Monday, November 24, 2008

Racial scapegoating: Are black voters responsible for the passage of Prop. 8

Weeks after the fallout from California's passage of Proposition 8 that defines marriages between one man and one woman, opponents are blaming black voters for it's victory. According to exit polls (CNN Exit Poll), African-American's overwhelming supported the Proposition in conjunction with voting for the country's first president of color (well, let me rephrase that- self-identified black president as some argue that some past presidents had a mixed Anglo-African heritage). Black women (75%) next to Republicans (82 %), provided the most support of the proposition. So, should the victory or defeat be laid at the feet of African-American voters? Were they the deciding factor? Not really. Let's look at the facts.
Gay marriage black voters
Fact: Black don't control a major voting block in California. African-Americans only make 6% of the California electorate while white-Americans represent 70% and Latino and Asian-Americans compromise one out of five (21%) of the likely state voters (PPIC Just the Facts, August 2008).

Fact: All ethnic minorities aren't political liberal even if they identify themselves as Democrats. One of four African-Americans self-identity as conservative. Asian and Latino-Americans are more likely to identity themselves as moderates (39% of Asians) or conservatives (34% of Latinos) according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC Just the Facts, August 2008).

Fact: Ethnic minorities and white women with children supported Prop 8. According to exit polls, Asians (49%), Latino (53%) and mothers (61%) voted for the marriage definition proposition along with 49% of whites, who represent 63% of state voters (CNN Exit Poll).
There have been stories across the country and throughout the state about gay activists and proposition opponents claiming that blacks cost gay couples their civic rights. Melissa Harris Lacewell, a African-American political professor at Yale and outspoken Obama supporter, recently on MSNBC compares this proposition to the legality of civic unions vs. gay marriage to a Jim Crow's separate but equal policies.

But even blacks part of the NO for Prop 8 understood that groups that have experienced discrimination don't necessarily support all issues labeled as civil rights-orientated. "African Americans are treated with 'a presumption of civic obligation' to support other liberal causes", said Andrea Shorter, a No on 8 spokeswoman. Some black scholars refer to the phenomenon as "exceptionalism" - a mistaken belief that because African Americans went through slavery, Jim Crow and other systematic forms of oppression, that they automatically have greater moral understanding on all issues (SF Gate, November 16, 2008).

So, what explains why blacks voted for Prop 8? Religion and faith. According to the CNN Exit Poll, 82% of those who voted yes attended church on a weekly basis, with 65 percent proclaiming to be Protestant or Catholic. In numerous surveys, 92% of black Americans say that they practice some faith or identify themselves as 'religious' (81%). Blacks represent a large block in the Baptist church (9.8 million) and count for one of out every four Muslims in the United States (American Religious Identification Survey, 2001, The Graduate Center of City University of New York). When asked in a recent Pew survey, parishioners of historically black churches (46%) and Muslims (61%), believed 'homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged by society'. Even with this moral belief, a majority of them voted for or leaned towards democrats, 78 and 63 percent respectively (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life , June 2008).

Californians continue to be split about this as a moral issue that will play itself out in the California Supreme court in the following months.

READERS: What should the CA Supreme court do? Do you see the gay marriage as a civic right or moral issue? Post your comments and thoughts here.

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