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Same-sex marriage support shows diversity in African-American religious community

By Rev. Dennis Wiley

I commend President Obama for doing the right thing in expressing hissupport for marriage equality. As a president who has championed the cause of justice and equality for all Americans, his statement sends the right message at the right time.

While some ponder the political impact of his pronouncement, I applaud him for exhibiting the courage and integrity to clarify his position, despite his current campaign for a second term in office.

As an African-American faith leader who pastors a black church, and who co-chaired DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality, I am heartened that this historic affirmation of same-sex marriage emanated from our nation’s firstblack president. For far too long, many have assumed that all black people are hopelessly homophobic and that black churches are united in their opposition to marriage equality.  The truth is that neither the black community nor the black church is monolithic.  Like others, we are diverse human beings who hold a rich diversity of ideas, opinions and points of view.

President Obama’s “constantly evolving feelings,” that have culminated in his current position on this subject, reflect a gradual process of discernment that is paradigmatic of what other African Americans are also experiencing.  Because we are all products of a culture that is saturated with anti-gay rhetoric, bigotry, and discrimination, it is not unusual for any of us — whether gay or straight — to struggle with the prospect of disentangling ourselves from the hatred and intolerance that have been instilled within us.

When to that already toxic infusion we add historical layers of biblical fundamentalism, the perpetuation of sexual stereotypes, the emasculation of black men, the devaluation of black women, and the continuing quest of black people for acceptance, civility, and respectability within a racist society, it is absurd to think that African Americans would not struggle to embrace same-sex marriage.  For instance, although my own liberation from homophobia occurred long before I entered the pastoral ministry, it did not occur overnight. As with President Obama, my conversion experience was also a gradual, evolving process in which I eventually became convinced and convicted that injustice, discrimination and oppression of anyone, no matter whom, is simply wrong.

Now that Obama has made his stance on marriage equality clear, we in the African-American community — regardless of our personal opinions — must allow others the necessary time and space to evolve in their own understanding of, and response to, this issue.  According to the Pew Research Center, statistics reveal that an evolution is taking place.  In 2008, for example, only 26 percent of African Americans favored gay marriage whereas 63 percent opposed it. In 2012, however, the number supporting gay marriage has increased to 39 percent whereas the number against it has decreased to 49 percent.

Hence, while opposition to gay marriage continues to run deep among African Americans, and especially among those who belong to a church or some other community of faith, a change is clearly taking place. This evolving reality is one of the reasons that the 2009 fight for marriage equality in the District of Columbia was so successful. Not only was this effort supported by the city’s black mayor, but also by seven out of nine black members of the D.C. City Council.  As I spoke to ministers throughout the city, I also observed that several of my black clergy colleagues were seriously and genuinely struggling with this issue.

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