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 24 2008 12:00 AM ET

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

Same-sex marriage
opponents have also been reaching out to churches and
waging media and grassroots campaigns to try to win
over more blacks. Derek McCoy, Yes on 8's
director of African-American outreach, says the
concentration on black churches is reflective of the
civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.

"Black churches
embodied not just a religious side of things but also
social activism," he said. "Our civil rights movement was a
response coming from the black church. I would say it's a
new civil rights movement. We have to continue to push
forward on social issues."

McCoy said much
of the campaign focuses on quoting Democratic
presidential nominee Barack Obama's statement that he does
not endorse same-sex marriage. Obama does, however,
support civil unions and domestic partnerships, which
McCoy said is acceptable.

"It's just,
people say, 'They're infringing on our civil rights,' and
I say they're not infringing on your civil rights," he said.
"Civil rights are inherent rights. They're things you cannot
change, they're infallible, that's just how you were
born. And one thing you can change is [your
homosexuality] ... the research shows there are plenty of
people who change lifestyles. I've never met anyone who was
black and changed their blackness."

The issue at the
root of the Yes on 8 campaign, McCoy said, is the
stability of African-American families. With the advent of
same-sex marriage, people will question why marriage
is necessary, and the number of fatherless households
will increase, he said. "We're already facing
epidemics where when the father's not in the household,
children don't do well socially, they don't do well
economically, they don't do well educationally, you
get increased increased poverty rates, increased crime
rates, things in our community, that we don't need to
destabilize homes any more," McCoy said.

From the other
side, the National Black Justice Coalition's Hendricks
said the effort to persuade more black voters to
support same-sex marriage is, all in all, a
matter of winning their "hearts and minds," a battle
that will take more time than the five months
allotted for the Proposition 8 campaign. Through town
hall-type meetings and educational efforts, groups
like the justice coalition and the NAACP are
attempting to teach people about the nature of measures like
Proposition 8.

"The fact is that
right now it’s 60-40," Atkinson said of the
divide among black voters. "A while ago it was probably 75
[in favor], so it's probably come down quite a bit."

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