Yesterday, Dr. Boyce Watkins tweeted a link that implied that 2/3 of African Americans are against same-sex marriage.
The link led to a story by NewsOne that affirmed that, yes, 2/3 of African Americans polled in a quick internet survey attached to a story ABOUT the issue, are against Obama's decision. But it's inaccurate–to say the least–to use an unscientific push poll designed to measure how many people view a webpage to talk about this extremely important issue. And then the article compounds the issue by citing Dr. Watkins who noted that "the black community" is upset that Obama spoke here, but hasn't dealt with their more substantive concerns.
Before I get into the black politics of this issue, I think the timeline is really important.
Because Obama doesn't come out in support for same-sex marriage as much as he is forced to, by two independent actors.
Joe Biden was on the Sunday News shows last week. And when he was asked about the issue, he expressed full support. Obama aides suggest that he did so without Obama's consent, and that Obama was briefly upset about being "outed" so to speak.
The other actors were the various political activists (most but not all gay) who have both supported Obama's candidacy and urged him to move forward on this issue.
Obama doesn't move unless his hand is forced here. I believe his turn is sincere, but that sincerity isn't all that important to me.
His ACTION is important.
Now one could argue that his words here don't really mean anything. States like North Carolina can still pass legislation making same-sex marriage illegal. His simple words don't carry the power that an Executive Order might, for example. Yes, and no. Yes, his words don't do much to assuage the discrimination gay men and lesbians feel in places like North Carolina. But when he takes the step of going on national television to affirm his personal beliefs, that speech act in effect places the entire nation on the right side of this issue (whether it "wants" to be or not). That speech act gives democratic party activists the space to push their representatives. It gives bureaucrats the power to push within their agencies.
It gives kids the power to push against their parents.
In as much as there are real resources at stake–marriage isn't just about committing one's self before God, rather it's a contract that offers tangible benefits (health coverage, tax benefits, legal protections)–this can literally mean the difference between life and death. I'm so glad he made this decision. Although I wish he'd have been ahead of the curve rather than following it.
Now on to black politics. Here's the thing. When Dr. Watkins or anyone else for that matter says that "the black community" is against same-sex marriage, who are they talking about? Are they talking about the Queen? Are they talking about the National Black Justice Coalition?
Are they talking about Method Man? Hat tip to Ta-Nehisi Coates…Method is really talking about his approach to marijuana in his music, but check out what he says at about the 1:30 mark forward:
Are they talking about young adults? One of the reasons schools like Morehouse feel they have to stifle "inappropriate" performances of black masculinity is because black gay men are far more comfortable expressing themselves than they used to be. And anecdotally I've witnessed far more tolerance and respect for these issues at Morgan State than existed in the eighties and nineties.
There is a sizeable element of black folk who don't agree that gay men and women should be allowed to marry. But I'm willing to bet that this population is concentrated amongst older church goers. Black communities, like other communities are changing on this issue. People who write or talk about "the black community" in general want to freeze black populations in carbonite. It's a bad look.
As is Watkins attempt to argue that Christians who support same-sex marriage are somehow contradicting the Bible.
They aren't. Or perhaps better stated, to the degree they ARE contradicting the BIble, they are choosing to emphasize a far more open concept of love embodied by Jesus, than their counterparts are. (as an aside the "homosexual" doesn't even EXIST before the 19th century, so any attempt to make claims about what the Bible does or doesn't say about homosexuality is deeply problematic.)
However, Watkins does make a powerful point by suggesting Obama would never make a similar argument about mass incarceration or other ills facing black people. This is partially because "civil rights" claims are far easier to make than the type of human rights claims we'd need to make to deal with black problems. It's also because Obama believes in the market and in the role culture plays in black life.
Finally, it's because Obama hasn't been held accountable for believing otherwise.