After 52 percent of Californians passed Proposition 8, a law that took away the recently granted right for same sex couples to marry, Promise King decided to take a trip to the Golden State. King, the executive director of the Oregon League of Minority Voters and a heterosexual, says he was disturbed by some voters' willingness to vote for a proposition that restricts the rights of so many people. But the main aspect of his trip was to talk with African American clergy about their views.
"Largely, people came to the ballot high on their morality," he said. "Unfortunately, they left justice at home."
The passage of Proposition 8 has hit a nerve among the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community and their supporters. Last week, a group of more than 100 people – including Latino Gay Pride, Unity Project of Oregon, a field organizer for the No on Proposition 8 campaign and others – gathered at the Jupiter Hotel to talk about the impact Proposition 8 has had the lives of gays and lesbians here in Oregon. It was also about forming a cohesive, positive response to Proposition 8 and to begin forming an agenda regarding Oregon's own anti-gay marriage laws.
"The consensus was that we all need to come together," said Craig Tyson, a board member of Unity Project of Oregon. "When an already oppressed minority community is divided, everyone loses."
Tyson says the key to expanding marriage equality in Oregon is to talk to people, to tell them it's about taking someone's rights away, and that civil marriage has nothing to do with religious marriage. Reaching out and speaking with Portland's African American pastors is key to winning the hearts and minds of a population, says Tyson.
"You can't do it without talking to them," he said.
Churches are largely divided on the issue of granting rights to same sex couples. Dr. T. Allen Bethel, of Maranatha Church and a board member for the Oregon League of Minority Voters, says he believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman. He bases his views on his religious beliefs and says gays and lesbians make the choice of being attracted to members of the same sex.
He says granting same sex marriage – or even civil union benefits — is akin to demanding a degree from a university without attending any classes.
When asked to compare this analogy to two couples – one heterosexual, one homosexual – who have been in equally loving relationships for an equal amount of time, Bethel replied that it's because marriage has not been defined that way for the same sex couple.
Bethel says some other churches and clergy in Portland do not share this interpretation of the Bible, and that the same divergent views are found within the Oregon League of Minority Voters, although the League generally does not take specific policy positions.
While traveling in California, King found a patchwork of beliefs among California's Black clergy – some were receptive to his viewpoints on marriage equality, some were not.
"I tried to get them to understand that Proposition 8 fundamentally undermines liberty for gays and lesbians," says King, who points out that polls show a majority of Americans agrees with his point. "They understand the issue was not about morality but justice."
Many clergy, though, disagree, arguing from the belief that gays and lesbians choose to be the way they are.
According to a 2003 Pew survey, 61 percent of Black Protestants believe homosexuality can be changed. Among White Protestants, the number varies from 26 percent to 73 percent, depending on the congregation.
According to the study, the more serious religion is to a person, the more likely they are to believe that being gay is a choice that a person makes. Many other factors have an effect — people who live in rural areas and the South; those without a college degree; older people; and those who don't know a gay or lesbian are more likely to oppose gay marriage and view gays and lesbians negatively.
For the foreseeable future, the issue of marriage equality is unlikely to go away. There are more than 11,000 couples that wed in California before the ban took place, more than the approximately 10,500 who married in Massachusetts since 2004. Anti-gay rights groups are setting up possible 2010 ballot initiatives that would attempt to repeal domestic partnership and anti-discrimination laws in the state.
And gay rights groups in Oregon continue to talk about future repeal attempts to the state's constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
As King travels to his home in Nigeria for the next six weeks, he will be able to look at how his country has treated gays and lesbians — in 2006, a law was proposed that would have sent any gays, lesbians, their friends, or anyone who promoted their rights to five years in prison.
Talent ShowTalent Show
In recognition of the Annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the African American AIDS Awareness Action Alliance will host a talent showcase at Concordia College on Feb. 7, 2009 at 1 p.m. in Luther Hall. They are now accepting entries and are looking for visual art, written word, live performances, and audio/video recordings. For details and entry forms visit: www.knowsexpdx.com/getinvolved.html or call: Ronnie Meyers @ 503.988.3030x25677 or Khalil @ 503.417.7991 Entries must be submitted by Friday, December 19, 2008!