The gay activists that picketed President Obama at a recent fundraising event in Los Angeles for allegedly not doing and saying enough to beat back Proposition 8 must have dropped in from another planet. Obama remains wildly popular among African-American voters and an attack on him for being less than resolute on gay rights does nothing but further tick black voters off. They'll need those voters now more than ever if they plop another initiative on the ballot in 2010. The measure would reverse Proposition 8 and legalize same sex marriage.
The Catholic Church and the Mormon groups dumped millions into the Proposition 8 initiative campaign. Yet even with their money and their drum beat media campaign, polls showed that Latinos marginally supported the proposition, Asians voted overwhelmingly against it and whites were split. Polls also showed that a majority of black voters in key parts of the state voted for it. Los Angeles was one. Nearly sixty percent of blacks backed the initiative. The black vote made the crucial difference in passing the initiative.
A well-heeled and probably well paid off core of preachers who head fundamentalist leaning, mega and medium-sized black churches held rallies and took to their pulpits and bible thumped their congregations to pass the initiative. Proposition 8 backers shrewdly flooded mailboxes in mostly black neighborhoods with a mailer that featured a stern faced Obama and his horribly out of context quote saying that he opposed gay marriage. Obama vehemently denounced Proposition 8.
Even if the ministers hadn't said a word about gay marriage, a significant number maybe even the majority of blacks might still have voted for it. The warning signs that black voters were susceptible to religious and conservative pitches to oppose gay marriage lit up in 1997. Then the late Green Bay Packers perennial all-pro defensive end Reggie White, an ordained fundamentalist minister stirred a firestorm when he took a huge swipe at gay rights and gay marriage in a speech to the Wisconsin state legislature. White became the first celebrity black evangelical to say publicly what many black religious leaders said and believed privately about gay issues. Few blacks joined in the loud chorus that condemned his remarks.
A year before White's outburst, a Pew Poll measured black attitudes toward gay marriage and found that blacks by an overwhelming margin opposed it. A CNN poll eight years later showed that anti-gay attitudes among blacks had not changed much since then. At a tightly packed press conference in October 2003, five of Michigan's top black prelates publicly called on the state legislature to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The ballot measure passed in November, and more than fifty percent of blacks backed it.
The same year the conservative Virginia-based Alliance for Marriage corralled a handful of top black preachers to plop their name on the Alliance's letterhead and tout the Alliance's anti-gay rights agenda.
At the NAACP convention in July 2004, there was some talk of taking a delegate vote to put the organization firmly on record backing gay rights. It didn't get far. Reverend Julius Caesar Hope, the head of the NAACP's religious affairs department, warned that a resolution to back gay marriage "would make some serious problems. I would think the membership would be overwhelmingly against it, based on our tradition in the black community."
Seven months before the November 2004 presidential election, a legion of black churchmen staged a rally on Capitol Hill, "We believed that we are faced with a challenge," Bishop Paul Morton thundered to the crowd, "God versus same-sex marriage and we will not compromise in that area." A day later an AME convention forbade its ministers from performing same-sex marriages.
In nearly every state since then where gay marriage bans have been enacted, conservative church-influenced blacks have been the driving force backing the bans. Christian fundamentalist groups have played hard on that sentiment.
At the same time, however, a significant percent of blacks have rejected the bigoted, narrow religious appeals of some black ministers and opposed gay marriage bans. Even in the winning Proposition 8 campaign, forty percent of black voters overall opposed the initiative. Many, perhaps the majority of blacks, can be won to back same sex marriage as a paramount civil rights issue. Because that's what it is. But picketing President Obama is the absolute wrong way to get them to do that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com