So a black guy walks into a gay pride parade…

2 12 2009

Question of the hour: Should blacks feel obligated to support gay rights because of their own history of oppression?

Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP and a friend of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., believes that they should and has made a number of public statements on the topic.

“Black people, of all people, should not oppose equality,” Julian Bond said at the National Equality March a few weeks ago, where tens of thousands of gay-rights activists gathered to push for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

But Taylor Harris, a self-described black Christian woman and grad student at Hopkins, strongly disagrees with Mr. Bond.  In a column she wrote for Saturday’s Washington Post, she argues that blacks “should not be pawns in any social movement,” and that “stereotypical assumptions based on race are regressive.”

I agree with her that race should not automatically peg you as anything or obligate you to support any particular cause.  But I don’t think that Julian Bond is making a “stereotypical assumption based on race” by saying that, as a black man who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, he understands the feeling of having to fight for certain legal rights because of an inherent physical or social characteristic.

According to a recent poll, two-thirds of black Protestants oppose same-sex marriage.  Harris happens to fall into that two thirds, and she writes,

“Already, being both an American and black is difficult, as W.E.B. DuBois wrote. But so is being an African American and a Christian. Asking those 66 percent of black Protestants to look at religion through the veil of race is not the place even of Martin Luther King Jr.’s comrade.”

So Christianity says it’s wrong to be gay.  Christianity also says it’s wrong to lie, cheat, and steal, but liars, cheaters and thieves get married all the time, and I don’t hear any Christians trying to tell them they legally shouldn’t be allowed to.

My point is, it may be wrong to ask black Protestants to “look at religion through the veil of race,” but isn’t it also wrong to look at legal justice through the veil of religion?  If Christians, black or otherwise, have a religious problem with gay marriage, then by all means, feel free to not recognize it in your church.  But how is it the business of any religious group to decide what legal rights any American should or should not be granted?

Legal marriage adds up to a cluster of economic benefits and visitation rights.  Gay couples do not want to march into your local church and declare their union a blessed sacrament sanctioned by Jesus– they just want to be able to have a legally recognized ceremony, a shared last name and a joint bank account.

So, to return to the original question, no, I don’t think Taylor Harris should support gay marriage just because she’s black, but I also don’t think she should oppose gay marriage just because she’s Protestant.  We are all “sinners,” to some extent, but unless our sins warrant jail time, that fact should have no bearing on our right to legally wed.

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15 responses

3 12 2009
luke

i don’t oppose gay marriage and i think it’s pretty ludicrous that anyone would. that said, i’d go in the opposite direction and make marriage completely inside the sphere of the Church. it seems like a big part of the debate over gay marriage is hopelessly tied up in semantics; the anti gay-marriage crowd argues that the very definition of “marriage” implies one man and one woman, while the fastest-growing split in the gay community is over whether “civil unions” legally equivalent to marriage afford an adequate compromise.

so: why don’t we just abandon “marriage”? seriously. if homophobes and the Church want to own “marriage” so badly, then let them have it. consenting partners – straight and gay – who want the legal benefits we associate with contemporary marriage could be “civilly united” or legally joined by some other term. those who want or need organized religion to approve of their partnerships would be able, in addition, to go to a religious institution to get “married”, a designation that would no longer have any legal force whatsoever.

this way, religious institutions would be able to indulge their phobias without any practical effect on anyone else, and no one would be able to make prejudicial arguments based on the historical definition of “marriage,” because most everyone else would be busy completely ignoring those people.

3 12 2009
Geof

issue: nail’s head
Luke: the Hammer

3 12 2009
districtramblings

yea luke just made this topic his bitch

3 12 2009
Ashley

YES! FINALLY! What a great idea, let’s call it hmmmm government without god no no that’s too colloquial, legality vs religion, no no that sounds like a WWF match. wait what about separation of church and state! catchy no? A crowd pleaser for sure.

Now if we could just put the idea into practice.

But seriously Luke, right on the money. I don’t know why we haven’t been able to do it yet, but it’s always sounded good to me.

3 12 2009
Liz

Well, as of Tuesday, gay marriage is legal in the district, so Ms. Taylor might need to go stand on her soap box in West Virginia or Alabama with all her like-minded folks. Oh, wait…

GO DC!

3 12 2009
sara

I think I agree with your point here, LB (and I also had Bond as a professor at UVA).

but, it is really hard to truly compare the two sides. with African Americans, they were visibly different than the rest of the population and therefore persecuted as such. They were given their own water fountains, bathrooms, seats on the bus, etc. From their standpoint, I can almost see why they would think that gay marriage vs. racial equality are two completely different touchpoints…does that make sense?

what i do have a problem with, however, is how vocally opposed the black population in the US can be to gay culture, lifestyle, and marriage. It’s one thing to quietly disagree, but it’s quite another to be so vocal and homophobic to the point where an entire subsection of their race is subjected to participating in the “down low” (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/03/magazine/double-lives-on-the-down-low.html) because they can’t be openly gay. It doesn’t make sense to me–just like how i NEVER understand how a woman or a black person could be a Republican.

but I digress.

so I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t think the black population needs to be encouraged to stand on their soapbox and proclaim civil liberties for gays just because they’ve gone through similar legal struggles in the past, but I also don’t think they should be vocally opposed to it.

3 12 2009
bros

I kind of hate identity politics like this. it isnt enough to simply define blacks as ‘minority’ and therefore obligated to support every other minority. Every group has groups they dont like or support regardless of how they are defined by the majority. this group of ‘blacks’ as we call them, are probably not a monolithic group, just like all religious people are not all anti-abortion. black people are simultaneously black, christian, prolife, prochoice, homophobic, homophilic (i made that up) liberal, conservative, feminist, etc. there is no such thing as just ‘black’ just like there is no such thing as just ‘gay’ so there can be no such thing as a simple minority identity politics here.

3 12 2009
Geof

the issue: gnarly burl of hard tropical wood
Bros: the Parsing Ripsaw of Truth

3 12 2009
Ashley

Dear Geof,

Why are you so great?!!

Love,

Ashley

3 12 2009
BS

if you ever run for office, i’ll work on your campaign

3 12 2009
bros

where have you been lately.

3 12 2009
BS

around…

even though i agree i with your point, i think it’s the job of progressives to help various oppressed groups understand that their fight for justice should be linked together.

so while we shouldn’t be pushing identity politics, their is unequivocal link between immigrant rights, union rights, urban city rights, the anti-war movement, etc.

They day we see white workers marching along side mexican laborers fighting for full citizenship rights is the day we’ll see things changing in the US

4 12 2009
Vjane

Blacks, Whites and in-betweens
Gay or Hetero, it’s in their genes
So everyone marry as they darn well please
In a house of worship or under the trees.

4 12 2009
CB

You go, VJane!

4 12 2009
Vjane

Thanks CB – why cant it all be that simple ???

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