The Same-Sex Marriage Debate in the African American Churches: An Historical Perspective


Barbara Savage


How did African American churches become a battleground for same-sex marriage debates? Not by accident, not entirely by design, but not by choice either. In African American churches, ideas about homosexuality and same-sex marriage are intertwined with slavery's legacy of worries about masculinity and femininity, child poverty, and the strength of the family. These concerns have another dimension as well-power relations between black men and black women. This is especially the case in black churches where women dominate membership, fundraising, and organizing, but give men exclusive access to ministerial leadership. The result is that women in the pews-including lesbians and the mothers and sisters of gay men and lesbians-remain invisible in public discussions of black religious views. At the same time, there are deep differences of opinion among black ministers on same-sex marriage, as well as between them and publicly elected officials and civil rights leaders. These developments undermine the notion that a black male clerical class can best represent the diverse political views of black communities. Attempts to change this historical deference to male ministers must start with black religious women, whose votes and resources constitute the considerable political clout of black congregations.