"A person should be judged by the content of their character" -- Dr. Martin Luther King, I Have A Dream Speech, August 28 1963.
Many Black ministers who denounce President Barack Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality claim that leaders of the 20th Century Civil Rights Movement would be absolutely against Same Sex Marriage, and that those leaders are probably turning over in their graves over a notion that the first Black President would endorse it. These ministers ignore the examples of how three of the best known leaders of the Civil Rights/Black Power Movement, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton, were willing to overlook religious, cultural and philosophical differences to achieve the greater goal.
Many, but not all of the Black Ministers criticizing President Obama’s decision endorsing Same Sex Marriage are Republicans who have long sought an issue to pull politically liberal but religiously conservative Blacks from the Democratic Party. Their calls urging Black Christians to vote against Obama this November because of the President’s position on Same Sex Marriage appear to be masked as a religious, not politically partisan action.
Malcolm X was famous for often stating “I am neither a Democrat or a Republican.” While Malcolm was a devout Muslim minister, he did not let his religious views get in the way of working with and supporting people who did not share his religious views, or for that matter people who did not embrace any religion. In Malcolm’s famous “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech he says “I'm not here tonight to discuss my religion. I'm not here to try and change your religion. I'm not here to argue or discuss anything that we differ about, because it's time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem, a problem that will make you catch hell whether you're a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a nationalist.”
In 1964 Malcolm said “Whether we are Christians or Muslims or nationalists or agnostics or atheists, we must first learn to forget our differences. If we have differences, let us differ in the closet; when we come out in front, let us not have anything to argue about until we get finished arguing with the man.” If Malcolm was around today he would likely say that if you’re Black in America, gay marriage isn’t a threat, getting shot by a racist White police officer or vigilante, or by a Black or Hispanic gangbanger is more of a concern than whether gays can get married.
Malcolm’s view of religion was that one’s religious faith should be a deeply held philosophy to regulate one’s personal life, and the lives of family and friends who share an individual’s religion. Malcolm felt that an overemphasis on religion was unproductive because of the divisiveness heated discussions over religious views can create.
While the late Black Panther founder Huey Newton was not a religious leader, he was the epitome of the macho Black militant whose image indicated he would likely be as homophobic as the most conservative Black ministers. Newton gave a speech on August 15, 1970 that showed he was decades ahead of mainstream Black leaders, particularly many Black ministers, regarding gays and lesbians in the fight for equal rights for all.
“Strong movements have developed among women and among homosexuals seeking their liberation. There has been some uncertainty about how to relate to these movements.
Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion. I say” whatever your insecurities are” because as we very well know, sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the mouth, and want a woman to be quiet. We want to hit a homosexual in the mouth because we are afraid that we might be homosexual; and we want to hit the women or shut her up because we are afraid that she might castrate us, or take the nuts that we might not have to start with.
We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect and feelings for all oppressed people. We must not use the racist attitude that the White racists use against our people because they are Black and poor. Many times the poorest White person is the most racist because he is afraid that he might lose something, or discover something that he does not have. So you’re some kind of a threat to him.
This kind of psychology is in operation when we view oppressed people and we are angry with them because of their particular kind of behavior, or their particular kind of deviation from the established norm.
And maybe I’m now injecting some of my prejudice by saying that “even a homosexual can be a revolutionary.” Quite the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary.”
Finally Dr. King said discrimination against one is discrimination against all and one of Dr. King's top aides, Bayard Rustin, the man who organized the 1963 March on Washington was gay. Dr. King and other Civil Rights insiders knew that Rustin was gay and Dr. King rejected pressure from top Civil Rights leaders who wanted Rustin removed as the March on Washington organizer over concerns that if Rustin’s sexuality received widespread publicity, it could not only destroy the March on Washington but permanently discredit the religiously based Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. King rejected calls for Rustin’s resignation, evoking the philosophy he would later make famous in his "I Have a Dream Speech." Dr. King did not judge Rustin for who he was sleeping with, even though the fact that Rustin was gay violated the core tenants of Dr. King’s personal faith. Dr. King issued a statement in which he said he had full faith in Rustin’s “character, integrity, and extraordinary ability as a brilliant, efficient and dedicated organizer, and one of the best and most persuasive interpreters of non-violence.”
If Dr. King was around today, he might give an update on the “I Have a Dream” speech where he would say “I have a dream where my grandchildren can grow up in a world where they are not judged by their sex, race, nationality, physical disability or sexuality, but by the content of their character.”
For all the Black Ministers urging their congregations not to support President Obama’s re-election because of his position on Same Sex Marriage, maybe they should re-examine the positions of some of the most prominent Black leaders of the 20th century on how to work with and accept fellow African Americans who may not share the same religious or social values in order to achieve the greater good.