Changing blacks’ tune on same-sex marriage?
Newly formed Maryland Black Family Alliance says it is a civil right
A new civil rights group, comprising an eclectic mix of black politicians, ministers and activists, wants to send a strong message to state officials opposed to same-sex marriage.
In advocating publicly for gay rights, the group, called the Maryland Black Family Alliance, is asking black people to support same-sex marriage, a stance that breaks with traditional African-American community and church standards.
On Thursday morning, many of the group’s 51 members gathered at Morgan State University in Baltimore to announce the formation of the nonprofit group.
‘‘As an African American, we say we fight an uphill battle, and if you’re gay or lesbian you’re fighting a double hill,” said Elbridge James, the group’s director. ‘‘In our community, we have gay and lesbian couples raising families, and when a whole section of a community is denied civil rights, it weakens the whole community.”
In September, the Maryland Court of Appeals in a 4-3 ruling upheld a 34-year-ban on same-sex marriage, saying that the ban does not discriminate against gay couples. After the decision, the Black Family Alliance decided to ratchet up its efforts, James said.
‘‘About three years ago, when same sex-marriage bans began proliferating the nation, a group of African Americans across the state began saying ‘enough is enough’ and the time is now,” said James, a Rockville resident who ran for the House of Delegates last year.
Same-sex couples argue that the state is denying their right to marry.
‘‘My boyfriend and I feel that we deserve all the rights and responsibilities of marriage,” said H. Alexander Robinson, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a gay rights advocacy group in Washington.
The court’s ruling ended three cases consolidated in Conaway v. Deane, which involved nine Maryland couples.
‘‘When [the lawsuit] didn’t go the way we had hoped, we realized that people don’t quite understand still what we’re trying to do for our family,” said Mikki Mozelle, one of the plaintiffs. ‘‘So, if you can bring understanding to the black community, where there is a lot of division about this, this is a good way to sit down and discuss the issues.”
As for the alliance — with gay and straight members — advocates said they wanted to show state lawmakers that ‘‘there are non-gay African Americans that do support the issue,” Robinson said.
‘‘This coalition is an opportunity to show that support,” he said. ‘‘We, by no means, think our job is done. We think this is an effort that is not at the end, we’re at the beginning of this process.”
Bonnie Spikes, mother of a transgender daughter, said she would be happy when gay equality is no longer an issue.
‘‘People should be allowed to be who they are if they are not breaking the law or doing harmful things,” she said.
Seven years ago, Spikes’ daughter, Michelle (born Michael), was beaten with a metal pipe and left for dead in Atlanta. Since then, Spikes said she has taken up gay rights.
Her fight began at home. Michael’s brothers had a hard time accepting him, Spikes said.
‘‘When Michael first came out to us and later learned that he felt he was a female, it was a little hard to swallow [for] my other sons,” Spikes said, but ‘‘when they saw him lying there unconscious in the hospital, it brought them to the reality that love and family is more important.”
Still, homosexuality has its detractors in the black community.
‘‘I’m against gay marriage through and through, no exception,” said Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baptist minister, who called the Black Family Alliance ‘‘a loose confederation of individuals talking loosely.”
‘‘Equating homosexuality and civil rights are not an equation as far as I’m concerned,” said Burns (D-Dist. 10) of Woodlawn, one of the General Assembly’s most vocal gay rights opponents. ‘‘Whites can hide their sexual preferences and still get all of the rights that society has to offer. I can’t hide my blackness and get the rights that I’m due, so to say that this is a civil rights issue upsets me to no end.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage ought to ‘‘realize that these are not people from Mars,” said Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Dist. 47) of Landover Hills, one of the alliance’s founders. ‘‘They’re human beings like everyone else. They have loving families and raise children like everyone else does.”
In January, Britt plans to sponsor a marriage equality bill that would put same-sex couples on the same legal footing as heterosexual ones.
‘‘It’s a long process,” she said. ‘‘It’s an educational process, and we have to continue the dialogue.”
To Learn More Go to www.marylandbfa.org to read more about the Maryland Black Family Alliance.