The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. The union between same-sex couples was not uniformly recognized throughout the United States, but today we enter a new era for our nation’s legal interrogation of how sexuality informs equal justice and treatment under law.
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The right of same-sex couples to marry that is part of the liberty promised by the Fourteenth Amendment is derived, too, from that Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of the laws…No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family…[Men and women in same-sex unions] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
There are an estimated 85,000 Black same-sex couples in the U.S. and according to a 2012 Gallup Poll, Black Americans are more likely than White Americans to identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT), 4.6 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. A Pew Research Center report indicated that while the proportion of African Americans supporting marriage equality has increased since 2003 (41% of Black Americans now favor marriage equality), the majority of Black Protestants still directly oppose gay marriage at greater rates than other religious groups.
The Black community has struggled with the conflicting narrative about its LGBTQ identity—a topic that has been both under-developed in the public domain and under-protected in our collective narrative on equality and racial justice. But racism, homophobia and sexism are connected at the hip—something that those who live at the intersection between the three understand all too well.
Discrimination against Black LGBTQ people is rampant, and it often has little to do with their decision to marry. Our work to advance racial, sexual, and gender justice must engage a robust, collective effort to dismantle all of the barriers to equal opportunity—the social contracts that allow violence against Black LGBTQ—particularly transwomen—to go unnoticed in the public domain; the institutional violence inflicted against Black LGBTQ women that render them vulnerable to labor discrimination, poverty; and relegated to underground economies; and the implicit micro- and macro-aggressions that marginalize LGBTQ voices in our greater racial justice movements.
Love matters—it is at the core of how we engage our collective humanity and how we express and institutionalize our social norms. Marriage is not the only institution that must reflect this truth.
Monique W. Morris, Ed.D. is a social justice scholar, author of Black Stats: African Americans by the Numbers in the Twenty-First Century, and a forthcoming book on the criminalization of Black girls in schools. Follow Dr. Morris on Twitter @MoniqueWMorris.