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Tuesday, February 24, 2004  

Blogospherics: Getting it all wrong

Conservative blogger Scott Pepper has posted an entry that is a model of how bloggers pass on inaccurate information. A member of the 'one can always score brownie points by attacking Jesse Jackson' school of thought, he has done so -- without a basis for his vitriol. He says:

While I am a registered Republican, my support for civil rights, particularly for gay marriage, is unequivocal. I do not believe it hurts our society in any way for two committed people, regardless of gender, to codify their union in a civil or religious ceremony.

It's a shame not all Democrats feel that way.

The sentence above takes readers to Pepper's entry at Blogcritics, which he titled "Civil Rights For Me, But Not For Thee."

Speaking before an audience at Holy Cross College in Boston last week, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. marginalized the importance of gay rights as an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.

While not openly condemning gay marriage, Jackson stated, "In my culture, marriage is a man-woman relationship." Yet he was careful to point out that "gays deserve the right of choice to choose their own partner."

While civil rights for gays have been front page news in Boston and San Francisco for days, Jackson predicts the economy and foreign affairs will take center stage as the key issues in upcoming debates. He dismissed gay marriage as a wedge issue and a "Republican tactical strategy."

Most disturbing to supporters of equal rights was Jackson's dismissal of any similarity between civil rights and gay rights. "The comparison with slavery is a stretch," he said, because "Gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution and in that they did not require the Voting Rights Act to have the right to vote."

However, it is not the issue of voting at stake in Massachusetts and California courts; it is the issue of marriage. No one is denying African-Americans the right to marry.

What Jackson's comments reveal is a stunning hypocrisy. [Emphasis mine.] When the civil rights of African-Americans are at stake, Jackson and his supporters are on the front lines of battle, and admirably so. However, when it is another group whose rights are being trampled, their silence speaks volumes.

But, if one reads sources on which the entry is based, one quickly discovers Scott Pepper has omitted important information, fails to grasp the history of the African-Americans and lacks clarity in regard to the topic he is discussing.

First, let's dispense with the ugliest of Pepper's claims. Jackson has not said gay rights are not a civil rights issue. That assertion is made up from thin air.

Rev. Jackson was talking to aspiring priests at Holy Cross when he discussed religious tradition. Based on the context, he appears to be addressing what their pastoral duties are as counselors of people in same gender relationships. He made it clear he does not oppose autonomy for gays in regard to their unions.

"Gays deserve the right of choice to choose their own partners." "If you don't agree, don't participate and don't perform the service," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Clearly, he expects some kind of 'service,' i.e., ceremony, to occur.

Rev. Jackson did say there is a tradition of considering marriage as a union between a man and a woman. I believe he means an American Protestant religious tradition. However, he did not express an opinion about whether it is time for that tradition to change. Perhaps, as Pepper supposes, Jackson vehemently opposes expanding the definition of marriage to include gays. However, it is not our role as bloggers to put words into the mouths of public figures or anyone else. Until Jackson explicitly states opposition to gay marriage, to claim he has done do is to mislead and to misrepresent.

Pepper is equally in error in regard to his criticism of Jackson's take on African-American history. Jackson's remarks are largely accurate. The history of African-Americans in the United States is not synonymous with that of homosexual Americans. In many ways, it has been much more harsh.

"The comparison with slavery is a stretch in that some slave masters were gay, in that gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution and in that they did not require the Voting Rights Act to have the right to vote," Jackson remarked in an address at Harvard Law School.

Actually, the 'three-fifths' language in the Constitution refers to how slaves were to be counted to increase representation of Southern whites in Congress. Slaves did not count as citizens at all and it was not their interests that were being considered. White people, regardless of sexual preference, did count. White men, if they met a few state-imposed requirements and were citizens, always had the right to vote. That tradition continued on. Homosexuals have never been denied most of the rights of citizenship.

In further discussion, Pepper reveals a belief African-Americans have not had attenuated rights in regard to marriage. He could not be more wrong.

•Africans in America (not yet citizens) were denied the right to marry during slavery.

•African-Americans had their marriage rights circumscribed, as did other nonwhite Americans, until SCOTUS' 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia was actually enforced. (At least one Southern state still has a statute barring interracial marriage.)

•The legacy of slavery and unrecognized marriages still impacts African-Americans today in regard to property rights issues, and, some would say, family relations.

Nor is Pepper's blanket condemnation of Jackson as a hypocrite who only supported the civil rights movement justified. The Reverend has been involved in progressive political issues ranging from women's rights to labor to the rights of farmers. He is at least a moderate in regard to the civil rights issue being discussed -- homosexual unions.

As for Rev. Jackson saying he does not want gay marriage to become a front burner political issue, that is an opinion being expressed by many liberal pundits. They fear that forcing of the issue to the forefront is a GOP ploy. I can think of no rational reason to single him out for taking that position.

Anyone with a computer, Internet service provider, modem of some sort and time can start a weblog. However, I belief some sense of responsibility for what one is saying should also be a part of the blogger's toolbox. When a blogger posts material that is inaccurate and biased, he is ignoring his duty to do at least basic research before sending out a message that scores, hundreds or thousands of people may read. A perusal of Jackson's biography would have told Pepper that he has been involved in numerous progressive causes. A basic understanding of African-American history would have prevented Pepper's embarrassing inability to be able to address that history with even the slightest insight. Writers are often told: Write what you know. I am going to alter that advice for bloggers: Don't write what you don't know.

11:45 PM