Race, Religion, and Proposition 8

When religion is used as a governing tool to address the changing needs, values, and mores of a growing society, it is not only looking for simple solutions to complex questions, but it is also looking for scapegoats in order to not address the questions.

No greater example of this was more evident than the results of the vote on Proposition 8, a measure eliminating marriage equality for same-sex couples after the California supreme court ruled in May that a “separate and unequal” system of domestic partnership for same-sex couples is not only blatantly discriminatory but it is also unconstitutional. And the scapegoats for its passing are African-Americans.

With huge numbers of voters hitting the polls last week to cast their ballots for now president-elect Barack Obama, African-American Californians came out in record numbers too. And as they cast their ballots for Obama, they also overwhelmingly voted yes (70%) on Proposition 8, triggering white queer outrage and backlash across the country.

But the widespread public sentiment against same-sex marriage across demographics revealed that the outcome was not about how African-Americans voted but rather how the entire state of California did. Let us remember that proponents of Proposition 8 argued that the court overstepped its authority, imposing its will to create something the country, let alone the state of California, was not ready for.

And data shown across race, class, income, and educational lines revealed that the fundamental reason voters, even those of minority groups like blacks and Latinos, pulled the lever to ban same-sex marriage was because of their fundamental religious belief that marriage should be the union of a man and a woman.

But assigning the blame for the passing of Proposition 8, so rightly dubbed “Proposition Hate,” ought not to be about how any subgroup voted, but rather about how our government failed to protect the inalienable rights of all its citizens.

A government is ethically bankrupt when it legally frames a minority group’s civil rights as a ballot question. And one would think African-Americans would know the immorality of such an egregious act best given our long and tenacious struggle to not only have the right to vote and to marry in this country, but also to have the right to be free.

While it is true that African-Americans came out in record numbers to vote for Obama, black Californians are only 6.2% of the state’s population. And while it is true that the white LGBTQ community needs to work on its racism, white privilege, and single-issue platform that thwart all efforts for coalition-building with both straight and queer communities of color, the African-American community needs to work on its homophobia.

Although Obama has spoken out about homophobia among African-Americans and opposed Proposition 8 he too walked a thin line on same-sex marriage during his run for the White House, stating he opposed same-sex marriage but supported civil unions, sending a mixed message not only to African-Americans but also to Christians.

African-Americans voted yes on Proposition 8, as many conservative Christians did, using their ballots to advocate for the restoration of a spiritual foundation in American public life. This no doubt violates the hallowed lines between church and state, and personal faith and public life. But given the collapsing of church and state since Bush came into office, religion has become a peculiar institution in the theater of American politics. Although its Latin root religio means “to bind,” religion has functioned in this government as a legitimate power in binding people’s shared fears and hatred of one another. Proponents of Proposition 8 were well-financed by the Mormons, in a clear example of how religious politics can promulgate bigoted agendas.

“Freedom of religion is a good thing. So is freedom from the religion others may wish to impose on those who differ,” wrote Charles Kimball, author of When Religion Becomes Evil. American democracy suffers when people have to be closeted about their faith because it fosters a climate of religious intolerance. And while our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and not freedom from religion, it prohibits the establishment of a state religion, and in this case a Christian church-state.

Because religious bigots used Proposition 8 to deny us our civil right to marry, our government should not. And while Proposition 8 has made scapegoats of us LGBTQ people, we should not make scapegoats of each other because our government failed to protect us.

We have a Herculean struggle before us not only in California but also in all the states across this country that deny us our right to marry. And we cannot afford to underutilize our talents and strengths by playing the blame game. Therefore the fighting and bickering among us must stop! The moral and political imperative before us now is to work together, showing united we can stand as a prophetic movement for marriage equality or divided we can fall blaming each other as a petty people for its failure.

Published November 12, 2008 in The Advocate.

One Response to “Race, Religion, and Proposition 8”

  1. Polemic® » Prop 8: Divide & Conquer Says:

    [...] for this initiative in strong numbers is therefore no surprise. But as Rev. Irene Monroe put it Prop 8 is not about black homophobia. Even if blacks had voted against Prop 8 in the 90-100% range, it’s debatable whether it [...]