Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Statement for Everyone

As an openly gay Black citizen of the United States and professor, I am proud to acknowledge and receive the news that President Obama’s administration has chosen to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law in 1996. DOMA denies married same-sex couples over 1,000 rights, benefits and responsibilities tied to marriage under federal law.

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This statement is not only a testament to the equal rights of non-heterosexual persons living in the United States. However, this decision, by a former constitutional law professor, the first Black president, and through the office of the Attorney General, Eric Holder (the first African American to serve in that capacity), is a thunderous, bold declaration to all that marriage equality is a civil rights issue worthy of aggressive defense.

Given the history of marriage equality debates in the United States, and particularly within the African American community, President Obama, undoubtedly, has drawn a line in the sand for many Blacks, as most still believe homosexuality is an immoral choice. He is sure to have to mend relationships with many Black religious communities as he seeks re-election in 2012.

Yet, this statement reminds me of the ‘Senator Obama’ Americans fell in love with and wanted to be president in 2008. Americans elected a president who they believed would represent a steady, principled approach to American problems. One such ‘problem’ is the continued federal support for discriminatory actions, such as the administration’s defense of a law that is unjust.

I am encouraged that President Obama has chosen to follow the spirit of Dr. King who reminds us that, “an unjust law, is no law at all.”

The fact that this declaration is to be enforced by a black president and a black attorney general is historic. The religiously conservative Black community will now have to wrestle with the fact that the two highest-ranking black officials in the country, whom they overwhelmingly elected in 2008, are making a clear stand for marriage equality, albeit indirectly.

While DOMA will still remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or a judge strikes it down, and the administration is still obligated to enforce the law, the fact that the solicitor general will no longer be defending its constitutionality is monumental.

This statement changes, not only America, but also will likely force changes within the Black community concerning many religious leaders’ approach to marriage equality. It has, indeed, changed my life. To know that the president of the United States and the Attorney General believe my right to marry is constitutional, is profound. It is fitting that this statement is made during Black history. For, President Obama and Attorney General Holder have indeed made history, as Black Americans, with this bold statement.