Rev. Al Sharpton: Marriage Equality Shouldn’t Divide Black America

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L-R: Rev. Al Sharpton, President Barack ObamaAfter releasing an immediate statement of support for President Barack Obama‘s decision to come out in favor of same-sex marriage on the National Action Network (NAN) website, Rev. Al Sharpton, joined by Civil Rights leaders Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Engagement, and Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus of NAACP, have all joined to reaffirm their solid support of the president and to urge Black Americans not to be distracted from issues that directly impact our progression as a people.

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In an open letter, the leaders called for “civil debate,” not divisive arguments, as many Black evangelicals try to reconcile their faith with their support for President Obama.

Read the letter in full below:

May 11, 2012

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  As leaders in today’s Civil Rights Movement, we stand behind the President Obama’s belief that same sex couples should be allowed to join in civil marriages.  We also affirm that individuals may hold different views on this issue but still work together towards our common goals: fair housing and equitable education, affordable health care and eradicating poverty, all issues of deep and abiding concern for our communities.

President Obama stated his view that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.  This is a view that we concur with, because as civil rights leaders we cannot fight to gain rights for some and not for all.  At the same time, we acknowledge that the President stated his personal opinion, which everyone is entitled to – both those who agree with him, like us, and those who disagree.  The President made clear that his support is for civil marriage for same-sex couples, and he is fully committed to protecting the ability of religious institutions to make their own decisions about their own sacraments.

There will be those who seek to use this issue to divide our community. As a people, we cannot afford such division.  It is our hope that conversations on strengthening African American families continue in a civil and respectful way, on all sides, both with those who support the ability of same-sex couples to marry, and those who do not.

We are glad that President Obama has joined Dr. Joseph Lowery, Dr. Julian Bond and so many others in full embrace of equality for gay and lesbian individuals in our country.  We also welcome the civil debate on this issue that will surely spring.  And we encourage all individuals to keep all issues of import to our communities in mind in the days ahead, and we seek to secure equal justice, opportunity and dignity for all God’s children.

Many in the religious Black community disagree, including Pastor Jamal Bryant, who was “taken aback” by the president’s decision. Bryant even goes so far as to say that, because the “Black church has been there for him from the start,” Obama’s action should have been preceded by a “warning to the Black church community.”

“The church at its core is to be a refuge for all of God’s children, including homosexuals, wrote Bryant exclusively for Newsone. “There is a gay community within the Black church. We can’t ignore them or bash them. However, the church has no shades of gray when it comes to marriage. Our faith reserves marriage for a man and a woman. President Obama, as a product of the Black church, is fully aware of that. Knowing this, the President made this endorsement without calling or preparing any of us.  For many of us, it felt like a betrayal.”

Apparently unbeknownst to Bryant, President Obama stated that marriage equality is still a “states’ issue,” and, as Rev. Sharpton stated, the president’s personal support is for civil marriages for same-sex couples. This will clearly not infringe on churches who want to withhold that right from “God’s children,” but the inability for evangelicals to understand the concept of “separation of church and state” is not new — nor is it strictly along racial lines. The difference lies in the fact that Black Americans are typically social conservatives who are fiscally liberal, so their support for a Democratic president who supports same-sex marriage is a slippery slope — especially one who has made his views on figurative language in the Bible clear since his early days as a senator in Chicago.

Even then, Obama convincingly makes the point that faith has no place in politics and that because we do not share common spiritual eyesight, we can only share common laws. Most powerfully, he says that “religiously motivated [politicians] must translate their concerns into universal — not religious — values.

Many people see the support of some religious leaders as capitulation to Obama on marriage equality and proof that nothing that he does will sway the Black vote — even if it goes against their religious beliefs. Rev. Sharpton, however, believes that those beliefs have nothing to do with civil rights:

“This is not about mine or anyone’s personal or religious views. It is about equal rights for all. We cannot be selective with civil rights. We must support civil rights for everybody or we don’t support them for anyone.

I am prepared to fight, as I have since 2003 in the faith community, about the rightness of the position that the President has now taken.”

Rev. Sharpton has not changed his position and President Obama has finally decided on his own after years of cautious “evolution.” Only time will tell if the hold-outs in the Black church step into the 21st century as well.

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