08/08/2011 12:23 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2011

Jumping the Broom to Equality

My wife and I recently marked our 20th Wedding Anniversary, only days after same-sex marriage was legalized in our home state of New York. When we married 20 years ago, many in our generation were enamoured with re-connecting with our West African heritage. As Kente cloth became the rage on 125th Street and other centers of urban blackness, and leather Africa medallions with red, black, and green replaced the trunk jewelry of the mid-1980s, more than a few of us chose to mark our matrimonial rituals with symbolic gestures like jumping the broom.

"Jumping the Broom," which mainstream Americans were introduced to after the groundbreaking mini-series Roots was broadcast in January of 1977, highlights the enduring faith that enslaved Africans had in the power of family and commitment. Denied access to legal marriage, jumping the broom was a symbolic act of defiance; indeed even after blacks could legally marry, the act of marriage, with or without the broom, was an act of resistance within a society that denied blacks their full humanity.

The belief that blacks held in marriage and life-time partnership was part of the mantra of "making a way out of now way" -- a mantra that Black communities shared with the world during the watershed moments of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

That symbolism was not lost on my wife and I at the time of our marriage; yes, it was a chance to unite in the eyes of the law and within the tenets of our Christian beliefs and our parents' values --they were collectively married 86 years -- but it was more than anything an act of faith. That symbolism is not lost on thousands of New Yorkers who are now to also share in such acts of faith -- also in the eyes of the -- law -- thanks to the legalization of same-sex marriages in New York State.

There are those, of course, who claim that same-sex marriage is a sign of the continued demise of the black family. Christopher Arps of the Project 21 Black Leadership Network and founder of, asks for example, "with the black family in freefall, why define and diminish the value of marriage?" Arps suggest that homosexuality is an abomination, citing the requisite example of Christian doctrine, ignoring that that same Christian doctrine was invoked to justify the enslavement of blacks in the first place.

Even as so many will cite that 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers, a closer view of those numbers suggest that very often there are two parents present in the household and even when that isn't the case, both parents continue to see themselves as co-parents. The genius of black survival in this country, whether during chattel slavery or the economic crisis of today, has been their willingness, time and time again, to re-interpret doctrine -- whether legal or biblical -- in ways that best served their humanity, and ultimately the humanity of the nation.

Jumping the Broom was one of the best examples of blacks to buck the status quo in the pursuit of what was right -- to make a way out of no way. In legalizing same-sex marriage, New York State has also done the right thing and will allow many more to jump the broom into full equality.