The United States and the world welcomed an historic moment on Tuesday with the election of Barack Obama. Yet in an election that demonstrated the clear progress people of color in the United States have made, three states, California, Arizona, and Florida all voted to amend their State Constitutions to prohibit same-sex couples from legally marrying. Especially disappointing were California’s results: California voted for Sen. Obama at a little over 61% and passed Proposition 8 at a little over 52%. As the California Supreme Court recently legalized same-sex marriages in June, California voters consciously chose to write discrimination into the state constitution.
The irony of this vote is even more profound as President-elect Obama publicly opposed California Proposition 8, which explicitly “Eliminates the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.” There is a profound disconnect when one barrier is broken and another erected all in the same evening.
Same-sex marriage is a topic that has been repeatedly and successfully used as a wedge issue. As an individual, I’m sure my anger and disappointment at this result are echoed by many in the LGBT movement, and as an organization that holds justice and equity as part of its core values, the Applied Research Center condemns Proposition 8.
Discrimination in all forms is wrong – there can be no equivocation of this point.
Another narrative is emerging regarding Proposition 8 that many others and I fear will be used to harbor division. According to Associated Press California exit polling, which should always be taken with a grain of salt, approximately 7 in 10 Blacks and “more than half” of Latinos polled supported Proposition 8. Already the message boards on the San Francisco Chronicle are filling up with comments such as, “HIV infection rates are skyrocketing in the African American and Latino communities as they have made being gay a taboo…I guess sticking a finger in each ear and pretending that this issue doesn’t affect them is easier than having a frank and honest discussion about homosexuality,” and “Funny how these same people would feel if gays singled them out for some reason - selective sterilization, for instance.”
Blacks and Latinos are more homophobic, right? Categorically, unequivocally wrong.
What these polling numbers actually reveal is entirely different. They emphasize more the degree to which Blacks and Latinos were targeted by the Yes on 8 campaign, and more importantly, the profound lack of engagement between same-sex marriage supporters and the racial justice movement.
Prominent LGBT organizations will point to enormous coalitions they have formed with other non-LGBT organizations in support of same-sex marriage, which usually include people of color organizations, church leaders, and community groups. But this is a top-down approach from both sides, and the hearts and minds of the constituents of these organizations will not be won by simply being told to support same-sex marriage.
While the same-sex marriage movement has always made welcome to other justice-oriented communities, the end result is always a correlative argument – that if we get same-sex marriage, it will benefit everyone because LGBT identities transcend all racial and gender groups. It’s not convincing enough in any communities with strong beliefs, regardless of the reasons, that marriage does not include same-sex couples.
The disconnect between same-sex marriage supporters and the racial justice movement is obvious to opponents of same-sex marriage, and thus easily exploited for electoral gain whenever the issue of same-sex marriage is raised on a ballot.
Before the passage of Proposition 8 degenerates to finger-pointing, wild speculation, and heaping assumptions on top of blame, please hear this: now is the time for new dialogue and unity. The election of Barack Obama has given the United States a new wave of hope, and I am hopeful that supporters of same-sex marriage won’t jump to any more conclusions regarding why Blacks and Latinos voted the way the polls suggest. There are a myriad of people of color LGBT organizations in California who confront these assumptions every day, and we don’t need more of the same old same old at this time.
As someone who has watched the contemporary push for same-sex marriage grow from the early 1990s, it has struck me time and again how much of this movement’s message has been “me too.” But building genuine equity requires more than this – it requires a “we too” that makes everyone a participant and stakeholder in the rights of others, and sometimes, like now, it requires us to stop talking and start listening.