The issue of same sex marriage has sparked a heated controversy within the African American community, and particularly among African American clergy, where a tremendous amount of passion, energy and commitment to defeat any efforts for marriage equality has been expended for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the majority of black folk believe the traditional understanding of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
This belief is deeply entrenched in the biblical teachings that God created man and woman as helpmates; companions for the purpose of fulfilling God’s plans for populating and tending to the earth. The concept of relationships existing outside of this defined parameter is not considered, and if they are considered, they are not accepted as being within God’s design for human relationships. African Americans believe that homosexuality is a sin that further contradicts the will of God for human relationships.
The irony and hypocrisy of maintaining this belief is that gays and lesbians have knowingly been a part of our communities, our churches and our families for decades, and we (African Americans) have never operated in the overt and purposeful condemnation that has been seen during the recent debate concerning marriage equality. The further hypocrisy is that the African American clergy, and therefore a large part of the African American community seems to believe that homosexuality is a sin that is separate from the sins of fornication, adultery, false accusations, deceit, pride, greed, usury, lust, lasciviousness and the host of other weaknesses of the flesh.
The second reason for the energetic and passionate resistance of the African American community against marriage equality is the result of the misinformation about the impact marriage equality legislation would have on a church’s religious freedom. Many African American clergy incorrectly believed that if marriage equality passed, churches would be required to perform same sex weddings if requested by a gay or lesbian couple. Once again there is irony in this argument because separation of church and state is the very same argument used by those advocating for same sex marriage, indicating that marriage is a civil institution by virtue of the State of California issuing the marriage license.
Another reason the African American community has passionately and aggressively come out against marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is that marriage equality is not considered a priority in our community. This reasoning however is the greatest irony and hypocrisy regarding the issue of marriage equality, because the passion, energy and commitment to defeat marriage equality has by default made it a priority in our community.
Issues such as unemployment and underemployment, lack of affordable healthcare, the high percentage of HIV/AIDS affecting African American women, the failure of public education and the up to 60% high school drop-out rate of African American males, the highest incarceration rate and the highest proportion of inmate population compared to our percentage of the population, teenage pregnancy, the high percentage of single parent households and the equally high percentage of foster care children are more pressing issues in our communities, but there is not the same passion, energy and commitment from the African American clergy to solve these problems that has been displayed in the marriage equality debate.
Public education has been failing African American children for decades. Statistics show that African American children (males in particular) are performing at 3 – 4 grade levels below their actual grade, and there is no outcry, no passion, and no energy from our community to demand reform of education. Statistics show that up to 60% of African American males are dropping out of high school, and there is no outcry, no passion, and no energy from our community to stop this blatant assault upon the African American male. Statistics show that there is a direct correlation between the high school drop-out rate and the rate of prison incarceration, and there is no outcry, no passion, and no energy from our community to halt the growth of the prison industrial complex, the new slavery. Statistics show that 50% of African American students completing 12 years of public education do not pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) which is at 8th grade level, and there is no outcry, no passion, and no energy from our community to demand accountability. Town Halls on public education have been held in our communities and we have no more than 50 people in attendance. SCLC of Greater Los Angeles has produced and distributed a 90-minute documentary on the failure of public education and has yet to illicit a response from key African American leaders about how we save our children. What do we really hold as a priority in our community?
SCLC of Greater Los Angeles has been on the forefront of organizing the predominately African American Security Officers into a union in order to improve wages, secure affordable health benefits and create better working conditions for over four years. These Security Officers live in our communities; they are husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, sisters and brothers. The results of organizing a union will generate millions of dollars for our communities and significantly improve the quality of life for the families of these Security Officers, yet there have been no more than five pastors engaged in this struggle for justice during the entire campaign. SCLC of Greater Los Angeles has also advocated for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which will allow for union organizing without the intimidation of corporations. Union jobs have historically been the conduit for middle-class jobs for our communities and EFCA will make union jobs a reality for our communities. When there is a 40% unemployment rate for African American males, what do we really hold as a priority in our community?
HIV/AIDS is devastating our community by killing our women. 70% of all new HIV/AIDS cases among women affect African American women and there is no outcry, no passion and no energy from our community to stop its devastation. Women are being affected by men recently released from prison and/or men on the “down-low”, and there is no preaching from the pulpit, no outcry, no passion and no energy from our community to expose the deceit. The bulk of the resources to fight the HIV virus are in West Hollywood, in the white gay community, and there is no outcry, no passion no energy to speak out against the institutional discrimination, racism and white privilege that continues to prevent access to resources. What do we really hold as a priority in our community? What about teenage pregnancy, the high percentage of foster care children, and the single parent households in need of male mentors?
Our people are dying for lack of knowledge, knowledge held by the traditional gatekeepers of our communities, our clergy, who were once the voices crying in the wilderness about the injustices towards our people. Those voices have become silent on the issues that are critical to our community’s survival. Those voices have become silent in the fight for justice and equality. It has always been the voice of our clergy to advocate on behalf of our people, to defend the oppressed, to speak out against injustice. Where has that voice gone? Where is the outcry against injustice, the passion for justice, the energy to defeat the oppressor, the commitment to equality, respect and dignity for the African American people?
Instead, there has been a tremendous outcry by the African American clergy against marriage equality for the gay and lesbian community, which whether it passes or fails, does not have any impact on the African American community. Instead, there has been passion, energy and commitment from the African American clergy to defeat marriage equality, rather than that same passion, energy and commitment to finding solutions for the survival and continued progress of our people. What do we really hold as a priority in our community?
We used to hold to the belief and guiding principle of our slain martyr, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We used to hold true to God’s calling of siding with those oppressed and discriminated against. We used to hold as a priority the principle of justice and equality, especially for those who were treated differently. Instead, we have become as our former oppressor, denying rights and privileges to one group of people that all other groups enjoy. Our calling is not to oppress, but to deliver. Our calling is not to discriminate, but to advocate for justice.
African Americans, more than any other people, have earned the right through our legacy of defeating the immorality of slavery, Jim Crow Segregation and legal discrimination, and therefore having the moral obligation to speak out against injustice. My fear is that not only have we lost our way as it pertains to what are the priorities for the survival of the African American community, but we have also lost our way as it pertains to being the moral voice of authority when it comes to issues of justice. Our voice can not just be used to speak out against African American injustice; it must be used to speak out against all injustice. My fear is that we have become imprisoned by our own apathy.