Lincoln, Thoreau, and Homosexuals

In class we discussed different ways to handle injustice in America, specifically, whether or not violence is ever legitimate. I would like to explore Abraham Lincoln and Henry David Thoreau and apply their theories to a present day issue: homosexual rights. Basically, I think that for this situation Lincoln’s method is the best course of action and we should all follow the laws that are set in place until we can change them legitimately.

Obviously, when thinking about this issue it’s important to consider whether these theories truly apply to the homosexual problem, which forces us to consider whether slavery was a ‘special’ situation, which required the use of violence. Obviously, there are going to be the people that say that the homosexual situation is the same as the slavery issue in that they both face injustice. They are both groups of people that are facing oppression and can’t gain legitimacy through the government. However, I strongly disagree with this. I think that there are vast differences between the homosexual problem and slavery and that is the fact that slavery was legitimized violence against another race in many different forms, whereas the homosexual problem is mainly that gay marriage is not legal (sorry to reduce it to solely that, but for the sake of my argument it was necessary).  This is not a violent oppression, but oppression, nonetheless, which is why I’d like to talk about which is why the two theories are applicable.

Originally, I was a pretty big fan of Thoreau, but after discussing his ideals in section I began to really dislike the guy. I mean, he basically says that you’re not obliged to fight against injustice and, in fact, the only thing that you’re OBLIGATED to do in an unjust situation is wash your hands of it. THIS IS SO WRONG! All you’re obligated to do is wash your hands? Really? So when people are being treated like crap, I can just walk away? That’s outrageous. It’s not only outrageous because of the implications, but it’s also outrageous because of its impracticality. We live in America. We tacitly consent to everything that the government does through participating in governmental activities. Every time we vote, pay taxes or even purchase an item that is taxed we support what the government does and therefore support injustice. We can’t simply wash our hands of an injustice that is occurring in America because we are too connected to it.

Despite him saying that we’re not obligated to do anything, he says that we can if we want to. He says violence is legitimate, but I disagree especially in this situation. I don’t think violence can be the solution to this problem given the fact that there are many other options, which is what brings me to Lincoln’s theory.

Lincoln says that we should follow the laws despite their injustice and wait for the appropriate time and resources to bring about change. His justification for this course of action is a bit outdated (in terms of the revolutionary argument), but the ideas still hold. We shouldn’t just walk around disobeying laws because then that delegitimizes a perfectly good working government. Instead, we should use the tools that the government provides us to bring changes and end injustice. THIS is feasible. This theory works and it works in any situation because of the government that we have. So in the case of gay marriage, I think that homosexuals should wait out the injustice. Don’t use violence or extreme measures to bring about change, but bring it institutionally. Use the tools that we have and gay marriage will eventually just be referred to as marriage. 

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2 Responses to Lincoln, Thoreau, and Homosexuals

  1. aazilli7 says:

    I think you’re completely right that violence should not be used to secure rights for gay couples, though I think it’s not really an issue that will ever invoke violence. So in that respect, you’re correct in saying that Thoreau’s potential violent protest has no place in the issue of gay marriage, but I think Thoreau’s mindset might apply to the situation. Surely, the most sensical approach right now is Lincoln’s: the fight to have equal rights for homosexuals represented in law. But since Thoreau is willing to disregard the government at any given moment in pursuit of justice, it makes sense that he also would not care whether the government recognizes or respects his relationship with another person. His mindset allows one to pursue their love without a care in the world as to whether the government and other people are willing to legitimize it, which is, to me, important above all else.

  2. megsavel says:

    Interesting post, although I disagree that Thoreau wants citizens to simply wash their hands of problems. Much of Thoreau’s writing is a sort of “hero worship” for those willing to lay down their lives for a cause they firmly believe in. “When you plant, or bury, a hero in his field, a crop of heroes is sure to spring up. This is a seed of such force and vitality that it does not ask our leave to germinate” (119). I see Thoreau as someone who wants everyone to feel passionately enough about something to want to change it, but also as someone who realistically knows that most people will not do that. I imagine Thoreau as someone who really wants to convert everyone into taking action to right injustice, but knowing that this won’t happen, he at least hopes to convince people to not be agents of injustice themselves and not to hinder the cause of those willing to fight for justice.

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