Thursday, May 10, 2012


Note: Mandi and Emily started this conversation before President Obama came out in support of marriage equality, but after North Carolina voted to enact a State Constitutional Amendment that not only bars gay marriage, but also civil unions.  The President had made his statement by the time Emily replied to Mandi's first post.

Emily:  Do you think the anti-gay marriage (and anti-gay civil union) amendment passed in NC so handily because some black churches are fervently anti-gay?

Mandi:  There are a lot assumptions in that question to unpack. Are black churches anti-gay? And further along, compared to what? Society as a whole? White churches? White churches of the same denomination? Hispanic and/or asian churches? Black non-churchgoers?

The there is a divide between blacks and whites as a whole over gay marriage:

Whites support gay marriage 47% to 43%, blacks are 39% in favor, 49% opposed.  In other words, black people on the whole are 6% more opposed to gay marriage than whites.

When broken down by religion, it gets more interesting:

Black Protestants are 33% in favor of gay marriage.  Mainline white Protestants are 52% in favor, and white evangelical Protestants are only 14% in favor of gay marriage. This interesting because I feel that that Black Protestantism is a lot closer to white evangelicals than mainline Protestantism, but the numbers do not bear this out.  White evangelicals are to the right of religious black people on this issue. It has been mostly movement from Catholics, mainline Protestants,  “unaffiliated”  in favor of gay marriage which has turned the religious community around somewhat on this issue.  It would have been interesting to see this further broken down, as I would love to see how black Catholics or black evangelicals thought on this issue, but presumably the sample size was too small.

Now for North Carolina itself, polling suggests (see page 8) that black people did not turn the tide against gay marriage.

Black people comprise only 21% of the populace of North Carolina.  If the white population were evenly split, they could make a difference, if all black people felt the same way on the issue, but that wasn’t the case here.  When asked, white people were in favor of the same sex marriage ban at 51%, while blacks were in favor at 56%. The numbers who would vote against it were virtually identical at 40% and 39%.  Considering the ban passed by 61%, that suggests several things.  One, of course, the poll is wrong.  But considering PPP is considered one of the most reliable polling outfits in the country, it remains a slim possibility.  Two, people lied to pollsters.  This I think is the best explanation.  Unless every single person who was “not sure” voted for the ban, people lied about being in favor of same sex marriage.  Which is both bad and good.  Bad, because people are still bigots.  Good, because there seems to be some awareness, no matter how dim, that such bigotry should no longer be admitted out loud.  I think that represents progress, of sorts.

Emily:  I definitely do not think that all black churches are anti-gay-marriage.  But I do think that some very prominent, powerful ones are, and that some of them have purposefully brought this issue to the forefront of their political action.  It's definitely happening in Maryland. And I've been watching one of my best friends from high school (who is an extremely smart, very religious black woman, and an Obama supporter) struggle with this via Facebook, so it's been on my mind - the connections between all of the moving parts.

I guess I must hold black churches to a higher standard, and that's not fair.  But it comes from this place that I think a lot of white liberals come from: African Americans know better than almost anybody else what it's like to fight the supposedly-religious-but-really-bigoted objections to civil rights in America.  I don't use the term "bigoted" lightly.  But I believe in calling a spade a spade, and I think objections to gay marriage are bigoted, in the same way that objections to all of the civil rights advances we've had in America have been bigoted (including, obviously, about racial "intermarriage").

I'm religious, but not evangelical.  I think that as long as America uses marital status in things like determining taxes and social security benefits, and as long as states use marriage in determining custody and who gets to make health care decisions, this is a civil rights issue that has nothing at all to do with religious ceremony.  I don't care at all whether any religion chooses to marry gay couples.  That's about their own religious freedom.  Civil - legal - marriage is different.  And when anybody tries to interfere with the civil rights of other people based solely on personal religious beliefs, it gets me angry.  And don't start on polygamy.  I'm happy to have that argument, but right now I just wanted to sum up where I am in case anybody wanted to know why I'm arguing the way I am.

I actually found the most interesting polling data in that NC piece you found (also on page 8) was the fact that there was an utter failure on the behalf of the opponents of the amendment to get voters to understand what the amendment actually does.

This was another interesting take on the NC process.

And you seem to be right on the numbers, it probably wasn't pivotal to passage that there is a large number of religious African Americans who were for the amendment.

I, too, wanted to see a breakout on different types of black protestants in the poll.  I'm curious whether you can use the polling to tease if there is a line between evangelical African Americans and mainline protestants, or if it's a different line.  And I wouldn't have assumed that black protestants are generally the same as evangelical whites, but I think there is a useful subset in there somewhere that is.

So now I guess we could talk about two things:

Why do we think gay rights are not the same as civil rights in conservative (should we call it that or evangelical? I'm not sure) black churches?  Is it the same as or different than in similarly-situated white churches?


Do we think the move by President Obama is likely to move anybody (black religious, white religious, young-and-unreligious, young-pro-gay-rights-otherwise-independent, etc.) in the election, whom, and why?

Does either question interest you?

Mandi:  Several thoughts:  I am glad that Obama finally came out of the closet and supported marriage equality.  There was no one who didn’t believe that he already supported it, and he was losing backers with his timidity and tepid statements about it.  I doubt he will bring any around one way or the other on it, because I don’t think his position was a surprise to anyone who was paying any sort of attention.

 Do black people have a special responsibilty not to be bigots, given our history in the United States?...I don’t believe that black people have a special responsibility to not be bigots.  Black people are humans just like everyone else, and are prone to the same follies and foibles as the rest of humanity. 

I think I instinctively resist the notion that the gay struggle is the equivalent of the Civil Rights Movement.  There are obviously some commonalities, but I guess it boils down to being a visible minority v. being an invisible minority.  For me the gay rights movement is closer to being about religious discrimination than racial discrimination.  In both you may not know what a person is unless they proclaim it, though in many cases you can suspect strongly.  In both behavior is circumscribed, not the person themselves.  Both form communities, but don’t necessarily have that community assigned to them from birth.

I think the issue for black churches (and I am not religious or spiritual at all, but come from a very conservative, religious family), is that most don’t give two figs about marriage equality, one way or the other.  However, the Bible is very, very clear about sodomy, and they don’t want to voice approval to behavior they see as a sin.  But every black church I’ve been to has had parishioners that were known to be gay.  Of course, every black church I’ve been to has had adulterers, fornicators, and drunks too, and I’m sure if you put those “sins” on the ballot, the same members would dutifully vote against those as well.  In the clash between religious belief and and allowing secular freedom, their religious beliefs come out on top. Their religion informs their politics, not the other way around.  But it isn’t necessarily closely linked with behavior.  I do think they are bigoted, but honestly, if you are adhering your beliefs closely to the biblical text, it is a position which is hard to avoid.  Because the Bible is bigoted, and sexist, and all that.  Which is also why the white evangelical approval of marriage equality is so low.

Emily:  See, I would have thought that everybody knew Obama's real, heart-of-hearts position was pro-gay marriage, but the friend I was talking about seems to be surprised (and disappointed, and looking for a third party - but that's another conversation).  I guess there were some anti-gay-marriage folks who thought he was pandering to us while we thought he was pandering to them by not coming out and saying it.  

I don't know if I'm glad he said it.  I mean, I think it has enormous importance to gay Americans, was gutsy as hell, and has the power to move opinion in that way that only the bully pulpit can do.

But I think there are a lot of people who could pretend that his position was different if he didn't put it out there, and I think gay Americans - and all Americans, really - would be WAY better off if Obama gets reelected than if Romney wins.  And I think that unless a whole heck of a lot of young people get off their butts and vote, this will be a very close election - so I'm afraid to lose even the votes of the self-delusional anti-gay-marriage folks.

So once again I'm left hoping Americans prove to me that they can rise above.  They did it before, and my heart swelled, Grinch-like, in the Whoville Chorus that was The Day Obama Was Elected.

But all that said, you're right.  It's totally uncool to expect anybody to be above prejudice.  I do do that.  I expect women to be better on women's rights and civil rights than men.  I expect gay people to be Democrats.  And I expect African Americans - even those that belong to conservative churches - to be in favor of expanding civil rights - even gay civil rights.  

And I agree that there are definite distinctions between the racial civil rights movement (primarily about African Americans) and the gay civil rights movement.  For one thing: slavery.  For another, even in this day and age, most white people are more likely to have a family member who is gay than a family member who is black - so the tenor of the debate is different for a lot of people.  On the other hand, there is such social fear about homosexuality and there is such a ridiculous adherence to the concept that orientation is chosen, not innate, that you get crazy-insane-should-be-in-jail people like the NC preacher calling on parents to "beat the gay away" if they suspect their children might be gay.

You mentioned about sin and religious people not wanting to vote for sin, etc.  This is a thing I've never understood, that I doubt either of us has the answer to, but it has driven me NUTS when religious people pick and choose something out of the bible and go overboard on it, without recognizing the other things in the bible.

For example: yes, the bible is anti-sodomy, but it's also anti-shellfish.  And anti-mixing of fabrics.  You can just hear the makers of just about all modern clothing howl at that one.  And it's anti-people-judging.  In fact, if anything has supremacy or veto power over anything else in the bible, wouldn't you think it would be A) The 10 Commandments, and B) Anything Said By Jesus?  So you'd think that not committing adultery - I'm looking at you, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and, well, too many bible-thumping politicians to count, as well as not working on Sunday, and not having false idols would take preference over the whole anti-gay thing, right?  And that "loving thy neighbor as thyself," not to mention the whole "judge not lest ye be judged" deal would trump voting for laws explicitly to hurt gay people.

And I know we're not allowed to talk about religious texts in anthropological context, but when you see the rules set forth in that book of the bible, it's hard not to think a lot of what's there was comprised of things that the people in charge of the religious flock at the time thought would keep peace, keep people healthy, and increase the number of children born into the religion.  Not really so much of an issue today.

But I understand that I don't understand.  I just can't help my lawyer's brain from trying to make logical sense of it all.

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