When New York City passed the right for gay couples to get married, it was definitely a happy and history-making occasion. The same rights were now being given to those who were previously denied them based solely on their sexuality. Finally New Yorkers, after many years of fighting and lobbying, were granted the same equality as others. Yet in that battle not all people in the LGBT community were on the battleground. In fact, there was a myth that the greatest detractors were those in the African-American community. Personally, I knew many African Americans were indifferent to the passage of the law, but there were also many who were in strong support. At the time I myself, a gay black man, was part of the choir that felt that there was little importance in marriage equality. Since then, I learned a very valuable lesson about what it means to have the right to marry.
With Obama's recent announcement and the NAACP following suit by throwing their support behind same-sex marriage, much has been said in the news regarding African Americans and marriage equality. You would think black America was no longer on the periphery and that all people of color had been swept through the flood gates of acceptance of gay unions. Yet there remain those who still want to remind you that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. But that's another conversation to be had, because if we truly looked at the words of the Bible, we'd realize that we're all sinners. But again I digress.
As I said, initially I was not behind the cause, but not because it wasn't important or because I didn't think that life-long partners should have equal rights. I just felt that at the time there were more pressing matters in the black community that should have taken precedence, such as the continued rise of HIV in the black community. If we had to stack the social ills faced by the gay black community, I didn't believed marriage inequality would be in the number-one spot. Taking its place would be things such as unemployment, anti-gay hate crimes, continued racism, and mental health concerns such as depression. It seemed that the fight for gay marriage was more of a white gay agenda, and the train that was carrying it was going full-speed, but HIV, which was once prominent in the gay white community, was now an issue relegated to the caboose, being left far behind.
So my support for marriage equality was not as strong. I wasn't ready to climb that wedding cake, not with so many people of color getting infected with HIV. I truly felt that way up until last year, when New York passed the same-sex marriage bill. It was then that I had to reexamine my feelings on what gay marriage meant. It also made me look at my partner, as I was in a relationship, and think (probably like many other New Yorkers in same-sex relationships), "Is this the person I want to walk down the aisle with and be with all my life? Do I want to stay with one box of cereal when I can have a multipack of choices that NYC offers?" Choices -- that was the key word. In New York City, why settle down with one person when you have choices? Why stay committed to a person and feel like you're stuck? Why be in this Loch Ness Monster we call "relationship," a beast you hear about but never truly see? And if you see it, it doesn't last for long.
But I wasn't in that place. I had someone who loved me in spite of my HIV status, someone who was HIV-negative but accepted me unconditionally, HIV and all. Over the 13 years that we've been in a relationship with each other, things haven't been all sunshine (there have been fights and arguments and even a period when we briefly took a break from each other), but during those times I learned two lessons: Sometimes we don't realize what we have until it's gone, and, most importantly, a relationship isn't a relationship when everything is going well. A true relationship is one in which you have a disagreement or something bad happens, such as a breach of trust, and instead of running away, you both work on it until you fix whatever was broken. That is a relationship. And that sometimes the consequences of having so many choices is that you never get that chance to build a foundation of love, as your heart is always in transit to the next piece.
But marriage is a strong commitment that two people can make to each other. And I'm aware that a piece of paper doesn't mean that you'll have eternal bliss or that you won't end up in divorce court, but for me it says that I'm ready to take this next step in this relationship despite fully knowing what I'm walking into.
And not to put myself on a pedestal, but maybe by seeing a gay black man in a relationship, other gay black men will see long-term relationships as something they can do, too. Maybe, in a weird way, blacks in relationships won't seem like a myth, and perhaps, just perhaps, this can be the catalyst for driving down HIV rates among gay black men, as they'd now be giving themselves only to that special one. Or maybe I'm drinking too much of the Kool-Aid.
So, on May 1, 2012, I popped the question. I had made my choice, a choice made from the heart, a choice based on knowing what was right, a choice built on the one thing that has sustained us all these years: a foundation of love.
There are still issues in the gay black community and more work to be done, but taking away what separates us makes us stronger together. There's a belief that gay marriage is only for some and not for others, but it actually benefits us all. It's not a white thing or a black thing; it's a rights thing. We all should have access to it. A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.
So now, when someone asks me, as a gay black man, whether I support same-sex marriage, I'll simply say to them two words that show my commitment: I do.
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