Monday, January 5, 2009

Judge Penny On Gay Marriage - Black Voices Blogs

Judge Penny On Gay Marriage - Black Voices Blogs

By Angela Bronner,

Gay marriage is an issue that promises to rack the body politic in profound ways. It touches the very core of our American value system – family, (freedom of) religion, sex. And like slavery, which was legal in some states, not legal in others, gay marriage is a festering time bomb which needs to come to some sort of resolution, and hopefully one we can all accept. Out of 50 states, only a handful legally recognize gay marriage -- Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maine, Washington, New Hampshire, and of course, California, after Proposition 8, is is now pending.

Judge Penny Brown Reynolds, the no-nonsense, racially ambiguous (until she opens her mouth, that is) and even wise adjudicator, who can be seen daily on 'Family Court,' allowed us some insight on the legal issues around gay marriage, how it affects the family and how the issue of gay marriage should be framed, especially in the black community. An ordained Baptist minister as well as judge, Judge Penny's answers may surprise you.

What is the state of gay marriage in legal terms today?

Well, this issue is decided state by state. Most gay couples will go and get legal documents whereby they can have a union for legal purposes only but it's not recognized by the state as a marriage. Generally they do it for the liquidation of property or for medical reasons. If you are hospitalized, generally hospitals will only allow close relatives to visit or make decisions; without those documents [partners] have no legal rights. In the state of California we all are very much aware that there was a deal that was recently enacted that made marriages between gay couples illegal and therefore nullifying the opportunity for people to be able to marry.

So for those people who married previously, does that nullify their marriage?

No it will not. It simply means that after the bill was enacted, all future marriages would obviously be illegal and they will not be recognized by the state.

Do you think at some point there is going to have to be a federal mandate around gay marriages? If so, when will this happen?

Let me tell you what I see happening with this issue form both a legal standpoint and also a moral standpoint as an ordained Baptist Preacher who is African-American. Overwhelmingly, statistics show that African-Americans do not support gay marriages. It is appalling to me in many respects that the African-American community could stand and protest anyone being oppressed -- and this is what the real issue is. It's not an issue of being right or wrong or whether or not you believe the Bible or if God sanctioned unions between same sex; it's an issue of oppression as I see it, both legally and morally. Whenever you take a right away from someone, you are oppressing them. We were told we couldn't marry outside of our race, who gets to be the arbitrary of what we can and cannot do? We have to decide to stay out of it.

Do you think you'll see legislation legalizing gay marriage in your lifetime?

I'll have to be honest with you, at the age of 47 I didn't believe that in my lifetime that we would have an African-American president, so I'm very hesitant to say that I don't know if in my lifetime we will ever have federal legislation legalizing gay marriages. It's all a matter of who would be brave enough in Congress to draft it. The current court that we have now I don't believe would sanction it. We have a very conservative Supreme Court. I don't think it will come out of this current Supreme Court. If it's purely a legal issue than certainly the legal conclusion comes to the point that people should be able to be married if they're the same sex. But it's more complicated than that. It's really a public policy issue so it's quasi legal and quasi public policy.

What kind of issues does gay marriage present for families and black families in your court?

Gay couples are really no different than heterosexual couples, they have the same issues like everyone else. What complicates things is when there is no legal entity involved in terms of marriage; therefore you cannot have a divorce. And so when you have children who are adopted and the children are adopted by only one of the parents and when they separate for whatever reason, obviously the way the courts often decide on third party visitation rights when it comes to children.

The issue for me is that if you follow the law, it is about what is in the best interest of the child. Let's say for example you have a heterosexual couple and the husband is out there having an affair and he's living a promiscuous lifestyle while the wife is doing the same. How is that any different than actually being in a gay relationship? Maybe what might happen is not what we call the traditional family but who gets to define what a traditional family is? Furthermore who are black people to define what a traditional family is? We've all been raised by grandmothers and aunties and the lady down the street. We are often village children. Statistics show that most children in black families are born to single mothers. You have to think outside the box. I hope that my colleagues are thinking outside the box. Regardless if the child comes from parents who are heterosexual or homosexual [placement] should always be in the best interest of the child.

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