Obama, Gay Marriage, Black Church: Only Squeaky Wheels Get Oiled

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Obama on Same Sex MarriageI watched with interest as the President of the United States, Barack Obama, took a historic stand in support of gay marriage here in the United States.  His use of the bully pulpit to promote causes that are important to millions of Americans surely serves as inspiration to leaders around the world who continue to straddle the fence on this highly relevant issue.

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The reactions of liberals and conservatives to the president’s decision was as interesting to watch as the President himself.

And the most-intriguing responses, at least to me, were from those who live deep within the Black church.  On one hand, I received calls from devout friends who are convinced that the president’s announcement is part of a broader conspiracy to convince every kid in America to become a homosexual.  In the mind of one of my friends, President Obama and “the gays” are seeking to hijack the Civil Rights Movement and take over the world.

After hearing from my devoutly faithful friends, I then received calls from those who only pretend to be devout on Sundays. You know, those Christians who’ve become very good at finding loopholes in the Bible to explain away nearly any contradiction, inconsistency or seemingly unethical behavior.   These individuals had no problem walking away from anything the Bible has taught them about homosexuality in order to justify their undying affection for theirf modern day Messiah, Barack Obama.

Even the Rev. Al Sharpton made a very strong statement in support of Obama’s announcement.  I do suspect, however, that Rev. Sharpton would have supported Obama’s statement, no matter what it was.  Sharpton’s follow-the-leader approach to President Obama is reflective of the fact that the tail is now leading the dog in Black American politics:  We don’t give our agenda to the president; the president gives his agenda to us.

My position on gay marriage has always been quite simple:  It doesn’t matter too much to me, in large part, because no gay man has ever asked me to marry him.   I can’t see why every American doesn’t deserve to have the legal protections of marriage in domestic violence cases or access to family health insurance. If two people love each other, and one of them is in the hospital, I don’t understand why the person who has stood by the patient for years doesn’t have the right to visit alongside close family.   If you do the brutal work necessary to make a marriage survive, you might as well be rewarded for it.

The president is not, in my opinion, an unconditionally courageous man.  At best, he is a man with “calculated courage.”   The seemingly bold move by President Obama was largely driven by the need to “fess up” after several members of his cabinet went out and made public statements on gay marriage that were seemingly inconsistent with the “evolving” views of the president.  By “evolving,” I interpret that to mean that he would let you know what he thinks after the election.

What is also interesting is that the same “courage” President Obama mustered to speak up on behalf of the gay community would likely never be replicated on any issue that is directly important to African Americans.

I doubt that Obama would boldly use the bully pulpit to speak on economic and employment inequality, mass incarceration, or educational inequality; instead, we’d be told that the “rising tide will lift all boats,” and that we should “take off our bedroom slippers” and come work for him.   The difference in treatment is due to the fact that the gay community forced the president’s hand, threatening to take away its support if Obama didn’t back them during their time of need.

Black people have no such leverage, since many of us have been trained to vote for President Obama without any concern for his policies whatsoever (or as Tom Joyner and Steve Harvey tell us:  “Do the right thang and support the brotherman!”).

Whether you support President Obama’s statements on gay marriage or not, the fact is that this incident teaches us something about politics and about our president.  It shows us that only squeaky wheels get oiled, and that support for any politician must be conditional on the politician responding to the needs of that particular constituency.  By being as quiet as church mice, Black America will always end up at the back of the bus, even when our president looks just like us.

Sound off!

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Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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