In July, the U.S. Senate failed to gain the support of the 51 senators it needed to proceed with amending the U.S. constitution to ban gay marriage. The slight majority in favor of the amendment, 50-48, was one vote short of the number needed to take the measure to a formal vote. Here in Georgia, we are also facing a proposed anti-gay marriage amendment, scheduled for a voter referendum in November, and while the campaign to defeat it is certainly making progress, it is also challenged by a deeply conservative shift, as well as facing some apathy in the gay community.
Where do AIDS and economic issues connect with the gay marriage issue? AIDS brought awareness to the crises of housing, income and affordable health care that low-income Americans face every day. It brought awareness to the stumbling blocks and unethical practices of the United States' inadequate private health insurance systems. It required activists to challenge the healthcare institutions and pharmaceutical corporations, whose policies they alleged were killing people with HIV/AIDS.
On the marriage issue, it's obvious there is an economic agenda as well as a human rights issue. We need to reshape the notion of healthy relationships as seen through the eyes of Americans. Married couples normally have joint health insurance with one of their employers. If same-sex couples had equal access to employer healthcare benefits, there would be less of a financial burden on the public healthcare system if a partner living with HIV is in need of health care. If marriage is the vehicle that will assist in insuring the protection of healthcare needs and the assets of persons in nontraditional relationships who are living HIV/AIDS, then marriage it should be.
But Christian conservative groups are once again meeting with Black churches across the beautiful state of Georgia, couching their anti-gay campaign in religious rhetoric. I recently had a conversation with an NAACP representative, and he stated that whenever the Christian Coalition wants something from the Black community, they always come with biblical overtones. Why do they not come and meet with the Black clergy about protecting affirmative action? Why do they not come and meet with the Black clergy about inner-city school children badly needing textbooks? Why do they not come and meet with the Black clergy to discuss the problem of 60% of the inmate population in this country being Black? Why do they not come when HIV/AIDS is the leading killer in the Black community? Why?
On the other hand, when is the Black clergy going to be held accountable? They know that AIDS is the leading cause of death in the Black community, but they talk about it with funding in mind. They claim, "I believe the Lord wants us to start an AIDS ministry," but they are in essence tying it to the federal Faith-Based Funding Initiative. And too often, it is wrapped in the clichéd response of "Hate the sin, love the sinner." The bottom line is, you will not find "Hate the sin, love the sinner" in the Bible. Not in the King James Version, not in the Living Bible, not the New Living Translation, not in Good News, the New Revised Version or any of the other translations.
The problem as I see it is that the Black churches have forgotten when Black folk could not get married. So, they created their own way of consecrating their relationships by "jumping the broom," a ritual ceremony in which they committed themselves to each other without benefit of the state or the churches of the time. And back then, the same types of conservative groups used biblical positions to oppose our own people getting married.
The 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution states the following: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
It is imperative that the lives of people living with AIDS (PLWAs) and their partners be protected. Yes, protected. We have to get it in black and white. We must vote NO to amending the Georgia state constitution to specifically deny marriage rights to same-sex couples. This has been a tough issue, and it is imperative that we take action and get involved. If you have ever considered working on a community issue, stopping this amendment from winning at the ballot in November 2004 will be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have.
Greg Smith can be reached at GSmith@aidssurvivalproject.org.