Denzel Washington and Disagreeing on Same Sex Marriage

When most people think of blockbuster Black male actors, there can be no doubt that two time Oscar winner Denzel Washington would not only make most people’s list, he would be high on the list.  Washington who has been married for many yeas, and leads an extremely private life, is the consummate professional and holds a lot of sway in the Black community when he does speak. At 57, Washington is at the top of his game. It is hardly surprising that he was featured in next month’s GQ. Like many, I was very excited to read the interview until I came across the following:
'Denzel Washington' photo (c) 2008, Cliff - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

How did you feel about Obama endorsing same-sex marriage?
What did he say about it?

He said he was in favor of it. That he didn’t oppose it.
What does that mean? [laughs]

It’s the political way of saying, “I support it.”
You know, I think people have the right to believe what they want to believe. And people have the right to disagree with it.

There are some who would say that Washington’s response was neutral and an attempt to avoid controversy; however, when you are talking about the civil rights of a historically marginalized group, there is no such thing as neutrality.  One either unequivocally supports equality for all people under the law, or one is fine with oppression.  It’s very simple folks, and there is absolutely no room for grey.

I think what bothers me the most is the idea that an opinion in something like this is somehow neutral. If you are straight and disagree with same sex marriage, what you are essentially saying is that you are unwilling to give up any of the power that comes from heterosexual privilege and that inequality under the law is fine, as long as it does not negatively impact you. This is the essence of privilege.  It is the ability to act in a way which negatively impacts a historically marginalized group, while gaining or maintaining social power. Same sex marriage cannot be something that we agree to disagree on because it comes down to a human right.

Washington was raised in the church and I cannot help but wonder how much of his refusal to agree that same sex marriage should be a right afforded to all gays and lesbians, is based in conservative Christian theology? Politically, Washington claims to be an independent – liberal/progressive in some areas and conservative in others. He’s right, people can disagree with same sex marriage and in the same vein the GLBT community and those who support their fight for equality, have the right to label this supposed disagreement exactly what it is – homophobia.

Washington’s response to the question on how he feels about Obama’s choice to support same-sex marriage greatly disappointed me.  There are plenty of high profile people of colour who support same-sex marriage; however, unfortunately, the social impression is that Blacks are more homophobic than any other racial group.  Each time someone who is high profile says something homophobic or refuses to endorse equality for all people, it furthers the impression that Black people are so vested in maintaining straight privilege, we are willing to cast aside our long history of speaking truth to power, to oppress another historically marginalized group. In that very brief moment, Washington lost a chance to speak forcefully on the side of the moral right.

I know that there are those who believe that same sex marriage is controversial but when has any social progress ever been deemed to be anything but?  When women were fighting for the vote, suffrage was considered controversial.  When were fighting to strike down Jim Crow, that was deemed controversial.  Figures from our past like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King, were seen as controversial in their time, and yet today their heroism is wildly lauded.  There will come a day, hopefully not far from now, when we look back and ask in wonder about the fact that same sex marriage was deemed controversial because we will have then deemed it a civil right; however, that day will be long in the future, if people of note don’t stand up to be counted.  When it comes to civil rights, one is either on the right side of history, or lost in the effort to stop human progress. If you don’t believe in same sex marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same sex, but for heaven’s sake, stop stalling progress and hurting others in the process.

Posted in Topics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


*

2 comments on “Denzel Washington and Disagreeing on Same Sex Marriage
  1. Julie says:

    How is his response “hurting progress?” If you are asked a question and you use your free speech to answer how is it wrong? Why are we insisting that people say what we want them to say? And if someone does not agree or seem not to agree with what other people think they should agree on, how is that a “phobia”. And what’s wrong if he is Christian and being guided by his beliefs? So, you do not care about his beliefs? It’s wrong because you and how many other people think so? You are doing to him just the same thing you are speaking out against. Really? Really? Come on people. Allow people to have the freedom to live as they want to and believe and live according to their belief. I thought that is the whole point here? I guess it does not apply to you once you dont agree with popular opinion.

    • Julian says:

      No. You are confused… I don’t think it is ok for anyone to think I should not be married, or for them to even think privately that being gay is wrong. Similarly to how in our modern society we don’t view it as ‘ok’ to be secretly racist or to privately think that interracial marriages should not be legal. Maybe you are ok with people holding those beliefs but I am not. Now let me explain: obviously I am aware that there are people out there who disagree with my lifestyle. Just as there are people out there who are racist or disagree with the equality of the sexes, for example. Of course I don’t think it should be illegal to be privately anti-gay, just as it is not illegal to be privately racist, or sexist. Personally, the way I see it, harboring anti-gay thoughts in secret is the same as secretly being racist or secretly thinking that men and women aren’t equal. That sort of opinion sheds light on a persons character, and it is not ‘ok’. If i find that anyone, in my personal life or otherwise, holds those beliefs, even in private- (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc) be they family, close friends, a figure of authority or a public figure, I WILL disassociate myself with them and i will think negatively of them and I will not spend time with them, or support their business, etc. The same thing here with Denzel – I have loved his movies and him as an actor since i was a kid, but if I am finding out that he secretly doesn’t support gay people, then I will no longer support his movies and projects, and i will disassociate myself with him (just as I and many LGBT people have had to do with our own parents and family.)