A group of high-profile Americans have come together to urge President Barack Obama to support gay marriage. The group includes Martin Sheen, R&B singer Mya, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and a host of other celebrities, athletes and the like.
The group has written an open letter to the president asking that he back the same-sex marriage issue and support the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community's efforts to have their relationships recognized by the legal system and the American public.
So far, the president has not pledged complete support for gay marriage. Instead, he supports civil unions as an alternative. He does, however, claim that his views are "evolving" on the matter. His administration has also taken the bold position of refusing to defend a federal law that bars the government from recognizing same-sex unions.
The group, Freedom to Marry, plans to deliver the signatures on the open letter to the White House this spring. This move promises to put even more pressure on President Obama, who many expect to govern from the center in order to maximize his chances for re-election in 2012.
The black community also has reason to be concerned, given that the president has yet to advocate for any policy that exclusively impacts black and brown people. For example, numerous black scholars, politicians and public figures have asked the Obama Administration to create targeted policies to deal with indisputable inequality in the unemployment rate and mass incarceration.
To date, the administration has given a deaf ear to the black community's specific needs, instead arguing that racial inequality will be indirectly addressed via a package of liberal agenda items.
Another interesting issue for President Obama is that many members of his black base do not support gay marriage.
While I would need to get poll results to answer this question definitively, it is well known that the powerful black church has an uncomfortable relationship with the LGBT community and that many African Americans have serious problems with the gay marital concept.
While I would personally like to see the black church become more progressive in terms of dealing with its homophobia, it's interesting that the gay and black communities have very different reasons for supporting the president.
What we can say is that African Americans are different from nearly any other group that supports President Obama, primarily because we are the only group that doesn't ask the president for much of anything.
The fact that he lives in the White House and has a black face is enough to keep the black community supportive. This is in stark contrast to other subgroups of the Democratic party - all of whom have firmly come to the president stating that if their needs aren't being met, they will not show up to support him in the next election.
As a result, the Hispanic community got a Supreme Court Justice (Sonia Sotomayor) and instant federal support during the unfortunate immigration situation in Arizona. Women's groups received a supreme Court Justice (Elena Kagan) of their own (who also happened to be a Jewish woman from Harvard, giving Obama brownie points with other constituencies), as well as new legislation supporting the rights of women in the workplace.
The black community has asked for a black female Supreme Court Justice for decades (no black woman has ever been nominated for the Supreme Court in more than 200 years of the court's existence, a clear sign of racial discrimination), and we've also asked for additional protection from workplace discrimination and exorbitant unemployment rates. The response from the Obama administration has been as silent as David Duke at a soul food restaurant.
I'm not sure how this public appeal to the president is going to play out for the LGBT community. I suspect that the president's "evolving" views on gay marriage imply that he might push for serious reform after the election.
It's a simple matter to argue that all forms of love should be respected and that all Americans deserve the right to legally protect the sanctity of family bonds. Unions are incredibly important for shared health insurance and all the other things that married people get to enjoy, but as the president fights for equal rights for gay Americans, I am hopeful that he doesn't forget about the millions of African Americans who are also hoping that the president will show necessary political courage to improve the highly damaged state of the African-American community.
In other words, black people should not be punished for their loyalty.
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Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here. To follow Dr. Boyce on Facebook, please click here.