On May 9, 2012, President Barack Obama made the groundbreaking decision to publicly express support for gay marriage. The move was a first for a sitting U.S. president. Obama’s decision to share his personal views on same sex marriage not only led to speculation that he could lose the 2012 presidential race to Republican challenger Mitt Romney but also that he could lose the support of African-American voters. Why? While polls of black voters indicate that they oppose gay marriage in higher numbers than other racial groups, the African-American community is extremely diverse. Prominent blacks who are not gay themselves have supported same sex marriage and gay rights. They’re well known in the civil rights and entertainment arenas and even the church.
Freedom to Marry/Flickr.com
Coretta Scott King
could’ve easily ignored the debate surrounding gay rights and same-sex marriage. After all, this was an issue her legendary husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King
, never addressed. Before her death in 2006, however, Coretta Scott King decided to weigh in on the topic of marriage equality. During a speech at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in March 2004, King characterized gay rights as civil rights and said she opposed legislation to ban same-sex marriage. “Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union,” she said. “A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”
Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard,
fought for the right to have their interracial marriage recognized by the State of Virginia all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Forty years later, Loving, who was of black and Native American origin, compared her struggle to marry her white husband to that of gays and lesbians who want to marry their partners. “I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry,” she remarked in June 2007. “Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.” Mildred Loving died the following year.
Proposition 8, a measure to ban same-sex marriage in California, appeared on the ballot in 2008. Samuel L. Jackson was among the Hollywood celebrities to speak out against the ban, which voters ultimately passed but the courts later found to be unconstitutional. Jackson recorded a radio segment encouraging voters not to support the controversial proposition. In addition, he spoke out about the Mormon Church’s overwhelming support for the measure after actor Tom Hanks’ called Mormon backers of Prop. 8 supporters “un-American.” Jackson told Foxnews.com, “I wouldn’t go so far as to calling them un-American. I’d just call them misinformed.”
Actress and comedienne Aisha Tyler appeared in a public service announcement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Americans for Marriage Equality Campaign in January 2012. The co-host of CBS chat show “The Talk” said she supports gay marriage, in part, because she’s in an interracial marriage. “I’m married and my husband is white,” she says in the PSA. “But did you know that 40 or 50 years ago in many American states it was illegal for black people and white people to marry? Well now we have that same injustice here in the United States because gays can’t marry each other in many states. And I support marriage equality because I believe that everybody should have the right to marry who they love.”
Freedom to Marry/Flickr.com
In February 2012, the Rev. Al Sharpton also teamed up with the Human Rights Campaign to release a video in support of same-sex marriage. Sharpton remarked, “All of us must fight for what’s fair and for what’s right.” He also drew a line between church and state. “As a Baptist minister, I don’t have the right to impose my beliefs on anyone else,” he said in the video. “So if committed gay and lesbian couples want to marry, that’s their business. None of us should stand in their way.”
The Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., penned an essay in May 2012 showing his support for President Obama’s decision to come forward in favor of same-sex marriage. His support and that of Sharpton and other black pastors such as the Rev. Kenneth Samuels in Atlanta shows that even black Christians don’t all oppose gay rights. Coates explained
, “One’s personal religious beliefs about homosexuality should not be the basis for determining whether same gender loving couples deserve equal treatment under the law. To do so establishes a discriminatory and dangerous public policy precedent that potentially threatens the civil liberties of all people. As a Christian minister, I believe my role is to live in my faith, not to legislate it, and as long as the State does not seek to regulate the Church, the Church should not seek to regulate the State.”