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Blacks lack standing on marriage question.

FOLLOWING THE PASSAGE of Proposition 8 in California last November, the battleground for marriage equality has now shifted to the nation's capital as efforts are under way to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA), which precludes the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage even in states where it is legal. One group that strongly supported Proposition 8--with seventy percent voting yes, according to some exit polls--was African-American voters. This past September, African-American bishop Harry Jackson and other black Christian pastors submitted a ballot initiative to prohibit any recognition of same-sex marriage, including those performed out of state, in Washington, D.C.

And yet, when we take a closer look at where the African-American community stands in relation to marriage as an institution, it becomes clear that black clergymen might be better off tending to their own flocks' marital woes than worrying about other groups' quest for the right to marry. When hard facts and figures are presented, the argument could be made that African Americans are ahead of the pack in the so-called destruction of a traditional marriage. According to the 2001 U.S Census, 43 percent of black men and 41 percent of black women had never been married, compared to 27 percent of white men and twenty percent of white women. Indeed, African Americans have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the U.S. Furthermore, the same census revealed the jaw-dropping statistic that 68 percent of all black babies in the U.S. are born out of wedlock.

These numbers, when juxtaposed with the high levels of support for Prop 8 and other anti-gay measures, suggest that some incredible hypocrisy is afoot. Many blacks clearly aren't practicing what they preach. The audacity of so many African Americans voting to deny marriage to others when they themselves have opted out of this institution strikes me as simply shameful. And there's more. According to the last census, African Americans greatly outnumber any other racial group when it comes to households headed by an unmarried women with children. This fact stands in stark contrast to cries that children should only be raised by one woman and one man.

The fact that one minority is actively participating in the denial of another minority's civil rights is perplexing, especially coming from a group that has such a long history of discrimination and such a direct awareness of its costs. Are African-American attempts to legally ban gay marriage just another validation to their longstanding reputation as deeply homophobic? If not, as many claim, why have some African Americans inserted themselves into the same-sex marriage fray when so often they themselves are less than stellar examples of traditional marriage? Are African Americans abandoning core values of their own community just to stop two men or two women from walking down the aisle together? It is hard to see, for example, how someone like convicted drug offender and bribe-taker Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington and now a council member, could condemn the passage of a D.C. law recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere; but there you have it. Predicting a civil war, Barry assured reporters that "all hell is going to break loose" as a result of the measure's passage. Such statements fall somewhere between the humorous and the frightening, yet they underscore the irrationality of some African-American leaders' attitude toward the gay community.

Never to be overlooked in these matters is the power and pervasiveness of the African-American church. While old-school black clergy often blended politics and religion in their sermons, the values of unity and equality ultimately reigned supreme. But a new breed of conservative black clergy has turned to Christian theology to justify what seems to be a deep-seated prejudice against gay people. Since these contemporary black clergymen seem so concerned about the sanctity of marriage and so worried about its destruction, I wonder how much energy they put into encouraging unwed black men to marry their unwed black baby mamas. Conversely, how much energy do they devote to encouraging the small percentage of black couples who are married to remain that way? Did any of those black churches that mobilized their parishioners to vote for Prop 8 in California put the same time and effort into keeping their parishioners out of poverty or out of jail, or into keeping them employed or off drugs, or into addressing any of the very tangible problems that plague the African-American community?

Lest we forget, laws against interracial marriage were on the books in the U.S. until 1967. These laws were justified and perpetuated above all by the white evangelical churches, so it is beyond ironic that the black clergy has now aligned itself with these very churches in their opposition to same-sex marriage. And while blacks have benefited greatly from the rejection of laws against interracial marriage and racial discrimination in general, it's hard to see how they're harmed by an expansion of marriage to include gay and lesbian couples. Considering their low participation in the institution of marriage, it's difficult to see this as a burning issue for the African-American community at all, or why they should play a decisive role in its adjudication.

Lerone Landis is a freelance writer on gay culture and politics who has contributed to Dallas Voice, The Texas Triangle, Curve, and others.
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Title Annotation:GUEST OPINION
Author:Landis, Lerone
Publication:The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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