We just watched the movie “Milk” this evening, and it occurred to me afterward what an appropriate thing this was to do on this particular day. So many parallels between Martin Luther King Jr. leading the fight for racial equality and human rights, and Harvey Milk doing the same for the human rights of gay people. Both men courageously spoke up for the rights of their people; both men led demonstrations for the civil rights of their people; both men knew there was a good chance that in fighting for the rights of their oppressed people they would be assassinated by a hate-filled person–and indeed, so it happened.

Certainly, the civil rights issue of our time is the rights of gay citizens to have all the protections and rights of the rest of our citizenry, including the right to marry the person you love. In Harvey Milk’s time, in the 1970’s, the battle was being fought in California over Proposition 6, to force the firing of gay teachers; in 2008, the number bumped up to Prop 8, and the fight was over banning gay marriage.

The most stirring thing that Harvey Milk says in the film is his plea, in fighting against Prop 6, for every gay person to “come out”, so that all California citizens could find out that they know a gay person– their neighbor, their nephew, the guy in the office two doors down, the waitress at the local coffee shop, and yes, even their own sons and daughters. And so people would understand that to vote for Prop 6 was to vote against these friends, co-workers and family members. If this isn’t an argument for the primacy of empathy, I don’t know what is.

Harvey Milk was right. And I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. would have marched arm-in-arm with him if he had lived.