It’s time our community stopped pretending that only racists are concerned about black support for same-sex marriage (and more generally, gay rights). Our collective head in the sand on even discussing the issue has let straight pundits fill the void and define marriage equality as an electoral loser at the national level.
Whether you do or don’t think that gay rights polls worse in the black community than other Democratic sub-communities, the issue needs to be discussed in terms other than “you’re a racist if you have concerns about the polls,” or it will be defined for us, as it is in this article from Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post:
While legalizing gay marriage is clearly becoming the majority position in the country, it’s not supported by the sort of large majorities that would impel Obama to action.
Combining results from three Post-ABC News polls between March 2011 and March 2012 that asked whether gay marriage should be legal, 52 percent said it should while 44 percent preferred it to stay illegal.
Among some key subgroups, the story was similar — majorities favored legalization but it was far from a slam-dunk result. Fifty three percent of white voters supported legalization while 43 percent opposed it; 57 percent of independents back making gay marriage legal while 40 percent were opposed. Voters aged 40-49 narrowly support legalization (52 percent) while those between the ages of 50-64 narrowly oppose it.
On the other hand, African Americans, one of the main pillars of the President’s political coalition, remain decidedly skeptical about gay marriage. In the last year’s worth of Post-ABC data, just 42 percent said they support legalization while 55 percent oppose it.
Viewed through that lens, coming out in support of gay marriage looks like an unnecessary political risk for Obama.
Yes, it would clearly thrill a portion of his base (gays and lesbians) but it could alienate — at least in parts — another portion of his base (African Americans) that he desperately needs to win reelection this fall.
And, it’s hard to see the LGBT community abandoning Obama.
And it’s even harder to see African-Americans abandoning the first African-American president.
Gays vote Democratic in presidential elections to the tune of 75%, give or take. Black support for Dems is far higher – and it was even higher for Obama during the last election when 96% of African-American voters voted for him. Not exactly the kind of numbers that make you fear a mass exodus of blacks voters to a white Republican.
And gay marriage, if anything, might help the President with independents. 52% of independents voted for Obama in 2008, that’s far more tepid support than what black voters gave him. 57% of indies support gay marriage. And we all know that indies are “the” vote to get. So, while one could argue that 57% isn’t a groundswell, it also ain’t bad. It’s hard to see how gay marriage could hurt Obama with indie voters when only 40% oppose it, but it’s easy to see how it might help.
And finally, why argue that the numbers in favor of gay marriage aren’t overwhelming enough when the numbers opposing it are even less overwhelming? 55% of black voters opposing marriage equality isn’t that terrible a number. And it’s a far more tepid position than the 57% of indies who support gay marriage. Just as important, there are more indie voters than African-American voters: 40% of voters claim to be independents, whereas some 12%-13% are African-American (per the 2008 election). So a larger voting bloc supports gay marriage more than a smaller voting bloc opposes it. That would seem to argue in favor of the President embracing marriage equality, not the opposite.