion out of it and it should be left out of it..."
But you absolutely can not leave religion out. The Reverend Doctor King was just that: a Reverend Doctor. He was a Baptist minister. He was not an M.D., a doctor of medicine. No. His doctorate was in theology, religious stuff. He was a deeply religious man. All that he did was motivated by his religion as he explains in his Letter from Bermingham Jail.
If you want to know the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior, you absolutely must begin with his religion. And if you want to speculate about what he might think about some topic today, you must consider that religion because he certainly would have.
What does it matter what he might have thought, he's dead and was dead long before gay rights became an issue. Therefore, this story is a non-issue.
YOu can't compare a behavior to an immutable trait. Giving civil rights based on how someone feels is not right. Perversion is never a right.
Do heteros have perversions or are you just pretending that only gays do?
Well guess what Granger, many felt that way when whites first started marrying blacks, bigotry just has a different cause now.
My great uncle had the same beliefs about African Americans, although he called called them by a different name.
IF we all say it's OK to marry little girls then they have to let us marry just like guys marrying guys
consenting adults mr. jones, consenting adults. it's pretty simple.
Apparently it's still too simple for him to understand.
Polygamists can be consenting adults, too...so that should be legal as well.
Market Saturation .. why not? How does that hurt you?
Maybe we could stretch MLK to include all of our pet interests. What did he have to say about global warming, the whales, the Palestinians, or fathers' rights?
Maybe the way too solve the gay marriage issue (at least from the legal standpoint) is to let them marry. Then, like heteros did in the 1960's, they can say "to h*ll with marriage let's just shack up everyones' doing it and it's only a piece of paper anyway (though we're terrified of signing it !) After awhile, gay people will make marriage as irrelevant as heteros have.
Very Well Put Catholic Engineer!!!!!!!!!
Mr. Engineer is exactly correct. And thinking just as an engineer should: not looking too far beyond what the data supports.
The Reverend Doctor was only 39 when he was killed. He would be 84 today. We do know two things about him for sure which I suspect would have endured to this day: First, he was a deeply religious man and his motives were religious, and, second, that he was a very thoughtful and intelligent man. How his thinking would have evolved over 44 years can not be known.
It is very disrespectful to put works into the mouth of a man 44 years dead.
Do we really care what his stance may or may not have been? He is dead. Good riddens : )
GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!!!! I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE ALWAY TRYING TO COMPARE CIVIL RIGHTS WITH GAY RIGHTS...... THIS COUNTRY IS GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL...
Nope. Things are looking up. Bigotry is dying out. For the first time, the majority of Americans support gay marriage.
I know how you feel. My little girl friend is sad I cant marry her. Stupid laws keep me from marrying my 10 year old girlfriend... we love each other. Come on little girls stand up for your right to marry an olderman.
Ah the typical cry of the hom/ophobe – conflating gay marriage with pedophilia, beastiality, ra.pe, etc ad nauseum.
The magic words are "INFORMED CONSENT", dig?
I don't believe you for a second. You're just a troll, nothing more. Begone, you have no power here!
Hurry...soemone plow my buttHole until the HotFudge spews like an eruption from Ole Faithful.
Wow do you have low self esteem or what, you should seek professional help.
I would think that MLK would respect the person without condoning the behavior.
The behavior is not yours to condone or not condone.
U think that because you are a goober gobblin fool.
Jake- Maybe not, but that doesn't mean I have to respect the behavior or think it equal to mine. I can relate to the person who engages in the activity and treat the person as an equal. Can you do the same for me?
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.