Gay marriage campaigns taught social justice, unity
Editor's Note: After last week's Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, Qcitymetro invited QNotes Editor Matt Comer to address our readers. This is his commentary:
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to strike down a key provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act, granting same-sex couples with legal marriages in states where they are recognized the same federal recognition and benefits long offered to heterosexual couples.
Just one day earlier, the court made another historic ruling. And, you better well believe, the same people who jeered at Wednesday’s gay-marriage ruling where cheering the court’s decision on Tuesday to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965, leaving wide open the possibility of increased disenfranchisement in an era when conservative politicians are all too eager to take away the most dear and cherished rights of citizenship.
The movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality has many fronts, but it is our movement for equality in marriage where, perhaps, we’ve learned some of our greatest lessons on racial inclusion, privilege, solidarity and coalition politics. For that, we have to thank California’s 2008 anti-gay Proposition 8 campaign and North Carolina’s own Rev. William Barber II.
Exit polls from the Proposition 8 campaign showed that 70 percent of black voters favored the ban, though later studies suggested those numbers were exaggerated. Regardless, some gay white activists and pundits blamed the passage of the amendment squarely on African American voters. Such blame was wrong, and it was racist, and it ignited a firestorm of controversy within the LGBT community.
In the end, the debate and dialogue resulted in concrete lessons. LGBT organizers and advocacy groups learned new strategies. People of faith and people of color aren’t our enemies, because they are already a part of our community.
But while black and gay community members were busy ironing out our differences, our common enemies were rushing to play us one against the other. In state legislatures across the country, conservatives were making a comeback – ultimately to the detriment of us all.
In 2010, that Republican tide swept into North Carolina. The same legislative leaders who had plans to gut public education, public health care, pass voter restrictions and end unemployment benefits were the very same folks who pushed through our own state’s anti-gay constitutional amendment.
When North Carolina Republicans put Amendment One on the ballot, national anti-gay groups were still trying to play black voters against gay voters. But Tar Heels didn’t fall into that trap of deception and distraction.
North Carolina NAACP President Barber saw to it that the entire progressive community was shaken up and woken up. He came out strongly against the anti-gay amendment and raised consciousness on a variety of other challenges our communities were going to have to face together and united or face divided and fail.
“No matter our color. No matter our faith tradition. Those who stand for love and justice are not about to fall for their trick,” Barber said at a statewide gathering six months before the Amendment One vote. “No matter how you feel personally about same-sex marriage, no one, especially those of us whose forbearers were denied constitutional protections and counted as three-fifths of a vote for their slave-masters and mere chattel property for other purposes in the old Constitutions, none of us should ever want to deny any other person constitutional protections.”
On May 8 of last year, 61 percent of voters approved the discriminatory measure. We lost that campaign, but we did it united. The race-baiting from 2008’s California campaign couldn’t even get a start here. Facts, born from hard, diligent social justice unity, prevented it. The state’s largest majority-black precincts voted overwhelmingly against the measure.
Barber used the loss as another teaching moment and a wake-up call to those who might still be unconvinced on the need for unity.
“Young people who have been taught that North Carolina was reasonable and progressive” woke up to an “ice-cold water shock,” he said at a statewide dinner hosted by gay rights activists in November 2012. “Even here in North Carolina – though our black and Latino brothers and sisters have always known it – the Tar Heel soil is fertile for hate and fear.”
Barber called for a new politics of courage, unity and change, echoing the state’s Progressive-era history when white and black farmers fused together in strong coalitions following the Civil War.
“We must have a 21st century fusion politics where we stand together not sometimes but all the time,” he said.
That fusion is coming alive today. Gay families, including those black gay families whom census data tells us are more likely to be raising children, struck a major blow to our common anti-gay and racist enemies this week. Though the court gave us a setback on voting rights, it also gave us an opportunity in which we find our federal government finally recognizing the validity and equality of all parents, children and siblings. And, ultimately, that’s what matters.
Strong families, gay or straight, raise good kids and citizens. They work with their neighbors to create better and safer communities. They join with other parents to speak out against harmful legislation that strips public funding from our schools. They work hand-in-hand to get out the vote and unseat elected officials who haven’t the slightest care for black or gay concerns. Sometimes, as our Moral Mondays have shown us, they even march handcuff-to-handcuff to jail for justice.
The marriage win last week was a victory for all Americans. It may seem like a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of week, but we’re still closer to justice than we were before. And it’s because progressive activists and communities – black, white, gay, straight, documented and undocumented – are finally learning in this day and age how to work together for the betterment of all.
Matt Comer is editor of QNotes, the Charlotte’s LGBT community newspaper. In his spare time, Comer volunteers with a variety of community organizations, including Charlotte Pride (charlottepride.org) and the Charlotte Rainbow Action Network for Equality (rainbowaction.org).
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