I must give credit to gay activists on one count. They have managed to get evangelical black pastors around the country to overcome their natural aversion to politics. These pastors have good instincts about what they can and cannot ignore and they have concluded that legalization of gay marriage is an issue they cannot ignore.
It is true that some African Americans of note, such as Coretta Scott King, have expressed sympathy for claims of gays that their movement is but the newest chapter of the civil rights movement. But these black notables are exceptions rather than the rule. Polls show that African Americans are registering among the strongest groups in the nation in opposition to legalization of gay marriage. What I hear from the pastors in my own network around the country confirms this. It takes a lot for these pastors to leave their pulpits and head for Washington. But this issue is causing them to do just that.
Why are blacks, who know so well the reality of discrimination, so uniformly unsympathetic to the case that the gay community is making?
Wilfred McClay, a history professor from the University of Tennessee, gets it with the following observation about black attitudes on this issue: "It is not just that they know when their movement is being hijacked. It is that the religious sensibility that animated the civil rights movement, and that is still very much alive in the American black community today, is bound up in a biblical world view that would no more countenance the radical redefinition of marriage than it would the re-imposition of slavery."
There is real outrage in the black community and McClay is on the right track in his analysis. Blacks know instinctively that the debate on gay marriage is the symptom and not the problem. They know that the root problem is the implicit de-legitimization and marginalization in the United States today of traditional standards of right and wrong.
Blacks know that it was such rationalizations of ultimate standards that opened the door to slavery and its perpetuation and justification by our nation's highest political bodies and courts for a good portion of our nation's history. Without an anchor in ultimate standards, blacks know that the best politics and law, even in as great a country as ours, can lead anywhere.
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan authored a prophetic study entitled "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor, chronicled the social problems in the black community and tied these problems to the disintegration of the black family. He related this crisis in the black family to the legacy of slavery and the deleterious effects of the welfare state. Moynihan predicted then that things would only get worse.
Things got much worse. Incidence of out-of-wedlock births, abortions, absentee fathers tripled over the next 40 years. What Moynihan did not consider then, in 1965, was that the situation in the black community provided a looking glass into the nation as a whole.
The experience of white America followed on the heels of black America by every measure of family collapse, promiscuity and out-of-wedlock births. Today the incidence of out-of-wedlock births among white women, 25 percent, equals the incidence among black women 40 years ago.
Almost 30 years later in 1993, Daniel Moynihan authored another prophetic article titled "Defining Deviancy Down." Moynihan continued to address the signs of social collapse in the country and attributed these to an inexorable relaxing of generally accepted standards of what is considered deviant. Just looking at New York City alone, he compared the illegitimacy rate in 1992, 45 percent, to what it was in 1943, 3 percent.
The fact that today's debate is about gay marriage and no longer about genetic predisposition of homosexual behavior shows that deviancy has already been defined down another notch. The Ten Commandments, which address honoring one's father and mother and not coveting thy neighbor's wife, have already been purged from display in the nation's public spaces. Legalization of gay marriage will complete the process and purge them from our national consciousness and from any unique relevance to our national life. At that moment, everything turns political.
Where will things go next? A philosophy professor at Princeton today makes elegant arguments for infanticide. Why not kill a baby born with a terrible and incurable disease? Blacks know what evil is and what it means to live in a society with no moral compass, that lives by rationalization rather than reason. We are trying to rebuild our communities that have been ravaged by power and politics.
Blacks are indeed outraged and legitimately so. Expect to read more about press conferences by black clergy around the nation and in Washington. Our lives and communities are at stake here. We won't sit this one out.
Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education ( www.urbancure.org ) and author of "Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It."