Sunday, May 20, 2012

NAACP supports same-sex marriage, but what about blacks generally?

One of the questions following President Obama's recent announcement of his support for marriage equality was how, and not just if, it would impact his support among blacks, who, it is supposed, are less enthusiastic about gay rights than, say, whites. Basically, it was speculated, within the chattering class, that blacks, a core Obama constituency, were less likely to come out and vote for the president now and that depressed turnout among blacks would be a significant obstacle for Obama to overcome in November.

Though it is certainly true that some blacks, just like some whites, oppose same-sex marriage, it has seemed to me that black opposition has, relative to white opposition, been overhyped, at least in terms of possible electoral implications, reflecting the media's general inability to see "the black community" as anything other than a monolith with a single mind on all issues. (As well, opponents of same-sex marriage have been quick to highlight black opposition, the implication being that Obama's own people are against him, and the media have picked up on this racist spin without subjecting it to much scrutiny.)

As the Post reported last week, a solid majority of blacks were against same-sex marriage, at least according to a poll conducted last November: "58 percent of African Americans called same-sex marriage 'unacceptable'; far fewer, 35 percent said it was 'acceptable' in terms of their own values and morals." That language is rather vague, though. Saying that something is "unacceptable" to your "values and morals" doesn't mean being against it in political terms (that is, being against its legality). Still, it's probably fair to say that same-sex marriage hasn't had wide support among blacks (for any number of reasons -- cultural, religious, etc. -- that I won't speculate on here). A poll conducted after Obama's announcement showed solid support among blacks for gay marriage, 54 to 37 (greater support than among the public as a whole), but the sample size was small.

As a pastor named Madison T. Shockley II wrote in the L.A. Times after Obama's announcement -- and, yes, here we are getting into those reasons:

As important as the church's role is, this fact remains: A gay rights movement never really happened among African Americans. The fight for civil rights took up almost all of the justice oxygen. For a black person to be "out," he or she was most likely also out of the black community.


My hope is that the civil rights movement (of which marriage equality is the latest manifestation) will not stall at the black church door and that the broader black community will evolve along with the president. There is no credible evidence that black voters will abandon Obama this fall. In fact, a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll indicates that black support for gay marriage has moved from 32% to 50% since 2009.

My sense is that Obama's announcement, and in particular his account of his views "evolving" over time, will be hugely influential among blacks, and specifically among those either against same-sex marriage or unsure / waffling on the issue / or with evolving views just like the president's. Taken as a whole, the black community was already evolving on the issue, just like whites and others, with support building significantly over the past several years for marriage equality, and now we're likely to see more and more blacks, along with the rest of the population, joining Obama on the right side of history. The historic culmination of Obama's evolution will likely only accelerate the evolution of the rest of America, black or otherwise.

And we saw this prominently yesterday when the NAACP, long one of the most important civil rights groups (generally considered just a "black" organization, though it's not), passed a resolution affirming its support for marriage equality, which it rightly deems a civil rights issue:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People today released a resolution supporting marriage equality. At a meeting of the 103-year old civil rights group's board of directors, the organization voted to support marriage equality as a continuation of its historic commitment to equal protection under the law.

"The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure the political, social and economic equality of all people," said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the NAACP. "We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law."

"Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP's support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP.

The resolution itself reads:

The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the "political, educational, social and economic equality" of all people. Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens. We support marriage equality consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Further, we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all people as protected by the First Amendment.

That last point isn't unimportant. What the NAACP is saying is that people are free, on religious grounds, to oppose same-sex marriage -- including those, needless to say, who attend black churches that are against it. Legally, though, there must be marriage equality. It's a civil right, a constitutional right, and therefore trumps religious belief, at least politically.

Now, this is elite opinion, to be sure. The NAACP doesn't speak for all blacks, and one would expect its leadership to be more progressive on this than much of the rest not just of the black community but of the public generally. Still, it is a clear sign of change, of evolution, and this resolution coming just days after the president's historic announcement is telling -- and speaks to my point above that Obama's announcement will accelerate the already growing support for same-sex marriage, particularly among blacks but throughout the population as a whole.

Needless to say, this issue -- not so much of marriage equality but of support for it / opposition to it among different demographic groups -- is much more complex than I've made it out here. (For one thing, it always bothers me to refer to anything as "white" or "black," as if these groups are monoliths.) My point, though, is that blacks are evolving on this issue just like whites are -- just like we all are. And already we are seeing the positive impacts of Obama's announcement.

In purely electoral terms, it has always seemed unlikely to me that blacks would give up on the president en masse just because of his position on one issue, particularly what is seen as a values issue at this time of economic difficulty, as if there aren't so many other reasons to prefer him to the alternative. Some will cite marriage equality and either vote against him or stay home, but I think the impact at the polls in November will turn out to be negligible.

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  • I am a black male in North Carolina. I would like to think that the black community is evolving on the gay marriage issue, but I am not seeing that here. Homophobia is rampant here in the black community. I was attending a black church here where the average person has at least a college degree. I heard so much anti-gay rhetoric in that church that I had to stop attending it. Hopefully, the black community is less homophobic in other places, but here in North Carolina, the black community is extremely homophobic and they appear to be proud of their homophobia.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:25 AM  

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