Black History Month: Black voices speak out in support of same-sex couples

February is Black History Month, a time for us to reflect on the accomplishments and achievements of black people across the country and observe important events and figures that shaped our country and our world to where we are today. 

Contemporary black voices are making history every day by raising their voices proudly in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. From politicians to pop stars to athletes, people are speaking out in support and moving marriage forward each and every day. When we look back in history, we will remember these public figures as people who stood on the Right Side of History and led public opinion with their support. 

Many public figures have expressed strident support for the freedom to marry and for same-sex couples and the LGBT community overall. This month, during Black History Month, we take time to examine how these important voices are shaping the conversation and making history with their support. The list is, of course, not exhaustive but is rather a look at the diverse array of voices standing on the Right Side of History.  

President Barack Obama

Since taking office in January 2009, President Barack Obama has supported the LGBT community and taken steps to protect gay and lesbian people and same-sex couples. In May 2012, he became the first president of the United States to voice his personal support for the freedom to marry, and in the weeks leading up to the November 2012 election, he weighed in on four ballot initiatives - the campaigns to win marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington and to block an anti-gay amendment in minnesota - and urged people to support marriage for same-sex couples. He has made clear time and again - in his inauguration speech last month, when he announced that he thought the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional - that he supports same-sex couples, their families, and their marriages. We appreciate and applaud his support and urge him to continue his positive steps toward improving the lives of same-sex couples and their families. 

Julian Bond

The Chairman Emeritus of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has long supported same-sex couples and their families, and the NAACP has for many years recognized some of the shared struggles that African-Americans and LGBT Americans have faced. In May 2012, when Bond's organization passed a resolution officially endorsing marriage for same-sex couples, they took a stand against organizations like the so-called National Organization for Marriage, which for years has discussed its plans to "drive a wedge" between the black community and LGBT people. In September, the NAACP and Bond lent their considerable voice to the campaign to win marriage in Maryland, with Bond penning an editorial where he explained, "African Americans are now sitting around the dinner table talking about it and realizing at the end of the day it's about treating people fairly and making families stronger. No longer do ignorance and prejudice dominate the debate." (Photo by PBS)


The pop superstar has legions of gay and lesbian fans, and she's spoken out about her support for them. She's explained, "If anyone is brave and true to themselves, it's my gay fans. The amount of confidence and fearlessness it takes to do what maybe is not what your parents expect you to do or what society may think is different - to be brave and be different and to be yourself - is just so beautiful. It's the most beautiful thing you can be, and it's what we all want to be at the end of the day." (Photo Credit)

Michelle Obama

The First Lady of the United States joined her husband in fervently voicing her support for same-sex couples and their families this year. Last Spring, she included same-sex spouses for her annual Mother's Day Tea, and she and President Obama have repeatedly included gay and lesbian families in White House celebrations. At the Democratic National Convention in September, she delivered a rousing keynote speech, where she said, "If proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely - surely - we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream." She speaks about why marriage matters in relation to her role as a mother, explaining, "In a country where we teach our children that everyone is equal under the law, discriminating against same-sex couples just isn't right. It's as simple as that." (Photo by Getty Images)

Rev. Al Sharpton

Rev. Sharpton has vocally supported the freedom to marry for over a decade, an important ally in the faith community and African-American community. When President Obama announced that he supports marriage for same-sex couples, Rev. Sharpton applauded the comments, calling them "an important and historic development." He added, "This is not about mine or anyone else's personal or religious views. It is about equal rights for all. We cannot be selective with civil rights. We must support civil rights for everybody or we don't support them for anyone." (Photo by BET)

Colin Powell

The former Secretary of Defense in George W. Bush's Cabinet is often cited as a leading conservative voice on the freedom to marry. In May 2012, he said he had "no problem" with marriage between same-sex couples, adding later, "I know a lot of friends who are gay in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is. I don't see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married."

Michael Nutter

The mayor of Philadelphia was one of the original 75 mayors who signed the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry pledge, alongside voices like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Houston Mayor Anisse Parker, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. This January, when he attended a reception to mark nearly 300 mayors signing the pledge, he said, "America would be a stronger place if folks were able to love who they want to love, be who they want to be with." (Photo by Matt Rourke, AP)

Maya Angelou

The acclaimed author and poet contributed her time and status to the campaign to win marriage in New York in 2009, when she made calls to Senators in New York asking them to support marriage for same-sex couples. She said, "To love someone takes a lot of course. So how much more is one challenged when the love is of the same sex and the laws say, 'I forbid you from loving this person'? ... I would ask every man and every woman who's had the blessing of having children, ‘Would you deny your son or your daughter the ecstasy of finding someone to love?'" (Photo by Michael Elderman)

Mariah Carey

The pop superstar - and current judge on American Idol has spoken out about the importance of marriage for same-sex couples. She said, "If two people want to get married, it's their prerogative - we hope. Everybody should be able to do what they want to do and be in the pursuit of happiness."    

Wanda Sykes 

The comedienne came out as a lesbian - and announced that she was married to a woman - after Proposition 8 passed in California, where she lives. She has since been a tireless advocate for the freedom to marry and for the LGBT community, saying, "I'm proud to be a woman. I'm proud to be a black woman, and I'm proud to be gay. We are so together now and we all want the same thing and we shouldn't have to settle for less."  (Photo by Retna Digital)

Whoopi Goldberg

When a marriage bill did not pass in the New York State Senate in 2009, the EGOT-winning (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) star joined the campaign to pass marriage in the state. She lent her iconic voice to radio advertisements and TV commercials, saying, "Now is the time to stand up for our friends. And really, darling, it's a no-brainer." (Photo Credit)

Charles Barkley

"I've been a big proponent of gay marriage for a long time," the NBA All-Star said to support hockey player Sean Avery's positive comments on playing on a team with gay athletes. Barkley added, "As a black person, I can't be in for any form of discrimination at all. I think gay people should be allowed to get married and God bless them, that's their own business."  (Photo by Getty Images)

Cory Booker 

The mayor of Newark, NJ is one of our most outspoken Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, having discussed his opposition to the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage in New Jersey and federal marriage discrimination in the United States. A video of Mayor Booker during a press conference where he answered a question about the freedom to marry went viral in January 2012. He has explained, "America is about freedom. To have the freedom to choose is something that is fundamental to this country - and I think of the most intimate choices one could make is who to spend the rest of your life with." (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Oprah Winfrey

For 25 years, the iconic hostess used The Oprah Show to shed a light on gay issues - including the freedom to marry. She has helped millions of Americans better understand how gay and lesbian people "come out," why marriage matters to them, and why it is important for all of us to raise our voices in support of the LGBT community. Check out 25 great moments where The Oprah Show dealt with LGBT topics HERE.   

Will Smith

The Hollywood star added his name to the long list of people who support marriage for same-sex couples in May 2012. He told reporters, "If anyone can find someone to love them and to help them through this difficult thing that we call life, I support that in any shape or form." 

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

The mayor of Baltimore is another one of our active Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. Last year, during the campaign to vote for Question 6 in Maryland, which would extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples across the state, Mayor Rawlings-Blake voiced her strong support, appearing in a video for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. This January, on the first day of marriages in Baltimore, she presided over many weddings between loving same-sex couples, and just last month, she penned an editorial for USA Today with two other mayors in support of marriage for same-sex couples. 

Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery

The civil rights legend and faith leader Lowery, who was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and a close ally of Martin Luther King, Jr., has spoken out unequivocally in favor of the freedom to marry. In May he said, "I couldn't imagine myself denying a right to my neighbor, my fellow citizen, that I enjoy myself. I don't think you can say we believe in equal rights for some people but not for others. I think that's what we call an oxymoron. I think if you believe in equal rights, you have to grant them to all the people."  (Photo by Rasul Welch)

Audra McDonald

Tony-winning actress McDonald filmed a video for Freedom to Marry last summer applauding President Barack Obama for his embrace of the freedom to marry. In the video, she explained how the president's actions would influence young people across the country. She said, "It's like a superhero just flew into their corner - to have the president come out and say, ‘No, you're OK. I support you. I support your right to be who you are and marry who you want to marry someday.' It's a very exciting time right now in the fight for marriage equality." 

Samuel L. Jackson

During the struggle to defeat Proposition 8 - the 2008 ballot initiative that sought to strip same-sex couples of the freedom to marry in California - the movie star lent his iconic voice to advertising speaking out against Prop 8. He said in one ad, "We have an obligation to pass along to our children a more tolerant, more decent society. Vote No on Prop 8 - it's unfair, and it's wrong."


After President Obama said he support marriage for same-sex couples, the hip-hop star announced that he agreed, calling supporting the freedom to marry "the right thing to do." He said, "I've always thought of it as something that was still holding the country back. It's discrimination plain and simple."

Brendon Ayanbadejo

Last month, Ayanbadejo became a Super Bowl Champion when the Baltimore Ravens overtook the San Francisco 49ers. In the months leading up to the big game - and the big election in November 2012, the NFL player became a vocal supporter of marriage for same-sex couples, lending his voice to Marylanders for Marriage Equality and a new #Time4Marriage initiative through the Respect for Marriage coalition. "People from all walks of life, including gay and lesbian couples, want their children to be in stable homes and protected under the law," Ayanbadejo said. "That's why I support marriage for gay and lesbian couples who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other." (Photo by the Associated Press)

Mary J. Blige

Grammy-winning hip-hop star has often spoken out in support of the LGBT community, and in September, she explicitly announced her support for the freedom to marry, saying, "I think it's wonderful. I think people that support love, it's amazing - it's love."

Russell Simmons

Music mogul and producer Simmons spoke out for New Yorkers for Marriage Equality in the months leading up to the passage of a marriage bill by the New York legislature. He said in a video for the campaign, "I'm a longtime supporter of marriage equality. I'm happy that we're coming to a time when we can make a chance. Make your voice heard - stand up now for marriage equality." (Photo by Robert Chamorro)

Kerry Washington

The Scandal and Django Unchained actress joined a chorus of celebrity voices who spoke out in celebration after the New York state legislature passed the freedom to marry. She took to Twitter to exclaim, "I'm proud of NY right now. Justice. Equality. Respect. Civil Rights for all. WOOOO HOOOOO."

John Legend 

"I support it whole-heartedly," the R&B singer said about marriage for same-sex couples when asked if he supports President Obama's embrace of the freedom to marry. He added, "I have very good friends who want to get married. They have every right to get married as far as I'm concerned. If you believe in equal rights, then you can't choose which people you like enough to give equal rights to."