Will Heavy Black Voter Turnout in CA Hurt Gay Marriage?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday September 22, 2008

An African American candidate on the presidential ballot may signal that American is entering the 21st Century, but will a surge in black voters kill marriage equality in California?

That's a worry that the The New York Times reported on in a Sept. 20 article.

The article said that pro-marriage equality advocates feared a larger turnout of African Americans at the polls could lead to voter approval for Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that seeks to roll back marriage rights for gay and lesbian families in Calif.

Noting that the black community has had a strong anti-gay and anti-marriage equality tradition, despite being mostly supportive of other civil rights issues, supporters of marriage parity worry that the positive effect of an African American on the ballot for this year's presidential race could translate into a big loss for another minority--the gay and lesbian community.

The article quoted And Marriage For All's campaign director, Andrea Shorter, who said, "It's a Catch-22."

And Marriage For All is a GLBT coalition, the article said, and it has targeted the question of the African American community's response to the question of marriage equality by launching an initiative to educate black voters about Proposition 8, to which African American candidate Barack Obama has voiced his opposition.

On the other side of the issue, the article said, the anti-gay group Focus on the Family had posted footage of Martin Luther King, Jr., giving a speech on its Web site, set to text read by a narrator saying that black religious leaders are obligated to denounce marriage equality and support the proposed amendment, which would change the state constitution in such a way that marriage equality would be out of reach of gays and lesbians as a matter of bedrock law.

Another minority group that is viewed as anti-marriage equality are Latinos, who may not personally be against marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples, but who are expected, by and large, to fall in line with instructions from the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes family rights for non-heterosexual people.

Anti-gay group Yes on Eight made no bones about relying on minority voters in looking to see gay and lesbian families lose their recently-won right to marriage parity.

Campaign manager for Yes on Eight Frank Schubert said, "There's no question African-American and Latino voters are among our strongest supporters."

Added Schubert, "And to the extent that they are motivated to get to the polls, whether by this issue or by Barack Obama, it helps us."

Marriage proponents have begun courting the black community, bringing same-sex black couples in front of gatherings of other blacks to tell their stories, and networking with black clergy.

Ron Buckmire described the initiative as "black people talking to black people," the article said.

Buckmire, who is the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition's board president, added, "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.'"

A recent poll shows the proposition to rescind marriage equality is trailing by 14 points, but both sides are looking to court undecided voters. The 15 percent of Latino voters, together with the 6 percent of black voters, that are projected for this election make the minority vote impossible to ignore--a fact that leaders in those communities know.

Said the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, "If the white Christian evangelic movement believes they can do it alone, I've got news for you."

Added Rodriguez, "They don't have the sheer numbers to do it without the minority effort."

The Conference is in favor of revoking marriage parity and making the right to wed a special right reserved only for straight couples, the article said.

As noted by a previous article at EDGE, huge sums of money have been directed at the issue by both advocates of marriage equality and those who wish to see gay and lesbian families deprived of that newly won right.

Much of that cash is earmarked for television advertising; the New York Times article described one such commercial, in which a bride struggles to make her way up the aisle, only for various intervening factors to hamper her progress. The message of the ad: "What if you couldn't marry the person you loved?"

Such television ads are regarded as indispensable in modern elections, and from the beginning of the battle over marriage equality, when the Hawaiian constitution was targeted for re-writing by anti-gay organizations, ads have played a crucial role in communicating the gist of both sides' arguments to voters.

In Hawaii, for example, an anti-gay ad showed a bride and groom running romantically toward one another--only to then run right past each other and into the arms of same-sex partners.

Another article posted at EDGE reported that following a plea from leaders of their church, Mormons nationwide had dug deep and contributed a hefty portion of the $15 million-plus collected so far by anti-gay marriage opponents, donating far more to the cause of restricting marriage rights than other denominations, including the Roman Catholic group Knights of Columbus, which threw $1 million into the hat to disenfrachise gay and lesbian families.

Pro-marriage groups are also hard at work raising funds and looking to make the money they're given work to its best advantage. Like the anti-marriage opposition, defenders of marriage equality have their eyes on the percentages, most critically the number of voters who have yet to decide.

The article quoted Equality California's executive director, Geoff Kors, who said, "We think there's 15 to 20 percent that are still undecided on this issue."

Added Kors, "We do believe that if we can get our message out at least equal to the other side, we will win, but that's a fund-raising issue."

According to Kors, marriage defenders had about $12 million with which to wage their campaign, compared to nearly $15 and a half million in the war chest of the opposition.

Mr. Kors said opponents of Proposition 8 had raised about $12 million so far.

Buckmire was cited as observing that blacks have both condemning gays and refused to acknowledge that there are gays and lesbians who are black.

Recent epidemiological data have demonstrated that blacks suffer more than whites from the rate of incidence of new HIV infections; black women, in particular, lead other demographics in terms of new HIV cases, outstripping gay men in the number of new cases annually.

Black men, too, show a disproportionately high incidence of new HIV cases, with many black MSMs (men who have sex with men) saying that they are not gay and, in fact, pursuing heterosexual relationships, including marriage to women, even while engaging in sex with other men on the down low.

The article quoted Buckmire as saying, "For too long, black people seemed to think there were no gay people around, especially black ministers."

Added Buckmire, "They'd say the most insanely anti-gay things, and then the choir would come up and the choir is 50 percent gay."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.