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Byron Charlton

Marriage Equality

I write this article because I believe many well-meaning people are being misled by false
sentiments regarding marriage equality.
I must be truthful from the outset: As a young, straight black man, I used anti-gay
speech and committed homophobic actions during many of my formative years. My
ignorance was inexcusable. I grew up in southwestern Virginia and, like many African
Americans in my community and across the country, we secretly justified our appalling
actions toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people with the erroneous
belief that at least there was someone inferior whom we could oppress. Our bias was no
different from that of the white majority—the same majority that was guilty of
perpetuated systemic racial discrimination against black people.
I cannot stand silently by ignore the plight of a large segment of society—people who are
being denied their basic civil rights.
As a civil and human rights activist for most of my adult life, I’ve learned that bigotry of
any kind is the same, whether the reason is race, religion, gender, national origin, sexual
orientation, or gender identity. Bigots offer the same excuses for their discrimination
against and ostracization of others: “They are different from me. I would not want my
children to marry one of them. They have no morals etc.”
“You are entitled to your opinions-but not your own facts”. (Danial Patrick Moynihan)
Historically, people have misused religion to support many unjust causes; slavery,
unjust wars, terrorism, gender discrimination, immigration status, and even oppression
of people of other religions—all in the name of God.
I am not condemning religion entirely, only those who use it improperly for their own
ends or those who are misinformed. In fact, the practice of many religious orders have
fought for civil and human rights of all and many continue to do so.
Just as religion reinforced racial separation and discrimination during the period of
legal segregation and discrimination in the American South, today discrimination
because of sexual orientation or gender identity continues to be acceptable by many
people of all races nationwide. People are applying so-called religious convictions in
their opposition to marriage equality. Unfortunately, too often many people of color
adopt these views.
Many of us have LGBT friends, colleagues and family members who have been rejected
by those who should respect and accept them. Even worse, our LGBT friends and
colleagues have felt the sting of rejection from family members who should love them
for who they are.

There are religious leaders that contend the legal denial of marriage equality is different
from racial discrimination because they believe that sexual orientation or gender
identity, unlike race, is a choice. In their view, it is acceptable to deny those same civil
rights to same-sex couples. Nothing could be further from the truth. I recently saw a
conservative white minister debating a gay white minister. The conservative white
minister was advancing a theory that his Christian religion teaches: that it is a sin to
officiate the marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple. After listening to that minister, I
became convinced that he probably would not officiate a marriage ceremony of an
interracial couple, especially if they were black and white. He then stated, “Most black
Christians agreed with my position.” He doesn’t speak for most black Christians, and
neither does anyone else”.
African Americans should especially be concerned about discrimination against LGBT
people. Recent U.S. history included racial segregation in almost all of our public and
private institutions: schools, public transportation, eating establishments, the criminal
justice system, housing, and, most significantly, employment. Violent acts, such as
lynching blacks—a practice statutorily legal in many areas of the country through the
1960s, perpetuated the fear that kept discriminatory policies and practices in place. At
the time, few seemed to care about the lynching, which seldom made protest news and
almost never seeped into mainstream reporting.
White America finally took notice after the murder of three Northern white civil rights
activists. The 1964 lynch-mob shooting and killing of Andrew Goodman, James Cheney,
and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi and the 1965 murder of white female civil rights
activist Viola Liuzzo in Alabama revealed white people displaying their humanity—
willing to risk and lose their lives in support of the civil rights of black people. President
Lyndon Johnson sent the FBI to investigate these heinous acts.
Why are these events related to people of color supporting the right of consenting adults
to legally marry regardless of their sexual orientation? I am not trying to change your
belief and value system (religious or otherwise) with regard to same-sex marriage,
racism, or any other bias. However, one cannot deny the important role of people of
different races in the fight for civil rights, especially whites who took a stand against
discrimination against blacks.
Discrimination against LGBT people and the violation of their civil rights will continue
until most straight men and women stand up for the civil rights of everyone in this
The current presidential race is a reflection of the hatred and ignorance rampant in
some segments of the American populace. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and other political
candidates are seeking to take us back to the negative past through their anti-immigrant
and anti-LGBT agendas.

To this end, I quote excerpts from a sermon by prominent black minister,
Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor of the Trinity United Church of
Christ, Chicago IL:
“Tell your brethren who are part of your ministerial coalition to live their faith and not
legislate their faith, for the Constitution is designed to protect the rights of all. We must
learn to be more than a one-issue community and seek the beloved community where
we may not all agree, but we all recognize the fingerprint of the Divine upon all of
The question I believe we should pose to our congregations is, “Should all Americans
have the same civil rights?" This is a radically different question than the one you raised
with the ministers, "Does the church have the right to perform or not perform certain
religious rites?" There is a difference between rights and rites. We should never
misconstrue rights designed to protect diverse individuals in a pluralistic society versus
religious rites designed by faith communities to communicate a theological or doctrinal
The institution of marriage is not under attack as a result of the President's words.
Marriage was under attack years ago by men who viewed women as property and
children as trophies of sexual prowess. Marriage is under attack by low wages, high
incarceration, unfair tax policy, unemployment, and lack of education. Marriage is
under attack by clergy who proclaim monogamy, yet think nothing of stepping outside
the bonds of marriage to have multiple affairs with "preaching groupies." Same-gender
couples did not cause the high divorce rate.
Gay and lesbian citizens did not cause the economic crash, foreclosures, and attack upon
health care. Poor underfunded schools were not created because people desire equal
protection under the law. We have much work to do as a community, and to claim the
President of the United States must hold your theological position is absurd. He is
President of the United States of America not the President of the Baptist Convention or
Bishop of the Sanctified or Holiness Church. He is called to protect the rights of Jew and
Gentile, male and female, young and old, Gay and straight, black and white, Atheist and
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, Senior Pastor of the Holy Trinity UCC, Chicago, IL