By KRISTINE WONG
Oct. 21 – On the steps of Oakland City Hall this morning, African-American ministers and politicians declared their strong opposition to Proposition 8, the state ballot initiative that would make same-sex marriage illegal in California.
Citing civil rights as well as religious, legal, and personal reasons, they challenged the assumption that the African-American community did not support gay marriage. But while they presented an united front, recent poll results show the majority of African-Americans in California support the ban on gay marriage – indicating the group has their work cut out for them.
Urging equality for all, Eva Jefferson Patterson emphasized the importance of unity. “We will not allow a wedge to be driven between the African-American community on this issue,” said Jefferson Patterson, 59, a civil rights attorney.
“We’re here to show that not all African-Americans are in lockstep with fundamentalists about gay marriage,” said Rev. Hubert Ivery, 52, of the Twin Towers United Methodist Church in Alameda.
A poll released last week by Survey USA indicated that 38 percent of African-Americans do oppose Proposition 8, but 58 percent are in favor of the ban on gay marriage.
Ivery said that the majority of African-Americans are conservative or neutral on the issue, and interpret it through a religious lens. However, Ivery sees this issue differently.
“Proposition 8 is an attack on the same civil rights historically denied to African-Americans,” he said.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris said Proposition 8 was not good government. “The Supreme Court of California – the highest authority on what is law in California – has weighed in already,” she said. “We are using money and resources to stop something that the Supreme Court has already ruled to be consistent with the state’s constitution.”
Many also pointed out what they said were misinterpretations of Christianity and the Bible by those in the religious community opposed to same-sex marriage.
“Scripture does not say anything against gay marriage,” said the Rev. Roland Stringfellow, 39, who works at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. “What does Jesus teach? I don’t believe that Christ allows us to take away the right to see our loved ones at our bedside when we are sick, or that the Bible says it’s right for parents to throw a child out in the street because he is gay.”
Stringfellow said his personal experience as a gay African-American raised in the black church gave him a personal investment in defeating Proposition 8.
Growing up, Stringfellow said, he dreamed of becoming a minister. He assumed it was not possible due to his sexuality, he said, so he chose to stay closeted while pursuing his goal.
But after he got his Masters of Divinity at the Pacific School of Religion, Stringfellow said, he realized he didn’t have to choose between different parts of his identity.
After coming out, he said, his family was shunned in their church for his sexuality. “My mom and I had our conflicts,” he said. But they continued to keep talking, despite their differences. “My mother finally got the courage to stand up in church and say that she loved me,” he said. To him, this is proof that continued dialogue can change minds and attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage within the African-American community.
Ultimately, Stringfellow said, he sees gay marriage as a matter of integrity and authenticity. “When people aren’t allowed to love whom they love and marry whom they want to marry,” he said, “they are not being treated as equal citizens.”