Gay Marriage Is No Racial Wedge Issue

A July CNN/USA Today poll found that far more blacks than whites condemn gay marriage. At first glance this seems puzzling. An arguable case can be made, as some gay marriage proponents make, that the social and legal taboo against gay marriage is the same taboo that prevailed for decades against interracial marriage. In 1967, the Supreme Court dumped all state laws against interracial marriage and declared that "freedom to marry" is a basic right of all Americans. It did not specify that marital freedom should be solely between a man and a woman.

When a state tells a couple they can't marry because of their race, or because they are of the same sex, then it's still discrimination. But blacks don't see it that way, and it's no puzzle why they don't. Numerous polls repeatedly show that many blacks are just as, if not more, conservative than whites when it comes to support of the death penalty, stiffer sentences for drug use, support for school vouchers, and school prayer.

The issue of gay marriage pricks the social conservatism of many blacks, and their exaggerated notion of manhood. From cradle to grave, many black men have believed and accepted the gender propaganda that real men talk and act tough, shed no tears, and never show their emotions. When black men broke the prescribed male code of conduct and showed their feelings they were harangued as weaklings, and their manhood instantly questioned. They also believed the racial propaganda that manhood was reserved exclusively for white men. In a vain attempt to recapture there denied masculinity, many black men mirror America's traditional fear and hatred of homosexuality as a dire threat to their manhood.

Many blacks, in an attempt to distance themselves from gays and avoid confronting their own fears and biases, dismiss homosexuality as a perverse contrivance of white males that reflected the decadence of white America. While many Americans made gays their gender bogeymen, many blacks made gay men their bogeymen and waged open warfare against them. A parade of rappers, black novelists and poets railed against the gay life style as unnatural and destructive. Many black ministers, as many white Christian fundamentalist ministers, wave the Bible and rail against homosexuality as the defiler of faith and family values.

The greatest insult that many young black males still level against other black young black males is to call them "queer," "faggot," or "pansy." These grotesque gender slurs almost always provoke hurt and anger. In a regular season National Basketball Association game a couple of years ago, Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers star, Allen Iverson, enraged at a fan that allegedly shouted racial obscenities at him in a game, mindlessly shouted anti-gay slurs at him.

League officials reprimanded and fined Iverson, but there was no organized outcry or protest from blacks over his action. Also, blacks did not join in the loud chorus of condemnation of former Green Bay Packers superstar Reggie White in 1997 when he made offensive remarks about gays in a speech to the Wisconsin legislature.

A survey that measured black attitudes toward gays published in Jet Magazine in 1994 found that a sizable number of blacks were suspicious and scornful of gays. A Pew Poll two years later that measured black attitudes toward gay marriage found that blacks by a whopping margin opposed them. The recent CNN poll showed that anti-gay attitudes among blacks have not changed much since then.

Civil rights leaders denounce homophobia and urge support of gay rights. They remind blacks that homophobia and racism are two sides of the same coin and that many ultra-conservatives who oppose civil rights also oppose gay rights.

But their plea for tolerance continues to fall on deaf ears among many blacks.

The gay marriage fight seemingly is a tailor made wedge issue that conservative Republicans could jump on to woo and court black voters. Indeed, the conservative Virginia based Alliance for Marriage, has corralled a few black churchmen, some with stellar civil rights credentials such as Walter Fauntroy, to back its drive for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. Black conservative political groups such as the Washington D.C. based National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise also warn Republicans that they are badly fumbling the ball by not aggressively tapping into black hostility toward gay marriage and using that as the wedge to boost black support for President Bush.

This is wishful thinking. Though the majority of blacks may agree with the Christian Coalition on gay marriage, there is as yet no evidence that they are poised to stampede en masse into the Republican Party. The overwhelming majority of blacks are Democrats, and they still have issues with Bush. Gay marriage, however, has increasingly become a barometer of America's shifting attitudes toward homosexuality. Even so, gay marriage advocates still have a big uphill battle to convince blacks that tolerance mustn't begin and end with race alone.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.


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