The challenge to accept lesbian and gay members of our community and to support civil marriage for same-sex couples has caused some African Americans to question our political allegiances and religious beliefs. While some of this questioning has been encouraged by political opportunists intent on blunting the potency of black voting blocs, there is no doubt that many black Marylanders are genuinely torn between deeply held beliefs and a knowledge that the State should not discriminate against people.
In 2009, the Maryland Court of Appeals decided in a 4-3 decision to uphold a state law that barring same-sex couples from civil marriage and accessing the hundreds of family protections provided to married couples and their children under state law.
However, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Bell, the first black chief justice on the court, dissented from the majority opinion in the civil marriage case. He wrote, "To be sure, there are important differences between the African American experience and that of gay men and lesbians in this country, yet many of the arguments made in support of the anti-miscegenation laws were identical to those made today in opposition to same-sex marriage."
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a brief in support of the gay and lesbian plaintiffs who sued for these important protections. While some people claim that what's at stake is the "acceptance of homosexuality," the real issue is one of basic fairness under the law – marriage under civil law provides families the basis for economic and legal stability. Denying same-sex couples the protections of civil marriage puts their families at a legally sanctioned disadvantage. Members of the MBFA believe that is wrong.
This unfairness has the greatest impact on black families. Studies show that black same-sex couples are economically disadvantaged when compared to married black couples or white same-sex couples. This is especially troubling given that such economic disparities affect a significant number of black children. Denying these same-sex couples the protections of marriage puts their families at a legally sanctioned disadvantage.
Without legal recognition, same-sex couples are denied many basic rights and protections under the law, including:
- The right to visit each other if one is hospitalized
- The right to make medical decisions for a loved one
- The right to automatically inherit property shared and paid for together with a spouse
- The right to cover loved ones employee family insurance plans, especially when working for the state government
- The right not to be hit with a tax penalty when employer domestic partners benefits are treated as taxable income.
And unfortunately, as is often the case, this economic injustice has a greater impact on black families.
This is why MBFA is committed to ensuring that all black Maryland families are strong and protected.