The black church is still reeling from President Barack Obama’s announcement that he is in agreement with the legalization of same-sex marriage in America.
Bishops, ministers, and pastors weighed in from pulpits around the country over Mother’s Day weekend, a majority not in favor of the decision, but still in support of another Obama administration in the White House.
“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” said Obama on ABC News, in an interview with Robin Roberts last week.
While African American religious leaders and their members were no doubt put off by the announcement, some were, at least momentarily, shocked into taking a step backward. “I don’t plan to vote for Romney, for sure. Right now, I plan to stay home,” said the Rev. Emmett C. Burns on CNN last week, before rethinking his plans for Election Day.
“We had to fight, and die, and bleed for the right to vote,” said Burns on Wednesday, of the privilege he so eagerly rejected on national television last week. “To live in a Democracy and not exercise that right in these times, would be the wrong thing to do. For those reasons, I’ve changed my mind- but I have not changed my mind on same-sex marriage.”
Pastor and founder of The Rising Sun Baptist Church in Woodlawn, Md., Burns, who represents District 10 in the Maryland House of Delegates, said in his original CNN interview “I love the president, but I cannot support what he has done.”
Burns said this week that while there are still black church members who share his earlier sentiments, he now fully supports Obama. “I was very angry that the president had come out on same sex marriage at that time, but upon reflection, we cannot afford to stay at home.”
Pressure had been mounting on Obama to take an official stance on the subject of same-sex marriage for months. That heat took a significant step up when first, Vice-President Joe Biden, and then Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, publicly announced support for gay marriage, shifting all attention to Obama.
“Religion should not be used as a test in selecting a president, that’s in the Constitution,” said President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Rev. Alvin Gwynn, Sr. “This is just a smoke screen to deter us and lead us away from the most important issues that are on the table right now- which is jobs and the economy.”
When asked to comment on Burns’ plans to not participate on Election Day, Gwynn said “He’s entitled to his own opinion. I think we fought hard and long for the right to vote and we don’t let one little issue like that keep us away from polls- that’s ridiculous.” African American’s came out in record-breaking numbers to take part in the 2008 election of the 44th President of the United States.
“African Americans cast over 29 million more ballots in 2008 than they did in 2004, an increase of 22 percent,” said Sarah Massey, media director at Project Vote, a nonprofit agency that promotes voter participation among youth and minorities.
“In 2008, a surge in voting by minorities, particularly youth, made the election more representative of the adult citizen population than in past elections,” said Massey. More important than having election participation that mirrors the population, if African Americans sit out in protest of Obama’s side in one debate, they also give up their voice on many other issues that directly affect them.
“No matter what you care about in this election, no matter what your issues are, the way to effect those issues is the ballot box,” said Senior Vice President of Campaigns for the NAACP, Marvin Randolph.
“Whether you care about racial profiling, women’s rights, worker’s rights, social security, or immigration rights- with so much at stake, black folks cant afford to sit this election out.”
To make voting easier, the NAACP has targeted first-time voters and members of the population that frequently move with pre-filled out voter registration forms. Also important to remember is the fact that the 2012 general election is more than just a simple “yes” or “no” for president.
Randolph says that succumbing to voter apathy and not voting in November will be giving up on the chance to affect not only federal, but a host of state and local laws as well. Civic leaders agree.
“When you think about the kinds of laws that have been passed over the last two years, many of it that impacted the black community was passed in-state,” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Citing the Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law at the center of the Travyon Martin case as an example, Campbell says elections for state representatives, senators, and governors are important because those are the people introducing and passing laws that change life on a local level.
“To say that ‘all politics is local’ is not just a cliche. Black men are going to be impacted when it comes to voter suppression and voter I.D.” When asked about members of the black church sitting out in the next election, Campbell said it is important to “respect everyone’s decision, of course- but not voting is voting.” Burns did not return phone or email requests for comment by print deadline.