During this election year, I’ve found myself caught up in the sheer joy and exuberance watching African-Americans turn out in record numbers in support of President-Elect Obama. His historic win was due – in large part – to the 95% vote received from Black voters. Ironically, it was the same black vote putting its foot on years of oppression and bigotry which also set back the progress for another marginalized group. Black turnout was also a contributing factor to the passage of California’s Proposition 8; a ban on gay marriage. This, along with an assortment of anti-gay legislation passed in other states diminishes the significance of Obama making history. Sadly, black Americans are complicit in this anti-progressive movement. I initially had faith that black folks would keep our nose to the grindstone in defense of another oppressed group even if no other group did so. But I was sadly mistaken.
I suppose I’m not all that suprised with the outcome. On the one hand black Americans tend to be very liberal leaning with social issues (It’s for this very reason Democrats usually get our support). Meanwhile, when it comes to issues of morality – especically when using religion as a backdrop, we are very conservative people (except, of course when it comes to immoral acts in which we tend to participate: backbiting, pre-marital sex, lying, drinking, etc). This explains how Bush was able to secure a significant amount of the black vote in 2004. Nevertheless, despite our deeply conservative religious subscription, I was confident that our effort to confront years of bigotry with an Obama vote would work its way down to the Prop 8 initiative; tearing down the mentality that has kept our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters apart of a permanent underclass. I figured with the same ballot we would simultaneously step on the shameful history of bigotry facing two groups of people. Not the case. And I’m scared for us.
I’m fearful about how our religiously inspired bigotry will define us. Rather than seizing the opportunity to secure major victories for multiple groups, we only looked out for ourselves and our own interests. I fear for us right now because I suspect history will remember this moment because of our selfishness as much as because of Obama’s victory; victory which, by the way, was also made possible by some of the same gay and lesbian folks who were just denied their rights.
In fairness, black voters cannot shoulder all the blame (or even a significant part of the blame) for the passage of Prop 8. According to CNN exit polls, over half of all white voters in California and well over half of Latino voters also supported the ban. So it can’t be logically concluded that blacks were the single deciding demographic. Still, we black people should take a moment to at least recognize our role in this.
I think it’s important to note here that my issue isn’t necessarily with how religions define certain institutions. Though I have become increasingly disturbed by many of the narrow-minded practices of the church (small C), I at least recognize their right to practice as they see fit; this idea being holistically consistent with our freedom of religion. But likewise, we should also recognize the idea that religiously-supported organizations should not be able to dictate how institutions like marriage are defined by the country. Simply put, if churches refuse to acknowledge that marriage can happen between gays, that’s on them. However, when a state refuses to acknowledge a relationship based on that religious subscription, it is a public matter – and is indefensible. Many of us believe that marriage is a theological covenant created by God to join man and wife. But in the absence of clear-cut evidence (our believe in God is, after all, a belief ), using God’s design for marriage is – forgive me for saying – narrow minded and oppressive.
What’s interesting to me is that many opponents of gay marriage argue that allowing this practice would result in a precipitous flood of gay marriages all across the country. Some people have taken that argument a step further by suggesting that allowing gay marriage would lead to people marrying children, family members, animals or – get this – inanimate objects. Yet, despite the fear-mongering rhetoric of racists four decades ago, overturning laws against interracial marriage did not equate to a vast proliferation of the practice. Sure, you had a considerable share of interracial marriages (one which, ironically, produced our next President). But it certainly was not a dominant theme.
The naive “slippery slope” argument aside, I guess my ultimate issue is thinking that – as gay and lesbian folks dedicated themselves to joining blacks in our struggles, we have callously sat back as they struggle for their rights. I hurt for people like Bayard Rustin who – because of his homosexuality – had any ounce of recognition for his role in the Civil Rights movement stripped away. I hurt for the 70% of gay and lesbian folks who came out in groves for Obama; only to watch themselves be relegated to second-class citizenry. That’s the unfortunate reality of the world.
I understand black people’s deep religious convictions. I was born and raised traditional Baptist myself. I also understand the opposition people have to unnatrualness of homosexuality. I never been able to understand how a person could have a physical attraction to somebody of the same sex. All the same, I feel compelled through love to defend marginalized groups irrespective to how I personally feel about them. I have a hard time reconciling with the idea that Jesus is OK with using bigotry in His name no more than He would have approved of racists using the Bible to justify anti-miscegenation laws. Anybody who claims to love God and claims to possess the love and tolerance that Jesus himself demonstrated should be disturbed that such a blantant display of bigotry was allowed to survive with Prop 8. But that’s just my opinion…
In his usual fashion, Keith Olberman drove the point home. I share in his sentiments:
As a side note, I think it’s important to ask: is a weekend long Vegas marriage by Britney Spears or a marriage by a governor’s knocked up daughter and her knuckleheaded boyfriend any more sacred than a marriage of two responsible and consenting adults who happen to be gay? Just sayin…