EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the fourth story in a series examining the national debate over same-sex “marriage.” The series will appear in Baptist Press each Friday.
Updated April 8, 2004
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–If all blacks share the view of Maryland pastor Thann Young, then the movement to legalize same-sex “marriage” will be a tough sell.
The African Methodist Episcopal minister sees no comparison between the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s and the so-called homosexual rights movement of today. In fact, he is quite offended by such parallels.
“As an African-American I really believe that this is probably one the greatest insults you can offer to the African-American struggle,” he told Baptist Press. “… It tends to minimize or even cheapen the struggle that African-Americans have experienced in this country by comparing it in this manner.”
Views within the black community mirror Young’s. Polls consistently show that blacks are more conservative than the overall population on issues relating to homosexual activism.
A November Pew Research poll showed that by a 60-28 margin blacks are opposed to same-sex “marriage.” By comparison, the general population is opposed by a margin of 59-32 percent.
While those numbers are similar, others aren’t. The same poll showed that blacks are much more likely to believe that homosexuality is a matter of choice, not genetics. Fifty-eight percent of blacks — compared to 42 percent of the general population — said homosexuality is due to a lifestyle preference. Only 15 percent of blacks — and 30 percent of the general population — said it is something with which people are born.
Such poll numbers are important because homosexual activists recently have sided themselves with the civil rights movement, saying they are fighting for equality much like blacks once did.
The poll numbers have some observers wondering if there will be political fallout. Blacks and homosexuals traditionally vote for candidates within the Democratic Party, which in recent years has taken stances siding with homosexual activists. The Democratic National Committee opposes a Federal Marriage Amendment, even though 62 percent of blacks in a Wirthlin poll supported such an effort.
The Federal Marriage Amendment would add language to the U.S. Constitution protecting the traditional definition of marriage.
Blacks are split on whether the issue of same-sex “marriage” should change voting patterns.
“I think that there is a move that is beginning to happen where African-Americans are beginning to look at political platforms,” said Terriel R. Byrd, assistant professor of religion at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He is black. “… I think they’re beginning to question whether or not they should be committed to the parties that tend to lean toward those kind of political viewpoints.
“As a result, you have African-Americans who are beginning to question their allegiance to one party or another.”
In February three major organizations of black pastors in Boston issued a joint statement supporting a marriage amendment and opposing the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” The next month one of those pastors, Richard Richardson, criticized those who say that traditional marriage is discriminatory. He serves as pastor of an African Methodist Episcopal church in Boston.
“The defense of marriage is not about discrimination. As an African American I know something about discrimination,” Richardson told a Senate subcommittee, calling himself a proud member of the Democratic Party. ”The institution of slavery was about oppression of an entire people. The institution of segregation was about discrimination.
“… The traditional institution of marriage is not discrimination, and I find it rather offensive to call it that. Marriage was not created to oppress people. It was created for children. It boggles my mind that people would compare the traditional institution of marriage to slavery.”
While many blacks may see no parallel to their struggle for civil rights, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court does. It its controversial ruling Nov. 18 legalizing same-sex “marriage,” the majority opinion cited two cases — Perez v. Sharp (1948) and Loving v. Virginia (1967) — that overturned various laws banning interracial marriage.
“As both Perez and Loving make clear, the right to marry means little if it does not include the right to marry the person of one’s choice …,” the court wrote.
Parallels to civil rights are wrong, Byrd said.
“It’s unfair to African-Americans,” he said. “It’s an injustice and a slap in the face to the struggle in which African-Americans have endured in this country.”
Two predominantly black denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Church of God in Christ, have voted to support a marriage amendment, as has the African-American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, which represents some 3,000 predominantly black churches.
“A man born black or any other ethnic group had no choice,” said Robert J. Anderson Jr., pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., and president of the African-American Fellowship. “That’s just the way he was born. But when you look into the gay community, I am personally convinced it is a choice that they make.”
But even if homosexuality is genetic, Anderson said, it still “does not justify the behavior.”
“Someone may have some genetic propensity for drinking,” he said. “We have a depraved human nature, and it needs to be controlled. They have tried to come in the back door and try to make a moral equivalency between civil rights and gay rights, and you can’t do it. One is wrong and the other is right.”
Seeing the opposition in the black community, homosexual activists have begun a targeted effort to change minds. A group known as the National Black Justice Coalition held a news conference Dec. 8 to announce plans to engage black leaders on various homosexual issues. They have support from Coretta Scott King and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
“We will not allow the out-of-touch radical right to divide the black community on this issue,” Coalition member Donna Payne said, according to a news release.
They may have their work cut out. Young, the AME pastor, said that the definition of marriage cannot and will never change.
“As a Christian, it is not an issue that I have to debate or try to defend the rightness or wrongness of,” he said. “I know from my theological training and background and faith that this is not God’s intent nor will it ever be regardless of how politicians and other groups rule.”
Marriage, he said, “was created by God for God and through God, and it is not something that we have the right to change or to modify through our own political or social preferences.”
The divide on same-sex “marriage” is wide, Young said, because the two sides approach it from different ends of the ideological spectrum. Homosexual activists view it as a political issue, while people of faith view it as a theological issue, he said.
“Those who are pro-gay marriage don’t spend enough time looking at it from a biblical-historical position,” Young said. “There’s a whole attempt to redefine marriage in terms that run counter to the biblical definition of marriage.”
Anderson, the Maryland Baptist pastor, believes the political answer is found in a marriage amendment.
“Since so many of our courts and our judges are liberal-minded … they are not our friends on that battle,” he said. “The only thing that we have left to help preserve the healthy, proper institution of marriage between a husband and a wife is the Federal Marriage Amendment.”
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