Marriage Equality's False Divides

By Dennis W. Wiley and Robert M. Hardies
Sunday, October 18, 2009

As the struggle for marriage equality moves to the nation's capital, the District of Columbia is debunking many of the myths surrounding this important human rights issue.

For instance, few would expect the two of us -- a straight, black Baptist minister from east of the Anacostia River, and a gay, white Unitarian minister from Columbia Heights -- to share the same position on same-sex marriage. Our solidarity exposes two of the myths perpetuated by opponents of marriage equality and by the media. Let's call these myths "God vs. gay" and "black vs. white."

Opponents of marriage equality would like us to believe that one cannot be both pro-God and pro-gay. Yet we lead a coalition of nearly 200 D.C. clergy who support marriage equality precisely because of our commitment to God's inclusive love and justice. Our clergy are black, white, Latino and from every ward in the District. We are Baptists and Jews, Catholics and Methodists, who have worked side by side for years on issues ranging from peace to affordable housing, and who now stand together again to raise a faithful voice for justice. Let us be clear: God vs. gay is a myth we reject. God vs. injustice is a truth we affirm.

Meanwhile, opponents of marriage equality have tried to use this issue to divide our communities along racial lines, and the media often play into their hands. The gay community is repeatedly characterized as a group of well-to-do white folks, while all people of color are portrayed as heterosexuals who oppose gay marriage. This is the myth of "black vs. white." To suggest that the struggle for marriage equality in Washington affects only a small number of white people from Dupont Circle is an affront to the rich diversity of the District's gay and lesbian community, and it erases the lives of thousands of gay and lesbian people of color, some of whom are members of our churches.

Furthermore, D.C. leaders have built a diverse political coalition in support of gay marriage. The bill that D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-at Large) introduced on Oct. 7 was co-sponsored by 10 of his 13 colleagues, black and white, who represent a wide swath of the city. It enjoys the support of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. The people of the District are standing together to declare that we will not be divided by this issue.

Last weekend, people from across the nation gathered here in the nation's capital to rally for full legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. If this struggle is to succeed, we must continue to work in ways that expose the myths of "God vs. gay" and "black vs. white." By celebrating and engaging the rich diversity of our LGBT communities, and by building solidarity across lines of race, class, culture and religion, we can win this important human rights struggle, as the moral arc of the universe continues its long but sure path toward justice.

The Rev. Dennis W. Wiley is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church. The Rev. Robert M. Hardies is senior minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian. They co-chair DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality.

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