Earlier this week, Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post wrote a column outlining why he thinks African-Americans should embrace gay rights, specifically the freedom for committed and loving gay and lesbian couples to marry.
As an African-American woman who has been active in my support for the LGBT community for decades — both with the ACLU and outside the organization — it comes down to the very basic truth that for equality to have real meaning, fairness and equal treatment under the law must extend to everyone. This is what informed ACLU fights against discriminatory laws like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA that I helped to lead in the 1990s in the organization’s Washington Legislative Office. Importantly, it is also what the struggle for the freedom to marry is rooted in.
Last month, I, along with my brother, testified before the Maryland Legislature in support of legislation to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. As someone who was born and raised in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore City, it was a wonderful opportunity.
My brother, William “Billy” Murphy, and I spoke to the legislators as members of a proud family with a heritage of advancing equality for all people. We told the gathered legislators that the Murphy family has been standing for the principles of fairness and equality for many generations. For example, my ancestor, John Murphy Sr., a former slave, started the Afro-American newspaper, which played a vital role in the civil rights movement.
Because the principles of fairness and equal treatment under the law have long been core to my identity, extending these principles to the LGBT community and same-sex couples has always been something I care deeply about.
As I explained to the Maryland legislators in my testimony, same-sex couples in our community share the values of commitment and family. Gay and lesbian couples marry for the same reasons I married my husband — to take care of each other and our children. This includes African-American same-sex couples. The Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area is home to roughly 5,000 African-American same-sex households. Many of these couples are raising children together, while making comparatively lower wages than white households. African-American same-sex couples in Maryland have much to gain from ending the unfair exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage.
In doing this work, I am heartened by the ever-increasing number of prominent African-Americans, both religious leaders and civil rights icons, who are embracing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, including Julian Bond, Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Al Sharpton, and the late Coretta Scott King. These are all individuals who dedicated great parts of their lives to seeing that people be treated fairly. I imagine that they approached these issues, like I do, with a guiding conviction that discrimination is wrong and all people should be treated with fairness and equal treatment under the law.
We are at a critical threshold moment for the LGBT community in this country. African-Americans can play a pivotal role in working to strike down remaining discriminatory barriers facing LGBT people, including gay and lesbian couples and their children. I know that I will be doing my part to ensure that America is a country where all people are treated fairly and entitled to equal treatment under the law.