Maryland Gay Marriage Faces Black Skepticism
As a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland hurtles toward a vote in the legislature this week, a coalition lobbying for its passage has focused much of its efforts on a group of Democrats who could potentially scuttle its success: African-Americans.
It is the most serious attempt by advocates for same-sex marriage to win over blacks, who have traditionally been skeptical, and whose support is critical for the bill’s passage in this state, where nearly a third of the population is African-American, a far higher share than in the broader population.
The campaign includes videos of well-known African-American Marylanders, including Michael Kenneth Williams, an actor from the television series “The Wire,” and Mo’nique, a Baltimore-born actress; an editorial in The Afro; and conversations in churches and union halls, where most members are black.
The Human Rights Campaign and the Service Employees International Union have sent dozens of workers and volunteers, many of them African-American, across the state to talk about the issue. Particular attention is being paid to Baltimore and Prince George’s County, organizers said, two majority-black areas where skepticism has been strong.
It is uncertain whether the effort will lead to the bill’s passage; a similar bill failed in the House last year without coming to a vote. But it has had one clear effect, that of opening a difficult conversation about homosexuality among one group that has traditionally shied away from talking about it.
“It’s a very sensitive subject in the black community,” said Ezekiel Jackson, a political organizer for the 1199 Service Employees International Union in Maryland, who has been meeting with members, mostly health care workers, to persuade them to support the bill. “The culture is different. Gay people got pushed off into their own circle. Instead of dealing with it, they just lived their lives among like minds, apart.”