In DC, gay marriage creates rift for African Americans
As they overwhelmingly approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the District, council members on Tuesday sounded as if they were at a civil rights march right out of the 1960s. ~Washington Post, Dec. 1
Having just passed the gay marriage bill in a vote of 11 - 2 in the District of Columbia Assembly, things are nevertheless not as unified as many would like.
One particular divide that has been revealed within the same sex marriage debate is the conflict between older and younger, or progressive and conservatives, within the African American community in DC.
Some younger African Americans, who insist on the "born that way" genetic argument about homosexuality, view the struggle for same sex marriage as precisely a civil rights issue. Older African Americans, however - many of whom fought and marched in the civil rights era of the 1960s - do not agree. Might this be an effect of generational and educational differences ? Some certainly think so.
"It is bringing truth to the words, 'All men are created equal,' " said David A. Catania (I-At Large).
"We're establishing equality under the law," said Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).
"When one group is denied a right, we are all denied that right," said Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).
But perhaps the fiercest opposition to the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in the District has come from some members of the generation that led the fight for civil rights nearly half a century ago, many of whom believe that comparing gay rights to the battle blacks waged for equality is misguided, even insulting.
"I reject the notion that gay rights is a civil rights question," said Rev. Anthony Evans, 50, associate minister of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Northwest and head of the National Black Church Initiative. "The great human rights question is what we're doing with the poor across the world."
When Catania introduced the bill, many of his most avid supporters turned out to be the children of those civil rights movement veterans, who see this cause as the natural continuation of their parents' and grandparents' struggle.
Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) noted that although he supports same-sex marriage, seeing it as the next chapter in the fight for equality, his mother, a minister, is "totally against it."
His father, a longtime political campaign consultant in the city, bristles when the drive for same-sex marriage is compared to the civil rights movement of his generation. "You can choose to be gay or not," Marshall Brown said. "You can never choose to be black or not."
Not so, his son said. "People are born that way," Kwame Brown said. "That could be a generational difference between the way he thinks and the way I think."
"That's a fair argument," the father replied when told of his son's view about the roots of sexual orientation. But the elder Brown still wasn't about to equate gay rights with the civil rights movement. Homosexuals, he said, "can hide it so easily, but we can't hide that we're black."
Across the country, from Massachusetts to California, the controversy over same-sex marriage has pitted traditionalists against progressives, conservatives against liberals. In the District, the debate is revealing a rift in the African American community, pitting some older residents whose attitudes toward sexuality are sculpted by a literal reading of Scripture against a younger generation who consider gay rights to be the human rights fight of their time.
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