Black Voters Not to Blame if Proposition 8 Passes
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.