Most of California's Black Voters Backed Gay Marriage Ban
Friday, November 7, 2008
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 6 -- Any notion that Tuesday's election represented a liberal juggernaut must overcome a detail from the voting booths of California: The same voters who turned out strongest for Barack Obama also drove a stake through the heart of same-sex marriage.
Seven in 10 African Americans who went to the polls voted yes on Proposition 8, the ballot measure overruling a state Supreme Court judgment that legalized same-sex marriage and brought 18,000 gay and lesbian couples to Golden State courthouses in the past six months.
Similar measures passed easily in Florida and Arizona. It was closer in California, but no ethnic group anywhere rejected the sanctioning of same-sex unions as emphatically as the state's black voters, according to exit polls. Fifty-three percent of Latinos also backed Proposition 8, overcoming the bare majority of white Californians who voted to let the court ruling stand.
The outcome that placed two pillars of the Democratic coalition -- minorities and gays -- at opposite ends of an emotional issue sparked street protests in Los Angeles and a candlelight vigil in San Francisco. To gay rights advocates, the issue was one of civil rights. Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. reworded the ballot language to state that a yes vote was a vote to "eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to marry."
That appeal ran head-on into a well-funded and well-framed advertising campaign in favor of the ban -- and the deeply ingrained religious beliefs of an African American community that largely declined to see the issue through a prism of equality.
"I think it's mainly because of the way we were brought up in the church; we don't agree with it," said Jasmine Jones, 25, who is black. "I'm not really the type that I wanted to stop people's rights. But I still have my beliefs, and if I can vote my beliefs that's what I'm going to do.
"God doesn't approve it, so I don't approve it. And I approve of Him."
The overwhelming rejection of same-sex marriage by black voters was surprising and disappointing to gay rights advocates who had hoped that African Americans would empathize with their struggle.
"I wasn't surprised by the Latinos," said Steve Smith, senior consultant for No on 8. "Basically, Latinos and the Anglo population were fairly close. The outlier of the proposition was African Americans. Many are churchgoing; many had ministers tell them to vote."
Indeed, Proposition 8 promoters worked closely with black churches across the state, encouraging ministers to deliver sermons in favor of the ban.
"What the church does is give that perspective that this is a sacred issue as well as a social issue," said Derek McCoy, African American outreach director for the Protect Marriage Campaign. "The reason I feel they came out so strong on the issue is one, for them, it's not a civil rights issue, it's a marriage issue. It's about marriage being between a man and a woman and it doesn't cut into the civil rights issue, about equality.
"The gay community was never considered a third of a person."