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But first, as with all things involving race and sex, there's a whole mess of facts about the California marriage fight that must be straightened out.
Not least of these is the shaky assertion that black voters made the difference. DailyKos diarist Shanikka has gained small celebrity for her post debunking it. The fact that blacks are densely clumped in just nine out of 58 California counties makes any race-based claim in CNN's geographically random sample muddy at best. Further, the poll excludes all of the state's 3 million early votes and counts blacks as 10 percent of voters when they're less than 7 percent of the population.
Of course, you don't have to get into such devilish details to notice something weird about this blame-the-blacks narrative. Even if 70 percent truly did support the marriage ban, why single them out? So did six out of 10 people over 65. Ditto white Protestants and people with children under 18. Look at the electorate through any of these lenses and you identify a far larger share of the vote than when viewing it by race.
"The reason why people are so fascinated with the 70 percent number is Obama and this kumbaya moment that we were having," says Ron Buckmire, a leader in L.A.'s Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, a black gay group. "To discover that not everyone was in the same place was really shocking and surprising for some people."
It should have been a no-brainer. The Mormon-funded, anti-gay side aggressively targeted every racial and ethnic group in California—often dishonestly. Anti-gay operatives launched a robo-call scheme directed at black voters that falsely claimed Barack Obama supported their initiative. Obama does not support gay marriage, but neither did he support Prop 8. (Not that Obama did a hell of a lot to counter the lie.) The underfunded, pro-gay side responded with too little, too late.
These shenanigans explain why many black voters supported the marriage ban. Still, that's no excuse. "I am far less concerned with a white gay backlash than I am with the need for us to have a dialogue within the African-American community about what it means to have equality," says H. Alexander Robinson, who heads the National Black Justice Coalition, a black gay rights group.
Let's be clear, these hateful repudiations of gay relationships hurt black people. According to the U.S. Census, 10.5 percent of same-sex households are black, and they are at least twice as likely to be raising kids as their white counterparts. Denying these families access to civil marriage bars them from hundreds of rights and responsibilities.
Many black folks wince when they hear gay rights compared to the black civil rights movement. And when it comes from white gays whose only interest in black people is appropriating our history, I do too. But here's what Coretta Scott King had to say, in an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "Homophobia is as morally wrong and as unacceptable as racism," she declared. "We ought to extend to gay and lesbian people the same respect and dignity we claim for ourselves. Every person is a child of God, and every human being is entitled to full human rights."
The whole community faces consequences when those human rights are denied. Look no further than AIDS for proof. Black people were overrepresented from the epidemic's outset, but fear and hate of the gay men who bore its first burn paralyzed the community as the virus spread. Now black people account for half of all new infections.
At some point, we all must ask difficult, self-critical questions. No, as black people, we're not any more or less homophobic than anybody else. And yes, the white gay community needs to look at its own failures before casting blame on others.
But so what? Too many of us are homophobes, and we need to talk about it. Last Tuesday's vote should remove any doubt about the urgency of the discussion.
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