The battle for civil rights burned over centuries, eventually forcing the hand of government to produce multiple legislations making human rights a reality for millions of Americans. Blacks became free to pursue a mutual existence in America while Women secured laws protecting their jobs, safety and bodies. Now we turn our attention to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Homosexuals are the modern minority, and the current momentum of their civil rights movement has made federal recognition nearly inevitable. That being said, gay males will be allowed to marry legally before lesbians.
Although this seems impossible considering the temperament of feminism and unity we currently live in, the idea that males will precede females in constitutional freedom is not only plausible, it is the more likely scenario, and for one primary reason: History repeats itself.
In the current climate of gender-unified thinking, it would be easy to assume that legislation will encompass gays and lesbians as a whole. However, civil rights can be dealt exclusively by sex, and we need only look to the late 1860’s to find evidence of such provision. The struggle for black and women’s rights endured collectively until the Fourteenth Amendment, which broadened the definition of U.S. citizenship and negated legislation that intentionally neglected male minorities. This cleared a path for the Fifteenth Amendment to permit voting rights regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude"; a huge step for our country, but one major detail was omitted: gender (US Const., amend. XV, sec. 1). Men of every color could now vote because the Fourteenth Amendment specified “male citizens twenty-one years of age”, but women remained sidelined during elections because the Fifteenth Amendment ignored any correction of their slight (US Const., amend. XIV, sec. 2).
This development not only fractured relations between the women’s rights movement and the black rights movement, it split suffragists down the middle. “Many abolitionists initially advocated universal suffrage, for both African Americans and women. When that was made impossible by the insertion of the word male in the 14th and 15th amendments, [they] campaigned against any amendment that would deny voting rights to women. Among their opponents were former allies… who argued that it was “the Negro’s hour” and that women’s suffrage would have to wait.” (Hewitt)
White women had always possessed more rights than blacks, including “… the right to own real property in their own names, make contracts, speak freely, and so on” (Amar 5). However, with the Fourteenth Amendment snub and the Fifteenth Amendment’s 1870 ruling, all women took a back seat to all men. Color barriers fell but women’s voting rights were set on the backburner, simmering until the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. It took women fifty more years to find gender equality in voting. Therefore, it should be no stretch to imagine gay’s marriage rights preceding lesbian’s rights in an upcoming amendment.
This was not the last time women would wait longer for rights. One of the last frontiers is an ongoing battle for equality that rages to this day, and it is one freedom they wouldn’t start making progress on until the 1940’s.
Black men had fought in U.S. wars since the American Revolution. The first step in acceptance of the black soldier came by way of a speech from Gen. Andrew Jackson in 1814:
Through a mistaken policy you have heretofore been deprived of a participation in the glorious struggle for national rights in which our country is engaged. This no longer shall exist. As sons of freedom, you are now called upon to defend our most inestimable blessing… To every noble hearted, generous, freeman of color, volunteering to serve during the present contest with Great Britain… there will be paid the same bounty in money and lands … Due regard will be paid to the feelings of freemen and soldiers. You will not… be exposed to improper comparisons or unjust sarcasm. As a distinct independent battalion or regiment… you will, undivided, receive the applause and gratitude of your countrymen. (Proclamation)
Women have been a part of the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War as well, but only in an auxiliary capacity. Forbidden from nearing camp or combat, they were forced to dress as men in order to sneak their way onto platoons and into battle. The first was Deborah Sampson, who enlisted as a Continental Army soldier under the name of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtliff Sampson (The New York Times). Women went so far as to offer their services to the President personally, as documented by Annie Oakley’s letter to William McKinley:
Hon Wm. McKinley, President
Dear Sir, I for one feel confident that your good judgment will carry America safely through without war. But in case of such an event I am ready to place a company of fifty lady sharpshooters at your disposal. Every one of them will be an American and as they will furnish their own arms and ammunition will be little if any expense to the government.
Annie Oakley (Oakley)
Unfortunately, the lack of female involvement in the Union army played cleanly into the hands of their antagonists. “Part of the justification for excluding women from the Fifteenth Amendment - under the theory that it was "the black man's hour" - was precisely that women had not served in the Union army. We now begin to see an interesting link in Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment between the presumptive militia - male citizens over twenty-one years of age residing in the state - and presumptive voters.” (Amar 5) The Fourteenth Amendment specified military requirements for the purpose of giving black male adults civil rights and in doing so facilitated the omission of women from the Fifteenth Amendment.
All through American history women have played vital roles in our wars, but they were not recognized officially until July of 1943 when a bill allowed the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps to drop “Auxiliary” from its title, thus making it a part of the regular army. Although progress has been steady in the fight for female soldier rights, larger achievements have been elusive. Women account for only 14% of the active military and, to this day, are still restricted from positions of combat. And it’s not for a lack of evidence to the contrary (Department of Defense). An excerpt from Sect. IV, Part B. of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, 2010 Report (16):
[Department of Defense (DOD)] should eliminate the 1994 combat exclusion policy… thereby ending gender-based restrictions on military assignments. Concurrently, DoD and the services should open all related career fields/specialties, schooling and training opportunities that have been closed to women as a result of the DoD combat exclusion…
Reasoning in Support of the Recommendation:
Opening up all… opportunities that have been closed to women will contribute to national security and to the readiness of the forces by permitting commanders to fully employ their personnel without regard to gender. In addition, eliminating gender-based assignment restrictions will promote equal opportunity because the restrictions bar women from certain military assignments without regard to their qualifications... As has been apparent for a number of years, women are performing direct ground combat jobs and performing them well. Whatever may have been the basis of the combat exclusion policy in 1994, it is no longer warranted.
Yet the Department of Defense remains defiant in their justification. “... [R]easons for continuing the ground combat exclusion policy… officials said they believed that “integrating women into ground combat units would not contribute to the readiness and effectiveness of those units” due to the nature of direct ground combat and the way individuals need to perform under those conditions. The DOD official providing the briefing said that physical strength and stamina, living conditions, and lack of public support for women in ground combat were some of the issues considered.” (United States. General Accounting Office 6)
The phrase “living conditions” is mentioned repeatedly in the DOD’s reasoning; a reference to women needing separate barracks and facilities from men. The tacit implication is the threat male enlistees are to women in the service. According to the study Factors Associated With Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment, out of a 640 current and retired female soldiers, 79% reported sexual harassment and 54% reported unwanted sexual contact. 30% endured at least one completed or attempted rape; of these victims, 37% experienced multiple attacks while 14% were subjected to gang-rape (Sadler 266). Regardless the strides in equality the military makes, the most important achievement will be extinguishing the continued, and well chronicled, mistreatment of female soldiers. This evidence clearly shows that the U.S. military is nowhere near a functional integration of women as they have yet to provide adequate protection and indiscriminately prosecute sex offenders within their ranks.
It has been a long, brutal struggle for women to get where they are today. After centuries stripped of rights equality has been achieved, and there are more freedoms on the horizon. Unfortunately they remain on the far side of a thicket dense with briars: lower wages, objectification, rape. Although civil rights efforts for male minorities were also wearisome and costly, freedoms came to fruition far more quickly. With the next big civil rights push in America being LGBT equality, history will repeat itself, allowing gay males the federal right to marry before lesbians.
Amar, Akhil Reed. “The Fifteenth Amendment and Political Rights.” Faculty Scholarship Series. Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository, 1996. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.
“Deborah Sampson: How She Served as a Soldier in the Revolution - Her Sex Unknown to the Army.” The New York Times 8 Oct. 1898: Print.
Department of Defense. “Female Active Duty Military Personnel by Rank/Grade.” DoD Personnel & Procurement Statistics. Department of Defense, 30 Sept. 2009. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.
Hewitt, Nancy A. “Abolition & Suffrage.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, Web. 3 Nov. 2011.
Human Rights Campaign, comp. “Same-Sex Relationship Recognition Laws: State by State.” Human Rights Campaign. Human Rights Campaign, 25 June 2011. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.
Jackson, MG. Andrew. “Proclamation.” Head Quarters, 7th Military District. 21 Sept. 1814. Niles’ Weekly Register 3 Dec. 1814: 13. Print.
Oakley, Annie. Letter to President William McKinley. 5 Apr. 1898. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s–1917, Record Group 94. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration . Web. 2 Nov. 2011.
Sadler, Anne G., et al. “Factors Associated With Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine 43 (2003): 262-273. Print.
United States. Defense Advisory Committee. “IV. 2010 DACOWITS RECOMMENDATIONS AND REASONING IN SUPPORT OF THOSE RECOMMENDATIONS.” Women in the Services 2011. Washington: DACOWITS, 2011. B. ASSIGNMENTS. Print.
United States. General Accounting Office. Gender Issues: Information on DOD’s Assignment Policy and Direct Ground Combat Definition. Washington: GAO, 1998. Print.