Black Voters Not to Blame if Proposition 8 Passes

September 21, 2008 at 7:00 am 8 comments

A troubling New York Times article on Proposition 8, the proposed California anti-marriage constitutional amendment, asserts that some marriage supporters are concerned that strong support for Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy among Black voters may spell trouble for efforts to defeat the proposal to take away marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, is against the measure. But opponents of the proposed ban worry that many black voters, enthused by Mr. Obama’s candidacy but traditionally conservative on issues involving homosexuality, could pour into voting stations in record numbers to punch the Obama ticket — and then cast a vote for Proposition 8.

“It’s a Catch-22,” said Andrea Shorter, the campaign director of And Marriage for All, a coalition of gay and civil rights groups that recently started what it calls an education campaign around the state, focusing on blacks and framing the issue of same-sex marriage as one of civil rights.

While the possibility that some African-American voters may oppose our fight for equality seems to have caught some white LGBT activists by surprise, it seems that the proponents of marriage discrimination have anticipated this opportunity to capitalize on homophobia among some in the Black and Latino communities.

The Obama/Proposition 8 situation appeals to those opposed to same-sex marriage, who are banking on a high turnout by blacks and conservative Latinos. “There’s no question African-American and Latino voters are among our strongest supporters,” said Frank Schubert, the co-campaign manager for Yes on 8, the leading group behind the measure. “And to the extent that they are motivated to get to the polls, whether by this issue or by Barack Obama, it helps us.”

This article is troubling for a number of reasons:

1. It ties historic electoral enthusiasm among Black voters to an anti-gay proposal put forth by white evangelical conservatives and strongly suggests that anticipated strong voter turnout among African-Americans will have a negative impact on the advancement of LGBT equality. This theme negates the fact that the marriage repeal effort is being lead and funded by white conservatives including leaders within the Mormon Church who have never been supporters of issues that benefit African-Americans and have instead simply seen Black people as a monolithic mass only useful as a constituency to be targeted with fear, lies and anti-gay spin. In similar ways white conservatives have sought to stoke tensions between Black and Latino people as a way of building support for anti-immigrant measures under the guise that providing legal rights and social services to undocumented workers will mean fewer opportunities for African-Americans.

2. The writer of the article seems to forget that whites are a majority of voters in the state and that if the amendment to strip marriage away from same-sex couples is successful it will be because a lot of white voters voted against equal treatment under the law for gay couples. It is true that a majority of Black and Latino voters may end up voting against us on marriage, but according to the Public Policy Institute of California Black voters account for about 6% of voters in most statewide elections and Latino voters account for roughly 15% of votes cast. Together Black and Latino voters account for about 21% percent of votes. Even if every Black and Latino voter votes for Proposition 8, 21% of the vote is not nearly enough for the anti-gay amendment to pass. It would still need strong support from white voters.

3. The article and thinking among some white activists on both sides of the proposed amendment falls into “Black community as voting monolith” frame that sees Black voters as a kind of electoral Borg in which we all think the same and vote the same. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. That thinking does, however, make it possible for some to see outreach to communities of color as an afterthought only to be performed in the closing weeks of a campaign if at all. Then, the lack of success in persuading a majority of voters of color of the important connections between LGBT issues and the larger civil rights movement is talked about as the result of an especially virulent strain of homophobia in communities of color rather than as a failure to aggressively target voters of color with persuasive messages.

The article does go on to cite the critical work of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, an organization of Black LGBT people and allies:

“This is black people talking to black people,” said Ron Buckmire, the board president of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, a gay rights group in Los Angeles. “We’re saying, ‘Gay people are black and black people are gay. And if you are voting conservative on an antigay ballot measure, you are hurting the black community.’ ”

Unfortunately work like this, efforts among LGBT people of color to dialogue with and work within communities of color, are among those given the least amount of resources and investment by LGBT organizations even as it becomes increasingly clear the key role that people of color can play in advancing LGBT civil rights. It is also clear that the work to build the necessary coalitions that strengthen the potential ties between communities of color and LGBT communities is something that needs to occur before we are facing a political crisis and not in the final hours of a campaign.


Entry filed under: Advocacy, Campaigns, LGBT, Marriage, Politics, Race. Tags: , , , , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mad Professah  |  September 21, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Thanks for the shout out! I’m the person quoted in the NYT piece.

    The Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition started operations in September 2006, over two year ago, so we have been working in this area long before Proposition 8 was a glimmer in Ron Prentice’s eye.

    The point of what I and Andrea Shorter are doing is to make it clear that the Black community is NOT a monolith, that there are Black gay people who are part of both the Black AND gay communities and to try and impact the disproportionately conservative tilt of Black voters on social issues (even when you control for religiosity).

  • 2. Michael Crawford  |  September 21, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Keep up the good work M.P.

    This post will be cross-posted on Bilerico tomorrow afternoon.

  • 3. Sapphocrat  |  September 21, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Point #2 isn’t reassuring, but worrisome: “Even if every Black and Latino voter votes for Proposition 8, 21% of the vote is not nearly enough for the anti-gay amendment to pass. It would still need strong support from white voters.”

    The problem is, that would be 21% on top of the 38% support Prop 8 already has (assuming the vast majority of that 38% is white). Of course, I know not every Black and Latino voter will vote for Prop 8 — I’m just saying that the the spectre of even a moderate Black and/or Latino turnout for Prop 8 could easily tip the scales against us, and it wouldn’t take 21% to do it. With 7% of all voters still undecided, no way to gauge the commitment of the 55% currently against Prop 8, and looking down the barrel at the pro-8 forces’ well-funded, full-scale assault (they’re outspending us 3:2, and planning a barrage of TV ads — and tomorrow is the day the Mormons are scheduled to plant one million pro-8 yard signs), it wouldn’t take much to erode the 17 points in our favor right now down to a toss-up.

    Otherwise… Thanks for the thoughtful post. I don’t know what to think about this issue, so I’m just shutting up and doing a lot of reading about it.

  • 4. Christopher  |  September 22, 2008 at 6:44 am

    From everything I’ve seen, Prop 8 isn’t popular in California and if the election were held today, would fail by a wide margin.

    The real evil behind pushing Prop 8 down voters throats of Californians are the Mormons. This cult religion is literally obsessed with Prop 8. They’re even flying cult members out to California from Salt Lake City to work on the homophobic campaign.

  • 5. Clear-Eyed Policy Wonk  |  October 8, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Just found this post today in looking at other posts on your blog…I wholeheartedly agree that communities of color won’t be to blame. But we do have to be real about homophobia in all communities and work to end it – I am constantly making sure that the students I work with understand the parallels between State Supreme Court’s decision and the Loving decision in 1967 so they know that No on 8 is the way to go!

  • 6. Black Market Index  |  October 20, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    While I agree that communities of color can’t be blamed should Prop. 8 be passed. It seems to me that record high black turnout — since, in polling, blacks favor of approving the proposition by a margin of 20%, more than any other ethnic demographic — could tip things.

    What a tragic irony should we elect the country’s first black president on the same day as denying equality under the law to a group of our citizens.

  • 7. NorCalJoe  |  November 2, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated

    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

    Proposition 8 is UNJUST and UNFAIR. STOP DISCRIMINATION COLD, and VOTE *NO* on Proposition 8 on Tuesday 11/4.


  • 8. Jan Peters  |  November 7, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Now that the election is over, since 70% of African Americans voted FOR Proposition 8 in California, it is a valid question as to why a people, who were once so discriminated against that still in 1967 biracial marriage was prohibited by law in California, can be so cruel toward others. There is nothing in the Bible that opposes gay marriage, leading one to realize that it must be some form of intolerance actively promoted by African-American churches. As a person who marched against the treatment of African Americans in the 1960’s I am dismayed and disheartened that a people so discriminated against is now discriminating against an even more vulnerable group. At the march in Los Angeles yesterday, one of African-American police members said to me that a church should not be forced to perform gay marriage. This was a civil issue!! What are the churches saying? Free at last, free at last, but not for those who are different?


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