Gay Marriage: The Black Church is Uncomfortable and Wrong
With all the negative rhetoric, black preachers should know better
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of the Loop 21.
Around this same time four years ago, we witnessed history in the making. A black man married to a black woman with two black children, who seemingly came from out of nowhere, was on track toward becoming the first black president. Most Americans were elated. For once in a long time, we saw actual change in the American psyche. Not the kind of change that is wavering. No. Once Barack Obama was elected president, we felt like we had all accomplished something and that America had matured to a “post-racial” society. We thought that discrimination, injustice and pure racism may dissipate after all. These were the feelings we felt, however naïve some of them may have been.
Now, President Obama’s recent remarks in defense of gay marriage have many considering him as more than the first black president, but also the first gay president. A title made notorious by the most recent publication of Newsweek Magazine.
“It is important to me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” said Obama to ABC news anchor Robin Roberts in an interview last week.
Immediately, there was push back from black preachers disappointed in the president’s views. By Sunday, many of us were listening to those same black preachers in church discuss the announcement that apparently captured the national dialogue. And while some preachers support Obama's views, like Rev. Otis Moss III of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, and some do not, like Pastor Jamal Bryant of Baltimore's Empowerment Temple AME Church, it seems the dominant narrative is in opposition of his position.
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Obama's stance on gay marriage makes a lot of sense. It's something he spent years thinking about and talking over — consulting his friends and pastors, considering the lives of gay soldiers unable to marry and speaking with his daughters who have friends with same-sex parents. The fact that President Obama “evolved” his views on same-sex marriage, after going on the record for years in support of the view that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, makes complete sense.
However, I am concerned by the black preachers and political and social leaders attacks of Obama for embracing same-sex marriage. I feel like I am in the twilight zone. Although I do not believe the black church should fight against same-sex marriage, I am trying to understand why it feels compelled to. I’ll explain.
At the core of all of the debate and outrage, same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue. Just like blacks, whites, children and elderly people, same-sex couples are entitled to the same protection when it comes to freedom and the unwarranted infringement of their rights. As Dr. Michael Eric Dyson stated when he guest hosted The Ed Show last Friday, “Black people do not have a copyright on civil rights insurgence or resistance.” Just as we are allowed to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression, shouldn’t same-sex couples be allowed the same liberty? Dyson also used the term “sexual rednecks” but I won’t go there.
What President Obama is battling is this reoccurring notion of “separate but equal,” something all black people should know a thing or two about. How can you (Obama) say that you support same-sex couples’ ability to pledge their love for each other yet deny them the institutional security of marriage? Is this not comparable to allowing blacks to eat in a restaurant but restricting them from using the front door? Or allowing them to ride on the bus and restricting them from sitting in the front? I understand gay marriage is a touchy subject but this is just another level of the same discrimination that many of our civil rights leaders fought against. If anyone can understand this plight, you would think members of the black church could.
I am also a bit confused because, if I recall correctly, the black church has one of the worst reputations when it comes to homosexuality and the ever so popular “undercover brother” staple – cue the choir director, ushers and even some preachers, i.e. Bishop Eddie Long. And are we really going to act like homosexuality isn’t prevalent in many of the black churches we attend today? #SideEye.
Adding demeaning and utterly disrespectful rhetoric into a sermon about people who simply wish for equality in America is no better than a white preacher in the early 1950s arguing against the rights of blacks.
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Like many people in my generation, I have no immediate qualms about gay marriage. According to the ABC News/Washington Post Poll taken directly after Obama's interview with Robin Roberts, 63% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 view Obama and his stance on gay marriage favorably. As with most research out there, as the age range gets younger, the approval percentage increases.
But to narrow it down to race, according to the Pew Research Center’s Political Typology survey last year, only 49% of African Americans favored acceptance of homosexuality, compared to 64% of Hispanics and 58% of whites. In the same study done by ABC News, 54% of African Americans supported Obama on his views on gay marriage. This may suggest that some people have a strong allegiance to Obama -- enough so to rethink their views.
In light of all of this, I think people are either uncomfortable or defensive about gay marriage, and their defensiveness may come from a subconscious sense of insecurity and jealousy. That same feeling you get when you compare George Zimmerman’s case to Marissa Alexander’s or when you compare the 40-month sentencing of a white man who swindled $3 billion dollars to the 15-year sentencing of a black homeless man who stole $100.
The black church's resistance to supporting gay marriage as a civil right may be because they are preoccupied with still trying to ascertain the civil rights of black people. In a sense, it’s questioning how you can defend equality with so much injustice. Although it is the right thing to do, it’s probably not easy to defend a civil rights movement led by white people when you have so many issues plaguing the black community right across the street. Whether it’s the flawed justice system or disguised racial discrimination, there are so many issues that President Obama could have addressed concerning black communities but he didn’t.
Obama is not just our president — he is everyone’s president. Although I can feel a sense of jealousy in my own heart, I can’t fathom disregarding one group’s rights for the recognition of another.
I won’t accept the arguments against gay marriage that cite religious doctrine and preservation of the sanctity of marriage. I do not buy that kind of rhetoric nor the accusations that those who are same-gender lovers are destroying America. That is bigotry at its finest.
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Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III said it perfectly when he read a letter from another preacher to his congregation: “This institution of marriage, my brother, is not under attack because of the president’s words. Marriage was under attack years ago when men viewed women as property and children as trophies of their sexual prowess. Marriage is under attack by low wages, high incarceration, and lack of education. Marriage is under attack by clergy who think nothing of stepping outside of the bounds of marriage. Same gender couples have not caused high divorce rates.”
I do not agree with how the black church is handling this. I do, however, understand how the black church may perceive Obama's support of gay marriage as unfair. After years of fighting injustice and inequality in our own communities, Obama’s weight behind another cause may seem like a disregard for the black community and the black church.
But in the thick of all this same-gender marriage debate, people just want to be treated equally and given the same rights as everyone else. That is what I believe Obama is basing his view of gay marriage on and for that, I support him.