12/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Blaming the African American Community Oversimplifies Prop 8 Results

The epilogue for most losing campaigns is to ascertain the reasons for defeat. This process can range from honest self-reflection to delusional rationalization.

Opponents of Proposition 8 have been forced to write this closing section detailing the reasons for its fate. The most popular finger pointing has been directed toward the African American community.

How can a group so tied to the legacy of civil rights in this country stand at the citadel of injustice?

Exit polling indicated 70 percent of African Americans voted in favor of Prop. 8, leading many to conclude that less than 10 percent of the electorate was responsible for its passing.

I am somewhat suspicious of exit polling because it is not an exact science. Exit polling cannot account for Prop 8 passing in practically all counties in the state, except on the coast. As David Binder, principal of David Binder Research, pointed out this week, if the African American vote split 50-50, Prop 8 would have still passed.

But the truth is seldom as neat as we would like it to be. In a state as vast and diverse as California, how can there be a single cause for something as controversial as Prop 8 to pass?

There is no doubt a large number of African American clergy took an active and visible role in support of Prop 8. Using arguments that, in my opinion, relied more on conjecture and fear than actual data.

Sadly, a number of African American clergy concluded that support for Prop 8 was more important than other initiatives on the ballot that would actually impact the lives of many they preach to on Sunday mornings.

And homophobia continues to rear its head in far too many churches of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

The linear conclusion that African Americans led Prop 8 to victory serves only to pit groups against each other. It does not offer an explanation as to why groups based on age, gender, sex, geography or religious affiliation voted the way they did.

The real culprit responsible for Prop 8 passing is the quirky California political process that allows for a mulligan after the state Supreme Court rendered its decision in support of same-gender marriage.

The judiciary branch of government is the referee that arbitrates when we struggle to get it right. They ascertain if the will of the people is in line with the democratic values we've committed ourselves.

Imagine if after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0, as they did, in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, officially ending de jure segregation, the Southern region of the United States were allowed to place a pro Jim Crow initiative on the ballot for a vote several months after the ruling.

The state Supreme Court applied the dispassionate standard of equal protection under the law to reach its decision. Those opposed to the court's ruling conveniently called it "judicial activism," as if the will of the people is always right.

California, under the pseudonym "direct democracy", along with tens of millions in campaign contributions courtesy of the Mormon Church in Utah, passed Prop.8 -- achieving something antithetical to the American experiment by taking away rights already conferred.

Though many were understandably saddened that Prop.8 passed, there is much to celebrate for those supportive of same-gender marriage. In 2000, Prop. 22, which limited marriage to between man and a woman, won with 61 percent of the vote, Prop 8 passed with only 52 percent. Those in opposition increased from 38 percent in 2000 to 48 percent this year.

Moreover, roughly 18,000 same-gender couples were married in 2008 and will hopefully remain so under California law.

As a supporter of same-gender marriage, I am saddened that Prop.8 passed. I am also saddened that the best we can do is blame a group that comprises no more than 10 percent of the electorate for its passing.

This latter conclusion is wrong, divisiveness, and it oversimplifies the complexities as to why there remains a majority of Californians, though shrinking, who cannot authentically support equal protection under the law.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his website