Rev. Meeks, as a state senator, refused to support the civil unions bill when it was passed. However, Gov. Patt Quinn and many other colleagues of Rev. Meeks voted in favor of the bill. Meeks stated on local radio that churches have failed to be the "salt and light" that Jesus needs in order for our society to be enlightened.
Rev. Meeks is treading on volatile ground by making such public statements against civil unions for gay couples. I'm not sure what his chances were of being elected mayor of Chicago, but I can't imagine that this situation is going to help him in the polls. All the while, Rev. Meeks says what he believes: He has been highly outspoken on much needed education reform, and has done outstanding work to support and sustain families in the inner city of Chicago. I doubt that a little controversy will ever slow him down.
Meeks' comments also represent the rift between the African American community and left wing liberals. Although African Americans tend to vote heavily Democratic, they are far more conservative than the Democrats would like for them to be: they go to church more often than whites do. They have a bigger problem with homosexuality than most white Americans. Black folks also don't tend to get as excited about liberal issues such as the torture of POWs or saving the environment. Sure, many black people care about these topics, but it's just not the standard conversation you'll hear in our community.
The peculiar marriage between the black community and the Democratic Party is a necessary one, given that the Democrats are the only party that at least tries to make black folks feel welcome: the liberals are steadfast allies to the black community on issues like racial inequality, creating jobs for working class Americans, social programs for the poor, protecting prison inmates and a few other important areas. But when we go to church and spend time with our families, that's when many black people turn into Glenn Beck: I know quite a few black folks in my own family who voted for George Bush in 2004 solely because of his position against gay marriage. The war in Iraq didn't matter, nor did any of the other issues that liberals care about. All that mattered was that Bush appeared to thump the bible as hard as they do, and many black folks hang on their pastors' every word. In fact, I've always said that if Republicans could just let go of the whole pro-racism, anti-poor, anti-working class thing, they could get quite a few black votes.
All the while, I confess that I do not agree with Rev. Meeks' position on civil unions for gay couples. Love is a beautiful thing, even if that love is not between a man and a woman. Members of the gay community should not be stripped of their rights to provide for those they love, even if the rest of us are uncomfortable with the nature of their relationships.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action Resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.