December 06, 2008
More stress along gay-race faultlines
Posted by: Chris
Yet more signs of serious cracks in the political alliance among racial/ethnic minorities and the cause of gay rights. Rhetoric among these traditional Democratic constituencies has been overheated ever since exit polls showed black Californians backed the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, and blacks and Hispanics together overwhelmingly backed an even more draconian ban in Florida.
Now this report (discussed by Andoni here) that gay marriage may have also been the pawn in a struggle between black and Hispanic Democrats over wresting control of the New York state Senate, which has been in GOP hands for more than 40 years. With three Latino Democrats threatening to throw their support, and with it control of the Senate, over to the Republicans, Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith, who is black, cut a power-sharing deal.
Apparently even more important to Bronx Democrat Rubén Díaz Sr., another of the holdouts, was a guarantee from Smith "that there will be no vote in the Senate next year on legislation to legalize gay marriage, something which most Senate Democrats support but which Mr. Diaz strongly opposes."
Many gays were furious with the backroom deal, considering that New York Democrats had raised tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands from gay donors by pointing out that with Democrats in control of the Senate, gay marriage legislation would no longer be held hostage. A marriage equality bill already has the backing of Gov. David Paterson and a majority in both the House and Senate, but it was kept bottled up by GOP Senate control.
“All civil rights movements have moments where they move forward, and moments of perceived setbacks,” said Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell of Manhattan. “If in fact our civil rights were bargained away, that’s deplorable. But in the end, I think justice and fairness will prevail.”
The stunned reaction from many gays is that the knives are out among groups considered friends within the Democratic and civil rights coalitions. It seems inconceivable that those who have suffered so greatly from discriminatory treatment could so easily slip into the shoes of the oppressor.
The reality, unfortunately, is that black and Hispanic Americans have never been as supportive of gay rights as their political leaders, as a Gallup poll this week once again confirmed: only 30% of blacks and 22% of Republicans support gay marriage, as compared with 57% of non-black Dems.
But before we wag our fingers at homophobia as the reason for that disparity, it's worth considering how the data suggest the real culprit is framing legal recognition of our relationships as a moral issue, rather than one of civil rights. The percentage support for gay marriage closely tracks views in the same groups -- including non-black Demcrats -- over whether our relationships are "morally acceptable": Only 31% of black Democrats said yes, roughly equal to the 30% of Republicans who agreed. As on marriage, moral approval of our relationships among non-black Democrats was double -- 61%.
Gay rights advocates aren't the only ones who have failed to convince African Americans that an issue they see as a moral question is in fact a civil rights issue. Look at support for abortion rights, from the same Gallup survey: only 37% of black Democrats and 25% of Republicans, as compared with 54% of non-black Democrats. Those percentages once again track the viewpoints among these groups about related moral questions, including whether to have a baby or even have sex outside of marriage.
If we accept for the sake of argument that blacks (and Republicans) are trailing in support for gay rights because they insist on letting their political view be governed by their moral and religious thinking, then the challenge is clear:
- Change their minds on whether gay relationships are immoral.
- Change their minds on whether their moral view is valid justification for their political position.
Either challenge is daunting, and the best course no doubt is to push on both fronts, as the movement as done so for decades. We are distracted from these very real challenges, however, when we revert to easy rhetoric about homophobia and hate. Unless we plan to shame these folks into voting against their conscience, we would be better served meeting them where they are on the issue, and addressing these two questions head-on.
(Photo of Rubén Díaz Sr. and his son, Assemblyman Rubén Díaz Jr., via the New York Times)
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