Two days ago I wrote a column addressing the recent Federal Circuit Court decision in California which reversed Proposition 8 and set the stage for a Supreme Court battle to legalize same-sex marriage. It has been met with mixed reactions.
There appears to be three sides of the debate and great minds find different angles within the maze. First, most agree that civil rights protections should be extended to all minority groups – but stop just short of marriage. These seem to have adopted the far-right narrative that marriage is a “sacred institution” reserved for “one man and one woman”. Others seem to believe that gays are dying and going to “hell” in a hand basket and don’t deserve the respect of the law in any regard. And then there is the small minority, who don’t care what others do in the privacy of their bedrooms, or believe in the solitude of their hearts – and as a result, are happy to live and let live. I am of the latter contingent, but have found that this space is never fully occupied and it appears to be mostly open for rent.
There are a number of reasons why opinions among African-Americans on the issue of gays rights is so varied. The most important is religion. Understandably, the African-American community is often very liberal politically but traditionally, socially conservative especially on matters of faith. For obvious reasons, sexuality has always been viewed through the lens, however dubious or misguided, of morality. There is hardly a Sunday morning in black churches across the country during which the sermon does not, at least briefly, visit the subject of sexual immorality – outlining the do’s and don’ts in the eyes of God and man.
The black church has remained, for four centuries, the central most important and influential institution in the African-American community. Even during slavery when it was illegal for blacks to read and congregate, they found refuge in the exception of the Sunday morning service. It soon became the center of all political and social engagement. This explains why many African-American leaders and political activists of the past century have been religious leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the Baptist minister; Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam; and Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. The nucleus of the community has centered around faith in God. This makes sense especially when you consider the unbelievable challenges which the struggles of slavery, discrimination and poverty have wrought in our myriad history. If not for faith and hope, what other reasons would our ancestors have found to endure such tragedy and moments of doubt?
WATCH MSNBC COVERAGE OF THE GAY MARRIAGE DEBATE:
What is interesting now is how easily we cling to ancient ideals — once used to oppress our own people — and now translate those very notions to oppress others. Much like the biblical stories of the curse of Kush were used to justify African slavery by our white colonizers — we now use the Old Testament legends of Sodom and Gomorrah to excuse discrimination against gays and lesbians. As our grandmothers used to say: two wrongs do not make a right. And no lie can live forever.
And so the Federal Court decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, currently under petition to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (and likely to reach the United States Supreme Court), asks a poignant question of particular interest to minorities in America. How exactly are we different? The idea that blacks cannot choose to be black but gays can choose their disposition, appears to be a rift in the dialogue on the issue of legitimacy. Some African-American voters still see homosexuality as an elected trait. Why? And why would they choose this?
It is clear that it is far more advantageous to be black than gay in modern-day American society. Black is cool. Black is trendy. Black is strong, musical, powerful and athletic. Black even rules the White House. But gay? Gay remains sidelined, marginalized, considered weak, seen as perpetrators of AIDS, inappropriate, too masculine to be a woman, too feminine to be a man, and often times, only tolerated when silenced or inconspicuous. The burden of being unacceptable and undesirable is synonymous with the story of too many gay men and women, struggling to find peace in the midst of such a thunderstorm. The truth of the matter is: no one, unless they long for battle, would ever choose to be gay. Let us therefore, put that argument to rest.
And then there appears to be a more subtle and slightly insipid stance, that the gay rights movement is completely divorced from the black community. Some commentators claim that the gay rights movement is being spawned by middle-class and upper-class white males and lesbians, whose stories do not resonate with the greater struggles of minority communities. There is a disconnect and misrepresentation of the gay community.
Much like African-Americans represent every color and hue on the spectrum, both in skin tone and backgrounds, so does the gay community. We are all different, representing everything and nothing in particular. Gay can be black, white, poor, rich, Latino, Asian, etc. In the same way it does not serve any minority to further alienate themselves along superficial lines, neither does it serve minorities in general to form a class system within a class system; or a caste system in which someone is always less desirable or more worthy.
The greater story here appears to be one of tolerance, or lack thereof. The tenements of the women’s suffrage movement, which largely benefited white females, were based firmly on the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement in America. All manner of minorities across the world, have used the example of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to stake their claims on equal treatment under the law. That legacy should be celebrated not debated, and African-Americans, gay, straight or otherwise, should be capable of embracing the differences evident in all people.
Discrimination remains prevalent in our society and the universal society at-large. It is not always based on skin color. More importantly race-based discrimination is not necessarily worse than any other: whether it be religion, class, ethnicity or sexual orientation. In the words of Sister Souljah: feel free to disagree without being disagreeable. Embracing our differences, and valuing the experiences of others, is the mark of a truly emancipated society.