The religious basis of Black opposition to marriage rights

Where does the Black-White gap in support for marriage rights come from?

The Washington Post details the last-ditch efforts by Black Christian leaders in Prince George’s County, Maryland to stop the state from legalizing homogamous marriage.

The county, just outside Washington, D.C., is “the nation’s most affluent and best-educated majority-black jurisdiction, [and] home to some of the largest and most influential churches in the nation.” That makes it ground zero for Black Christian opposition to homogamous marriage rights.

Paul Wells, New Revival Center of Renewal: "A ministry to the homeless and formerly incarcerated"

One church official, Paul Wells from the New Revival Center of Renewal, is quoted as saying:

I welcome those who are homosexual into the church the same way I welcome liars and fornicators. But the expectation is that the word of God will change them once they get in. . . . God gave us free will and so you are either against God’s word or for God’s word. There is no in-between.

A recent article by Darren Sherkat and colleagues in the journal Social Science Quarterly explored the religious basis for Black opposition to gay and lesbian marriage. (In 2008, 58% of Black respondents to the General Social Survey opposed same-sex marriage rights, compared with 46% of Whites.) They show that what appears to many as an incongruity in the overlap between Black political liberalism and widespread opposition to marriage rights is largely explained by religion — sectarian affiliation and level of religiosity. From the conclusion:

African-American religion is overwhelmingly sectarian Protestant and denominational ties play a strong role in producing black-white differences in support for same-sex marriage. While fewer than 30 percent of white Americans identify with conservative Protestant denominations, over 63 percent of African Americans affiliate with Baptist or other sectarian groups. About half the difference between whites and African Americans in their support for same-sex marriage is explained by differences in religious affiliation, while high rates of religious participation among African Americans accounts for the remainder of the gap.

The Post article offers an illustration of this pattern. The conservative Christian opposition doesn’t represent all of Black political opinion:

Baltimore’s black lawmakers have generally been more likely to support the same-sex marriage bill. Four African American senators there voted for the bill, and several of its delegates are among the House co-sponsors. Some of the African American lawmakers who support the legislation have cast it as part of the civil rights movement.

At The Root on NPR, David Kaufman reports on this tension in the context of the California Proposition 8 vote and Obama’s recent shift on the Defense of Marriage Act. He concludes:

Still, as the experiences in both California and Washington, D.C., suggest, the most important change agents for black voters — gay or straight, religious or secular, urban or suburban — are black voters themselves. Stick to the sidelines, as in California in 2008, and risk being demonized by a disappointed white LGBT leadership. But claim the mantle that is rightfully yours, as in Washington, D.C., and lead the struggle for a more equitable nation for every citizen.

Update: Darren Sherkat, on his blog, updates the public opinion trends on homogamy through 2010, showing that smaller proportions of both Blacks and Whites are expressing opposition to same-sex marriage, and the gap may have closed a little:

Percent opposed to same-sex marriage (General Social Survey)


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