Saturday, November 29, 2008
By Charles M. Blow
We now know that blacks probably didn’t tip the balance for Proposition 8. Myth busted. However, the fact remains that a strikingly high percentage of blacks said they voted to ban same-sex marriage in California. Why?
There was one very telling (and virtually ignored) statistic in CNN’s exit poll data that may shed some light: There were far more black women than black men, and a higher percentage of them said that they voted for the measure than the men. How wide was the gap? According to the exit poll, 70 percent of all blacks said that they voted for the proposition. But 75 percent of black women did. There weren’t enough black men in the survey to provide a reliable percentage for them. However, one can mathematically deduce that of the raw number of survey respondents, nearly twice as many black women said that they voted for it than black men.
Why? Here are my theories:
(1) Blacks are much more likely than whites to attend church, according to a Gallup report, and black women are much more likely to attend church than black men. Anyone who has ever been to a black church can attest to the disparity in the pews. And black women’s church attendance may be increasing.
According to a report issued this spring by Child Trends, a nonprofit research center, weekly church attendance among black 12th graders rose 26 percent from 1993 to 2006, while weekly church attendance for white 12th graders remained virtually flat. In 2006, those black teenagers were nearly 50 percent more likely to attend church once a week than their white counterparts. And it is probably safe to assume that many of them were going to church with their mothers since Child Trends reported that around the time that they were born, nearly 70 percent of all black children were born to single mothers.
(2) This high rate of church attendance by blacks informs a very conservative moral view. While blacks vote overwhelmingly Democratic, an analysis of three years of national data from Gallup polls reveals that their views on moral issues are virtually indistinguishable from those of Republicans. Let’s just call them Afropublicrats.
(3) Marriage can be a sore subject for black women in general. According to 2007 Census Bureau data, black women are the least likely of all women to be married and the most likely to be divorced. Women who can’t find a man to marry might not be thrilled about the idea of men marrying each other.
Proponents of gay marriage would do well to focus on these women if they want to win black votes. A major reason is that black women vote at a higher rate than black men. In the CNN national exit poll, there were 40 percent more black women than black men, and in California there were 50 percent more. But gay marriage advocates need to hone their strategy to reach them.
First, comparing the struggles of legalizing interracial marriage with those to legalize gay marriage is a bad idea. Many black women do not seem to be big fans of interracial marriage either. They’re the least likely of all groups to intermarry, and many don’t look kindly on the black men who intermarry at nearly three times the rate that they do, according to a 2005 study of black intermarriage rates in the Wisconsin Law Review. Wrong reference. Don’t even go there.
Second, don’t debate the Bible. You can’t win. Religious faith is not defined by logic, it defies it. Instead, decouple the legal right from the religious rite, and emphasize the idea of acceptance without endorsement.
Then, make it part of a broader discussion about the perils of rigidly applying yesterday’s sexual morality to today’s sexual mores. Show black women that it backfires. The stigma doesn’t erase the behavior, it pushes it into the shadows where, devoid of information and acceptance, it become more risky.
For instance, most blacks find premarital sex unacceptable, according to the Gallup data. But, according to data from a study by the Guttmacher Institute, blacks are 26 percent more likely than any other race to have had premarital sex by age 18, and the pregnancy rate for black teens is twice that of white teens. They still have premarital sex, but they do so uninformed and unprotected.
That leads to a bigger problem. According to a 2004 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women have an abortion rate that is three times that of white women.
More specifically, blacks overwhelmingly say that homosexuality isn’t morally acceptable. So many black men hide their sexual orientations and engage in risky behavior. This has resulted in large part in black women’s becoming the fastest-growing group of people with H.I.V. In a 2003 study of H.I.V.-infected people, 34 percent of infected black men said they had sex with both men and women, while only 6 percent of infected black women thought their partners were bisexual. Tragic. (In contrast, only 13 percent of the white men in the study said they had sex with both men and women, while 14 percent of the white women said that they knew their partners were bisexual.)
So pitch it as a health issue. The more open blacks are to the idea of homosexuality, the more likely black men would be to discuss their sexual orientations and sexual histories. The more open they are, the less likely black women would be to put themselves at risk unwittingly. And, the more open blacks are to homosexuality over all, the more open they are likely to be to gay marriage. This way, everyone wins.