When I first heard of the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, I opposed it with heart and mind as an ordained Baptist minister who holds a Ph.D. in Biblical studies and as the brother of a gay Black man, Mark Aaron, who died of AIDS-related complications. My training and tradition helped form my theological beliefs and perspectives. My brother helped me with my spiritual journey and my understanding of culture.
The attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit the definition of marriage to “one man and one woman” is designed to legitimize discrimination by making it the law of the land. These efforts are touted as defending marriage, but they are really acts of hate that deny important economic and personal rights and protections to people like the brother I loved.
Same-sex couples deserve the same inheritance, insurance, hospital visitation, and health protections my wife and I have as a result of being married. The second clause of the amendment would in effect deny these rights to same-gender loving couples. The amendment isn’t just about marriage; it’s a pernicious attempt to economically and socially disenfranchise a group of people. Efforts to pervert justice must be resisted by all freedom-loving people, and most especially by those who have been victims of similar forms of discrimination and dehumanization.
At one time in our history in this country it was illegal for people of African descent to marry. I don’t mean anti-miscegenation laws. It was once illegal for black women and black men to marry each other. The justification? “Everyone knew” that blacks were not whole people with property or wealth to be passed on to future generations.
Given this history, it seems only appropriate that when the same government that deemed us unfit for marriage tries to do the same to another group of people, we must stand in solidarity with them and call the government to account.
Many Christian people base their arguments for condemning loving relationships between people of the same gender on biblical injunctions. But such literal readings have their limits. For instance, the prohibitions of intercourse between men found in Leviticus speak directly to a repopulation strategy for fifth century B.c= E. Judeans. Those searching the Bible for a condemnation of homosexuality today go far beyond the original intention of these ancient biblical laws and ignore the far more numerous commands to pursue justice and mercy for all, especially the oppressed.
Secondly, we must remember that the Bible was used as a tool for sanctioning the enslavement of African people in this country by appeals to slave laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy. And the Bible was used as a tool for sanctioning the denial of rights to women by appealing to misogynistic passages such as the 10th Commandment and the Household Codes in Ephesians. Our black religious experience has taught us that just because a rule, like “slaves be obedient to your master,” is found in the Bible, it is not necessarily “scriptural.”
Make no mistake: State-sanctioned oppression and discrimination are at the crux of the proposed amendments. It is “sanctified hatred” that seeks to dehumanize a group of people who are God’s children. The amendment is about the disenfranchisement of lesbian and gay citizens of our country who are seeking to express their mutual love in affirming ways. It is a demonic force which perverts the love ethic of Jesus.
As committed black Christians, we must stand united against this pernicious attack and call on the Church, especially the Black Church, to bear witness against this amendment.
Randall C. Bailey is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Hebrew Bible at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia.