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Ours Is a Love Story -- The Case Against Banning Gay Marriage

Black Community Leaders Speak Out Against Proposition 8

New America Media, Commentary//Video , Words: Heather Hiles//Video: Paul Billingsley Posted: Oct 23, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO -- In 1995, at a Mission District nightclub in San Francisco, I asked a gorgeous woman with a radiant smile to dance. She politely turned me down, saying that she was seeing someone. I thought that was the end of it, but fate had a different ending in store for this story.

Over the years, I would see her again and againin meetings in San Francisco City Hall, at NAACP events, supporting the A. Phillip Randolph organization or in the audience at my School Board meetings. We kept our distance and maintained an unspoken pact of privacy, which we never breached. In this way, 10 years passed.

In 2004, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In 2005, early one Sunday morning, Karen and I bumped into each other at the airport in Oakland. We would be taking the same flight, it turned out, and even would be sitting next to each other. Five minutes into our conversation, I thought, "Wow, I could fall in love with this woman." And I did. Soon, she fell in love with me too.

VIDEO: African American communities and leaders across the state came together Oct. 21 to stand against Proposition 8, the initiative on the California ballot that would eliminate the right for same-sex couples to marry. Assemblymember Sandre Swanson; Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums; Kamala Harris, San Francisco DA; Eva Patterson, Equal Justice Society; Rev. Amos Brown; Rev. Phillip Lawson -- all spoke against the initiative in Oakland CA.

Ours is a love story. It is also a story that represents the arc of same-sex marriage in San Francisco and in California. In January 19, 2007, Karen and I had the benefit of having a domestic partner ceremony performed, becoming legally bound. However, we did not feel married, like our parents and grandparents were to the loves of their lives. Our community did not get to witness our exchange of vows.

In May 2008, the California Supreme Court made a historic decision to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Three months later Karen and I were married by my minister of 15 years, Rev. Cecil Williams.

This time we were surrounded by our family, dear friends and ancestors, and our community pledged their support to us. Karen's brothers walked her down the aisle and gave her away. Our mothers lit the unity candles representing our families joining as one. Just like our ancestors before us, the ones who had been slaves, we jumped the broom to make our marriage official.

The day after our wedding, Karen's mom Norma, gave us our wedding present: silver, given to her great-great-great grandmother by the former slave-owner for whom she worked in Jamaica after she was freed. Norma said that with our foundation of true love and partnership, we were ready to care for the family's treasure. We were ready because we had conducted our rite of passage, our marriage.

That night, we reflected that just like our ancestors, who were prohibited from marrying and having legitimate whole families, we were standing up for our civil and human rights by having our union and our choice acknowledged. Mildred Loving, the African American woman whose fight against Virginia's ban on inter-racial marriages led the country's top court to overturn similar bans nationwide, once said: "The law should allow a person to marry anyone he wants." I agree.

Karen and I have waited all of our lives for this kind of love, for this type of commitment. We find it incomprehensible that anyone would vote to reverse our freedom to be together and the legality of our union.

For more information on same-sex marriages in African American communities, please visit www.andmarriage4all.org.

Heather Hiles is a former San Francisco school board member and co-founder of RippleSend, a social media company. Paul Billingsley is a video editor at NAM.

Related Articles:

Mum's the Word on Prop 8

Editorial: Gay Marriage, Abortion on the California Ballot

Get Us to the Church on Time Gays Rush to Marry Before November

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