Metro Weekly

Biden invokes civil rights movement during LGBT-rights speech

Joe Biden - Credit: Christopher Dilts for Obama for America/flickr

Joe Biden – Credit: Christopher Dilts for Obama for America/flickr

Vice President Joe Biden drew parallels between the LGBT-rights movement and the civil rights movement of the 1960s during a speech Friday.

Speaking to the Human Rights Campaign’s Spring Equality Convention a day before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., Biden said the civil rights movement is “actually the human rights movement.”

Invoking civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis and Bayard Rustin, Biden said the bigotry LGBT people face will likely always exist in some corners of society, but increasingly it is not tolerated.

“We’re never going to be able to eliminate the bigots. They’re a small percentage of the population. They’ll continue to be vocal,” Biden said. “But make one thing absolutely clear, folks, they are an incredibly smaller and smaller minority. This country is changing.”

It was in Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 that a peaceful protest led by King was attacked by Alabama state troopers. 

Biden also criticized Ben Carson for his recent remarks that prison sex is proof that homosexuality is a choice. Noting the blowback homophobic statements now carry compared to a decade ago, Biden said not to “misread the political trends in history.”

“Now every ridiculous assertion from Dr. Carson on — I mean, Jesus, God. Oh, God,” Biden said in dismay, reacting to statements made by Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has been exploring a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, earlier this week that homosexuality is “absolutely” a choice as demonstrated by straight people who have same-sex relations while in prison. Carson apologized to those who were offended by his statements.

Biden signaled his support for a comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in nearly every aspect of American life, including employment, housing, public accommodations and credit. 

“We have to pass the federal nondiscrimination legislation and we need to pass it now,” Biden said. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oreg.) is expected to introduce the legislation later this year. HRC President Chad Griffin, who introduced Biden, said during his remarks the bill will be one of HRC’s top priorities and perhaps the “biggest legislative battle in the history of this movement.” Biden is the first Obama administration official to comment on the anticipated bill.

Biden’s remarks came the same day the Justice Department is expected to file a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down state bans on same-sex marriage nationwide, although Biden made no mention of the anticipated brief or the landmark marriage equality case the Supreme Court will consider later this year. With a grin on his face, Biden did make reference to his preemptive endorsement of marriage equality on Meet the Press in May 2012, which has been credited with forcing President Obama’s hand on the issue.

“That made me really popular, didn’t it?” Biden said. “I told the president I wasn’t going to change my brand.”

And while struggles remain for full LGBT equality, Biden said the momentum the LGBT-rights movement has at its back is not capable of being stopped and it is his honor to “link arms” in the continued march. “We’re over the bridge,” Biden said. 

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.

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