A Wedge or a Club? 

Marriage equality and civil rights dispute localizes.

A few months ago, the black community found itself at the intersection of the marriage equality debate as President Barack Obama and the NAACP endorsed same-sex marriage and the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) rapidly responded by denouncing the president's stance.

The Rev. William Owens, a native Memphian and the leader of the CAAP, said marriage equality is not a civil rights issue. He accused the president of disgracing the civil rights movement.

Owens' comments enlivened a response from Clergy Defending the Rights of All, a Memphis-based group of religious leaders, which held a press conference at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) last Thursday.

An African-American gay minister of the pro-equality organization Operation Rebirth in Chicago has scheduled a pro-equality rally for September 7th in Memphis.

"I think it's ridiculous that black people would stand up and cosign discrimination against anyone considering our history in this country," said Tuan Ingram, the gay minister behind Operation Rebirth. "It's a case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor."

Ingram will journey from Chicago to meet with other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and black community leaders in Memphis to protest the CAAP's anti-gay stance and rally for equality.

When Ingram received no reply after extending an invitation to Owens to meet with him and other leaders of local gay-affirming black churches, he began planning the September rally [Owens did not reply to a Flyer request for an interview]. Ingram wanted to discuss with Owens a variety of issues affecting the African-American community.

"Equality has never hurt any community," Ingram said. "I have heard no response, which lets me know [Owens] is uninterested in the real issues plaguing our community, like voter suppression, police brutality, drugs and violence, lack of education, and high unemployment."

Will Batts, the director of MGLCC, had a similar message at the Clergy Defending the Rights of All press conference last Thursday: "There are a lot of important issues for us to deal with in this city, and we need to move on."

Ingram said he believes the conservatively funded National Organization for Marriage (NOM), for which Owens serves as the liaison to black churches, is funding CAAP to suppress the African-American voting base.

According to a confidential NOM report obtained by the Human Rights Campaign, "The strategic goal of this project [NOM] is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies."

"That memo was from four years ago, and we've apologized for it," NOM president Brian Brown said. "We aren't the ones who want to split the Democratic vote. The Democratic party's acceptance of gay marriage is splitting the vote."

Ingram said he looks forward to meeting and working with the Clergy Defending the Rights of All and any other local groups working for social equality.

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