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The Black Divide on Same-Sex Marriage

African Americans in Maryland are deeply divided over same-sex marriage, an issue that pushes many to weigh their commitment to civil rights against powerful religious convictions.

Black lawmakers are likely to confront the dilemma in the General Assembly when the legislature convenes for its 90-day session in January and is expected to take up a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Advocates say they'll turn to the legislature after their defeat in Maryland's highest court, which ruled that gays and lesbians do not constitute a protected class and urged lawmakers to debate the issue instead.

Take, for example, two Prince George's County Democrats, Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt and Del. Dereck E. Davis. Davis has said he will be guided by religious leaders who believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Britt, who plans to sponsor the same-sex marriage bill, echoes the messages of the civil rights era that the Constitution protects everyone.

A recent Washington Post poll released last week demonstrated that divide : Fifty-nine percent of white Marylanders favor civil unions. Blacks are split, with 46 percent supporting and 48 percent opposing them. Meanwhile, 59 percent of African Americans oppose same-sex marriage, and white are split, with 50 percent supporting and 45 percent opposing.

A group of black leaders, most of them heterosexual, last week announced the formation of the Maryland Black Family Alliance. The organizers pledge to push for legalizing gay unions with a campaign around the state and in Annapolis -- and change the minds of black elected officials who reject a connection between gay rights and civil rights.

"This is civil marriage, it's not just gay marriage," said Elbridge James, the group's leader and a former political action chairman for the Maryland branch of the NAACP. "We're asking legislators to put their hand on the Bible to protect the Constitution."

The activist from Rockville, who is 60, said many blacks have been traditionally so focused on other problems facing their community, including crime and high school dropout rates, that same-sex marriage has gotten little traction. "But plenty of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have been harassed," he said.

By Phyllis Jordan  |  October 28, 2007; 9:44 AM ET
Categories:  Lisa Rein  
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