And mostly white gay activists are not pleased. A bitterly ironic battle has erupted in California in the days since Sen. Barack Obama was elected USA's first black president. Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, passed by more than three percentage points in the Democratic state. Much of that margin came from 500,000 new black voters turning out to cast their ballots for Sen. Obama. Black voters supported the ban by 70%-30%, while whites were slightly opposed and Hispanics evenly split.
Dan Savage, a gay sex advice columnist who is white, said blacks have a problem with homophobia that needs to be confronted. "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 colour."
In the midst of such heated talk and hurt feelings, a rally late last week against Proposition 8 in Los Angeles turned ugly. "It was like being at a Klan rally except the Klansmen were wearing Abercrombie polos and Birkenstocks," said one attendee, a gay black man. The UCLA student said he was twice called the n-word.
Others argue it's not race that is to blame for Proposition 8, but the Religious Right. It was the Mormon church that pushed to get the measure on the ballot. Mormon church leaders badgered other Mormons countrywide to donate heavily to the campaign and recruited thousands of volunteers for door-to-door canvassing throughout the state. Several liberal black church leaders urged Californians to vote against Proposition 8 in the weeks leading up the election, although they acknowledged that blacks were "conservative" on gay marriage and so were many of their pastors. Since black Americans go to church in greater numbers than other races, they're confronted far more often with the suggestion that homosexuality is sinful.
"The success of Proposition 8 is certainly about religion more than anything else but there's no denying those attitudes are ingrained in the black community - homosexuality just isn't accepted the way it is in other communities," says Toni-Michelle Travis, a political science professor who specializes in race at George Mason University.Many African-Americans also fail to see the hardships facing gays and lesbians as being on the same scale as their epic battles for equality, Professor Travis said. "African-Americans don't see the fights for the rights of gays the same as their struggle," she said. "Their attitude is: 'They wouldn't let me vote, they wouldn't give me a job, and you can do those sorts of things."'
My response: Clearly the increased black vote led to the Proposition 8's passage. California's gay activists should strategize how to persuade enough black voters to support gay marriage. Ceasing the ridiculous comparison of (usually depicted as white) gays to the Civil Rights Movement would be a great start, which turns off a lot of black folks. Argue gay rights on its own merits, and there are merits.