The Washington Post

Don’t blame blacks for Obama’s reticence on same-sex marriage (Updated)

There are a number of theories as to why President Obama won’t let his words match his deeds with regard to same-sex marriage. But the one I find most irksome is the one that says he’s afraid of political backlash from African Americans. Not content to trust my own cultural instincts, I went to someone who has direct knowledge. Asked what would happen to Obama’s black support if he were to come out in favor of marriage equality, the Rev. Al Sharpton gave me a one-word answer, “Nothing!”

Just as I thought.

That’s not to say that blacks aren’t against same-sex marriage. According to 2008 exit polls, African American voters in California gave 90 percent of their ballots to Obama and 70 percent of them voted yes (See update on this point) on Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State.

As The Fix noted this morning, 55 percent of African Americans nationwide oppose marriage equality, according to Washington Post-ABC News polling. That’s seven points higher than Gallup found in a poll of Americans released today; 50 percent of those polled support gay marriage, a three-point slip from last year.

Sharpton reminded me that he publicly supported same-sex marriage during his 2004 campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for president. “I was preaching in black churches and didn’t have one cancellation because of it,” he told me. While he acknowledged that there were ministers and parishioners who disagreed with him, he said “there was no lack of support.” And the same will be true for the president.

Obama won 96 percent of the African American vote in 2008. In the latest Quinnipiac Poll, Obama snags 88 percent support among blacks, compared to Mitt Romney’s 5 percent. In terms of favorability, 90 percent of African Americans have a favorable view of the president. Romney is viewed favorably by just 16 percent of the same group. A mix of racial pride and distrust of Romney and the Republican agenda will keep the vast majority of black voters with the nation’s first black president.

This is why I’m supremely confident that, if Obama comes out in favor of marriage equality, losing the black vote would be the least of his political concerns.

Clarification (5 p.m.): A Facebook reader reminds me that the 2008 exit poll showing 70 percent African American support for Prop 8 has been debunked. According to a 2009 analysis of precinct-level data, written by Patrick Egan of New York University and Kenneth Sherrill of Hunter College of New York for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, black support for Prop 8 was 58 percent. The fact remains, however, that blacks voted in favor of the California measure and for Obama.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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