The Black Divide: African-Americans Who Refuse to Support Equal Marriage Rights for Gays and Lesbians Are Shoving Their Own History Back into the Closet

Article excerpt

It certainly looks as if Republican mastermind Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, has found his "wedge issue"--at least as far ms African-Americans are concerned. Gay marriage, the sensation that's sweeping the nation from San Francisco to New Paltz, appears to have split black America right down the middle.

"I'm offended that they're comparing this to civil rights," says the Reverend Jeffrey Brown, a Baptist minister from Massachusetts, the epicenter of the same-sex marriage battle. "Marriage is not a civil right, and the struggle of gay and lesbian people cannot be compared to the struggle of blacks." Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson has called any attempt to parallel the gay marriage movement with the African-American struggle "offensive" and declared the civil rights movement to be "not about sex."

By contrast, author, lecturer, and frequent op-ed commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson told ABCNews.com, "When African-Americans say, 'Wait a minute, we are going to discriminate against you; we, in fact, don't see you as equal to us,' that is a dangerous, dangerous slope that you're going down." Likewise, the Reverend Ron Sailor, a minister and a Georgia state legislator, says, "Discrimination--whether it shows up in African-Americans versus white Americans 60 years ago or whether it shows against homosexual people today--is wrong." On March 23, testifying at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Bush's proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, U.S. representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, called Bush's push for the antigay amendment "an irrational and radical step that seeks to undermine the civil rights of our citizen." And one day later, Martin Luther King's widow, Coretta Scott King, tom a New Jersey audience, "A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

While the three largest associations of black ministers in the Boston area have held news conferences in front of the statehouse denouncing same-sex marriage, state representative Byron Rushing, a black Episcopalian, has called the argument that gays were never enslaved and therefore should not be compared with blacks "illogical." He continues, "These black clergy have redefined civil rights to say that it includes black people only. I'm not saying the experience of African-Americans was the same as gays and lesbians, though there are similarities."

And that in turn leads to what might well be the last straw. The Reverend Jesse Jackson--while visiting Harvard University for a recent event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the May 17, 1954, U.S. Supreme Court ruling that separate schools were inherently unequal--called the comparison of the two movements "a stretch" because "gays were never called three-fifths human ha the Constitution."

Being gay, black, politically active, and 57 years of age, it behooves me to remind the good reverend that he wouldn't be speaking at Harvard, or anywhere else for that matter, were it not for a gay black man named Bayard Rustin. A far more important leader in the civil rights movement than Jackson ever was, Rustin planned the historic 1963 March on Washington and stood right next to Martin Luther King Jr. when the great man delivered the "I have a dream" speech, the most famous oration since the Gettysburg Address.

Jackson and other gay rights detractors would likewise do well to remember the pivotal role played in the civil rights movement by a gay African-American writer named James Baldwin, whose novel Another Country and essay "The Fire Next Time" were the most widely read texts of the civil rights era. …