Black Legislators Stall Marriage Amendment in Georgia

I find it inter­est­ing that I did­n’t see this sto­ry report­ed in the AJC first.

Black Leg­is­la­tors Stall Mar­riage Amend­ment in Georgia

(Empha­sis is mine.)

Pub­lished: March 3, 2004

ATLANTA, March 2 — Geor­gia’s head­long rush to block gay mar­riages through a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment has been stalled, for the moment, by an unlike­ly group of leg­is­la­tors: black mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, many of them church dea­cons and min­is­ters who already sup­port the state’s laws ban­ning same-sex marriage.

Last week, they pro­vid­ed 39 of 50 no votes and absten­tions that helped the mea­sure fall 3 votes short of the 120 need­ed for passage.

The bill, which requires a two-thirds major­i­ty to appear on the bal­lot this Novem­ber, may be rein­tro­duced in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic-con­trolled House as ear­ly as Thurs­day. The mea­sure has already passed the Sen­ate, which is dom­i­nat­ed by Repub­li­cans, despite no votes from all 10 black members.

“In my 30 years in the leg­is­la­ture, I don’t think I’ve seen a vote so close and so impas­sioned,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Calvin Smyre, chair­man of the House Rules Com­mit­tee, who is black.

The bat­tle over gay mar­riage here has put African-Amer­i­can law­mak­ers in a dif­fi­cult posi­tion with vot­ers and placed them in stark con­trast to their white Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues, most of whom have joined Repub­li­cans in call­ing for a con­sti­tu­tion­al bul­wark against same-sex marriage.

Many con­stituents, includ­ing their home­town church lead­ers, have been clam­or­ing for them to approve the mea­sure, but the state’s Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus has large­ly come to see it as den­i­grat­ing a minor­i­ty while play­ing into the hands of con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans seek­ing to spark a large turnout of their base in November.

“I’m a pas­tor and I don’t sup­port gay mar­riage, but I resent peo­ple play­ing polit­i­cal foot­ball with our reli­gious beliefs,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ron Sailor Jr., a Demo­c­rat whose sub­ur­ban Atlanta dis­trict con­tains some of the state’s largest and most con­ser­v­a­tive black church­es.

As near­ly two dozen states move to ban same-sex mar­riage through con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments, the polit­i­cal dra­ma in Geor­gia offers a win­dow into how sim­i­lar bat­tles might play out. In the Mis­sis­sip­pi House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, which passed a sim­i­lar bill on Mon­day, only 17 leg­is­la­tors vot­ed against the mea­sure, all of them black.

“At the nation­al lev­el and in states like Mass­a­chu­setts and Geor­gia, African-Amer­i­can lead­ers have been pret­ty clear in their oppo­si­tion to these kinds of con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments,” said Seth Kil­bourn, nation­al field direc­tor for the Human Rights Cam­paign, a gay rights group in Wash­ing­ton. “No mat­ter how they feel about mar­riage for same-sex cou­ples, they don’t want to write into our gov­ern­ing doc­u­ments laws that treat one group of peo­ple dif­fer­ent from anoth­er. They’ve seen this coun­try go down that road before.”

In Geor­gia, a deeply reli­gious and social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive state that passed a law ban­ning same-sex mar­riage in 1996, the oppo­si­tion of so many black law­mak­ers was not expect­ed. Sadie Fields, chair­man of the Chris­t­ian Coali­tion of Geor­gia, said she was furi­ous when sev­er­al black rep­re­sen­ta­tives switched sides at the last minute on Thurs­day night.

“I think some of these leg­is­la­tors are going to have a lot to answer for come this fall,” Ms. Fields said. “If I was African-Amer­i­can, I would be furi­ous that homo­sex­u­als are com­par­ing what they want to do with civ­il rights.”

In inter­views with more than a dozen black leg­is­la­tors, most were reluc­tant to char­ac­ter­ize their posi­tion as a stand against dis­crim­i­na­tion. Like many of those who oppose a con­sti­tu­tion­al ban, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Earnest Williams of Stone Moun­tain said com­par­isons between the strug­gle for black civ­il rights and the pur­suit of gay mar­riage were disingenuous.

“You just can’t equate sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion to racial dis­crim­i­na­tion,” Mr. Williams said. “You can make a choice of who you want in your bed­room, but you can’t choose your skin color.”

Even so, some who oppose gay mar­riage — and oppo­si­tion on that point was near­ly unan­i­mous — said the idea of amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion to restrict the aspi­ra­tions of a group of peo­ple was trou­bling. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Geor­gan­na Sink­field of Atlanta cit­ed pre­vi­ous state laws that upheld slav­ery, cur­tailed vot­ing rights and out­lawed mar­riage between blacks and whites.

“What I see in this is hate,” Ms. Sink­field said, stand­ing out­side the ornate House cham­bers between votes. “I’m a Chris­t­ian, but if we put this in the Con­sti­tu­tion, what’s next? Peo­ple with dark hair? You’re open­ing the flood­gates for peo­ple to pro­mote their own prejudice.”

For the most part, black elect­ed offi­cials, at least pub­licly, have por­trayed their oppo­si­tion as a mat­ter of polit­i­cal prag­ma­tism. Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans, they say, are using the issue as a wedge between Democ­rats and rur­al whites, and as a way to send reli­gious con­ser­v­a­tives to the vot­ing booths in November.

“This whole thing is designed to whip up a fren­zy to get peo­ple to the polls,” said Sen­a­tor Ed Har­bi­son, chair­man of the Geor­gia Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus. “We have to see this for what it real­ly is.”

In their lob­by­ing cam­paign, cau­cus lead­ers have told poten­tial defec­tors that a yes vote on the amend­ment could lead to a Repub­li­can takeover of the House and strip black Geor­gians of their voice in the Gen­er­al Assem­bly. Once firm­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic, both the Sen­ate and the gov­er­nor­ship were lost to the Repub­li­cans two years ago. Every seat in the House and Sen­ate is up for elec­tion in November.

“If we’re a minor­i­ty in the House, we will have no pow­er. Zero,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tyrone Brooks, who heads the Geor­gia Asso­ci­a­tion of Black Elect­ed Offi­cials. “This is not about your per­son­al beliefs. It’s about a polit­i­cal ball­game the Repub­li­cans kicked off.”

Not all black law­mak­ers are against an amend­ment. There was one yes vote on Thurs­day, and eight law­mak­ers stayed away from the cham­bers that evening. In recent days, as the pres­sure has mount­ed, a hand­ful of African-Amer­i­cans have begun to waver.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sharon Beasley-Teague of Atlanta said she did not see the need for an amend­ment but the bar­rage of protests, includ­ing a large demon­stra­tion at the Capi­tol on Mon­day, helped change her mind.

“You can’t even leave a mes­sage at my office, the voice mail is so jammed with peo­ple say­ing it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” she said.

I do believe I’m going to send some mes­sages thank­ing them.

Cur­rent Mood: 🙂impressed
Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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