November 11, 2008
Prop 8 strains gay race relations
Posted by: Chris
Sarah Palin isn’t the only one facing flying fur after last week’s historic election results. While bitter McCain campaign aides accused their erstwhile veep of not knowing Africa is a continent, some bitter white gays were accusing African Americans of not knowing civil rights extend beyond race.
So much for Barack Obama’s election transcending racial politics in this country. Exit polls showed that increased turnout among black voters energized by his candidacy actually helped enact Proposition 8, the ballot measure that amended the California state constitution to take away same-sex marriage rights.
Most whites voted against the divisive measure, while black Californians supported Prop 8 at the polls by a margin of more than two to one. Those shocking numbers have prompted a white gay backlash, and sex advice-cum-political columnist Dan Savage was typical in his vitriol.
“I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there — and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum — are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color,” he wrote.
Not everyone was ready to pile on. Kathryn Kolbert, the partnered lesbian mother who is president of People For the American Way, warned against “lashing out at African Americans” as “deeply wrong and offensive — not to mention destructive to the goal of advancing equality.”
Kolbert argued that even factoring in higher turnout, black voters were too small a percentage of the California electorate to have made the difference on Prop 8.
She’s right about the electoral math. Black voters contributed only 3 percentage points to the “Yes on 8” vote, which passed by a margin of 4 points.
If anything, Savage ought to look a lot closer to home – like in the mirror, for example. It’s true that whites overall voted 51 to 49 percent against Prop 8, but white male voters backed the measure by a similar margin. Given their higher percentage of the electorate, it was good ole white guys – not African Americans – who actually provided Prop 8’s margin of victory.
Savage and others nonetheless vent that black voters ought to better appreciate the importance of civil rights issues, and the way marriage laws can be used to discriminate. Unfortunately, no one was making that case, at least according to Mario Solis-Marich, who wrote in Huffington Post that the “No on 8” campaign all but ignored black and Latino voters.
Would a more effective outreach to African-American voters have really made a difference? Not according to relentlessly self-promotional Jasmyne Cannick, who claimed in a venomous Los Angeles Times column that black gays view marriage equality as a white gay issue anyway.
“I am a perfect example of why the fight against Proposition 8 … failed to win black support,” wrote Cannick, who is herself a lesbian. “Why? Because I don't see why the right to marry should be a priority for me or other black people. Gay marriage? Please.”
Here was Cannick, happily projecting her own unsuccessful love life – about which she blogs frequently – on everyone else, never stopping to consider whether homophobia in the African-American community might be responsible for disinterest in same-sex marriage. Tying the knot doesn’t exactly fit the “down low,” “gay thug” lifestyle.
Conveniently, Cannick prefers the grievance/victimization route, claiming economic worries were more important to black voters. Well, duh. They were for white voters, too, in California and across the country. That’s why a black man is now the president-elect.
It’s divisive and simplistic for Cannick and others to present economic trauma and gay marriage as zero-sum options. Voters of every race could have voted their pocketbook in the presidential race without voting their bigotry further down the ballot.
The failure of so many whites and blacks within our “community” to see past their own race is discouraging proof of just how much remains to be said in our national “conversation” on race. We elected a black president, and still we can’t just all get along?
What’s worse, the cultural conservatism that seduced African Americans on Prop 8 was profoundly against their own interests, which is usually the way bigotry works. Because while Cannick may not see immediate marriage prospects, her black gay brothers and sisters do.
The statistics don’t lie: African Americans marry at the same rate as the rest of the population – more than 96 percent will tie the knot at some point in their lives. The extensive bundle of fundamental rights and responsibilities that come with marriage and divorce, at the federal and state level, often determine on which side of the poverty line many will live.
Marriage equality and relationship recognition aren’t simply the clearest example of our own government discriminating against us. In the real world, no single item on anyone’s “gay agenda” has a greater impact on real lives, of all races.
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