I have learned
as both a pastor and also as a member belonging to several
minority groups - African-American, women and lesbian - that a
popular opinion on a civil rights issue does not always
reflect the right choice. Too often the right choice and the moral
high ground on an issue derive from small struggling groups
trying both to be seen and heard among the cacophony of dissenting
voices and opposing votes. And it is with these groups that we see
democracy’s tenacity working, where those relegated to the fringes
of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted
as their inalienable right like the right for all of its citizens
Last week we saw democracy work
with the election of Barack Obama as our country’s first African
American president. My enslaved ancestors who built the White
House could have never imagined that one of their progenies would
one day occupy it. But we also saw last week, on the same day, how
democracy didn’t work for its LGBTQ citizens with the passing of
Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution eliminating
marriage equality for same-sex couples, after the California Supreme
Court ruled in May that a “separate and unequal” system of domestic
partnership for same-sex couples is not only blatantly discriminatory
but it is also unconstitutional.
gay community places blame on African Americans for the passing
of Proposition 8, we were one of many interest groups backing the
although we are just 6.2 percent of the state’s overall population
we can’t wash our hands clean by saying other interest groups are
just as culpable.
Seven out of ten of us
pulled a lever to deny another minority groups their civil rights.
And while the pollsters and pundits say that religion was our reason,
as African American we have always discarded damning and damaging
statements and scriptures about us in the name of religion like
biblical passages that either cursed all people of African ancestry
(The Curse of Ham, Genesis 9:18-27) or advocated slavery (Ephesians
Proposition 8 supporters voted yes believing the future traditional
family was at stake. But when society narrowly defines marriage
as solely the union between a man and a woman, it ignores the constantly
changing configuration of today’s family units. And the African
American community knows this best. While African American ministers
will argue for the traditional nuclear family, the stresses and
strains of racism has and continues to thwart the possibility. So
we created our own family structures.
Therefore, multiple family structures
presented by same-sex marriages should not pose a threat to the
African-American community because they are what have sustained,
saved and are still saving African-American families. A grandmother
or an aunt and uncle - straight or gay - raising us in their loving
home have anchored our families through the centuries. And these
multiple family structures, which we have had to devise as a model
of resistance and liberation, have always, by example, shown the
rest of society what really constitutes family- its spiritual
content and not is physical composition.
Unfortunately, civil rights
struggles in this country have primarily been understood, reported
on and advocated within the context of African American struggles.
The present-day contentious
debate between black and queer communities, concerning what
constitutes a legitimate civil rights issue and which group owns
the right to use the term, is both fueled and ignored
by systemic efforts by our government that deliberately pit
both groups against each other rather than upholding the 13th and
14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that afford each of these marginal
groups their inalienable rights.
While it is true that the white
LGBTQ community needs to work on its racism, white privilege,
and single-issue platform that thwart all efforts for coalition
building with both straight and queer communities of color, the
African-American community needs to work on its homophobia.
The blame of the passing of
Proposition 8 should not be placed on the
shoulders of blacks, Latinos or even religion, but rather the blame
should rightly be placed on the shoulders of our government. To
have framed our civil rights as a ballot question for a popular
vote was both wrong-hearted and wrong-headed. If my enslaved
ancestors had waited for their slaveholders to free them, predicated
on a ballot vote we all wouldn’t be living in the America we know today. And Barack Obama would
not be our president-elect.
Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist,
theologian, and public speaker. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe
is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary
at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American
church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate
as a Ford Fellow. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible
Prayers for Not-So-Everyday Moments .
As an African American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector
of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com.
to contact the Rev. Monroe.