Marriage Equality Will Not Hurt Obama Among Black Voters At All

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The opinions of whites largely reflect the population as a whole: 49% say Obama's expression of support for gay marriage did not alter their opinion of the president. Among those who say it did, somewhat more say it made their view of him less favorable than more (29% vs. 20%). 

Most African Americans, on the other hand, say the announcement did not alter their opinion of Obama. About twothirds (68%) say this, while about as many say it made them view Obama more favorably (16%) as less favorably (13%).

I think Obama ultimately will lose roughly seven or eight votes because of his stand on marriage equality. As I said on Twitter, I think about two of those votes will be black people who claimed to support Obama, but never really did.


4-25-12 #8

There's also the data cited above. As of April, the gap between African-Americans and white support for gay marriage was eight points (39 percent of African-Americans support, while 47 percent of white support.)  The gap between the same groups in terms of opposition was four points (47 percent of blacks oppose and 43 percent of whites opposed.) 

This not strike me as the kind of yawning gulf which could sever Obama from his base. I would go further. Given black America's particular characteristics--more Southern, more culturally conservative, and more religious--focusing on "race" as the defining difference seems like a bad idea. 

It also isn't a very forward-thinking one:

Since 2008, the proportion of African Americans favoring gay marriage has increased from 26% to 39%, while opposition has fallen from 63% to 49%.

Finally it's worth considering what happened the last time someone attempted to turn homophobia into a decisive election issue among a black electorate:

In future races, religious people are going to start going after people's political careers," Jackson, the head of Stand4MarriageDC, told U.S. News and World Report. "You're going to see a bloodletting that is going to mark a new style of engagement for people who are against same-sex marriage." Jackson's was no idle threat. 

Stand4MarriageDC is backed by the National Organization for Marriage. NOM's president, Brian Brown, serves as Stand4MarriageDC's treasurer. In the past two years, NOM has successfully exploited local backlashes against advances in gay rights. In Maine, NOM worked to secure a ballot initiative to outlaw same-sex marriage. 

In New York, it helped torpedo the nomination of moderate, marriage-equality-supporting Republican Dede Scozzafava, which left the contest to two candidates who both opposed same-sex-marriage rights. It aided in the passage of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the same election that sent Barack Obama to the White House. 

The California victory was initially pinned on the increased turnout of black voters, so on paper, it's easy to see why NOM might have seen Washington, D.C. -- which is more than 50 percent African American -- as the site of another potential victory. Last night's primary election was the time to make good on Jackson's threat. 

But in the nine months since, there's been a lot of cash spent with little blood spilled. According to filings with D.C.'s Office of Campaign Finance, NOM has spent around $140,000 opposing pro-equality candidates in Washington, D.C., all of whom won last night or were defeated by other pro-equality candidates.

If marriage equality opponents can't even throttle a city councilmember, what evidence is there that they would actually be able to touch the first black president? Marshaling support for a homophobic ballot initiative is very different than using homophobia to hurt a presidential candidate. People elect presidents for a variety of reasons. Banning marriage equality, not so much.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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