Today, Sunday, March 25th, is Black Marriage Day. This national event, sponsored by the Wedded Bliss Foundation, encourages black marriage between black people in black communities. It’s a celebration of traditional black matrimony: black-on-black, male-female, legally recognized love. Black Marriage Day discourages cohabitation and lauds two parent families as a gift to children. This celebration of wedded bliss, however, leaves many black families behind.
With its focus on legally-recognized marriage, Black Marriage Day excludes other committed relationships and non-traditional marriage, at a time in this country when marriage rates are on a steep decline. The Pew Research Center analyzed census statistics and found that just 51 percent of adults 18 plus are married — on the last census in 2000 57 percent of adults were married.
Almost all Black Marriage Day literature addresses different sex couples, with words and pictures that celebrate the sanctity of the traditional family. Without even announcing it, the holiday institutes a “straights only” rule. Even in states like Massachusetts and New York that do have gay marriage, there is scant recognition of anything resembling “Black Gay Marriage Day.” Although our LGBT brothers and sisters cannot marry in most states, they form loving relationships without marriage.
It is entirely possible — and completely overlooked—to have commitment and stability outside of law. Look at the histories of our ancestors who were forbidden to marry. They jumped brooms, tied hands, or just moved into a new house to symbolize commitment. They created families however they could, for however long they could. Yes, these relations were controlled by other people more powerful, but it is completely shortsighted to say that the legal way is the only way.
The focus on black married couples makes no room for interracial relationships, either. Regardless of one’s opinion of racial inter-mixture, Black Marriage Day fails to legitimize partnership with people from other racial groups. Yes, hundreds of articles have been written on gender disparities in marriage and dating between black men and black women. That argument is nothing new: when black women marry “down,” and black men marry “out,” it results in a low black-black marriage rate. What’s the result? Fewer black people marry each other, which results in intensified efforts to promote Black Marriage. And when black people marry outside their own race, creating a two-parent, legally wedded family, it remains outside the scope of consideration.
Black Marriage Day also dismisses the inherent value of single parents. If the stated focus of Black Marriage Day is the celebration of the two parent, married, heterosexual family unit, this leaves out single black parents of all persuasions. It seems as if the contributions of single parents are not recognized as valuable, and marriage would cure their defective parenting. Despite their parenting skills or expertise with children, their position as head of house conflicts with the traditional ideal.
How could Black Marriage Day be more productive and less exclusionary? It should celebrate black families in general, which would include a wide diversity of arrangements: interracial families, LGBT families, single parent households and yes, traditional families. This means that black marriage is one of many options for healthy black families. A Black Family Day, as opposed to a Black Marriage Day, says that all families deserve recognition and praise.
Commitment does not automatically equal marriage, and marriage does not automatically equal stability. To marriage promoters, becoming husbands and wives is the only route to the supposed benefits reserved for the institution: increased income, better children, and life improvements. It is under-inclusive to say that unmarried people cannot enjoy the same quality of life, and instead look only to marriage is a proxy, or a nostalgic shorthand, for a stable, perfect family. In searching for the perfect picture, Black Marriage Day overlooks the beautiful colors that paint a realistic picture of actual, not fantasized, family life.