(first published in the online publication of The Advocate, appearing on the front page for over a week in April 2008)
Like you, we are all Americans. Like you, some of us are men. Unlike you, some of us are women. Like you, some of us are African-American. Unlike you, many of us are not African-American. Like you, some of us are tall and thin. Unlike you, some of us are short and wide. Like you, some of us have spouses, families, and children. Unlike you, some of us are still single. Like you, we are Christians. Unlike you, we are gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender.
Your and Senator Clinton’s voting and legislative records are for the most part identical on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues and are generally supportive of basic GLBT civil, social, and legal rights and protections. Although both you and Senator Clinton decline to support gay marriage per se, it is your statements on this issue that seem alienating, divisive, and uninformed and that subtly contribute to the persistence of one of this country’s worst forms of religious persecution and social bigotry. Even the possibility that you and your platform — wittingly or unwittingly — may contribute to the perpetuation of bigotry and prejudice in any way against anyone is, to our sensibilities, unthinkable.
While you are careful to appear to uphold and defend the GLBT community’s basic safety and legal rights, in a March 25, 2007, Chicago Tribune story that referenced comments you made during your 2004 run for the U.S. Senate, you led off your objections to gay marriage with the statement “I’m a Christian”. On its own as a part of your personal profile or in answer to a query about your personal beliefs, this statement is both appropriate and informative. But linked to your objections about gay marriage and by extension the gay lifestyle, it serves to entrench modern attitudes of religion-based bigotry and persecution and effectively implies that “gay” and “Christian” are mutually exclusive. This is not only wrong and uninformed but also flies in the face of the most basic Christian values and beliefs of unconditional love and acceptance. There are over 500,000 GLBT Christians attending over 200 churches like my church, Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles, as well as hundreds of similar open and affirming churches all over America and around the world. We do not believe that you or anyone in thought, word, belief, or action can separate us from our religion, our faith, and our rightful place within the heart and love of Jesus Christ.
And while we recognize the sensibilities of many of our fellow Americans concerning the traditional configuration of the institution of marriage, our loving and lifetime commitments to our partners, our families, and our children cannot be diminished in heart and spirit and are fully as valuable and sacred as your own. Regardless of convention and interpretation of the word marriage, your brave new American Dream must embrace us and our loved ones as sincerely and unconditionally as you have extended it to all other segments of our society.
Considering that you represent and are clearly the preferred candidate for a majority of African-Americans, we are also concerned about the quiet but pervasive problem of homophobia among blacks — a problem that is deeply rooted in the Christian fundamentalist context of many black churches and denominations. This undercurrent of belief-sanctioned fear and ignorance continues to divide families, separate loved ones, break hearts, and exacerbate the pathology of rejection and social alienation within the black community.
While we vigorously uphold all freedom of religious belief, we also challenge you as the candidate who professes coalition, unity, and visionary change to be willing to work for acceptance of those who appear different and to foster an understanding of the full range of diversity that is not based on personal or religious judgment. You of all people cannot forget that once upon a time not so long ago, many of those who made the case against civil rights for blacks and who condemned interracial marriage also cited religious beliefs as their justification for separation and conditional treatment.
You and your presidential campaign are living proof of an evolution in the consciousness of a nation. We are living proof of an evolution unfolding in human consciousness: namely, the awareness that love transcends gender as surely as race and that spirit is not contained by black or white or male or female or any other characteristic of human condition or appearance. As this nation’s first truly viable African-American candidate for president, you must lead the way against bigotry and prejudice by all names and in all forms.
Mr. Obama, you have clearly stated your reluctance to allow your private religious beliefs to shape your public policy. This is wise in theory but difficult in practice, because while you are free to interpret your personal religious beliefs in any way you choose, as a talented orator you realize that words are powerful and can also crucially shape both public policy and public opinion. This letter is not an attempt to change your personal opinions or religious beliefs on this or any other issue, but it is an invitation for you to reexamine your spoken expressions and public statements toward a segment of Americans about whom you clearly evidence a lack of knowledge and experience. Can we be gay? Can we be Christian? Perhaps now, Mr. Obama, you may be a bit more aware of the possibilities and the answer that must include us all in your visionary new world: Yes, We Can.
Ann Canas, one of over a half million worldwide members of the Christian GLBT Community