Did Black Voters Kill Gay Marriage in California?

Yesterday, about 1,000 gay-marriage supporters demonstrated outside a Mormon temple in the Westwood section of Los Angeles. The temple was targeted because the Mormon church strongly supported the ban on gay marriage.

“I’m disappointed in the Californians who voted for this,” said F. Damion Barela, 43, a Studio City resident who married his husband nearly five months ago. He noted that nearly 70 percent of black voters and a slight majority of Latino voters favored the ban.

“To them I say, ‘Shame on you because you should know what this feels like,’ ” he said. link

Even Bert and Ernie are ticked off.

I can understand Mr. Barela’s anger and frustration with racial minorities that both overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama and Proposition Eight. But I could have told him from the jump that assuming Blacks would identify with the persecution of gays and lesbians and support them in defeating Prop. 8 would be highly unlikely.

There are few things that will start an all-night argument around the dinner table of a Black family than the suggestion the struggle of Blacks and homosexuals are one and the same.

The reply will be something along the lines of “your blues ain’t like mine.” Historically oppressed groups are not necessarily bound together by their mutual oppression. If I had a dollar for every middle-aged Black man or woman that got highly offended at the suggestion civil rights and gay rights have ANYTHING in common, I could retire to my winter home in the Bahamas.

At the first UNITY: Journalists of Color convention in Atlanta in 1994, there were Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans journalists in attendance. Among those groups standing on the outside were the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) and wandering the hall passing out literature and buttonholing attendees was it’s president, Leroy Aarons. Aarons desperately wanted the NLGJA included in UNITY, but the founding organizations weren’t hearing it. Leading the opposition to admitting the gay journalists was the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and 14 years the NLGJA is still excluded (despite one of NABJ’s presidents being an openly gay man).

In the spirit of diversity and a feeble attempt at throwing crumbs, there is now a gay sub-committee in NABJ, but still no place at the table for gay journalists. In fact, it’s been hard enough to hold the four racial minority groups together. The suggestion of opening the club up to a group made up of predominantly White lesbians and gay men doesn’t sit well with a lot of folks.

I say this to explain that the activists that sought to fight Prop. 8 should have known that gay rights are not a high priority in the Black community. The church plays a significant role in the political decision made by many African Americans and many Black ministers are firmly opposed to same-sex marriage.

The first big warning sign that the gay marriage issue would inflame, polarize, and even energize blacks within and without the black pulpit came in 1997 when the Green Bay Packers perennial all-pro defensive end Reggie White, an ordained minister, touched off a firestorm of protest from gay groups with a rambling, hour-long talk to the Wisconsin legislature in which he took a huge swipe at gay rights and gay marriage. He later barnstormed through several Mid-Western cities pushing the anti-gay gospel at pro-family rallies.

Before his untimely death in 2005, White apologized for his anti-gay remarks, but he was unrepentant in his view about homosexuality. He was a conservative black minister and homosexuality still violated his biblical conception of the proper roles for men and women. In defying the canons of political correctness, White became the first celebrity black evangelical to say publicly what many black religious leaders said and believed privately. Few blacks joined in the loud chorus that condemned his remarks.

A year before White’s outburst, a Pew Poll measured black attitudes toward gay marriage and found that blacks by an overwhelming margin opposed it. A CNN poll eight years later showed that anti-gay attitudes among blacks had not changed much since then. At a tightly packed press conference in October 2003, five of Michigan’s top black prelates publicly called on the state legislature to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The ballot measure passed in November, and more than fifty percent of blacks backed it. The same year the conservative Virginia-based Alliance for Marriage corralled a handful of top black preachers to plop their name on the Alliance’s letterhead and tout the Alliance’s anti-gay rights agenda.

At the NAACP convention in July 2004, there was some talk of taking a delegate vote to put the organization firmly on record backing gay rights. It didn’t get far. Reverend Julius Caesar Hope, the head of the NAACP’s religious affairs department, warned that a resolution to back gay marriage “would make some serious problems. I would think the membership would be overwhelmingly against it, based on our tradition in the black community.” link

In 2004, with the enthusiastic backing of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, Black ministers aligned themselves behind a Defense of Marriage amendment to the Ohio constitution and provided the winning edge for George W. Bush over John Kerry. While conservatives were getting drubbed across the nation, the anti-gay (and in other states anti-affirmative action) initiatives passed. Even while evangelical conservatives are increasingly frustrated in electing like-minded candidates, they are finding considerable success with wedge issues such as banning same-sex marriage.

Supporters of gay marriage may share with Blacks a preference for the Democratic Party, but that has not translated into support for the issues of interest to gays and lesbians.  Didn’t all those Black voters in California realize they would be denying not just White gays and lesbians, but Black ones as well.  Sure they did and they still voted against them too.

America has come a long way, but as it continues to deny its gay citizens their full rights, it still has further still to go. But while the proponents of gay marriage have suffered a setback, they know at least that the issue is out of the closet and firmly affixed in the national consciousness. Without a doubt this is a loss, but it’s hardly the end.

Gay is the new black?  Black folks in California beg to differ.

What White homosexuals don’t seem to get is White evangelicals have the ear of the Black church. They don’t. They are assuming the Black community will identify with the gay community through their shared history of oppression. They don’t.

If it makes it any easier for those gay marriage supporters, if I had lived in California, I would have voted against Prop. 8. But I don’t, and from the way the numbers skewed, a whole lot of Californians didn’t vote against it either. Why blame Black folks except for the fact it’s historically damn easy to blame them?

I don’t doubt homophobia played a huge point in why Prop. 8 won and gay marriage lost. But it’s too convenient to lay it all on homophobia.

Jasmyne Cannick, a California-based blogger (and a fellow contributor to The Daily Voice) broke it down about the White gay rage directed at Black voters.

I am black. I am a political activist who cares deeply about social justice issues. I am a lesbian. This year, I canvassed the streets of South Los Angeles and Compton, knocking on doors, talking politics to passers-by and working as I never had before to ensure a large voter turnout among African Americans. But even I wasn’t inspired to encourage black people to vote against the proposition.

Why? Because I don’t see why the right to marry should be a priority for me or other black people. Gay marriage? Please. At a time when blacks are still more likely than whites to be pulled over for no reason, more likely to be unemployed than whites, more likely to live at or below the poverty line, I was too busy trying to get black people registered to vote, period; I wasn’t about to focus my attention on what couldn’t help but feel like a secondary issue.

The first problem with Proposition 8 was the issue of marriage itself. The white gay community never successfully communicated to blacks why it should matter to us above everything else — not just to me as a lesbian but to blacks generally. The way I see it, the white gay community is banging its head against the glass ceiling of a room called equality, believing that a breakthrough on marriage will bestow on it parity with heterosexuals. But the right to marry does nothing to address the problems faced by both black gays and black straights. Does someone who is homeless or suffering from HIV but has no healthcare, or newly out of prison and unemployed, really benefit from the right to marry someone of the same sex?


The anger of the LGBT community is understandable and probably to be expected. Maybe when a little more time has passed and the initial wave of emotion passes and cooler heads prevail, they can go back to the drawing board and figure out why they failed to get the support of the majority of voters.

It might be a good first step to stop abusing some of the groups whose support they’re eventually going to need to change the result.