Why Are Some Black Folks So Upset Over Gays Getting Married?

03/18/2010 05:12 am 05:12:02 | Updated May 25, 2011


As a church-attending Christian and a straight, married black man who lives in Washington, D.C., I have absolutely no qualms about extending full marriage rights to gay couples. I will cheer when it happens in my city.

I struggle to comprehend why folks who share my slice of the demographic pie seem to take is personally when two men or two women want to marry and live as a couple. I mean, it's not like they're taking something away from any a straight couple.

Here, in Washington, the city council is expected to pass legislation that will legalize marriage for same-sex couples. The bill seems assured of passage because 10 of the 13 city council members have signed on as supporters, and Mayor Adrian Fenty has promised to sign it into law if it passes. And, from all I've been able to learn, congressional opposition will be tepid as the 30-day review period ticks down.

Under the proposed legislation, the district would end the existing domestic partnership law and expand all rights and responsibilities associated with marriage to cover same-sex couples. Another provision of the bill wipes away gender-specific language from the city code, assuring that married gay and lesbian couples are guaranteed to be treated the same under city law as married heterosexuals.

Yet, the road to marriage equality for gays and lesbians remains twisted by opposition from--of all places--black church leaders. Notably, Bishop Harry Jackson of the suburban Maryland Hope Christian Church has been the most outspoken and visible black minister leading the fight against spreading civil rights to all corners of the nation's capital.

Jackson argues that allowing gays and lesbians to marry will - somehow, inexplicable to me - cause damage to straight people's marital bliss. He argues that the divorce rate in the District is already high and allowing gay couples to marry will add to the soaring numbers of divorces. That, of course, makes absolutely no sense.

But the opportunity to build a godly empire by preaching against homosexuality has proven irresistible and potentially profitable. Jackson's High Impact Leadership Coalition, the antigay rights group, moves in far-right circles of the Republican Party. It's a façade for a misguided holy crusade and supported by white evangelicals who have little else in common with black, working-class people in Washington.

Bishop Jackson isn't alone among backward-thinking religious leaders, either. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington threatened to end social services in Washington if the proposed same-sex marriage legislation becomes law.

For sure, some very religious people fall on their swords of faith to justify treating gays and lesbians in a discriminatory manner. Marriage, they say, can only be godly if its benefits and obligations are reserved only for a man and a woman.

The wise thing about the D.C. bill is that it doesn't force a church or minister to perform a marriage if it conflicts with their theology. But it allows for those open-minded people of faith to do so. The legislation is civil, not aimed at changing anything that happens inside the practice of faith. Nor would the law grant gay or lesbian couples any special rights--only protect the exercise of the same rights enjoyed by other citizens. In fact, it may prove to be a fiscal blessing to the city.

What's so wrong about all that?

On the racial tip, it seems that the folks who ought to be first in line on this matter of civil right protections should be black ministers. It's not like black gays and lesbians aren't fixtures in black churches across the city. And they're not deeply closeted, either. Everyone knows what these black religious leaders seem so intent on keeping secret: Homosexuality exists among black people.

Less than half a century ago, the black clergy was on the side of unpopular rights and societal progress. If not for the courage and outspokenness of black preachers from southern pulpits, speaking of love and fairness for all of God's children, racist white theologians might have continued unchallenged to use biblical scriptures to justify unfair treatment of black Americans.

A civil right for one is a civil rights for all. As Georgia Congressman John Lewis has said on many occasions, "I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation."

In a disappointingly similar situation, black churches across Washington and the nation were slow to respond to the AIDS epidemic almost a generation ago, fearing any pulpit talk would lead to airing the congregation's dirty laundry. Meanwhile, as pastors preached and choirs sang, church folks got sick and died. Only after enlightened black religious leaders opened their eyes and stopped condemning were they able to create ministries that helped--not hurt--the people in need.

So pray tell me, how is this any different?

Some - indeed, many progressive black ministers - agree that biblical pronouncements of grace should trump mean-spirited, hell-fire denunciations of gays and lesbians.

As the Rev. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and the co-chairman of the DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality, preaches: "My support of full marriage equality for the District of Columbia is rooted not only in my passion for social justice, but also for morality and moral truth. I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of love, not hate."

That's the pew where I sit and belong. My faith is strong and my love of humanity is sacrosanct. That's why I completely fail to comprehend how the exchange of vows between a loving couple--be it a man and a woman or two men or two women--changes anything of importance in my life.

No, all it does is move the city I live in one step closer to being fairer to all of its citizens.

Cross-posted from Race-Talk.