­Same-Sex Marriage and Black, Gay Men: Not So Fast

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“Do you take ____ to be your lawful wedded spouse?” “I do” times two is the standard question and answer at wedding ceremonies where two people verbally commit to each other. It is a refrain that is likely being repeated by thousands of same-sex couples across New York State now that the new same-sex marriage law went into effect on July 24th. With its passage into law with the help of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York became the sixth state, along with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa, and the District of Columbia, to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples.

In a New York One television interview following the Heritage of Pride parade, the Governor said, “I think you would see this message resonate across the country now.”
But for many in the Black gay community, there is a sense of indifference toward the same-sex law. As a community, its feelings are rooted in the inherent homophobia led by religious precepts that are still present in Black families, and as some suggest, will take time to change.

For many in the Black and Black gay communities – except possibly for those Black gay men and women with White partners, who are progressive and were involved in working toward the law – there is a general apathy and disinterest. Many Black gay men were not involved in activism and advocating for the passage of the law. Many saw it as a middle- and upper-middle class White activity, and not something in which they had a stake, or could see any tangible benefit. Many Black lesbians, who stood with their White counterparts in the forefront of the debate, see the longterm benefits of being able to marry their partners. But many Black gay men were myopic and largely absent, not seeing the law as something in which they had any part, not their business.

Reflecting the views of many in his generation, Aulister Mark, an African-American intern at In The Life Media, Inc., a LGBT film and television company, regards passage of the same-sex marriage law with indifference, “It doesn’t matter to me that much.”

As a 21-year old, he maintains that his stance is common among his peers. Coming from a single-parent family and looking at many of those in his age group, he says that the construction, model and example of marriage is not as sound as it is made out to be. He says that many marriages end in divorce, or, for a variety of reasons, there are many single-parent households. And, while he doesn’t foresee marriage, as yet, for those like him who have grown up more accepting of the differences among people, there is less stigma and discrimination surrounding being gay, lesbian or transgender.

At the other end of the age spectrum, a 51-year old African-American Harlem resident and property owner, says he is in favor of the legal protections the same-sex marriage law affords, including survivability and passing on assets, hospital visitations, easier adoptions, and tax and other benefits that straight couples enjoy, which give LGBT people an equal playing field as their heterosexual counterparts.

Another aspect that underlies Black gay men’s disinterest toward the same-sex marriage law, says Bernard Tarver, a community activist and blogger, is that before Black gay men talk about same-sex marriage, they have to address and deal with their own obstacles to relationships. For many, there are still a lot of other issues, such as self esteem, being comfortable being out, and being open about their sexual orientation in public. As a result of a number of issues, he says, Black gay men do not possess a long-term vision for relationships. With this law, he says, Black gay men now entering into relationships would able to see a path leading to something tangible and an opportunity to plan for the long term.

“Straight people have the luxury of a long range vision for their relationships. In the Black community, with many examples of people in long-term relationships, this allows many people to reap benefits. Before, goals in relationships were always short term and breakable,” he says.

Supporting Tarver’s point of view, Herb Williams, chair of the New York City chapter of Adodi, an empowerment group for Black same-gender loving (SGL) men, says, “If a person wants to take advantage of this, one of the things which is a challenge in gay relationships in the Black community is that the lack of acceptance by a society that made it okay not to take relationships seriously.”

Williams believes that it is a gradual process for Black gay men to be able to walk in public, beyond the West Village, holding hands comfortably, and the law allows many to at least feel they have more freedom.

“This does not mean that Black families would be more accepting of their Black sons saying he is gay,” Williams says.

The young man from Jersey City who stood up at the panel discussion held in June at the Casa Frela Gallery in Harlem voiced one palpable fear many Black gay men live with: For Black gay men, there is the fear of being condemned by a society and culture which values and places expectations on procreation and familial bonds, and in which many see their homosexuality as a curse, damned to live alone and into old age as isolated old men.

In New York, as in many other states, there are Black gay couples who have been together for several years. While for many, their relationships and commitment to each other is known to their respective families and friends, some have taken the added step of being married elsewhere, but many prefer not to have their relationship made public. While many have established, through legal instruments for their joint assets, articles for survivability, they are loathe to be out and proud about their committed relationship. There is talk among those Black gay men in long-term, committed relationships about the fear of being known and how it is related to the non-acceptance by wider society, by others who would ridicule and condemn them, and further still, by some others who would set about destabilizing and destroying what they cannot understand.

With no viable example for comparison, the new same-sex marriage law in New York gives the Black gay community the tools to define the marriage construct according to their relationships, either using the existing heterosexual model or to create a separate and different model suitable to their particular nature.

 

“Do you take ____ to be your lawful wedded spouse?” “I do” times two is the standard question and answer at wedding ceremonies where two people verbally commit to each other. It is a refrain that is likely being repeated by thousands of same-sex couples across New York State now that the new same-sex marriage law went into effect on July 24th. With its passage into law with the help of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York became the sixth state, along with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa, and the District of Columbia, to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples.