Former D.C. mayor Marion Barry is back in the headlines, this time for his controversial decision against gay marriage. On a 12-1 vote, the city councilman was the lone voter to push not to acknowledge gay marriages from other states in the nation’s capitol, a stark contrast to his years of pushing for gay rights. ESSENCE.com spoke with the Washington politico about his vote, those tax allegations and Black America’s issue with homosexuality.
ESSENCE.COM: Your same-sex marriage vote is causing quite a stir around the country. What exactly is your stance on gay rights?
MARION BARRY: My history goes back on this issue further than anyone else on the council. From the very beginning, since 1971, I have had an advocacy role for the gay and transgendered, starting with an openly gay teacher who was about to be fired and I stopped it. It went right along to gay pride day that I pushed through. I got them several places and now gay pride day is downtown on Pennsylvania Avenue where the President walks and rides. When I was mayor, I created laws, when it wasn’t popular like today. Look at the records, not just this one action.
ESSENCE.COM: So what made you vote against same sex marriage now?
BARRY: We live in a democracy and it allows dissent, without being castigated. Those who disagree with my vote should read the constitution or change the government. I represent 70,000 people, 98 percent of those are Black. In the African-American community, I’ve found the majority oppose same-sex marriage. In the Baptist preacher community, 98 percent oppose gay marriage, and here I am trying to decide what to do. I want to do what I think is right. In my ward, they didn’t hardly understand or support same unions, and I went against them. You have to listen to your constituency, not that I am in danger with 94 percent of the vote. I have the right to dissent and to respect my constituency. I think human rights are similar to civil rights, but when it comes to same-sex marriage I don’t think you can compare it or say this is equal rights. Obama and I are similar on this issue.
ESSENCE.COM: And what will it take to get the Black community to be more accepting of homosexuality?
BARRY: I had a meeting with an openly gay democratic group and six or seven ministers to just dialogue. I told the ministers God would want us to love everybody. You may not like their lifestyle, but we have to love anyway. Some of these ministers are hypocritical because they have closeted or even openly gay people in the choir or the usher board. Because most of these ministers blame it on the Bible, and that God created man to procreate, they’ll never get over the issue. The best you can get is an understanding from ministers and they won’t preach against it.
ESSENCE.COM: You also were in the news about your payments to the IRS, and some critics wondered how you could allegedly buy a $800 coat for your girlfriend and not pay your taxes on time. What’s the real deal?
BARRY: I’m current on all my taxes and I’m current on my monthly payment. They take 40 percent of my pay, almost $36,000 a year. I have 60 percent to do what I want and I bought the coat out of my own money, not Uncle Sam’s. Those who want to make fun of me should check the records. People try and nit-pick but they should get out of my business. She got the coat. I love it and she does, too. They are going to always mess with me and lose. One journalist even said I sniffed out gay marriage and that was despicable to go back 20 years. At my trial, it wasn’t proven I even had crack in that pipe. I don’t do anyone’s bidding and I can still be successful.