Black faith, community leaders urge churchgoers to oppose Prop 8
by Seth Hemmelgarn
With African American voters in California expected to vote overwhelmingly for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama next month, outreach to the community has become critical for opponents of Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban.
About 100 people gathered at a predominantly black church in San Francisco Sunday, October 19 for an evening of preaching against Prop 8.
Referring to blacks' fight against oppression, the Reverend Amos Brown, of Third Baptist Church, told those present, "We have become that which we hated."
People "ain't got no business telling gay and lesbian and transgender people that they cannot have equal protection under the law in these United States of America," he said. His words were greeted with a loud standing ovation.
But Obama's popularity could spell trouble for opponents of Prop 8, since many African Americans have traditionally had conservative views on same-sex marriage.
A recent poll by SurveyUSA released Friday, October 17 showed that among likely voters who were black, 58 percent would vote for Prop 8, while 38 percent would vote against it. The poll, which was conducted for CBS5 and other stations, had an overall margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
The survey report was based on responses from 615 likely voters, 6 percent of whom were black.
According a the new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, Obama is leading Republican John McCain, 56 percent to 33 percent. That could be good for opponents of Prop 8, said Mark Baldassare, the PPIC's president and CEO. Baldassare noted that, according to the poll, 72 percent of Obama's supporters would vote no on Prop 8, while 75 percent of McCain's backers would vote yes. The poll did not give a separate breakdown for likely black voters.
There are thousands of same-sex black couples in the state. According to a new study released by UCLA's Williams Institute, more than 7,400 of California's black men and women are in same-sex couples. Fifty-five percent of black women and 11 percent of black men are raising children within these couples, the study found.
But there are economic disparities among black same-sex couples and their heterosexual counterparts. Study co-author Christopher Ramos noted that, "these analyses break stereotypes about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, like the idea that they are all wealthy. We find that gay and bisexual black men in California have household incomes that are 44 percent lower than their heterosexual counterparts."
Many of those attending Sunday's event, held at Jones Memorial Methodist Church, noted that LGBT people share a struggle that's been experienced by black and other communities.
Bobbie Wilson, who helped fight the same-sex marriage case in the courts, talked about the false claims made in Yes on 8's ads, and said people from outside working to pass the measure "are the Klansmen of the 21st century. They don't use the noose, they use lies."
People from outside California are coming into the state trying to dictate who should have rights and who shouldn't, said Wilson. Both sides in the Prop 8 fight have attracted donors from outside California, but financial support for Prop 8 has been especially strong from the Utah-based Mormon Church.<
Alice Huffman, president of the California Conference of the NAACP, has been pushing for the national organization to support same-sex marriage, and is seeing less opposition than she used to.
The state NAACP group has twice sent mailers opposing Prop 8 to 140,000 black households. Huffman will also be urging a no vote on Prop 8 at the state NAACP convention, being held at the San Francisco Airport Marriott October 23-26.
Huffman told those in the church that if the speakers that night were preaching to the choir, "When you leave here, go and sing."
During a panel discussion toward the end of the evening, the Reverend Phil Lawson, pastor of Jones Memorial Methodist, said a community can't really exist in the country until everyone is free.
"This struggle against Prop 8 will not end on November 4," he said, because there are still people who are homeless and people who have to beg to get what they need. "We have to work for change across the board."
Several people in the church Sunday night showed no signs of supporting Prop 8, punctuating the speeches and several gospel songs with clapping and shouts like "Tell it!" and "Preach it!"
After the event, Andrea Shorter, campaign director of And Marriage for All, which co-hosted the evening, told the Bay Area Reporter she questioned the validity of polls and expressed optimism that more blacks would oppose Prop 8.
Since August, And Marriage for All has been doing outreach on same-sex marriage to the black community, and Shorter said the group's efforts have been having an impact. She said people have been seeking advice on how to talk to their families, and others have been asking for gay couples to talk to.
Shorter said she didn't think the night involved just "preaching to the choir." She thought some people who came had concerns and questions and left feeling more empowered.
Church member Myrtis Irving said she hasn't decided how she'll vote. Irving said she accepts same-sex marriage, but she hasn't read the ballot yet.
Church member Ulysses Montgomery said he'd vote against Prop 8.
"I'm for freedom and justice for everybody," said Montgomery.
On Tuesday, black leaders gathered in Oakland to denounce Prop 8. Those who spoke included San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, Brown, and openly gay Berkeley City Council member Darryl Moore.
The Yes on 8 campaign is also working to garner support from black voters. Monday, October 20, the campaign sent out a message about a Los Angeles press conference to announce 50 of the city's black ministers were standing "in solidarity for marriage between a man and a woman."