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Blacks, Gays And The Church


Let's turn to another story we've been following in recent weeks: African-Americans and same-sex marriage. When President Obama came out in support of gay marriage, some African-American religious leaders protested. But according to new polling data, African-Americans are no less supportive or, for that matter, opposed to gay marriage than any other group in the country.

NPR digital news correspondent Corey Dade has been reporting on the black community and its response to the gay marriage issue, particularly when it comes to the complex relationship between black churches and their gay members.

COREY DADE, BYLINE: What I noticed is that in all the coverage of this, what was missed is the fact that gays in particular are such a fixture in the black church. It's the worst kept secret in black America.

RAZ: I was struck by this quote from Keith Boykin who is an openly gay commentator. He's African-American as well. He says the church might be the most homophobic and most homo-tolerant of any institution in the black community.

DADE: That's right. It's the sort of ultimate paradox in the black church. You have gay men who come into the choirs especially. They look at it as a community within a community. One person talked about the fact that in the tenor section of many choirs, that's where they have their community. That's where they catch up on gossip. That's where they're friends. And so it's a little bit of a safe haven. And they get to pursue their art.

RAZ: Explain why there was so much concern - and I guess some media hype as well - about how African-Americans would respond to President Obama's call for marriage equality and how the black churches would respond. It seems to me based on your reporting that we're talking about a very small number of vocal African-American church leaders.

DADE: Yeah. It was a small number, and it was also, I think, the fire, so to speak, was stoked a little bit by Republicans. Republicans certainly want to do anything they can to cast Obama in a bad light. And they immediately - many of them - talked about how this is going to potentially endanger his support among African-Americans. And it was an easy thing to say because you had these very prominent, very vocal African-American pastors who've been out front in this issue for years. So that did sort of take the argument away.

RAZ: Let me ask you about the NAACP endorsement for gay marriage in the past week. How much of an impact is it already having on black communities in this country?

DADE: I think it has an impact. The NAACP, or course, is the oldest civil rights organization. And the NAACP, historically, has been run by many black pastors. So they are part of that institution.

I think what's also helped is James Clyburn, the highest ranking African-American in Congress coming out in support of gay marriage. You also had Colin Powell who's done it recently. And so the more you have these prominent African-Americans who have their own constituencies, the more African-Americans are going to pay attention.

RAZ: So what is your sense about whether this will have any impact on African-American turnout in November?

DADE: I think it's too early to tell. I think there are other factors that are going to be far more important in driving turnout. I think for African-Americans in particular, the extent to which the Romney campaign and the Republican Party go negative on Obama, that is going to energize African-Americans to come out in droves. That will probably be the biggest factor.

RAZ: That's NPR's digital news correspondent Corey Dade, talking about a recent article he wrote at npr.org. It's called "Blacks, Gays and the Church: A Complex Relationship." Corey Dade, thanks.

DADE: Thank you, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Guy Raz is the host, co-creator, and editorial director of three NPR programs, including two of its most popular ones: TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. Both shows are heard by more than 14 million people each month around the world. He is also the creator and co-host of NPR's first-ever podcast for kids, Wow In The World.
Corey Dade is a national correspondent for the NPR Digital News team. With more than 15 years of journalism experience, he writes news analysis about federal policy, national politics, social trends, cultural issues and other topics for NPR.org.

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