Black Voters Are Pragmatic About Gay Marriage

A report indicates that black voters who don't support same-sex marriage will vote for candidates who do. This spells opportunity for white LGBT activists, if they're willing to take heed.

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White LGBT Leaders Must Make Room for Black Voices

The Maryland situation is particularly important for African Americans -- who make up 31 percent of the state's population, compared with barely 7 percent in California. Four years after the "blame the blacks" debacle on the West Coast, can LGBT leaders learn from their mistakes and apply the lessons to the East Coast? Will they avoid the race-baiting that has so poisoned their progressive movement since 2008 and led to charges of racism, elitism and indifference to minority matters?

The answer remains murky. Already, white LGBT activists such as David Mixner are sending not-so-subtle signals that race will matter in Maryland. "Our national organizations must immediately line up the unshakable and unmistakable support of President Obama. Voters love him in this state especially in vote-rich Prince George's County and Baltimore," he writes in a  Feb. 28 blog posting. With PGC nearly 63 percent African American, Mixner's message could not be clearer -- even if he wimps out on the clarifying.

With his history of race-baiting, patronizing tone and zero respect for African-American voter sophistication, Mixner is a dubious messenger. Yet his message cannot be discounted. Race will inevitably play a central role in any Maryland ballot drive -- with blacks the main protagonists.

As in Maine's successful 2009 marriage-equality repeal, national white LGBT leaders will undoubtedly "parachute" into Maryland to help direct the ballot battle. But this time, black voters -- and leaders -- must take central roles in defining the battle's narrative.

This was the case in the successful 2010 campaign to secure marriage equality in Washington, D.C.; pro-LGBT black voices and faces must now be front and center if a similar campaign comes to Maryland. And white LGBT leaders will have to step aside and let this happen.

"One of the reasons the D.C. campaign was so successful is that black voters -- including religious voters -- saw folks like themselves supporting marriage equality," explains Lanae Erickson, deputy director of the Culture Initiative at the Third Way. "Just as important: Many [white] LGBT leaders went out of their way to ensure that these [black] activists were heard."

Obama and the LGBT Vote

As for President Obama's re-election campaign, analysts like Erickson and Egan say that LGBT-voter support is inevitable. "Blacks and LGBTs historically vote the most Democratic of any demographic," Egan explains. But when it comes to gays and lesbians, at least, Obama has certainly earned those ballots.

With his new DOMA policy and ending of "Don't ask, don't tell," Obama has fulfilled many of his 2008 campaign promises. Yes, he still does not support full marriage equality, but there is every likelihood that he will do so during his second term. Members of the LGBT community seeking to "punish" the president for this act of realpolitik will only end up punishing themselves.