Conservative blacks are objecting to recent comparisons between the gay marriage movement and the civil rights movement, arguing that sexual orientation is a choice. Links between the two struggles have been made since Massachusetts's highest court ruled last week that the state constitution guarantees
gay couples the right to marry. The court cited landmark laws that struck bans on interracial marriage.
But the Reverend Talbert Swan II said the two struggles are not similar because blacks were lynched, denied property rights, and declared inhuman. "Homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle," he said. "I could not choose the color of my skin.... For me to ride down the street and get profiled just because of my skin color is something a homosexual will never go through."
A poll released by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on November 18, the day of the ruling, indicated 60% of blacks oppose gay marriage. When asked if they favor legal unions that would provide many of the same rights as marriage, 51% of blacks were opposed.
Michael Adams, an attorney with the gay legal group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said polls show that blacks support gays in other areas, such as workplace equality. Strong conservative religious values that predominate in the black community may explain the division, he said. He added that there are key differences in the two movements, including slavery and forced segregation, which gays never experienced. But the groups have experienced similar discrimination based on deeply held prejudices, he said.
Mychal Massie, a conservative columnist and member of Project 21, a Washington D.C.-based political alliance of conservative blacks, said the comparisons aren't valid. "It is an outrage to align something so offensive as this with the struggle of a fallen man, a great man such as Martin Luther King," said
Massie, who writes for WorldNetDaily.com. "The whole thing bespeaks of something much deeper and more insidious than 'we just want to get married,'" he said. "They want to change the entire social order."
Alvin Williams, president and CEO of the conservative Washington D.C.-based Black America's Political Action Committee, said the gay marriage issue looks like an equal rights issue at first but becomes a "special rights" issue after closer examination because it's about behavior, not ethnicity.
Not everyone objects to the comparison, however. In Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate, black candidates Carol Moseley Braun and the Reverend Al Sharpton declared support for gay marriage. Both compared it to past discrimination against blacks.
The Reverend William Sinkford, a black man who is president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said the struggle for gay civil rights is this generation's great challenge, just as equality for blacks was the last generation's. "I think there's very little to be gained by trying to create a hierarchy of oppression," Sinkford said.