They gathered to oppose efforts to link Illinois’ new civil unions law with the civil rights movement. Firstly, it contradicts the origins of civil rights. Secondly, our nation’s founders said these rights include the freedoms of conscience, expression and association.

The Rev. Al Cleveland from Bensenville, Ill., put a new twist on an ancient concept last week. He defended the traditional Christian view of marriage during an event organized by the Illinois Family Institute.


Held at a Baptist church, the news conference drew more than 40 black religious and political leaders. They gathered to oppose efforts to link Illinois’ new civil unions law with the civil rights movement, coinciding with the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.


Calling civil rights a “sacred phrase to every African-American,” Cleveland took issue with how gay rights activists have claimed a cause that King championed.


“Civil unions and homosexual behavior cannot be compared to the noble civil rights movement. Nor can it be compared to inherent characteristics like race or ethnicity,” Cleveland said. “Homosexuality … is defined by desire and voluntary sexual acts that are open to moral assessment. There is no research proving that homosexuality is immutable or biologically determined.”


Cleveland, thus, reduces civil rights to genetics within Judeo-Christian teaching. If it’s not part of your God-given DNA, it’s irrelevant. His opinion is misguided.


Firstly, it contradicts the origins of civil rights. The term comes from the Latin “ius civis,” meaning rights of citizens. This would include all rights of all citizens.


Secondly, our nation’s founders said these rights include the freedoms of conscience, expression and association. These comprise the principle of religious liberty, a behavioral-driven civil right that I’m sure Cleveland cherishes.


Lastly, King pushed civil rights beyond race. His ministry focused on poverty, which is neither immutable nor biologically determined. Plus, civil rights activists fought against the effects of slavery, a practice condoned in the Bible. Like abolitionists, their morality transcended Scriptural ethics.


Whether King would have supported civil unions or gay marriage is unknown. But limiting the cause for which he gave his life to the random development of genes distorts his legacy.


Protecting civil rights allows us to determine the course of our lives, whether or not it complies with the Judeo-Christian philosophy.


Jerry Moore is the opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications. Contact him at (630) 368-8930 or jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com.