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“Out Of The Shadows”: Blacks React To Gay Marriage Momentum NAACP joins Obama in support of civil rights for same-sex couples

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By Chris Levister

Reacting to the growing support for gay marriage, like many African Americans 80-year old Lucille Magby of Redlands, is wrestling with a conundrum; a growing clash of values between equality, human rights, and dignity on the one hand, and morality, “natural law,” and God’s law on the other. “As a Christian I believe in what the Bible says about marriage being between a man and a woman but I have a gay daughter whom I will never turn my back on,” said Magby “What would Jesus do?” The NAACP, one of the nation's most influential African-American advocacy groups, endorsed gay marriage on Saturday, with NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous calling it a civil right. Several other Black luminaries, including, Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Jesse Jackson and rapper Jay-Z, have also expressed their support in the two weeks since President Obama became the first-ever sitting U.S. President to personally support gay marriage. When Mr. Obama made his historic announcement Wednesday May 9, reaction in the African American community ranged from “shock, appall and disappointment,” to “bold, courageous, and healing.” “We are your sons and daughters, your doctors, lawyers and hairdressers,” says Shaun Rubinson, a gay San Bernardino hair stylist and beauty consultant. Rubinson says while same-sex couples who are African American won’t be rushing to the altar anytime soon, “choice is the civil rights issue of our time.”

“I deserve full equality much like my forefathers who fought for the right to marry a person of a different race,” said Rubinson. “If you’re going to provide civil rights and equality for everybody, you cannot have separate but equal Jim Crow type laws,” said Rubinson. “This issue is about giving same-sex unions the same legal rights as other married couples. We must respect the dignity and the worth of every human being whether they are gay or straight.”

Gay marriage has divided the Black community, with many religious leaders opposing it. In California, exit polls showed about 70 percent of Blacks opposed same-sex marriage in 2008. Pew Research Center polls have found that African Americans have become more supportive of same-sex marriage in recent years, but remain less supportive than other groups. Black support has risen dramatically since 2008, when only 26 percent of Black people favored gay marriage and 63 percent were opposed. A poll conducted in April showed 39 percent of African-Americans favor gay marriage, compared with 47 percent of Whites.

From the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the criminal abuse of children by adult predators, the issue of homosexuality has become a symbol of hatred, deception and division in the Black community, says Lillie Lewis of Rialto. “It’s time to come out of the shadows.” Growing up in Louisiana Lewis recalls gay friends and family members who suffered due to intolerance, homophobia, discrimination, exclusion and shaming. “Neighbors who were different from me were forced to hide their sexual identity. They were terrorized, bullied, often beaten and labeled sissy. For a Black person to be "out," he or she was most likely ostracized from the Black community.”

The growing support for same-sex marriage has lit up the political discourse. Nowhere is this more evident than in Black communities where all eyes have turned to the church to see how a community that has long held that homosexuality is an abomination against God will respond. Rev. Dr. Raymond W. Turner, senior pastor San Bernardino Temple Missionary Baptist Church says the church’s response is clear and unwavering: Marriage is between a man and a woman. “You’ve got the media and the world watching to see how the Black church responds to President Obama and now the NAACP’s support of gay marriage. Simply put, God is still in charge.” “It seems there’s an expectation that there will be an epiphany of sorts followed by a mass exodus of Black Christians, because of the Black church’s historic opposition to gay rights.” “If I stand before you as a minister of the Gospel you should expect certain things. If you are a medical doctor you are expected to use a medical manual. An auto mechanic is expected to use an automotive service manual. So why is this issue any different,” explains Turner. “The Bible is our manual as pastors. If the Bible is no longer relevant or reliable, then we need to rethink religion.”

Turner says the over-heated discourse surrounding gay marriage unfairly pits Black religious leaders against gay rights activists.

“You can’t paint the church with a broad brush. We all have homosexuals in our churches, most of us including myself, have homosexual family members. I pray with them, counsel them, include them, and love them, but I won’t compromise. I don’t stand in the way of same-sex relationships or marriage, but I won’t condone the lifestyle these couples have chosen for themselves,” he said. NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said Monday he hopes the group's resolution supporting same-sex marriage will encourage Blacks to support marriage equality as a civil right. Jealous struggled to speak while recalling how his White father and Black mother confronted marriage laws that forced them to marry in Washington, D.C., in 1966 because interracial marriage was illegal in Maryland and his mother's hometown of Baltimore until 1967. Jealous noted that the civil rights organization has opposed laws barring gay marriage in the past. “I hope this will be a game-changer,” Jealous told The Associated Press in an interview. “There is a game being played right now to enshrine discrimination into state constitutions across the country, and if we can change that game and help ensure that our country's more recent tradition of using federal and state constitutions to expand rights continues we will be very proud of our work.”

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