I debated with myself for a few days about whether or not to write this column. It’s a touchy subject, and one that people hold many deeply held beliefs on. But it was reading ESSENCE’s post on Beyonce’s support for marriage equality on Facebook that prompted me to write. It wasn’t so much what she said; rather it was the comments that followed. I suppose I was both pleased and shocked by what I saw. I was pleased that I saw so many red equal signs, but shocked by the vitriol of some of the anti-equality posters. I’m fully aware that, especially in our community, there are still those who think gay marriage is wrong. But given the huge changes in opinions in just the past year, it still manages to surprise me when I see some of the arguments against marriage equality.
As the Supreme Court heard two cases involving same-sex marriage this week, protestors on both sides of the issue came out in force. The arguments against are typically rooted in religion, but sometimes just straight-out hate. It’s the religious arguments that are the most complicated and evoke the most emotion. Those who are out preaching hatred for gays and lesbians are more easily dismissed because, hey, they’re bigots and who cares what they think? But adding the layer of religion, especially those who espouse the “love the sinner, not the sin” language, can make things tricky.
We must admit that our community has traveled a long journey when it comes to accepting gays and lesbians. It wasn’t that long ago that the Republican party actively had a strategy of trying to suppress the Black vote or get Blacks to vote against Democrats by placing gay marriage initiatives on ballots across the state. On Sundays in many of our churches, our ministers would stand up and speak about the evils of homosexuality from the pulpit, as if oblivious to who was sitting in the pews and the church choir. And don’t even get me started about the homophobia prevalent in a lot of hip-hop culture.
But things changed. The general population seemed to move a little faster toward acceptance of gay marriage. But when President Obama came out (so to speak) last summer in favor of marriage equality, almost overnight you saw a shift among blacks. His announcement gave many the space to also evolve in their own opinions and thinking, and that is why in states like Maryland, marriage equality passed at the polls.
But there is still resistance. And how do you have that conversation with someone whose beliefs are so rooted in their religion? I think attacking religion is obviously the wrong way to go; for one, you immediately put folks on the defensive, shutting down any positive conversation and more importantly, I’m not going to cede that to be deeply religious is to be against homosexuality. There are too many people of faith to even mention here who are loudly and proudly supportive of marriage equality. And, for Christians, there’s that whole “love your neighbor” thing. Not to mention, unless my years of churchgoing missed this, I’m pretty sure Jesus never said anything about gays. And the Leviticus verse opponents always like to trot out? Well, here’s some other stuff Leviticus says too: No eating fat (there goes the entire American diet), no letting your hair become unkempt (there goes entire swaths of the population), and no mixing fabric in clothing (there goes the vast majority of what you’re probably wearing today).
To me it comes down to a long conversation I had with a close friend about this topic. After going round and round on the topic for a minute, I said, “Let me ask you this. I didn’t get married in a church. Does that make my marriage any less valid?” “No, of course not.” “And why is that?” I asked. Silence. “Because as long as you have a legal marriage license, it doesn’t matter where you get married.” “Right,” I said. “And who issues those licenses?” Silence. My friend, quietly: “The government.” “So, you see where I’m going with this, right?” I said. “We are not a government run by any religion. And since it is the government that regulates marriage, do you see why it’s wrong for them to deny couples the right to marry?” Silence. My friend never did answer me.
I understand that this is a very tough topic for some, and that some people may never change their minds. But instead of just reflexively repeating talking points that one might hear or thinking something is wrong “just because,” I hope that people actually take time to reflect on this and have respectful and thoughtful conversations. It is possible to be a person of faith and be in favor of marriage equality. And if for some reason they find that they can’t reconcile the two, the rest of us respectfully ask that they not stand in the way of progress.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Senior Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123