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Analogizing the fight for marriage equality for gays couples, NAACP Chair Dr. Julian Bond credited the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving vs. Virginia, with enabling him to marry Pam Horowitz, who is white. (Photo by Jeremy Bigwood)

In 1965 some of us who worked in the civil rights movement were buoyed by a radio address given by President Lyndon Johnson, and these words speak to us today. He said, “it is difficult to fight for freedom, but I also know how difficult it can be to bend long years of habit …”

“There is no room for injustice anywhere in the American mansion, but there is always room for understanding those who see the old ways crumbling and to them today I say this, it must come, it is right that it should come, and when it has, you will find that a burden has been lifted from your shoulders.”

“It’s not just a question of guilt, although there is that, is that you cannot live with a lie and not be stained by it.”

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NAACP chair says ‘gay rights are civil rights’ Gay
Julian Bond receives Equality Virginia award

Friday, April 08, 2005

Dr. Julian Bond, chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was awarded Equality Virginia’s Equality Commonwealth Award in Richmond on April 2 and delivered a speech affirming gay rights as civil rights.

The theme of the evening was “ordinary rights, an extraordinary night.”

“African Americans ... were the only Americans who were enslaved for two centuries, but we were far from the only Americans suffering discrimination then and now,” Bond said. “Sexual disposition parallels race. I was born this way. I have no choice. I wouldn’t change it if I could. Sexuality is unchangeable.”

With more than 1,200 in attendance, organizers said that this event was the largest gathering of gay men and lesbians and their supporters in Virginia in memory.

Acknowledging that compared to some other areas of Virginia, Richmond is seen as hostile to gay and lesbian rights, Molly McClintock, of Equality Virginia said, “We are in Richmond because the fight is in Richmond.”

The capitol of the Confederacy that fought for the right to hold slaves, Richmond is shaping up as the site of a major battle over whether the state will be allowed to discriminate against gays. Equality Virginia said that in a survey comparing gay-friendly laws in the 50 states and D.C., Virginia ranked 49, behind only Alabama and Oklahoma.

Virginia’s Marriage Affirmation Act, passed last year, prohibits any “civil union, partnership contract or arrangement between persons of the same sex.” Equality Virginia and other civil rights groups maintain that the law is unconstitutional and damaging but it has not yet been fully challenged in court. Virginia legislators have passed a first draft of a constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

At last week’s event, gay men and lesbians from across Virginia celebrated their growing political strength and three recent hard won victories in advancing equal treatment under the law. This year in the Virginia Legislature, bills to ban adoption by gay and lesbian parents and to prohibit Gay-Straight Student Alliance groups were defeated and legislation allowing companies to offer health insurance to same-sex partners was approved.

Bond emphasized the role Virginia has played in establishing civil rights precedents. It was a challenge to Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law banning inter-racial marriage that led to the Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia in 1967. This decision struck down the laws that prohibited inter-racial marriage in 16 states and established marriage as one of the “basic civil rights of man.” Bond said that this decision cleared the way for him to marry his wife, Pat Horowitz, in Virginia.

“Many gays, many lesbians, worked side by side with me in the civil rights movement. Am I supposed to tell them now thanks for risking their lives and their limbs to help me win my rights but that they are excluded because of the circumstances of their birth?” Bond said. “Not a chance.”

“The lessons of the civil rights movement of yesterday … is that sometimes the simplest of ordinary everyday acts, of taking a seat on a bus, of sitting down at a lunch counter, of applying for a marriage license, sometimes these can have extraordinary consequences, can change our world,” Bond said.

Bond’s speech drew a warm response from the crowd, which was overwhelmingly white.

According to a National Gay & Lesbian Task Force report based on 2000 census data, African Americans make up 13 percent of the population of the United States, and 14 percent of same-sex couples have at least one African-American member.

The Task Force report also stated that the median annual income for black same-sex couples is much lower than that of white same-sex couples. Black female couples earn $40,000 while white female couples earn $60,000 and black male couples earn $45,000 while white male couples earn $69,000.

Opening a dialogue
According to Meredith Moise, a field organizer for Equality Maryland, the relatively low visibility of black gays and lesbians is a factor in the same-sex marriage debate, which has pitted the Coalition of African-American Pastors, sponsored by the conservative Traditional Values Coalition, against others working for marriage equality.

“Because the traditional black church is involved in so many things, some ministers are still catching up to the issue [of marriage equality], the right has been cultivating these relationships with the black community for 10 or 15 years,” Moise said.

“The rise of the faith-based initiative also gives pastors incentives to fall in line with Bush policy and people don’t necessarily make the connection between this new childcare center they just got and what they are hearing from the pulpit,” Moise said. “We need to start the dialogue with the African-American community about homosexuality. Black gays and lesbians are hard-working people. We deal with survival issues, so gay and lesbian issues are not on the radar and when it gets to the radar all we have to go on is what we get from the pulpit.”

“Many black gays and lesbians are not out,” Moise said, “because we would rather be with our family than cast out in this racist world.”

Senator John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke), who received the Equality Public Servant Award, described the struggle for gay rights within a historical context, reminding the audience of the progress this country has made since the time when only white men with real estate could vote.

“Liberty flourishes in an educated society,” Edwards said, “We need to teach basic citizenship.” The audience responded with heavy applause and shouts of “Run for governor! Run for governor!”

William G. Kogol was awarded the Equality Community Award for his work on the recently passed legislation that allows Virginia companies to offer domestic partnership benefits. He spoke on navigating the tension between the business and social conservative wings of the Republican Party.

Virginia Governor Mark Warner and his wife Lisa Collis took the stage briefly and urged Equality Virginia members to vote in upcoming elections.

Eartha Melzer can be reached at

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