African Americans and same-sex marriage (SSM)
2012-MAY: Reactions to Democratic leaders'
statements on SSM by black church leaders.
2012-MAY: Statements by three Democratic leaders on SSM:
Early in MAY, three federal leaders of the Democratic Party gave statements on separate TV programs concerning their personal beliefs about same-sex marriage (SSM):
- On MAY-06, Vice President Joe Biden, who is a practicing Roman Catholic, issued a positive same-sex marriage (SSM) message on "Meet the Press." 1
- The next day by Education Secretary Arne Duncan was on MSNBC's program "Morning Joe." When asked if same-sex couples should be able to marry, he said: "Yes, I do." 2 (I don't recall any other political figure anywhere in North America capable of answering any question during an interview with a three word / six letter response.)
- The next day on MAY-08, President Obama's gave a detailed interview with Robin Roberts on ABC's "Good Morning America. He said:
"I've been going through an evolution on this issue. I've always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. At a certain point, I just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think that same sex couples should be able to get married. ... I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. ... And I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word 'marriage' was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth. ... I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." 3,4
Reactions from within the Christian community:
The three statements caused many conservative Christian leaders -- including some from predominately black churches -- to issue statements critical of position that the Democratic leaders have taken and of SSM itself. Meanwhile, more liberal Christian leaders complemented the three leaders and supported the legalization of SSM as an important civil rights advance. This exposed a split within Christianity over the primacy of salvation vs. human rights.
- The Bible contains about a half dozen "clobber passages" that may deal with same-gender sexual behavior.
- Conservative Christians have traditionally interpreted these biblical passages as condemning all types of same-gender sexual behavior, whether by men or women. Further they view the passages as implying or stating that anyone engaging in them will never attain Heaven after death.
- Some more liberal Christians interpret the same passages very differently.They suggest that none of the clobber passages refer lesbians, gays, and/or bisexuals who have formed loving, committed relationships. Rather many of them interpret the passages as condemning homosexual rape, same-sex behavior in pagan temples, same-sex behavior on a woman's bed, adults sexually molesting children, heterosexuals violating their basic nature by engaging in same-gender behavior, or slaveowners kidnapping slaves.
- The Bible also contains many themes. One calls on people to dispense justice, act fairly towards others, care for others, and treat them equally.
On same-sex marriage and other matters related to the LGBT community, conservative Christian denominations typically stress their interpretation of the clobber passages as taking primacy over passages dealing with justice. Liberal and progressive Christian denominations typically value the primacy of justice and individuals' civil rights. The congregations of many mainline faith groups are seriously divided on the issue.
The Christians come to opposite conclusions about whether SSM should be legalized. The religion cannot and does not speak with a unified voice.
Comparison to the current split in Christianity over SSM with the split over racial segregation in the 1950's:
A similar split occurred back in the 1950s over racial segregation. When evangelical leader Rev. Billy Graham asked Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to join one of Graham's crusades, King had one condition: that he be allowed to speak out against racial segregation. Graham allegedly vetoed the request and cancelled the invitation. According to Edward Blum, a historian at San Diego State University:
"What Graham feared was losing all of his influence. For him, personal salvation was primary, justice secondary. For King, justice was primary." 5
With his worldwide crusades, Rev. Graham was on a personal campaign to bring as many people as possible to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He believes that this will deflect them from an eternity of torture in Hell after their death towards an eternity of bliss in Heaven. If he allowed his crusade to deviate from this goal by becoming involved in civil rights, he apparently felt that his message would lose focus and he would lose support.
Billy Graham's campaign continued in 2012. On APR-27, Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, issued a statement supporting Amendment 1 in North Carolina. This was a citizen initiative to amend the state constitution. It was promoted by religious and social conservatives as a simple ban on same-sex marriage. In reality, it was a stealth amendment that bans same-sex marriages as well as civil unions, domestic partnerships, and in fact even minor legislation that recognized loving, committed same-sex couples as anything more than "legal strangers" to each other -- as simple roommates. Vote FOR Marriage NC, the main group promoting the amendment, released an audio recording by Franklin Graham urging voters to : "... take a stand on God's definition of marriage" which he believes is restricted to one man and one woman. Anne Graham Lotx, Franklin Graham's sister, also indicated her support for the amendment. 6
At the time, station WXII reported that: "Many religious leaders also have spoken out against the amendment, saying it runs counter to Christian principles of justice and fairness and would harm children."
Some reactions by black pastors:
- The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who was a part of Martin Luther King Jr’s inner circle, supported President Obama's statement. He likened it to President Lyndon Johnson who went on TV during the civil rights battles and called for racial equality. Lowery said:
"You can’t believe in equal rights for some people and yet not believe in equal rights for everybody. That includes the right to marry the person of your choice. Equal rights for some people are an oxymoron. ... A lot of white people didn’t believe in desegregation until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. And then they began to rethink it and basically came to the same conclusion" as President Johnson. 5
- Rev. Fred Robinson, of Charlotte NC said that President Obama is:
"... the president of the Untied States, not the pastor of the United States. America is a democracy, not a theocracy. I’m not going to [base my] vote on one issue. ... Our witness is stronger if we actually show that we believe in marriage and lived in and honored it. That would be a greater witness than running to the polls to enshrine discrimination in the state constitution." 5
- Rev. Tim McDonald, founder of the African-American Ministers Leadership Council personally opposes SSM and is interested in what black pastors will say on Sunday morning about President Obama's statement. McDonald said:
"I don’t see how you cannot talk about it. I have to. You can say I’m opposed to it [SSM], but that doesn’t mean I’m against the president. ...
Three years ago, there was not even a conversation about this issue – there wasn’t even an entertainment of a conversation about this." 5
- Bishop Carlton Pearson is an author 7 and a black pastor of a mega-church who lost his 6,000 member congregation and church building when he had a religious conversion and started to preach a philosophy of inclusion. He taught that lesbians and gays are accepted by God. He said that the tension between the Bible's call for holiness and justice is difficult to manage. Black pastors who favor marriage equality are very aware of the dangers if they accept President Obama’s position:
"That’s the risk that people take. A lot of preachers actually don’t have a theological issue. It’s a business decision. They can’t afford to lose their parishioners and their parsonages and salaries. ... I take the Bible seriously, just not literally. It’s more important what Jesus said about God than what the church says about Jesus. 5
Reactions by the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP):
The NAACP has opposed individual anti-same-sex marriage citizen initiatives around the U.S. in the past. However, 11 days after President Obama's endorsement of SSM their national board passed a resolution in favor of marriage equality at the state and national level. The board voted 62 to 2 in favor of the following resolution:
"The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the 'political, educational, social and economic equality' of all people. Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens. We support marriage equality consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Further, we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all people as protected by the First Amendment." 8
The reference to the First Amendment supports the right of religious groups to exercise their freedom of religion by refusing to marry same-sex couples and the right of other religious groups to marry couples in their congregations who are of the same sex.
Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, said: "Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law."
Roslyn M. Brock, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the NAACP, said: "The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure the political, social and economic equality of all people. We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law."
Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas, said in an apparent contradiction to all of the public opinion polls that we have seen that it is a myth that African-Americans are not in favor of marriage equality. She said: "Those not in favor perpetrate that myth. This will help dispel it." 9
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Video: Biden: "I am absolutely comfortable with gay marriage," The Steve Gill Show, 2012-MAY-06, at: http://gillreport.com/
- "Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorses gay marriage. Is Obama cornered?," The Christian Science Monitor, 2012-MAY-07, at: http://www.csmonitor.com/
- Col. E. Lee, "Obama supports same-sex marriage," Wall Street Journal, 2012-MAY-09, at: http://online.wsj.com/
- Rick Klein, "Obama: ‘I Think Same-Sex Couples Should Be Able to Get Married’," ABC News, 2012-MAY-09, at: http://abcnews.go.com/
- John Blake, "Complexity in black church reactions to Obama’s gay marriage announcement," CNN Belief Blog, 2012-MAY-11, at: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/
- "Franklin Graham backing N.C. marriage amendment. Voters head to polls May 8," WXII, Undated, at: http://www.wxii12.com/
- Carlton Pearson, "The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching beyond religious fundamentalism to the true love of God and Self," Atria Books, (2009). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- "NAACP passes resolution in support of marriage equality," NAACP, 2012-MAY, at: http://www.naacp.org/
- "NAACP marriage resolution delights local LGBT leaders," Dallas Voice, 2012-MAY-24, at: http://www.dallasvoice.com/
- John Blake, "Is the black church guilty of spiritual hypocrisy in same-sex marriage debate?," CHH Belief Blog, 2012-MAY-12, at: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/
Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-SEP-09
Latest major expansion and update: 2012-SEP-14
Author: B.A. Robinson