I think the fight for gay marriage in D.C. is classic example of why it's misleading to think that black communities--and black people--are interchangeable, that what holds for Inglewood necessarily holds for LeDroit Park. That's a strained metaphor--as we now know, what people thought held for Inglewood was, in fact, deeply flawed. (How am I doing on my geography, Cali people?)
A few weeks ago Marion Barry promised that Ward 8 would lead a "Civil War" against gay marriage in the District. Some of us found his comments not only repulsive, but preposterous. And frankly, here is why:
....yesterday, gay rights advocates declared victory in a key battle to set the tone for the issue when the Ward 8 Democrats voted 21 to 11 to support the legalization of same-sex marriage, in preparation for legislation expected to be introduced in the D.C. Council this year.
The Ward 8 vote came after almost two hours of discussion about religion, referendums and civil rights among the crowd of about 100 people at the Washington Highlands Library on Atlantic Avenue SW.
Marion Barry, the elected Councilmember who so inveighed against gay marriage, who promised a "Civil War," didn't even bother to show up. Folks should have known it was farce because the first shots in this "Civil War" were not, in fact, fired by Ward 8, but by Tony Perkins and the usual suspects.
Look, black Washington is black Washington. It isn't Harlem. It isn't Selma. It isn't West Baltimore. It's a city existing on its own individual terms, with it's own specific individual history. The District's black community extends back to the city's founding. They boast a university which has been a beacon for black progressives for over a century, and a progressive tradition which extends back to home rule.
Indeed, for all the heat over black homophobia, Chocolate City passed a domestic partnership back in 1992--when it wasn't cool. But it had no teeth--not because of a band of black homophobes--but because of white homophobia. (that's intentionally absurd) The GOP-led Congress refused to allow it. Even Barry himself is not so easily pigeonholed. In his movements you see, not the actions of bigot, but something colder and more sinister a Wallace-esque demagogue appealing to hate to put some shine on his last days.
But most importantly, Washington has black gay activists who've been fighting this war in black communities for years:
Gay rights advocates have been strategically tapping into every corner of the city to get the support of Democratic committees in each ward. And the faces of those advocates come in color: Michael Crawford, who is black, is the founder of DC for Marriage, and Jeffrey Richardson, who is black, is president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, a political group for the LGBT community.
They will not be done in by the likes of Tony Perkins. Give them a chance to do their work, and you never know what might change:
A May 2006 poll of 800 likely D.C. voters -- 100 in each of the city's eight wards -- showed that if presented with an initiative to ban same-sex marriage, 49 percent of African Americans would vote yes, and 42 percent would vote no. But the poll, commissioned by the Foundation for All D.C. Families, found that African Americans were sympathetic to the "rights, benefits and legal protections" of gay and lesbian couples. For example, 26 percent said same-sex couples deserve full marriage rights while another 41 percent supported legal recognition such as domestic partnerships...
However, David A. Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, notes that African American attitudes about same-sex marriage appear to have shifted even more dramatically in recent years than they have in the white community.
In 2004, the center conducted a poll a few months before the presidential contest, finding that 46 percent of African Americans supported no legal recognition for gay relationships, compared with 37 percent of the general population who felt the same way.
According to a New York Times-CBS News poll conducted last month, 38 percent of African Americans and 40 percent of whites support gay marriage. Only 26 percent of African Americans and 30 percent of white voters in the poll said they do not want legal recognition of gay relationships. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, also conducted last month, found that 48 percent of white voters and 42 percent of African American voters strongly or somewhat favor same-sex marriage.