This is because African Americans — 96 percent of whom supported President Obama in the 2008 election, but 41 percent of whom are against same-sex marriage — now seem to be presented with a decision: Either continue to support the president and find a way to get past this political issue, or continue to listen to people in our communities, in our churches and in our families who remain focused on gay people as if they were some major ailment for the black community.
Will black Christian voters stick with President Obama, trusting him to steward the country through four more years, as the sluggish but sure economic recovery hits its stride and as the wars that have turned the world’s view of America largely negative start to subside? Or will they decide that President Obama has betrayed their religious instruction — something they’ve been taught most of their lives about homosexuality — and either stay home on Election Day or vote for his presumptive opponent, Mitt Romney? The GOP front-runner has maintained that marriage should be exclusive to people of the opposite sex, and may well do the bidding of what could turn into a right-wing, Republican-controlled Congress.
I can break it down for you. Black people have much, much bigger fish to fry than what two adults do in their own private time or how they choose to spend their lives. Up to 10 percent of young blacks drop out of high school, rendering them largely unable to take advantage of a skilled-worker- and technology-oriented U.S. job market. Meanwhile, black males have a 1-in-3 chance of doing prison time at some point during their lives.
At the same time, we have disproportionately high numbers in far too many negative health statistics, ranging from diabetes to HIV/AIDS to heart disease to gunshots (pdf), which remain the leading cause of death among black adolescents.
So after all this, are we willing to let what people do in their bedrooms influence what we do at the polls? Whatever issue we may have concerning homosexuality is something for us to get over. We should focus instead on the healing that our communities desperately need.
Preventing gay people from getting married is not going to keep a kid in school. It is not going to stop people from using emergency rooms as clinics. It is not going to prevent two young rivals from shooting each other over a dirty look.
President Obama, in essence, has sent this message to African Americans. We can devote our energies to what churches have been preaching about same-sex marriage, or we can focus on solutions. I think Bayard Rustin would partner with Martin Luther King on the solutions part. But that’s what they would have done 50 years ago. The choice today is yours.
Madison Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-writer and Web journalist. Follow him on Twitter.