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In 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled that gays and lesbians were entitled to full marriage under the state constitution. In November the infamous proposition 8 appeared on the general election ballot to amend the state constitution so as to void the effect of the court ruling. When the proposition passed it not only struck a blow against human rights but set off a storm of controversy that remains unabated to this day. One of the controversial issues was the votes of African American voters on the measure.

In recent days the State of Maryland has granted marriage equality by acts of the legislature and governor. There is already a movement under way to qualify a ballot measure for the general election in November 2012 to nullify the law. Major media outlets have grasped the drama of it and it is becoming a strain in the election year circus. The narrative that is being peddled is that African Americans are opposed to marriage equality thus setting up a confrontation between two constituent groups of Democratic voters.

The purpose of this diary is to look at lessons that should have been learned from the prop 8 experience and how they might be applied constructively in what is likely to be a rerun.

52% of all California voters voted in favor of prop 8. There was no disagreement that a majority of black voters voted in favor of it. The controversy was over the size of that majority. A CNN exit poll on election day put the number at 70%. A follow up poll done a few days after the election estimated it as being between 50-60% which would make it comparable to the Latino vote. The news coverage of this controversy was extensive. From this experience the notion that blacks are against gay and lesbian rights entered the lexicon of popular received "reality".

Many of us who were attempting to sort through this here on Daily Kos and elsewhere focused on what had happened in the campaign leading up to the election. One thing that was readily apparent was that the anti-prop 8 campaign was seriously flawed, while the pro side was well funded and organized. One failure of the marriage equality forces was to conduct any form of outreach to the black community. There were people who proposed recruiting black lesbians and gays to serve as spokespersons. Their advice was generally ignored. On the other hand the pro side did extensive and clearly effective outreach in all minority communities.

That is a brief summary of the prop 8 experience. There is much detailed material on the subject in the Daily Kos archives and elsewhere. Let's turn now to the present situation in Maryland.

It is always frustrating to attempt any kind of serious analysis of public opinion on controversial issues using the sources that are available to the public online. Most issues are not polled in a consistent manner over time. They only get focused on when they hit the media radar because of some political conflict. There are a number of factors which influence the opinions of people on controversial social issues. Among those are religion, education and age. Whether race should be considered a direct influence is a matter open to debate. From the data that I have seen, I don't think that there is convincing evidence to consider it as such.

Black clergy who are opposed to marriage equality in Maryland are getting very generous coverage in the media. Here are two examples, one form the Washington Post and the other from MSNBC, both prominent outlets.

Black pastors take heat for not viewing same-sex marriage as civil rights matter

Over the past couple of years, as Thomas and dozens of other black clergymen in Prince George’s County have stood on the front line of the campaign against same-sex marriage, he has come to see the revolution at hand — in his view, a rebellion against religion and tradition — as an assault on the sustainability of the black family.
Maryland gay marriage could hinge on black churches
With Maryland poised to legalize gay marriage, some conservative opponents and religious leaders are counting on members of their congregations, especially in black churches, to upend the legislation at the polls this fall.

Many African American church leaders oppose gay marriage in the liberal-leaning state that's nearly one-third black, and President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is expected to drive many of their congregants to the polls. Opponents submitted draft language for a ballot referendum to overturn the measure just after it passed the Legislature last week. Gov. Martin O'Malley was expected to sign the bill into law Thursday.

So far the issue has not been presented directly at the ballot box in Maryland. From articles like this one could get the impression that the black population is a single monolithic bloc ready to march behind Bible waving preachers to defeat the threat to traditional religious views. However, let's look at what data is available. The best thing I found was a poll conducted for the Washington Post in January. The article presenting the results leaves much to be desired, but it is what is available.

Legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland

The general thrust is that the electorate is about evenly split on the issue. There are 8% of undecideds that could sing it to a position of support. Interestingly the Post chose to address the issue of race only in terms of Democrats. It shows white Democrats being in favor by 71% while African American Democrats are opposed by 53% with 6% undecided. It is likely that a majority of blacks are registered as Democrats, this this presentation seems to be more focused on drama that a full balanced view of opinion.

What this poll reflects to my view is the general impression I have gotten from data that is available. Something in excess of 40% of African Americans are supportive of lesbian and gay rights in general and of marriage equality in particular. Among those people is a group of black lesbians and gays, many of them raising families. This is not a monolithic bloc of opposition to lesbian and gay rights. The problem is that it is only the voices of black opposition that are being given media coverage.

I wish to urge the gay and lesbian rights organizations that will be working to preserve their hard won victory to look at the California experience and learn from our mistakes. One important difference between California and Maryland is that blacks are about 10% of the CA electorate, but over 30% in MD. They cannot be ignored and written off.

The history of gay advocacy has mostly been about white middle class male advocacy. The rest of the rich variety of people who make up the lgbt community are usually not very visible in the public face that is presented in the media. What we are lining up for here is a media war between white gays and religious blacks. If that is allowed to happen yet again, it will play directly into the hands of the well organized opposition to marriage equality. We must present a different face of the gay and lesbian families that we are trying to protect. We must force the media to change their narrative. The public need to see families of color who are struggling to put food on the table. There are straight people in the black community who are open to persuasion. They are most like to be persuaded by queers of color.  

Originally posted to Richard Lyon on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 02:25 PM PDT.

Also republished by Maryland Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    Check out Scottie's blog http://burnafterwriting.com/

    by Richard Lyon on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 02:25:14 PM PDT

  •  Personally, I think this will lose in maryland, RL (3+ / 0-)

    It just doesn't seem to me that maryland's LGBT community have all their ducks in a row vis-a-vis the black community in Maryland...and unlike california, the black community may very well be decisive in Maryland.

    OTOH, since the (white) LGBT community can't avoid the black community simply because of the demographics of the state, that might not be a bad thing, win or lose.

  •  I saw an anti-same-sex-marriage billboard (5+ / 0-)

    on Kane St. in southeast Baltimore, high enough to be clearly visible from nearby I-95. It featured a black family.

    The opponents know who they need to target. We proponents damn well better figure out how to fight them for those votes.

    snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

    by Uncle Cosmo on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 02:53:41 PM PDT

  •  I here in support of your diary (4+ / 0-)

    You know we have discussed this issue at length.

    The data is out there.  That not only is the split more like 55/45 against marriage equality, but some of that 55 is persuadable, but no one bothers to do so despite anecdotal evidence that black voters are persudable like election (twice now) of a Lesbian mayor of Houston.

    Unfortunately racial beliefs are a powerful thing in the U.S. and this is a subissue of a subissue.

    I believe that racially this will be a repeat of 2008, but am not sure which side willw in because gay marriage on all fronts- including the racial one, despite the lack of effort by white gay activists, has been trending in favor of marriage equality. I mean racially in the sense that if marriage equality prevails it will not be because of out reach to the black commmunity. The assumption will be now as then that we are a lost cause. Indeed, the Pro-8 supporters invested heavily in 2008 in reaching out to the black and latino communities of CA. What I see, now, as then, are assertions that there is something racial about being a homophobe. In a way this attitude comes out of the same space that says Blacks are thieves, or just angry, or whatever other stereotype that requires no proof other than belief to be followed.

    That's what makes the black numbers interesting as well. They have been increasing in support despite the issue not being directly addressed in the black community and despite the blaming of blacks regardlss of the polling data that says our numbers are numerically irrelevant or non existent when it comes to explaining the passage of anti marriage bills in other parts of the country.  Many of the marriage victoris have been with strong black legislative support. Many of the predictions about black voters- say in DC- did not pan out. I remember the predictions that blacks would vote in politicians who would be anti gay. Instead, that didn't happen. Yet, no one cared to note that fact because it wasn't as juicy as blacks versus gays in the media. The only reason why I noticed it is because I followed the arguments before and after.

    Unfortunately, being gay and white does not equate to being aware of race anymore than being straight and black means one is aware of gay rights issues.

    Unfortunately this is a belief - that blacks are all anti gay that will not die. It fits too much into pre existing racial animus of blacks being just inferior and not worth it.

  •  It is very sickening (5+ / 0-)

    to see the media try to play up the "black people want to keep gay people from getting married" angle and the "black people are keeping the president from supporting marriage rights" angle and all this other stuff.

    I get that controversy sells but they're really hurting racial minorities with this. Trying to make it seem like what is generally a small amount of voters in a lot of states are all powerful and threatening and mean-spirited.

    I am proud to be a Contributor at Courage Campaign Institute's Prop8TrialTracker.com
    Read more of my stuff at my site burn after writing and at The Huffington Post
    @indiemcemopants on Twitter

    by Scottie Thomaston on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 02:58:52 PM PDT

  •  Not a race issue at all... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FourthOfJulyAsburyPark

    Some recent polling in MD shows opinion split about evenly on gay marriage, so the Nov. plebiscite could go either way.

    This won't be a voting fight of whites vs blacks, but of moderates vs conservatives. The Catholic Church and NOM will seek advantage by promising money to conservative black pastors -- that's not the same thing as this vote being based on race.

     

  •  I think Maryland is winnable, (0+ / 0-)

    but it won't happen without a tremendous effort. That's just my gut feeling, I have no expert knowledge of this issue. I recently moved to Baltimore from New York City and I've never been in an environment this thoroughly progressive in my life. There aren't any groups in the state that we afford to write off, and certainly not African-Americans.

    As I mentioned, I just moved here and I'm not actively involved in any groups here, but I really want to see this pass. I've asked people I've met who seem to be more involved in politics than I am what it happening and so far I've been told that they'll let me know if they hear about anything. I'd really like to help, but I don't even know what groups are out there working towards this.

    Sorry if I sound a little frantic, but I'm very afraid that people will write this off or feel discouraged and not put out the effort necessary to win.

  •  I appreciate this perspective. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon, livosh1

    As a straight Marylander, I want to all I can to ensure the defeat of any challenge to marriage equality.  I'll be keeping a weather eye on the coming referendum.

    You can't spell CRAZY without R-AZ.

    by rb608 on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 06:42:50 PM PDT

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