Same-sex marriage won't worsen crisis in the black family

March 11, 2004|By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

MANY BLACK pastors and black conservative leaders loudly applauded when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist vowed to prod Congress to pass the federal marriage amendment that defines marriage as between a man and woman.

They say they will do everything to help Mr. Frist get the amendment passed.

They announced plans to mobilize black church groups and to stage rallies in San Francisco and Boston.

They aren't simply bought and paid mouthpieces for Christian conservative groups. A Pew Research Poll taken immediately after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld same-sex marriages last year found that far more blacks than whites disagreed with the court's decision.

The two reasons most often heard for their rabid opposition is a biblical passage decrying homosexuality and deep resentment at comparing the gay marriage fight to the civil rights struggle. But the reason frequently whispered is that gay marriage will wreak mortal damage on a black family deep in crisis.

A higher-than-average divorce rate and a chronic shortage of marriageable men due to double-digit unemployment and the staggering imprisonment and mortality rates for young black men make that argument appealing to many blacks.

But the fear that gay marriage will further shatter the black family hinges on the shaky premises that there are thousands of gay men and women lying in wait to subvert traditional family values and that there is even a recognizable traditional stable family.

No one really knows how many black men or women consider themselves exclusively gay. An estimated 3 million same-sex couples in the United States maintain households, and the number of blacks living in same-sex households is only a small percentage of that number. That pales in comparison with the nearly 60 million traditional married couples in the country.

The number of children in same-sex households could be as few as 1 million. For blacks, the number is probably much smaller.

Even if the rhapsodic 1950s Ozzie and Harriet traditional family was not overblown, gender and race have radically changed family relations in America.

The majority of black women are better educated and more career-oriented, and work outside the home in business, the professions and the trades.

They become parents much later, and more often as single parents by choice.

In 2000, nearly 70 percent of black children did not live in traditional two-parent households, one out of four children was born out of wedlock to a single woman and one out of two children was born out of wedlock to a single black woman. Half of all marriages ended in divorce.

Meanwhile, more than 50 percent of black women never married. All types of family and child-rearing relationships and parenting combinations have evolved over the past decade that were barely existent a generation ago.

There are single working women, single working men, custodial grandparents, single male and female couples, step-parents, foster parents, designated guardians, foster caregivers and even children raising siblings.

In research studies, the country's top child welfare agencies are virtually unanimous that the quality of care, not the sexual orientation of a household, is the biggest factor that determines the emotional and social well-being children.

There is no evidence that children raised in same-sex households grow up to be sexually or socially warped or become gay or lesbian, or that legalizing same-sex marriages will radically increase the number of those in same-sex relationships.

In endless news footage and clips of gay marriages in San Francisco, Oregon, New York and other places, shots of black same-sex couples were conspicuously missing. Even if there were a mad rush by black same-sex couples to the marriage altar, the legal barriers to same-sex marriage are still mountainous.

Forty-eight states explicitly define marriage as between a man and woman, and attorneys general and other state officials have sought legal injunctions and threatened to jail or have jailed those performing same-sex marriages.

The great irony in the raging debate over gay marriage is that those blacks who make gays the fall group for the black family's ills forget that blacks have often been the fall group for America's racial ills.

Their support for a federal marriage amendment is even more ironic and shameful.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press, 1998). He lives in Inglewood, Calif.

Columnist Ellen Goodman is on vacation.

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