June is here. Cue the gloom and doom stories about the state of the black family, and the finger pointing as we figure out who to blame.
Unfortunately, this summer has potential to dredge up the familiar and false dichotomy that pits the black community against the LGBT community.
Between DOMA challenges, California's Prop 8 appeal, New York's campaign for marriage equality, and the fact that June is Pride month, there will be significant media attention in the coming weeks devoted to the issue of marriage for same-sex couples. Then there's the conversation that begins around this time every year with the approach of Father's Day about black fathers abandoning their families at high rates and the impact this is having on the black family and, by extension, the black community.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have both made headlines in the past for using Father's Day to criticize absentee black fathers. Following the decision of the administration to stop defending DOMA, some questioned whether these black leaders were working to strengthen the black family.
Taken together, these discussions threaten to reignite the damaging dialogue that the needs of the black community and the needs of the LGBT community are inherently at odds. A narrative that tells us that working to advance marriage equality automatically undermines the strength and security of the black family.
Not only is it a damaging narrative, but, as it turns out, it is also completely untrue. In fact, the fight for marriage equality works in tandem with the movement to strengthen the black family. Achieving marriage equality will actually help save the black family.
First, laws that prohibit same-sex marriage disproportionately harm black same-sex couples. According to the last Census, twice as many black same-sex couples are raising children as white same-sex couples. Black same-sex couples are also much more likely to be struggling economically. Achieving marriage equality will grant important benefits to these couples that will allow them to take care of and provide for their children and themselves.
But marriage equality helps the black community in a much broader way. Marriage equality is not just about relationship recognition. It's about family recognition, and the black community benefits from laws and policies that recognize the diversity of how families look, and demand equality for all families.
Understanding the fight for marriage equality solely as an issue about rights of LGBT families is like understanding the reproductive justice movement as a fight solely about abortion. While abortion may have the most visibility, more broadly, the movement is about increasing quality access to healthcare and reproductive services for all women.
Likewise, marriage equality is not just about DOMA. It's not just about Prop 8. The fight for marriage equality is about fighting for equal recognition of all families. It's about combating the assumption that someone else can tell us what our families should look like. And in the black community, that assumption is dangerous, because black families are becoming increasingly nontraditional. Black families are more likely to be headed by single mothers. However, many of those mothers live with another person who helps raise the children, regardless of whether they are biologically or legally recognized as a parent. Black families are also more likely to consist of multi-generational households. And the same policies that allow a same-sex couple to parent their children with access to all benefits they would otherwise receive grant those same benefits to aunts and uncles to raise their nieces and nephews and grandparents to raise their grandchildren. They are the same policies that allow a boyfriend to take time off work to care for his girlfriend's sick child even when there is no biological relationship. The principle that all families look different and all must be respected lies at the foundation of the struggle to strengthen the black family.
The black community must be wary of any attempt to restrict the understanding of a family without considering the cultural implications because the result will be exclusion of many of our families. The rights of minority groups are inextricably linked, and any law that is designed to create an out group reinforces a destructive culture for all minority communities. Even if your family doesn't look like families in the LGBT community, if it doesn't look like families in the broader community either, you will be harmed by laws that aim to narrow the definition of family. Fighting for the recognition of all families is the only way to protect families in the black community.
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