Black clergy on same-sex marriage


As The Times’ story “Coming to grips with same-sex marriage ruling” shows, with the mainstream media, there seems to be no real interest in thinking outside the box that has been drawn for them by certain gay groups. That is why we see the same faces and hear the same voices on all things gay. The same organizations are looked to as the authoritative representation of the gay community similar to the way that Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson are looked to when blacks are upset.

And even though Los Angeles is home to a plethora of respected black clergy that is affirming of lesbians and gays -- including Agape International Spiritual Center’s Rev. Michael Beckwith, Rev. Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles and civil rights icon Rev. James Lawson -- those voices are almost never chosen to represent the voice of reason and African Americans on gay issues. No, we’ve got to be portrayed as being negative, helping to fuel the notion that blacks are homophobic.

Had The Times’ reporters gone back a few years in their archives, they would have come across an article written by their now retired colleague, Gayle Pollard-Terry, entitled, “A shout rings out,” which profiled black gay Christians and drew national attention. The article featured Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, a 26-year-old black church headquartered in Los Angeles but with chapters across the nation. Unity was founded by Archbishop Carl Bean for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender African Americans.


Nationally, the list of prominent black clergy supporting the right of lesbians and gays to marry has grown exponentially over the last several years to include Sharpton; Unitarian Universalist Assn. President William Sinkford; Harvard University chaplain Peter J. Gomes; Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson; his wife, Rev. Marcia L. Dyson; and Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

Yes, that’s right. The pastor whose comments were inaccurately portrayed by the media as being unpatriotic --and then were used by presidential candidate Barack Obama’s opponents to distract voters -- is and has been a supporter for equal rights of lesbian and gay couples. The media somehow missed that in all its criticism of Wright.

Although I am a lesbian, I disassociated myself from the gay-marriage movement sometime ago when it became clear and apparent that the gay groups here in California leading the charge were more concerned with obtaining gay marriage than any other issue affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They continue to be more concerned with reciting quotes from black civil rights leaders and groundbreaking court cases than with putting those same quotes into action. Similar to the way that I feel about the mainstream media perpetuating this notion that gay is white and black is homophobic, gay groups have repeatedly demonstrated their unwillingness to do any meaningful coalition-building.

Since the ruling, these same groups have been busy invading my in-box with e-mails about why I need to give them my money so that they can fight for my right to marry. I have yet to receive an e-mail from these same groups about the upcoming California ballot initiative that would do away with rent control. I haven’t received an e-mail about how the gay community in California needs to work together to help fight the governor’s spending plan that includes steep cuts in welfare and healthcare, programs that many lesbian and gay families rely on to make it through. You know, those bread-and-butter issues that many black gays will tell you matter more than or as much as the California Supreme Court’s ruling.

Last week’s ruling was unprecedented and has set the stage for another national dialogue on equal rights for lesbians and gays, a dialogue that will eventually extend to the 2008 presidential campaign. I fully expect a repeat of 2004, when the Republican Party used the issue of gay marriage to persuade blacks to vote against their best interests. After all, that’s what Republicans do best -- use the Bible to invoke mass hysteria at the polls. Hopefully this time, the fact that we’re in a recession and a never-ending war, coupled with a black Democratic presidential candidate and a little common sense, means that blacks won’t be so easily tricked into voting against their best economic interests again with biased media reports portraying all gays as white and all blacks as homophobic.

Jasmyne Cannick is a critic based in Los Angeles who writes about pop culture, race, class and politics as played out in the African American community. She is a regular contributor to National Public Radio’s “News and Notes.”

This Blowback is adapted from a longer commentary available at

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