Black Civil Rights and Gay Marriage: New Film Explores Link

In this interview, the director cautions against white conservatives who tell African-American religious leaders, "Don't let gays co-opt your civil rights movement."

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Byron Rushing (mhta.net)

Recipe for a lively debate: Take a group of black people, sprinkle with a dash of Christianity and add a question about the relationship between the civil rights movement and the fight for gay marriage.

A new documentary explores the often touchy issue through a focus on Byron Rushing, a straight African-American politician from Massachusetts who made marriage equality a priority before it became a national movement.

On Tuesday, Harlem Stage will host the premiere of Marriage Equality: Byron Rushing and the Fight for Fairness, which follows Rushing's work in a way that's meant to show that there is a meaningful connection between the African-American fight for civil rights and that of the LGBT community.

The Beautiful Struggler discussed the film and the issues that inspired it with Cathy Marino-Thomas (board president of Marriage Equality New York), David Wilson (a Human Rights Campaign board member) and director Thomas Allan Harris. Read a few highlights here:

Thomas Allan Harris: What we are not entitled to as citizens sets us back economically. People of color who are gay should see that this is critical. African American politicians are so steeped in the civil rights tradition and many of them may understand this need better than their constituents do. White conservatives petition African American religious leaders to say "don't let gays co-opt your civil rights movement," but our movements have long since been helping to provide more access to rights for people of all races ... Gays and lesbians have to stop thinking of themselves as second class citizens. People can choose to get married or not, but it’s all about having the right to do so.

David Wilson: On a national level, you have (former Vice President) Dick Cheney's daughter coming out, one of Al Sharpton's relatives came out, members of the "Religious Right's" children have come out ... why can't we do the same? It helps when people see entertainers, sports figures and other people we look up to (coming out). It takes people standing up and being courageous. ... My dad was born in 1914. The last two things he lived through: (President) Obama's election and my fight for marriage. He was able to live long enough to come to my wedding. That means a lot that he was able to see that.

Cathy Marino-Thomas: What we need to do is make sure that people understand that (Marriage Equality New York) is not advocating for people to change their religious beliefs. We are supporting the legal separation between church and state. We aren’t asking for churches to marry gay couples. We are fighting for civil marriage. Most people believe in the Constitution; the more we let people off the hook in terms of religion, the better they understand what we are trying to accomplish ...

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