Putting a ‘Black Face’ On Gay Marriage

Putting a ‘Black Face’ On Gay Marriage

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For many Americans, including gay marriage supporter Brendan Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens, the fight for gay and lesbian marriage equality has an eerie similarity to the civil rights struggle of African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.

And yet, many blacks are against gay marriage – especially those heavily involved in religious organizations. This played out in the fight against Proposition 8 in California, and again when gay marriage came up in Maryland. This has led some to see gay marriage as a non-black issue, or to completely forget that there is incredibly diversity in the gay community itself – white, black, Latino, Asian, and so on, all of whom would benefit from the right to marry whomever they choose.

A new short film by Thomas Allen Harris, “Marriage Equality: Byron Rushing and the Fight for Fairness,” deals with this black-gay-civil rights issue head on by focusing on Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing, a gay black male politician who is heavily involved in the marriage equality movement. Rep. Rushing mobilized a progressive coalition of black leaders, clergy members and activists, and successfully passed gay marriage in his home state.  

In the film, David Wilson, who was a plaintiff in the landmark Goodridge v. Health Department case, tells of the heart-breaking ordeal of the death of his then-partner, and how it informed his passion for gay rights.

In a panel on the film, David Wilson, spoke very eloquently about his passionate struggle for equality.

I’m here to put a Black face on the Marriage Equality movement.

I’m also one of the most unlikely people to put a public face on this movement.

My parents were domestics for over thirty years – working for three white families, paid cash, no health insurance, no sick days, no vacation, no social security, and no retirement. They both lived in the shadows of these families and did everything possible to not stand out or be seen. That was the message from my mother to her only child – figure out how to fit in, don’t rock the boat, it’s dangerous for a young black man to speak up especially in a city like Boston during the 50s and 60s.

At the age of 55 my mother was hired by the Christian Science Monitor in the mail room lifting heavy bags of mail and then sorting it. At the age of 60 my dad was hired by an Engineering firm as a maintenance employee. They both worked 10 years with healthcare insurance, sick days, vacation days and actually a pension – $39 a month for Dad and $101 a month for Mom.

My parents were denied the right to full citizenship because of their race and today I face similar inequities because of my race and my sexuality. Their fight is now my fight 50 years later.

I was married to a woman, had three beautiful children and finally came to terms with being gay at the age of 37. My ex-wife and three teen age children supported my coming out process as did my Mother and Father. My mother met with her pastor to ask for his support and to also ask that he stop preaching hatred from his pulpit. My mother and father had been a member of their Black church for over 40 years but the pastor said he could not support her or me. My mother was forced to leave her church because she could not bear the hurtful messages delivered every Sunday. When my mother had a heart attack 15 years later with five subsequent congestive heart failures, she came to my house for her final 11 weeks under hospice care. She asked me to call her home church Pastor to ask him to come and [have] prayer with her. He refused and sent his associate pastor. When my mother passed away, she wanted to be buried from her home church but her pastor agreed to the funeral but refused to allow me to deliver my mother’s eulogy. After an all-out effort by my mother’s flower club, deaconess board and ladies club, he reluctantly agreed that I could deliver the eulogy from the lowest of the three pulpits, which I was willing to do for my mother.

After my mother’s funeral, my dad never went back to his or any church with the exception of the day that he attended my legal wedding to my husband, Rob Compton. Dad was 89 and could not have been more proud of our role as plaintiffs in the Massachusetts marriage law suit which resulted in the right for us to marry.

In summary, I say to you that I feel half-married! Rob and I have the legal rights that marriage affords us only in the State of Massachusetts. We now have five adult children and seven grandchildren that live in five states across the country. When we leave Massachusetts we have no legal right to be there for each other in a crisis. Three of those states actually have constitutional bans against a marriage between two men or two women.

Rob has had complete hip replacement surgery, seven kidney stones, diverticulitis and I just had prostate cancer surgery in January. We live in fear that something will happen and we will be denied access to each other even though we are legally married.

We ask for your support in the passage of the Marriage Equality bill in NY and your continued support for all Gay and Lesbian couples that need and have earned as American citizens the 1100 benefits, both legal and financial, at the Federal level.

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