Gay men and lesbians will be represented in the coalition of groups marching this weekend in commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington. But the question of whether gay equality is a “civil right” – the way Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of rights denied to people on the basis of their skin color – remains a matter of disagreement, particularly among black Christians.
The issue came up last week during a news conference for faith leaders involved in Saturday’s event. The conference was attended by mostly African American clergy, several of whom raised concern that a prominent presence of LGBT advocates at the event would be divisive for the civil rights movement.
Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of the National Action Network, which is organizing the Saturday march, said at the news conference that it was alright to disagree on the topic.
“We have not thrown away our theology…Jews marched in the march in ’63, and they don’t believe in Jesus. If we can make room for those people, we can also make room for people whose gender selection is not in line with the church,” Richardson told the group during the news conference. “This ain’t a march issue …. We gotta stay on point, because the devil wants us to get distracted … We have made room for the LGBT community to be present at the march while making it clear that this is not a platform to advance anybody’s agenda other than the agenda that we have in common.”
The issue isn’t new. Black Americans, for example, have been slow to embrace same-sex marriage, though support is growing (last fall 46 percent of African Americans in Maryland voted in favor of the state’s gay marriage referendum).
Multiple LGBT groups are official participants in Saturday’s march, including the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign. The Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, who does faith outreach for HRC, said at the news conference that it was all right to disagree.
“We all don’t have to have the same mind to mind the same things … God is for all, and we are all made in the likeness and the image of God,” he said.
The Rev. Ronald Braxton of the historic Metropolitan AME church said he has been trying to emphasize a shift in King’s trajectory.
“In his later years, he was moving away from just civil rights and moving more towards human rights. When you look at the world scene today, and the struggles across the globe, the issues are human rights more than civil rights … The issue of human rights are broader,” he later told the Post.
But what does that mean for LGBT people who see themselves as part of King’s legacy?
“Human rights are across the board. No segment of the human race would be excluded,” he said.
Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral, the seat of the majority-white Episcopal Church, has been one of the best-known local faith leaders to call marriage equality “the great civil rights issue” of this era. He has also called the Cathedral “late” to the concerns of African Americans and on Tuesday sought to link the communities.
“Those of us who believe with Dr. King that ‘you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be’ must stand together against all oppression. Either we believe that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God or we do not. I believe it,” he told the Post.
Clergy at the conference noted Mayor Vincent Gray’s decision earlier this month to cut a popular Gospel singer from a city-run concert commemorating King’s speech because of the singer’s comments about sexuality. Donnie McClurkin is outspoken about being “ex-gay.” The pastors voiced concern that such views were being shut out of official anniversary events, which are expected to draw thousands of people.
“If you’re going to extend civil rights for gays, what about ex-gays, of which I am one?” said Christopher Doyle, who founded the group Voice of the Voiceless. “What we’re seeing is a viewpoint discrimination issue.”