The subject of marriage equality is not a popular one in the black LGBT/same-gender loving community. Often, black gays who oppose marriage equality see the matter as a white gay agenda and therefore “not our issue.” I strongly believe that black gay opposition to marriage is a reflection of the considerable homophobia that exists in the black community. A 2007 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll showed blacks were less than half as likely to support marriage equality and legal recognition of same-sex civil unions than whites. In 2006, a Pew Research Center study found 65 percent of African Americans are opposed to marriage equality as compared to 53 percent of whites.
These studies found that religion played a significant role in shaping the views of African Americans toward marriage. In the report “At the Crossroads: African American Same Gender Couples and the Freedom to Marry,” The National Black Justice Coalition stated, “For African-American lesbians and gay men, acceptance into the African-American community has historically required leaving an important part of who we are at the door.”
This dynamic poses many challenges for black gays whose racial authenticity is called into question on issues of sexual identity. Black gays often replicate the same behavior toward each other, acting as arbiters of blackness on issues that concern us as homosexuals. Marriage equality has driven black homophobia to new proportions. Religious conservatives have wrongly convinced many African-American clergy and their congregations the struggle for marriage equality is a “special right” and different from the black civil-rights movement in the United States. Their influence has been so effective here that they have spread their hate to governments in Uganda and Malawi where homosexuality has been criminalized. A terrible irony is that black gays here often oppose the inalienable human right to love without fear while black gays in Africa are risking their very lives for the same right.
The African-American struggle for equality has inspired many social revolutions in this country, including the women’s liberation and gay-rights movements. Our history in America should make us sensitive to others who struggle for their rights. Black gay folks must come to understand that if we do not support the right to marry for same sex-couples then we may be endangering social movements for true health-care reform, the end of corporate welfare and housing, as well. We cannot let this happen.
Marriage is a human right to which all people should be entitled. Anything less goes against our pursuit of happiness and is unacceptable. Too many of us have been silent on the subject of homophobia in our community. We must find the fortitude within ourselves to push back against hate in our families, religious institutions and beyond. We must be open to building coalitions with diverse groups and join their struggles for marriage equality, employment, immigration rights and ending the U.S. occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only by showing support for the causes of others will we recognize that injustice is the common thread that must be broken if we are to live freely as equals in this country and across the globe.
Steven A. Williams, a New York City-based marriage-equality advocate, is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion exploring same-sex marriage equality in LGBT people of color communities, co-sponsored by The COLOURS Organization Inc. and The Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council, to be held from 6-8 p.m. June 14 at Arch Street Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad St.