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Wayne Besen Headshot

Frank Talk on Race and Prop. 8

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On Election Day, 70-percent of African Americans voted to take away a gay person's right to marry primarily based on a book -- the Bible -- that calls on slaves to obey their masters. Mormons funded the measure -- even though religious discrimination drove them from Missouri and Illinois in the 1830's.

The defeat of Proposition 8 can't be blamed exclusively on African Americans and Mormons. There were plenty of white Catholic and protestant religious leaders -- such as pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church -- that share responsibility. And, there are legitimate questions about how the No On 8 campaign was run, which will be endlessly debated. For example, did the campaign's decision to closet gay people in its ads lead to defeat?

Still, there is something particularly galling and repugnant about people who have felt the sting of discrimination, turn around and step on another minority. What happened at the ballot box feels like a personal betrayal and the hijacking of history.

To the Mormons who bankrolled the bigotry, religious discrimination is awful, as long as it is happening to them. For the black people who voted for Proposition 8, the civil rights movement was about emancipating black people - and no one else seems to matter. These solipsistic individuals and their prejudiced pastors appear to lack an ember of empathy and have turned freedom into a private fiefdom.

The civil rights movement was much larger than the plight of black people, just as the fight for religious freedom is bigger than Mormons. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that all people are equal under the law and should be judged by the content of their character. Barack Obama largely embodied this universally appealing message and this is why he made history. (His opposition to marriage the one duly noted stain on his record)

The Congressional Black Caucus, the late Coretta Scott King, basketball star Charles Barkley and Archbishop Desmond TuTu are among those who share this inclusive vision. Coretta Scott King once said that, "Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood."

In the next campaign, this message needs to be taken directly to African American voters. But before this happens, the GLBT community needs to have a serious discussion -- not one that is pandering and patronizing -- so we can figure out some solutions. When natural allies vote like enemies, there is much work to be done.

One person not to consult is black lesbian writer Jasmyne Cannick. In a hypocritical op-ed in the Los Angles Times, she said that the Prop 8. Campaign should have done more to reach out to black voters. Then, she turned around and said, "to tell black people how to vote on something gay isn't effective outreach either. There's nothing a white gay person can tell me when it comes to how I as a black lesbian should talk to my community about this issue."

This is a perversion of Dr. King's dream. A white person should be able to talk freely to a black person about discrimination and vice versa. Cannick's ideas are abhorrent and the antithesis of judging a person by their ideas or the content of their character. It is also shameful that Cannick claims that she went door-to-door on behalf of Obama and proudly refused to ask African Americans to vote against Proposition 8. Her actions were closeted and cowardly.

Cannick also asks, "Does someone who is homeless or suffering from HIV but has no healthcare, or newly out of prison and unemployed, really benefit from the right to marry someone of the same sex?"

Imagine how grotesque it would have been in 1965 if a black person had written:

"Does someone who is homeless or suffering from cancer but has no healthcare, or newly out of prison and unemployed, really benefit from the right to marry someone of a different race?"

Another way to stop progress is for those hurt by this stinging defeat to verbally or physically assault African Americans. There were reports that this was occurring at rallies condemning Prop. 8. Mirroring the ugly actions of anti-gay haters is anathema to what our movement stands for, which is widening the circle of liberty. We need to be smart, rational grownups and not look for scapegoats.

There is a lot of blame to go around for the failure of Proposition 8 and the first step to healing and moving forward is honesty. Let's not pretend that the repudiation of Martin Luther King Jr's dream by African American voters did not hurt more than, say, rejection by white evangelicals. It did.

Equal rights for some, or at least those who look the same or hold like beliefs -- is not the movement I signed up for, nor is it one that I want any part of. In moving forward, we must move beyond pig-headed parochialism and build a coalition that embraces a universal set of principles that apply to all people. If we stupidly divide ourselves by sexual orientation or race -- we can only expect a race to the bottom.