Proposition 8 - And It Gets Worse

One of the ugliest aspects of the fallout around Proposition 8, which struck down same-sex marriage, is how quickly African Americans have become blamed by so many for its passage. For example, here's an article on the subject by Dan Savage, noted sex-advice columnist and himself a gay male. In it he says,

I’m not sure what to do with this. I’m thrilled that we’ve just elected our first African-American president. I wept last night. I wept reading the papers this morning. But I can’t help but feeling hurt that the love and support aren’t mutual.

I do know this, though: I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.

Now, on one hand, Dan Savage is known for being inflammatory. On the other hand, we have had him speak in a workshop at the UU's General Assembly. And he's someone who, while extreme, is read by a lot of readers. So take that example with a grain of salt, but I could throw a lot of examples your way about this.

The numbers people have been looking at are based on an exit poll - see here - which says that 70% of African Americans voted yes on 8, while a bare majority of white Americans voted no.

Two things that can be said about this. Most problematically, is how people zeroed in on race, in an election where race was such a major issue. There are a lot of demographic groups that this exit poll could pin it on (Hispanics also voted yes on 8 in this exit poll, but not by as big a percentage). For example, you could blame lack of education--people with post graduate degrees voted 60% against, while people with a high school diploma only voted 57% for. Party affiliation is a big one, with 82% of Republicans voting for 8, and 85% of conservatives. Protestants and Catholics both voted overwhelmingly for 8, at 65% and 64% respectively, and white Evangelicals at a whopping 81% while the nonreligious voted against. Married people, voting 60% for, could also be blamed, and married with children more so at 68%. Another big break was by age. The older the demographic, the more likely they voted for 8. New, young voters age 18-24 voted against at 64%.

Yet with all these demographic groups to blame, people started quickly pointing the finger at African Americans. What's the problem with that? Plenty. For example, if the white vote had been 70% against, do you think we would hear, "It's white people who are to blame for this"? No, we wouldn't. We would break it down into the other demographics immediately--it'd be about white Republicans, or white evangelicals, or white married people with children. But with African Americans, we treat them as one monolithic group. Also, the African American vote is a small percentage of the vote. It took a whole lot of white people voting that way for their vote to be added to for this to pass. Numerically, rather than by percentages, there are way more white people who voted for 8 than African Americans.

It's significant that people pointed the finger at African Americans rather than the Hispanic vote, because Hispanic people vastly outnumber African Americans in California. So why are people focusing on African Americans? Barack Obama is African American, that's why. So the popular mythos has people saying, "Those black people showed up to vote for Obama, and if they hadn't done that, this wouldn't have passed."

But that's just not true, which leads to another major problem with all of this, which is how quickly people jumped to accept the poll's results, without question. If you want to read a good rebuttal of the CNN exit poll and the assumption that's being thrown about that African Americans made up enough of the electorate to turn the election against 8, look here.

Robert Cruickshank paints a more reasonable explanation:

“The other data that appears to be emerging (BUT yet to be totally verified) is that African-Americans who early voted (which was a huge number) voted YES while those on election day voted NO. Remember we did not do extensive campaigning in many of the African-American precincts until the final week or so which was long after tens of thousands had already voted. Our campaign was slow to use Obama's opposition to Proposition Eight which he gave the day after the initiative qualified five months before the election.”

That explanation makes much more sense than anything else I've seen. Early voters tend to be older and it would make sense if some of them in the African American community were strongly associated with Yes on 8 churches. Once the No on 8 campaign finally got its act somewhat together and did outreach to African Americans, we saw the rewards on Election Day.

Ultimately this reminds us how cheap, stupid, and misguided the scapegoating of African Americans over Prop 8 has been. Prop 8's passage revealed that the marriage equality movement has a lot of outreach to do in this state - to older voters, voters living in "red California," to some Latinos and African Americans but also to numerous white voters (if whites had voted strongly No, this discussion would be moot), to Asian and Pacific Islanders, to some religious groups, including LDS Californians.
The people doing the scapegoating and finger-pointing are quick to say, "It's so sad how this minority group doesn't stand up for another minority group." So true--stand up for the African Americans, folks. Proposition 8 is not their fault.


Steve Caldwell said…
The atheist blogger Greta Christina wrote about this several days ago. She found a correlation between weekly church attendance and voting "yes" on Prop. 8 in CNN's exit polling:

** Weekly Church Attendance - 84% in favor of Prop. 8

** Occasional Church Attendance - 54% in favor of Prop. 8

** Do Not Attend Church at All - 17% in favor of Prop. 8 (83% against)

I suspect the higher percentage of blacks voting in favor of Prop. 8 may simply reflect higher levels of church attendance for blacks when compared to whites.

Greta wrote more about the impact of religion on the Prop. 8 vote here:

In this blog column, she attempts to answer why atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers care about what religious believe.

What religious people believe may affect how they vote on your civil rights.
Steve Caldwell said…
Check out this article on

The Religious Support Behind Proposition 8

The opening quote from the article:

"Proposition 8 passed because of religious folk. There is no question about it. Church-going Black Americans, tithe-paying Mormons, mass-attending Latinos, and Evangelical whites all joined forces in 'protecting marriage.'"

Indeed, when one compares religious nations like ours with Scandinavian nations, one could make the case that religious belief is just too expensive from a cost-benefit point of view for society.

One final quote from Zuckerman's article on Huffingtonpost:

"If God punishes societies that violate his commandments and rewards those that do, this just isn't apparent by looking at the state of the world today. The sociological fact is that the most irreligious nations right now are among the most successful, humane, moral, and free, while the most religious nations tend to be among the most destitute, chaotic, crime-ridden, and undemocratic. A similar pattern also holds true within the United States: those states and counties that boast the greatest numbers of strong believers and regular church attenders tend to have higher poverty rates, child abuse rates, violent crime rates, and lower educational attainment rates than those states and counties characterized by more secular populations.

Consider the nations of Scandinavia specifically. These countries are noteworthy because they were among the first nations to make abortion legal and readily available and they were also among the first nations (along with Holland) to allow for gay marriage. Indeed, gays and lesbians have been able to wed in these countries of Northern Europe for nearly 20 years now. And what is the state of society in these relatively irreligious nations, where weekly church attendance is among the lowest in the world and belief in God is markedly thin? They lead the world on nearly all indicators of societal well-being. From economic prosperity to low crime rates, from equality between men and women to excellent child welfare, from life expectancy to low rates of H.I.V., the relatively godless (or at least God-indifferent) nations of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Holland suggest that secularity - and acceptance of gay marriage, specifically -- doesn't bring down the wrath of God at all. And yet when we look at the most religious nations in the world - especially those that severely condemn homosexuality, such as Iran, Angola, and Mauritania -- we see extreme poverty, high violent crime rates, oppression of women, dictatorship, warfare, corruption, etc."

The question that we need to ask ourselves as Unitarian Universalists is are we helping reduce the costs of religious belief in the US?

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