The media has been quick to link the high turnout of black voters in California with the passage of Proposition 8, the state ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage. For example, Karl Vick and Ashley Surdin of The Washington Post report:
To gay rights advocates, the issue was one of civil rights…. 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.
At The New York Times, Frank Rich comments that “In California, where other races split more or less evenly on a same-sex marriage ban, some 70 percent of black voters contributed to its narrow victory,” citing Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, who asks, “Did [Obama] help push California’s gay-marriage ban over the top?”
That’s the irony of Obama’s victory: Had black turnout matched levels of previous elections, the vote on the gay-marriage ban—which trailed in the polls for much of the summer—would have been much closer. It might even have failed.
Elsewhere, bloggers have been ardently debating the validity of “the whole ‘Teh blackz did us in!’ argument.” Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish has argued, “There is, alas, no ethnic community as homophobic in America as African-Americans,” and has bemoaned the black community’s failure to engage on this issue here and here.
Ben Smith of Politico reflects on the “fallout over the apparent black-gay split within the Democratic coalition” here. And Atlantic Monthly’s Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a strong case against claims that the black community is to blame here, here and here, pointing to a post at DailyKos that has done the math and shown this narrative to be unfounded:
The basic idea is that you need black folks to have been about 10 percent of all votes cast on Prop 8 to make a difference. Black folks are one of the smallest minorities in California, making up about six percent of the total electorate, which numbers at about 17 million. At 6 percent, black folks are worth about a million or so votes. There were just over ten million votes cast on Prop. 8. For blacks to cast ten percent of those you would need a turnout of 90 percent in the black community. Lemme repeat that–90 percent. It’s possible, I guess. I leave it to you to weigh the odds.
Coates ultimately takes Andrew Sullivan’s point that “There is a difference between blaming African Americans and recognizing that the black community needs to be engaged more energetically on this issue,” but it appears this debate is far from over.