Respect for Our Relationships: Why We Need Marriage Equality in the Black Community
While marriage holds profound social, cultural, and religious meaning in the United States, it must be made clear that civil marriage and religious marriage are distinct. Civil marriage is an entirely secular institution that is regulated by state and federal governments. Religious traditions are not affected by the definition of civil marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA), singles out married same-sex couples for unequal treatment under federal law, denying Black LGBT married couples over 1,100 federal benefits, rights and protections. For example, legally married Black LGBT couples cannot:
File their taxes jointly
Take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse
Receive spousal, mother’s and father’s, or surviving spouse benefits under Social Security
Receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees
We have secured the Freedom to Marry in six states and our Nation’s capital. Using the struggle against race discrimination in marriage as a measure, that is still far short of the 34 states that had ended race-based marriage discrimination when the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia (1967). LGBT people are generally poorer than the general population, and poverty rates are especially high for LGBT couples within communities of color. Moreover, children of gay and lesbian partners are twice as likely to be poor as are children of married same-sex couples, a pattern that is consistent across race and ethnicity.
New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. Lawmakers in Maryland and Illinois are currently weighing legalization, while North Carolina and Minnesota propose to bar the practice through voter referendum. Voters in Maine are currently deciding whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. In New Jersey, Democratic legislators who control both chambers have pushed for legalization in the face of a veto threat from Republican Governor Chris Christie. The Washington State legislature recently approved gay marriage legislation. Democratic Governor Christine Gregorie has promised to sign the bill immediately which will make Washington State the seventh U.S. state to allow gay marriage.