This week the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in the case that will determine the constitutionality of gays to marry. The issue of marriage equality has been at the forefront of the political debate for about a decade and in that time the pendulum has swung dramatically in favor of equal rights for gay couples.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama made a direct connection between three civil rights movements, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement and said, “[w]e, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.”
This was the first time in history a president has linked the fight over gay rights to the civil rights struggles of eras past. By directly linking gay rights to the civil rights movement for black Americans, old school black politicians have been forced, some reluctantly, to endorse marriage equality. Most of the Democratic Party has endorsed marriage equality, with late supporters including Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators John Tester (D-MT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Mark Warner (D-VA).
Where’s the CBC on marriage equality?
The Democratic Party has been ahead of the GOP on this issue, and that includes almost all members of the Congressional Black Caucus. All but three members of the CBC has come out to support the right of gays to marry. For all but three members of the Congressional Black Caucus, gay is the new black.
Unsurprisingly, the three holdouts come from deep red states; Representatives David Scott (D-GA), Sanford Bishop, Jr. (D-GA), and Bennie Thompson (D-MS). At a moment where the right to marry isn’t a question of if, but when, the remaining holdouts may find themselves permanently planted on the wrong side of history.
All three voted in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman and a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004 and in 2006. As the American people shift on this issue, and with 80 percent of people under 30 years old supporting marriage equality, Rep. Scott, Bishop, and Thompson find themselves the last of the black democrats in Congress to oppose equal rights for gay couples.
Black politicians on the right side of history
Certainly, these prominent black politicians with ties to the black church have their moral objections and will point to the old testament when defending their opposition. The American people’s, including many black Christians’, views on gay rights have evolved rapidly. The rest of the CBC might want to fully evolve before they get replaced by an up and comer. The next generation of black politicians isn’t delaying on the issue of marriage equality. Newark mayor Cory Booker has been a long time supporter of marriage equality and Atlanta’s mayor Kasim Reed has recently voiced support as well.
As up-and-coming black politicians with their eyes on CBC membership look at the wave of public opinion, they will see opportunity. It might not happen right away, but Rep. Scott, Bishop, and Thompson will need to evolve on this issue in order to win future elections, even in their deep red states.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell at @ZerlinaMaxwell