Black organization spearheads marriage equality efforts in Maryland

by Matthew E. Pilecki

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday February 10, 2011

With the introduction of a marriage equality bill in Maryland, LGBT activists are increasingly optimistic about the prospect of nuptials for same-sex couples to in the Free State. And one of the state's leading black organizations continues to rally support for the issue.

Equality Maryland announced the introduction of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act in both the House and Senate last month, which would end the exclusion of gays and lesbians from civil marriage and allow religious institutions to opt-out of performing same-sex unions if they so choose. Lisa Polyak, vice president of Equality Maryland's Board of Directors, singled out the Maryland Black Family Alliance for its efforts to bring the message of marriage equality to people of faith and color across the state.

The MBFA's efforts include producing a public service announcement and providing funding and support to Equality Maryland, Trans-United, the Maryland ACLU and other LGBT groups across the state. The organization also appeared in the film "Maryland Voices of Equality" that highlights issues facing LGBT Marylanders.

Darrell Carrington, founding member of the MBFA, said the decision to support marriage equality was an easy one to make.

"It's a simple matter of fairness, equality, and justice," Carrington told EDGE. "We cannot have any American citizens denied the rights of any other American citizens. This is a simple matter of equal protection and due process under the law."

Polls continue to indicate Marylanders increasingly support marriage equality, and Carrington said the gap between white and black voters on the issue has virtually closed. Resistance remains, however, among some Christian groups that continue to insist marriage should remain between one man and one woman.

"For us we look at Jesus as love, compassion, and inclusion-that's the story that you were supposed to take from the Bible's narrative," said Carrington. "Love is all encompassing and all inclusive. In some regards, we're a little shocked that we've experienced resistance. This is civil process and it's something that is not inconsistent with faith. In fact, our outreach director, Lea Gilmore, often says she supports marriage equality not in spite of her faith but because of her faith."

Carrington continues to assert every religious institution should have the choice to recognize and perform same-sex nuptials.

"It's one of the fundamental principles of our great nation-religious freedom," he declared. "We support it 100 percent and if anyone ever dared to think that we could oppose upon our religious institutions, I would be one of the first persons there fighting against it."

The last effort to bring marriage equality to Maryland ended when the Court of Appeals in Sept. 2007 upheld traditional marriage in a 4-3 decision. Chief Judge Robert Bell, the first black person to lead the court, dissented from the majority's opinion. He noted while "there are important differences between the African American experience and that of gays and lesbians in this country [...] many of the arguments made in support of the anti-miscegenation laws were identical to those made today in opposition to same-sex marriage."

Carrington supported Bell's sentiments, adding gays and lesbians were some of the first to support the black civil rights movement.

"Back in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, lesbians and gays joined in the work of the civil rights movement to help African Americans get their full inclusion in our country and into our institutions," he said. "I don't see how you can turn your back on a group of folks that are fighting for a chance to have the same rights. As Dr. King had said, anytime that there is a threat to justice anywhere it's a threat to justice everywhere."

Carrington added LGBT couples and families of color often suffer the most from a lack of marriage equality.

"Regrettably, some of the people that will have the most difficulty are low income folks in our communities that can't afford all the advance directives and all the legal paperwork that some couples are able to get to try to protect themselves," he lamented. "We find that in the African American community, those couples struggle a lot more than they do in Caucasian communities."