While we’re on gay marriage, could someone please explain this to me?

My last post, Stop citing the Bible in support of gay marriage, addressed an article on Religion Dispatches about the definition of traditional marriage. Another essay published two days earlier on that same website addresses a different issue: the opposition of the ‘Black Church’ to gay marriage.

When I started reading the article – entitled Obama’s Gay Marriage Support Shocks Black Church – I expected to find a fairly straightforward account of conflicting loyalties: a conservative institution (the ‘Black Church’ is, after all, a church) trying to reconcile its religious beliefs with a desire to support America’s first black president. So I was surprised to instead discover the following two-paragraph dissertation on the institution of ‘Black Marriage’:

If you wonder why the issue of same-sex marriage is so freighted for African Americans, it is not simply because of their biblical beliefs. It is a deep historical narrative. Many enslaved African Americans were not allowed to marry, and after the Civil War, searched desperately to find their partners. Those who were lucky, married. Weddings were seen as a sign of prosperity, and joy for all in the community. Long before Star Jones had a lavish wedding (she has since divorced), Sister Rosetta Tharpe, former Church of God in Christ Evangelist and eminent guitar player, had her wedding in a stadium with 20,000 in attendance. Tharpe’s wedding music and service was recorded by Decca records, and sold well. Juanita Bynum and Bishop Thomas Weeks’ wedding was a spectacle, topped only by their subsequent breakup and divorce. Many church women I knew wanted to model their wedding after the Bynum and Weeks wedding long after it was clear the magic was over.

So when the black president says marriage is for everybody, straight or gay, and that it comes out of his faith, it elicits a visceral response from African-American Christians who have staked their spiritual and social lives on the institution of marriage. The admiration in the African-American community for the president and first lady’s marriage shines as a beacon of possibility, for married couples and singles alike. The sight of a black family in the White House is the pinnacle of what many African-American Christians believe a marriage should be. For them, hearing President Obama support same-sex marriage is sacrilege.

I read it, read it again, read the comments, and still do not understand this passage. Its inclusion in the article seems to indicate that the issue is not religious – less about the ‘Black Church’ than about ‘Black Marriage’. But even that does not fully explain what any of this has to do with ‘sacrilege’. So if you do somehow understand, please share in the comments. Or by email. I’m not picky, I just want to know.


2 thoughts on “While we’re on gay marriage, could someone please explain this to me?”

  1. honestly, i think that paragraph totally makes sense — it explains the deep historical/cultural issues with which black marriage is freighted. opening that institution up, to gays, at least according to the author, seems to cheapen the institution that has meant so much over the years to black christians. restricting marriage to heterosexuals is not just a traditional christian matter for these people, but also carries with it intense cultural baggage. it doesnt follow that therefore it should be off limits for homosexuals, but it does amplify the knottiness of it by exposing how marriage means even more for this demographic. and so “sacrilege” is perhaps broader in this context, not merely because its in conflict with traditional christian values, but because marriage carries even heavier baggage for this community, even if not of a strictly religious nature. but i concede, the use of “sacrilege,” is perhaps out of place — “controversial” or “touchy,” might have been more appropriate.


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