Conservative blacks are objecting to recent comparisons between the gay marriage and civil rights movements, arguing that sexual orientation is a choice.
Links between the two struggles have been made since the state's highest court ruled last week that the Massachusetts Constitution guarantees gay couples the right to marry. The Supreme Judicial Court cited landmark laws that struck bans on interracial marriage.
But the Rev. Talbert Swan II, pastor of Solid Rock Church of God in Christ in Springfield, said the two struggles are not similar because blacks were lynched, denied property rights, and declared inhuman.
"Homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle," he said. "I could not choose the color of my skin. . . . For me to ride down the street and get profiled just because of my skin color is something a homosexual will never go through."
A poll released by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press on Nov. 18, the day of the ruling, indicated 60 percent of blacks who responded opposed gay marriage.
When asked if they favored legal agreements with many of the same rights as marriage, 51 percent of blacks in the poll were opposed. Michael Adams, an attorney with the gay advocacy legal group Lambda Legal, said polls indicate blacks support other rights for gays, such as workplace equality. Strong conservative religious values that predominate in the black community may explain the division, he said.
He added there are key differences in the two movements, including slavery and forced segregation, which gays never experienced. But the groups have seen similar discrimination based on deeply held prejudices, he said.
Mychal Massie, a conservative columnist and member of Project 21, a Washington, D.C.-based political alliance of conservative blacks, said the comparisons are not valid.
"It is an outrage to align something so offensive as this with the struggle of a fallen man, a great man such as Martin Luther King," said Massie, who writes for WorldNetDaily.com.
"The whole thing bespeaks of something much deeper and more insidious than `we just want to get married.' They want to change the entire social order." Alvin Williams, president and CEO of the conservative, Washington-based Black America's Political Action Committee, said gay marriage looks like an equal rights issue at first, but is really a "special rights" issue because, he says, it is about behavior, not ethnicity.
Not everyone objects to the comparison, however. In Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate, black candidates Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton declared support for gay marriage. Both compared it to past discrimination against blacks.
The Rev. William Sinkford, a black man who is president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said the struggle for gay civil rights is this generation's great challenge, just as equality for blacks was the last generation's.
"I think there's very little to be gained by trying to create a hierarchy of oppression," Sinkford said.
Emory College professor David Garrow said the legal histories of the two movements have abundant parallels, including the argument that same-sex marriage is unnatural and against God's law, an argument once used to oppose interracial marriage. Homosexuals have also seen similar bias in the workplace when they have made their sexual orientation known, he said.