President’s Same-Sex Marriage Stance Wins Accolades in Ethnic, Local Press

In an interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts, President Obama comes out in support of gay marriage. (Image from ABC News video clip of interview)

President Barack Obama’s revelation that he “personally” supports same-sex marriage — in a taped interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts — has sparked a range of reactions from the ethnic press and New York City’s community media. Many took the opportunity to debunk assumptions about their community’s stance on same-sex marriage.

Writing for The Root, Steven Gray refutes the notion that homophobia prevails among African Americans.

But don’t believe the hype about pervasive black homophobia. Numbers don’t always tell a complete story. Consider the black Indiana mother who gave her son a stun gun to protect himself against bullies.

Then there are modern black voices like that of Cory Booker, who, in response to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s suggestion for a gay-marriage ballot measure, offered this: “No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and sentiment of the majority. This is a fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for.” Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, North Carolina’s NAACP chief, the Rev. William Barber, told reporters that the measure was an “appalling human document.”

The idea that it’s a political mistake for Obama to deliver an honest, conclusive argument on gay marriage is as silly as the prevailing view that he can’t talk candidly about race — because, well, we’re post-racial, and in polite society, let’s just overlook the fact that a black guy’s living in the White House.

In an editorial for Amsterdam News, also featured in Politic365, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, the executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, continues the dismantling of assumptions about black homophobia, this time in relation to Amendment One in North Carolina. She mentions that the president of the state’s NAACP, Rev. William Barber, spoke out against “any proposal that would alter the federal or state constitution to exclude any groups from equal protection under the law,” as did black pastors such as Rev. Fredrick Davis, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, and ordained Baptist preacher Rev. Willie Jennings.

It was the National Organization for Marriage that injected race into the discussion, Lettman-Hicks argues.

The North Carolina vote comes just months after the release of internal strategy memos of the so-called National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which called for the use of race as a means of stripping the freedom to marry from loving and committed same-sex couples. NBJC joined the NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry and others to condemn the organization’s wedge-strategy.

NOM’s memos detail its campaign to direct money to a handful of African American clergy in order to attack gay and lesbian couples that have made a lifelong promise to one another. The organization admits their key goal is to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks.” The documents exposed NOM for what it really is — a hate group determined to use African American faith leaders as pawns to push their damaging agenda and as mouthpieces to amplify that hatred.

Lettman-Hicks goes on to say that black support of LGBT causes is vital.

The reality is that in order to advocate for advancement of the Black community as a whole, Black Americans must be at the forefront advocating for Black LGBT people. Otherwise, radical right wing groups like NOM (who have no interest in supporting Black America’s priority issues such as education, unemployment and poverty) will continue to pimp Black people for their own gain. And like in North Carolina, vague constitutional bans like Amendment One will end up having just as great and grave implications for Black heterosexual unmarried couples and children as they do for Black gay and lesbian families.

In an article in the Dominion of New York, Sean Yoes cites a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center that looked at opposition to same-sex marriage. As of April, the percentage of blacks who strongly oppose same-sex marriage was only two percentage points above whites.

Since his stunning victory in Iowa in 2008, Barack Obama’s support in the black community has hovered at about 90 percent. Obama’s embrace of marriage equality will do little to erode that core support significantly.

According to Pew Research Center data black American opposition to marriage equality has diminished significantly since 2004. According to Pew, 43 percent of blacks were strongly opposed to gay marriage in 2004. That opposition dropped to 37 percent in 2008 and dipped even more drastically in April 2012 to just 27 percent.

Writing for The Jewish Daily Forward’s Forward Thinking blog, Jay Michaelson lays out why Obama’s support of gay marriage is good news for Jews — 81 percent of whom support gay marriage, according to a poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute.

In his editorial, Michaelson breaks down another myth: The often-touted clash between marriage equality and religion is “a dangerous, harmful myth,” he writes, saying that the values shared by different religions — “love, justice, compassion, and the evolution of religious doctrine support” — support, not stand against, equal rights for the LGBT community.

However, he acknowledged that a “noisy religious minority” — including Orthodox Jews, whom Michaelson equates with the fundamentalist Christians — have perpetuated this clash.

There are those in the Orthodox Jewish community who have made deals with this same fundamentalist devil on issues concerning women, contraception, LGBT people, Israel, “intelligent design,” and the funding of religious schools and institutions. Often, they agree with the fundamentalists substantively (as on same-sex marriage), and other times it’s just a marriage of convenience. But in both cases, such alliances are deeply short-sighted. If American Jews care about maintaining our religious freedom, we must not allow sectarian religious values to dictate public policy. Period.

Michaelson admired Obama’s verbal support of same-sex marriage as an “expression of personal conviction and conscience” rather than public policy. “It demonstrates the growth of individual conscience: he used to feel one way, but over time, in a careful and long process of discernment, he has now come to feel a different way.” And Michaelson frames Obama’s evolution as exemplary of Jewish culture.

Obama’s statement is thus a model for how all of us ought to evolve on issues of values and society. We grow as human beings by a combination of humility and courage: humility in the face of what we do not know, and courage to take a stand and change our minds. If that’s not a Jewish value, I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, Josh Nathan-Kazis of The Jewish Daily Forward collected the reaction of Jewish leaders, most of whom applauded the president’s statement.

“I am pleased that the President has made a decisive statement in support of marriage equality,” said National Jewish Democratic Council chair Marc R. Stanley in an emailed statement. “President Obama has admirably continued to demonstrate the values of tikkun olam in his work to make America a better place for all Americans.”

For some Jews, the reaction to Obama’s statement was deeply personal.

“Tonight for the first time I’m going to be able to go home to my six month old son and tell him that the president of the United states, Our president, thinks that we’re a family,” said Alan van Capelle, chief executive officer of Bend the Arc. Van Capelle, who is gay, the former executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

The executive director of Keshet, a Jewish gay rights group, struck a sobering note with a reminder that a harsh environment still remains for LGBT people in this country.

Idit Klein, executive director of the Jewish gay rights group Keshet, noted that various state level efforts against gay marriage have had success in recent days, including a ballot initiative that passed on May 8 in North Carolina.

“This is an incredibly tempestuous and despairing time, and a powerfully positive and uplifting time for all of us that care about LGBT equality,” Klein told the Forward.

An ultra-Orthodox group did not take well to Obama’s stance.

The leading ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, meanwhile, condemned Obama’s statement, which it termed an effort to “redefine marriage.”

“The Torah forbids homosexual acts, and sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony,” wrote Agudath Israel spokesman Avi Shafran in an email to the Forward. “The Orthodox Jewish constituency represented by Agudath Israel of America, as well as countless other Jews who respect the Jewish religious tradition remain staunch in their opposition to redefining marriage.”

Some writers took a moment to examine the institution of marriage. In an editorial for El Diario/La Prensa, columnist Dolores Prida deplores the notion that opposition to same-sex marriage is the upholding of “tradition.”

The argument that marriage is “sacred” was refuted a while ago. Fifty percent of traditional marriages end in divorce. Thirty-four perfect of kids in this country grow up in single-parent households, primarily with single mothers, as it’s the dads who tend to disappear, whether the they’re married or not. Hundreds of thousands of children are on a waiting list to be adopted.

Meanwhile, there are gay couples who wish to start a family and adopt or have their kids through artificial insemination or other methods. How these desires to have normal relationships affect traditional couples or national security or the stock market indices on Wall Street is a mystery that no one can logically explain.

The keyword is “tradition.” But tradition is a double-edged sword. It was tradition to enslave a race of people. It was tradition to force black people sit in the back of the bus. It was tradition to not let women vote. It was tradition to cut off the hand of a thief for robbing a loaf of bread.

Traditions are acceptable until the majority say that they aren’t. In the United States, more than 60 percent of the population is in favor of gay marriage, which they consider a civil right. The time has come to file the issue away to where it belongs.

As for Jesus, Prida writes, “Some ask, ‘What would Jesus say?’ But we already know what he said: Love thy neighbor.” She hopes the next generation will one day not feel the rejection of a society, or worse, their own parents.

But beyond the role that this plays in the banks, in the churches or in the voting booth, let’s hope that the president’s words lend themselves to no more parents rejecting their children for being gay and no more young people deciding to kill themselves after being bullied at school for looking or acting effeminate.

These two things are the most painful, and which cause the deepest wounds that in most cases do not stop from bleeding for an entire lifetime.

Cahir O’Doherty, of Irish Central, takes Obama’s words personally, titling his opinion piece, “As a gay Irishman, Obama’s support on same sex marriage means everything.”

Let me just put this in a personal context for a moment. All of my life I have watched gay people be passed over for promotion, be written out of wills, be un-invited to weddings, funerals and family gatherings. I have seen them insulted, spat at, physically attacked and treated like garbage. I have seen parents, brothers and sisters bait them, belittle them, physically injure them, or turn their backs on them, then throw them out of doors forever in Ireland, Europe and the United States

And I have seen the brutal toll of all that shaming and rejection lead some of them to ruin. Some of the kindest, most beautiful souls I have known are dead now because of that daily avalanche of hatred and ignorance. And all because they loved the wrong person. Nothing is more shocking to me than that.

It would have been easier and safer for the president to have dodged this issue all the way to November. I’m amazed and enormously moved that he decided not to. We already know that 50 percent of Americans now support extending full marriage rights to gay couples. Opposition to same sex marriage has dropped by nearly 15 percentage points since 2002. Again, Obama did the right thing here, not the safe thing.

O’Doherty concludes, “We’re in a brave new world now. And the message from the president is the message from history: we have nothing to fear from love.”

In his interview with Robin Roberts, President Obama remarked that the younger generation embraces LGBT equality regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum. Samantha Kimmey at Women’s eNews wonders if all the likes, shares, mentions, and retweets indicate a re-energizing of the youth vote.

That’s not to say that all young people accept their LGBT peers. In a personal piece for Youth Communication, Kelly Colón details her experiences as a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Lastly, DNAinfo’s Jill Colvin takes us to the Stonewall Inn, a landmark in LGBT history.

At the Stonewall Inn in the West Village, an institution in the gay rights movement, a sign was placed outside the door encouraging passersby to toast the president’s remarks.

“Obama supports gay marriage, let’s drink!” the placard read.

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  1. Pingback: In Silence, a Common Ground Against Stop-and-Frisk | Voices of NY

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