A couple of years back on Real Time With Bill Maher, the ubiquitous Cornel West was asked if black folks were decidedly more homophobic than other groups. Parsing his words carefully, the ordained Baptist minister said, "I don't think we are any more homophobic than anyone else."
Maybe not, but certainly not any less. The question came amid the passage of Proposition 8 (Prop 8), a California ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage. It had passed, surprisingly to some, with staunch support from African Americans, particularly church- and religious-based groups.
Now that Prop 8 has been struck down by a federal judge, what will the response be in black communities? Will it be to finally see this particular "right" as part and parcel of an ever-evolving civil rights agenda? Or to hold firm to the view that marriage should only be between a man and a woman?
That ballot measure in 2008 exposed the rift that has long existed between black civil rights activists and gay-rights proponents. Those in the LGBT community were left shaking their heads and calling the lack of active black support and, in some cases, virulent opposition to gay marriage a betrayal. After all, they had just worked tirelessly to elect the nation's first African-American president, despite his own equivocations on some of the issues most important to them, including gay marriage. But neither blacks nor President Obama can avoid the issue any longer.
The overturning of the ban affects not simply California but also 45 other states that have similar laws. While the president has voiced his opposition to Prop 8, he is also on record as opposing gay marriage. This sort of straddling is no longer tenable. Yes, it would be an about-face if he came out, as it were, in favor of gay marriage, and the terse, neutral statement from the White House in light of the decision gives no hint that he is about to do so.
One of the interesting reads on the ruling by Justice Vaughn R. Walker — a Ronald Reagan appointee, no less — is that it was done on "feminist" grounds. The ruling addresses the inherent discrimination that exists in the legal construct that is marriage. He writes that limiting marriage to heterosexuals "exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed."
It's time for black folks to come to Jesus on this one and support gay marriage. If they don't, history will not be kind, and they will have forfeited their birthright to the homophobes.
Nick Charles is a regular contributor to The Root.