March 16, 2004

We May Overcome

Another Gem from Miami Herald columinist Leonard Pitts, Jr. This time on the struggle for Marriage Equality--

Blacks should be supportive of gays' struggle

...[T]he comparison between the black struggle and the gay one is inexact. But here's the thing: Every freedom movement from Poland's labor uprising to America's feminism to China's Tiananmen Square protests has been compared to the civil rights movement. When Czechoslovakians threw off communist rule in 1989, they sang We Shall Overcome. Yet no one bothered to point out that the Czechs were never slighted in the U.S. Constitution, much less to accuse Poles of ''pimping'' the civil rights movement. What's that tell you?

It tells me this stinginess about the movement arises only when gays seek to embrace it. And that black people -- some of us, at least -- ought to be ashamed.

How can we of all people, we who know the weight of American oppression better than almost anyone, stand in the path of those who seek simple equality? How can we support writing anyone out of the Constitution when it took us so long to be written in?

And how can we stand with the very people -- social conservatives -- who not so long ago didn't want us in their churches, their schools, their parks or their restaurants? Yet more and more, we act and sound just like them.

We use our Bibles to justify our bigotry, just as they did.

We describe equality as unnatural, just as they did.

We invoke the sanctity of tradition, just as they did.

And we are wrong, just as they were.

Worse, we have wrapped our community in a conspiracy of silence, made being homosexual something one simply does not discuss. So that if you are black and gay or black and lesbian, there is often no sane thought of ''coming out,'' no safe place to be who you are. The black community has no resources for you, no tolerance of you, no compassion for you. Yes, there are exceptions, but not enough. Not nearly.

Is it any surprise, then, that blacks lead the nation in new cases of HIV and AIDS?

I need to read Pitts and other great columinists -- Breslin and McCarthy from Newsday come to mind -- on a regular basis and share their voices as soon as possible. I almost ignored this opinion piece until I had an additional opportunity to read it in its entirety. See, sometimes insomnia can be a good thing.

Posted by ronn at March 16, 2004 02:31 AM

This is a long post, but I felt it was worthwhile contributing it here. Are Gay Rights Civil Rights? Many African Americans Say No By Yoji Cole © 2004 March 15, 2004 As the movement for same-sex marriage rights builds steam, the use of 1960s civil-rights images has incited objections from many African Americans. At stake are African-American votes. Those in the forefront of the same-sex marriage battle like to link their fight to that of African Americans a generation ago. Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco has called gays and lesbians who received marriage licenses this generation's Rosa Parks. And, the conservative gay-and-lesbian group, Log Cabin Republicans, featured a "Colored Only" sign in its commercial opposing President Bush’s support of the Federal Marriage Amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Gay-rights activists say the two movements both seek civil rights. But a number of vocal African Americans disagree, saying the two cannot be compared and joined because one's race always is public while one's sexual orientation can remain private. While polls indicate that most Americans oppose same-sex marriage, gay marriage has surpassed other major social issues, such as abortion and gun control, in its influence on voters, according to a Pew Research Center survey in February. Forty percent of voters say they would not vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on gay marriage, even if they agree with the candidate on most other issues. President Bush, say liberals, has openly supported the Federal Marriage Amendment to curry favor with those Americans opposed to gay marriage, specifically religious liberals, such as African Americans. Most African Americans are strongly religious. Eighty-eight percent of African Americans interviewed across several Gallup Polls conducted in 2003 indicated that religion is very important to them personally, compared with only 57 percent of whites. Sixty-three percent of African Americans reported attending church services almost every week or weekly, compared with 43 percent of whites. And, religious Americans are less likely to support gay-and-lesbian rights than are those who are less religious. The same-sex marriage issue, however, is revealing a dichotomy in the African-American community. Some African-American religious leaders have been vocally supportive of the Federal Marriage Amendment, going up against the view of some African-American legislators and the NAACP who oppose it and as a result indirectly support same-sex marriage. Religious concerns combined with the use of civil rights imagery to legitimize the movement makes it personal for many African Americans. In the first week of March Georgia's African-American legislators blocked a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriages. "I was raised the way most people were raised, to look down on gay people," said Rep. Douglas Dean, D-Atlanta, who is African American. "But I thought we had changed, I thought we had become tolerant of people who are different." While last week, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond indirectly acknowledged the African-American community’s trouble with its civil rights struggle being compared to that of the gay community's when releasing the association's statement in opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Bond made a point to acknowledge the differences between the two. "Only African Americans were enslaved. Only African Americans still suffer from slavery's legacy … Our rights are not color-coded; they are available to all," wrote Bond. In contrast to that view, however, the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, the Boston Ten Point Coalition, and the Cambridge Black Pastors Conference released a joint statement in February that read: "Each of the traditions we represent has long upheld the institution of marriage as a unique bond between a man and a woman." They support the amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Religion, say those who oppose the amendment, is obfuscating the issue of providing civil rights for all and could lead to support of the Federal Marriage Amendment. The only time the constitution ever was amended to prohibit behavior was with the 18th amendment in 1920, which forbade the sale or manufacture of alcohol. In 1933, it was repealed. "[People in support of banning same-sex marriage] keep evoking what is a religious community’s prerogative of what that community will decide is marriage," said Hilary Shelton, director of the federal public policy office for the NAACP. Shelton said gay-rights activists use civil-rights imagery because, as has been the case with African Americans, their struggle is one of equal rights among citizens. He said that if the proposed amendment to ban gay-and-lesbian marriages passed, it would affect heterosexuals as well. Many heterosexual parents who have lost spouses to death or divorce move in with other parents and share the responsibilities of rearing children and homemaking. "Unmarried persons -– including unmarried relatives, heterosexual couples, gay-and-lesbian couples and even unrelated clergy members -– have the same rights as married persons to jointly adopt or jointly provide foster care or kinship care to persons in need ... By barring states from extending any 'legal incidents' of marriage to unmarried persons, the amendment could take away every legal right and protection that states now provide to many American families," wrote Shelton in an 11-page opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. "We don't want to see any provisions in the constitution that would exclude in any way," said Shelton. "We see the constitution as a means of guaranteeing rights." Same-sex marriage-rights activists and African Americans who oppose gay-and-lesbian marriages came head-to-head at Los Angeles' Leimert Park off of Crenshaw Blvd. on Wednesday night. There, gay-rights activist Jasmyne Cannick, media director for the National Black Justice Coalition, tried to explain that gay-and-lesbian marriages, if legalized, would not have to take place in churches that did not want them. She tried to emphasize that, "both movements [African-American civil-rights and gay-marriage rights] have a common denominator, and that is discrimination," she said. Too many African Americans see the gay-and-lesbian communities as groups of privileged whites living in sin, Cannick said. She said she hopes the media attention will reveal the gay-and-lesbian communities to be filled with not only mothers and fathers, but a wide variety of ethnicities and races. "This is the next great civil-rights battle," said Mark Mead, director of public affairs for the Log Cabin Republicans when explaining why the group used an image of a "Colored Only" sign in its commercial opposing Bush’s support of the marriage amendment. Mead doesn’t expect the struggle for gay-and-lesbian marriage rights to end soon. He was reared in Mississippi during the late 1960s and remembers similar anti-rhetoric used to deny interracial marriages, he said. "The fabric of the American family will be turned asunder," Mead said he heard from people opposed to eradicating laws banning interracial marriage. "In 1998, Coretta Scott King said gays should have an equal place at the American table, so I’m going to stay with Mrs. King on this," Mead said. The Associated Press contributed to this story. Posted by: lynne on March 18, 2004 11:31 AM
Lynne: Thanks for the article. I saw it and was going to post an excerpt, but I'm starting to get a bit fatigued and sensitive about the issue. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see a lesbian and gay couple that I know married on the steps of City Hall today by the pastor of the church I attend (on very rare occasions). Maybe this will lead to marriage equality here in NYC. It's awesome knowing I have friends that will step up to the plate and fight for full rights for all. I'm posting about this in a few minutes. Posted by: ronn on March 18, 2004 11:55 PM