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Can Marriage Be Saved? | The Nation

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Can Marriage Be Saved?

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“We are in the classic fog of war,” says Stephen Cohen.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON

 

A LOT OF BLACK FOLKS ARE ANGRY that gay folks want to get married, and that they're using the civil rights movement as grounds to justify their efforts. Well, as a straight, ordained Baptist minister and activist intellectual, I fully support gays and lesbians who want to get hitched. First of all, black folks should be the last on earth to tell anybody when and under what conditions they should or shouldn't be married. Not long ago, we were jumping a broom to sanctify marriages that weren't recognized by the state. Then, only yesterday, our unions to folks outside our race weren't recognized in many states across the nation. That should give us pause as we remonstrate against gays who want to walk down the aisle in utter commitment to one another. (Plus, doesn't it seem odd that some of the loudest voices in opposition to marriage rise from religious leaders who couldn't keep their vows of fidelity if Jesus were in their bedrooms? Alas, I'm not casting any stones, since I can't afford to; I'm just underscoring an obvious hypocrisy.)

As for gay folks hijacking the language of civil rights to further their goals, it's just fine with me. To be sure, racial segregation and homophobia are historically distinct, if overlapping, phenomena. Today, gays and lesbians on average make a whole lot more money than blacks, and their ability to masquerade and hide their identities is far greater than for most blacks. And there are some gays and lesbians who are downright racist. (But isn't that one of the points to be made here--that being gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual doesn't exempt one from the passions and pitfalls that befall the rest of us?) Still, black folks can't deny that the ability to marry whomever one chooses is a civil rights issue, one not best left to high-minded moralists. Our feathers needn't be ruffled by gays and lesbians who seek to tie the knot of matrimony. In fact, heterosexual Christians should applaud the desire of gays and lesbians to seal their sexual and spiritual solidarity with a nod to traditional family values. Now mind you, those traditional family values have led to destructive consequences in many homes, but the desire of gays and lesbians to sign up has given me fresh hope that it needn't be so.

Ain't that a trip? Oops, I'm so sorry to have descended to Ebonics to make my point, especially since Bill Cosby, on the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board, assailed lower-income black families--like the one I made as a teen father on welfare--for the verbal pathology of black English. Come to think of it, Cosby's recent assault on poor black families, which echoes decades of assaults on the black family, from the Moynihan Report to welfare reform, is much more dangerous to us--and should cause far more sustained outcry from black folks--than two loving people who happen to be gay or lesbian committing to each other in the hope of bolstering the value of all families.

Michael Eric Dyson is professor of humanities and religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

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