In Majority-Black D.C., Gay Marriage Votes Speaks Volumes

The District of Columbia became the latest U.S. jurisdiction to approve same-sex marriage on Tuesday. The expected — and strongly contested vote — won the approval of the city council in a vote, 11 to 2. Michael Crawford, who leads the same-sex marriage advocacy group DC for Marriage, reacts to the recent vote and explains why his grassroots organization says justice was served. Crawford, who is African-American, also explains the significance of the vote within the D.C. black gay community, given the majority black population of the nation's capital.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

A major step forward in the fight for same-sex marriage came yesterday. The city council of the District of Columbia, the nation's capital, yesterday overwhelmingly approved the right of same-sex couples to marry. The vote was 11 to 2 and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty says he will sign the bill, which is still subject to congressional review. In a few minutes, we'll hear from a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which has threatened to end social service contracts with the local government over the measure. We'll hear their concerns in a moment.

But first, we turn to Michael Crawford, who is co-chair of D.C. for Marriage. That's an organization working for marriage equality. He's here with me in the studio. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

Mr. MICHAEL CRAWFORD (Co-Chair, D.C. for Marriage): Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Michael, the District is the 6th jurisdiction to approve same-sex marriage. One could argue it's the 7th, although a bill passed in Maine was later overturned by the voters. It's the first jurisdiction below the Mason-Dixon line, and it's the first jurisdiction with a significant black or Latino population to approve same-sex marriage. How significant is this in your view?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, I think it's especially important that, one, it's the first jurisdiction below the Mason-Dixon line, as you said, as well that it's the first majority-minority jurisdiction to legalize marriage equality.

MARTIN: Why does that matter?

Mr. CRAWFORD: I think it's important because there is a myth that's being perpetrated that African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color are opposed to LGBT equality and that's really not the case. What we're finding here in D.C. - which is roughly 54 percent African-American - that we are finding a lot of support for marriage for same-sex couples here.

MARTIN: Well, that is a point of view that was expressed by one of the people who voted against the bill, that's former D.C. mayor, Marion Barry, who in his earlier political life was seen as a strong supporter of the LGBT community, but he said he was voting against the bill in part because he feels he's reflecting the will of his constituents. Let's just hear what he had to say when he was on the program earlier.

Mr. MARION BARRY (Former DC Mayor): In an African-American community, 70 or 80 percent of the people are opposed to same-sex marriage. And in a religious community, particularly a black Baptist community, its 98 percent. There are some Baptist preachers who I disagree with, believe that homosexuality or bisexuality or transgender is a sin. Now, it's a large number, though. I think theyre in a majority.

MARTIN: Marion Barry, of course, is a very controversial figure for those who know his background, but one thing he is believed to have is his finger on the pulse of the community. Why do you think he's wrong?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, I think if Marion Barry is going to throw out numbers like that, he needs to provide his polling data. I am African-American and we have actually talked to hundreds of people in Ward 8, which is Marion Barry's district, and we have found strong support there for marriage equality. Marion Barry also in that clip referenced clergy being opposed to marriage equality. Well, one of the amazing things that we have found here in D.C. is that a group of clergy called D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality has come together to express strong support for gay and lesbian couples being able to marry. And that coalition currently has about 200 faith leaders from a variety of traditions who have all spoken loudly and clearly in favor of ending discrimination against gay and lesbian families.

MARTIN: And we've heard from some of these clergy members on this program as well as some of the clergy members who oppose same-sex marriage. Why then not take the issue to the voters? One of the sources of controversy in this jurisdiction has been that the city council is advancing this measure and some of the opponents of the measure say, why not let the voters decide? If you feel that support for same-sex marriage or marriage equality is as strong as you say that it is, why not let the voters decide?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, two points. One is that a lot of the folks who are calling for there to be a vote here in D.C. to ban marriage equality actually don't live in D.C. And so, if you are not a resident of the District you should stay out of our affairs and leave it to actual residents of the District. Two, traditionally, we have not put the rights of a minority up for a public vote. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had put the 1964 Civil Rights Act up for a vote in Mississippi? It clearly would have been voted down, even though we know that African-Americans should be treated equally now. And I think we are approaching the point where we are realizing that members of the LGBT community deserve full and complete equality in the U.S.

MARTIN: There are those who argue, and I think one of the clergy members you are talking about is Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., who - his church is based in Maryland, but has become kind of a national figure in opposition to same-sex marriage, argues that precisely the reason that the District of Columbia is important to you as a supporter of same-sex marriage, it's important to the opponents as a symbol because it is the nation's capital and they argue that they have every right to be heard on this issue.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, I think, you know, it's important to note that Harry Jackson is not just opposed to marriage between same-sex couples, he's also opposed to health care reform, to immigration reform. So Harry Jackson has been tied to a number of extreme right-wing issues. And I think, in part, he sees this as a career move for him. Because it's an opportunity to increase his national notoriety, and I think a lot of the organizations who are pushing a right-wing agenda are seeing Harry Jackson as an opportunity to make inroads into the African-American community.

Now, I think its really difficult for Harry Jackson, who campaigned against Barack Obama in 2008, to come into the District where Barack Obama won by over 90 percent of the vote and then claim to represent African-Americans who live in the District.

MARTIN: Well, I think that's a bit of ad hominem attack, and I think at some point we have to let Bishop Jackson respond on his own. But just in the minute that we have left, just talk about what this day means to you as a person who has been fighting for this issue for a long time, as African-American. As you say, you see it as a logical extension of the civil and human rights movements in this country. Just, how do you feel today?

Mr. CRAWFORD: It is an absolutely amazing day. And clearly, we were celebrating yesterday which is why I sound a little bit like Kermit the Frog today, and it's a fantastic moment. It's one of those moments when we are really creating that more perfect union that is the vision of our country. And I think as we go forward, we'll see marriage equality not only in D.C. but across the U.S. as well.

MARTIN: Michael Crawford is co-chair of D.C. for Marriage. It's a grassroots organization working for same-sex marriage or, as he calls it, marriage equality right here in the nation's capital. He was here with me in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.