There will be a lot of words written about how President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage might endanger his support in the black community, but much of it will miss the mark because they won’t consider one very important word in this equation: Passion.
Where does the black community’s passion lie?
While the opponents of gay marriage in the Republican Party use the issue to mount major social movements, to lure millions of rabid conservatives to the ballot box to voice their disgust, to drum up enormous cash infusions to right-wing politicians and SuperPACs, absolutely none of this accompanies the opposition to gay marriage in the black community. There is an utter lack of passion because, for most African Americans—even those whose opposition stems from the black church—the decision about whether we will support or oppose gay marriage is a private one, adjudicated in the quiet chambers of our conscience.
When faced with the decision whether to support the nation’s first black president or to reject him because of his embrace of gay marriage, the decision isn’t even close. Obama wins every time. Why? Because there is a deep and abiding passion behind the black community’s support of the president. It is a feeling, an emotion, a sensation that has seeped into the pores of the community, that flows through our veins. Keeping him in office has become as important as the air we breathe, as the love we share with our families.
The black community’s relationship with homosexuality is long and complicated, much too nuanced to be neatly summarized with Gallup polls and NBC surveys. Many of us have grown up around uncles we suspected were gay, choir directors we were certain were gay, cousins and co-workers and homeboys who never seemed to connect with the opposite sex in a romantic way. We came to respect their right to their own privacy, to allow them to decide for themselves how they wanted to handle the matter of who they invited into their bed. Many of us eventually determined that what they were was none of our business. We would love them anyway. And we would never force them to go live elsewhere, away from us, just because of the way they loved. As our faith taught us, we would not judge.
Now much of this nuance would likely get missed if a pollster stepped in front of us with a clipboard, or called us on the telephone, and asked a simple yes-or-no question: Should gays be allowed to marry? The last time they asked, half of us said Yes, the other half said No. Not exactly an overwhelming mandate.
In fact, the president acknowledged much of that same nuance when he admitted that he works with White House staffers who have same-sex partnerships, or he sees it in the lives of his children, who have friends at Sidwell Friends School in D.C. with parents of the same sex.
“When I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn’t dawn on them that their friends’ parents should be treated differently,” the president wrote last night in a letter to supporters.
Nuance and shades of gray and matters of conscience don’t really allow for the kind of certainty that one needs to loudly scream and fight against gay marriage the way that many conservatives do in this country. Nuance doesn’t allow that degree of passion. That is the biggest difference between opposition to gay marriage on the right and opposition in the black community. For the half of us who still oppose it, we don’t carry it around on picket signs and blast it through megaphones.
No, we reserve that level of passion for issues that we care about on a much deeper level: Such as, Will the president get another term in the White House? Most of us will scream real loud for that one.