Battle for the Black Vote

Organizers both for and against California's Proposition 8 are working to win over the state's population of black voters. Numbers show that the pulpit may have a heavy hand in helping voters decide, but marriage equality advocates are still going after this influential group.

BY Michelle Garcia

October 23 2008 11:00 PM ET

 BLACK CHOIR CHURCH WOMEN X100 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Efforts to win
African-American votes have popped up on television, the
Internet, and the radio. Blogs that cater to largely black
audiences -- like Young Black & Fabulous, and Rob
2.0 -- and feature advertisements have seen growth in
ads for and against Proposition 8. The African
American Ministers Leadership Council, a project of the
People for the American Way Foundation, bought airtime
for three radio commercials, each urging voters to
oppose Proposition 8.

"A lot of us are
struggling to make ends meet," an announcer says in
one spot. "Soaring gas prices, foreclosures, outsourcing of
our jobs. Politicians make bad decisions that we all
pay for. But some people are trying to tell us the
real threat to our families comes from gay couples
trying to get married. Who are they kidding? Not me. It's
wrong to support discrimination of any kind."

Earlier this
year, in the same-sex marriage case that led to the
state supreme court's ruling legalizing such unions, the
California chapter of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People cosigned a
friend-of-the-court brief in favor of legalization.
California NAACP official Joy Atkinson said the
organization's executive board is publicly opposed to
rescinding marriage equality and is urging
members to vote against Prop. 8. Alice Huffman, president of
the state chapter, has been campaigning against the
ban since it was proposed this summer, Atkinson added.

"She has spent
the better half of the year trying to make people
understand that this is a scare tactic and that this is a
civil rights issue," Atkinson told The
Advocate.
"It stirs up passion in people in the
African-American community, especially because so many
people are part of their churches."

Jasper Hendricks
of the National Black Justice Coalition said he grew up
attending a church where his pastor never said anything
negative about gays and lesbians. "But there are
African-Americans who sit in churches and listen to
these negative messages and don't question it," he
said. "They can still play influential roles in the
church, like being a deacon or a minister, but they still
sit and listen to their pastor."

The Reverend
Vanessa Mackenzie of the Church of the Advent in the Adams
neighborhood of Los Angeles also spoke at the press
conference Tuesday. She has been discussing the ballot
measure with congregants who insist they're not
homophobic but don't believe gays and lesbians should have
marriage rights.

"In my own
congregation I have been having conversations about the
high rate of divorce and the high rate of cohabitation --
because if we talk about threats to marriage, [those
are threats too]," she said.

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