Monday, November 17, 2008


Is Obama's Black-Gay "Marriage" Doomed?

Over at The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan and Ta-Nehisi Coates have been involved in a debate on how much responsibility California African Americans bear for the passage of Proposition 8 -- the referendum banning gay marriage. The referendum produced, dare one say it, strange bedfellows -- the Mormon church was the measure's big financial backer, and though it passed 52-48, black voters supported it 70-30 (whites split). However, given that black population in the Golden State is less than 10 percent, was that 70 percent figure enough to provide the winning margin?

The easy answer is no. Indeed, Coates explains why that is clearly not the case. It may be more accurate to say that the combination of black and Hispanic votes provided the margin. Still, this fact has caused many gays to be disappointed that the same blacks who turned out to vote for Barack Obama also voted against gay marriage -- a movement pushed by a religion that blatantly discriminated against blacks until barely three decades ago.

Thus Andrew Sullivan's frustration over the apparent level of homophobia in the black community.

He today links to a New Yorker interview of Prince, suggesting that the once-symboled one is anti-gay because he's against gay marriage. Andrew links to another gay blogger who is stunned that Prince takes this position (so to speak) given his catalogue of explicit hits.

Andrew uses this as another example of homophobia in the black community. Now, we start to tread on shaky ground when we start using entertainers as "spokesmen" or "representatives" of one group or another. But, the clear mistake that both Andrew and Joe make is that they look at Prince's old songs and draw a straight (ahem!) line between that Prince and this Prince. Well, this shouldn't be much of a surprise, frankly.

When Prince became a Jehovah's Witness nearly ten years ago, he renounced his explicit past. He stopped playing songs like "Darling Nikki", "Sexy M.F.", "Head", and many more. As Ta-Nehisi says, isn't it more likely that this religious conversion has more to do with His Royal (Formerly) Badness' newfound sexual conservatism than his being black?

Well, duh. (Besides, his "Controversy" line, "Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?" was about what other people say about him -- not what he was advocating about himself.)

Ta-Nehesi also links to the unique history of African Americans that would make them culturally hold onto the traditionalist view of marriage more than whites (those in California, at least) at large. Ta-Nehisi's right. Indeed, one should also keep in mind that, far from being contradictory, blacks voting for Obama and agains gay marriage makes sense if one considers that blacks weren't just voting for the man because of his color: They were voting for an intact black family
in the White House. This was, arguably, an endorsement of a conservative black family structure. In that context, voting against gay marriage -- from the viewpoint of the black family -- is consistent.

However, there is a classic "forest for the trees" situation developing here. Gays rightly upset over losing on Prop. 8 launched protests across the country last weekend. There will undoubtedly be more in the coming weeks. But, ultimately, to what purpose? Do they want to draw Obama out on this hot-button issue? Will there be calls from gay leaders for Obama to "educate" blacks on this issue -- even though Obama himself doesn't support gay marriage (nor does Hillary Clinton or other top level Democrats)? Will there be moves to urge him to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act?

These questions are important because it was a gay rights issue that -- seemingly out of nowhere --- got the Clinton administration off on a rocky start. Biden talked about Obama being "tested" by a foreign leader. But as Clinton demonstrated in 1993, sometimes a new president can be "tested" by an unexpected domestic issue. A member of Clinton's own party -- Sam Nunn -- as well as Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell helped cut Clinton's "honeymoon" short by forcing him to back down on changing the policy on gays in the military.

It would seem to this blogger that it might behoove both the incoming Obama administration and pro-Obama gay leaders to figure out in what direction the gay marriage issue is going lest history repeat itself -- except in a potentially even more disastrous manner.

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