Recently, in conversation with affirming and inclusive ministry colleagues, one raised the question of how to successfully present marriage equality to Black churches in Maryland. A year of such equality was just then being celebrated in Washington, DC—a predominantly African American city.
As a group, we were clear that some in the community would be stopped by clichés, biblical opposition, discomfort with the topic of sexuality in the church, and misunderstanding. Now is the moment to be clear that when we speak of same-gender couples accessing marriage, we are talking about family.
Shortly, our conversation turned to the heart of our community. Family. African Americans talk about church using language like “my church home” and “my church family,” and we relate to one another in this way.
Like family, churches support us and stand by us. They are stations of healing and sanctuaries for genuine connection with each other and the loving presence of God. All of us need such spaces and none should be denied them.
Here’s the rub: Members of our family are left out—left out at church, at home, out of the community, and out of our lives.
We must not forget that each family is unique, and this has always been the case. Where family has not existed, we have created family— aunties raising children they did not birth, blended family structures and loving individuals taking in those in need of kindness and support. Families are made up of distinct, separate individuals who often go their own way, yet they know they belong, they are blood, they are loved, and no matter what, they are family. Same-gender couples are a continuation of this tradition.
Now is the moment to be clear that when we speak of same-gender couples accessing marriage, we are talking about family. We aren’t speaking of strangers distant from the black community. No, these are our sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews and neighbors.
You may be surprised by these U.S. Census findings:
- 14% of gay and transgender Americans are Black.
- In the Washington, DC and Baltimore area alone reside approximately 5,000 black same-sex households.
- There’s been a 51% increase in same-sex couples in this area in the last 10 years, and a full quarter of them are raising children (nearly 5,000 children).
It’s all about family.
Audre Lorde instructed us, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” I pray that our discussions of marriage equality will not be confined to “issues.” Instead may we focus on fulfilled, healthy lives for all in our community and family.