Protesters outside Supreme Court in 2013 (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty); protesters at SCOTUS in 2012 (Mark Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters outside Supreme Court in 2013 (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty); protesters at SCOTUS in 2012 (Mark Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Quick question: Who is the latest Democratic senator to come out in support of affirmative action?


OK, another question: Who is the latest Republican senator to come out in support of affirmative action?

How about this one: Do any Republican senators support affirmative action?

Last question: Do you know the answer to any of the above questions?

Chances are you don't. Most of us don't. But I bet you know that Republican Sen. Rob Portman now supports same-sex marriage, spurred by his love and compassion for his openly gay son. I bet you also know that 10 Democratic senators oppose gay marriage.


The reason you know both of these facts is that same-sex marriage has become the mainstream media's civil rights cause célèbre — even though it ultimately affects just under 4 percent of the population. To be clear, this population deserves rights and protections regardless of how few of them there may be, but not at the expense of other groups.

Though I have sensed a disparity in civil rights coverage for months in print, online and on television, I only recently tried multiple online searches to see if I was being paranoid.

I wasn't.

A search of "Affirmative action before the Supreme Court" produced just over 100 million results. (This number came up whether I tried including the year 2013 or used parentheses.) "Voting rights before the Supreme Court" netted more than 400 million results. But "Gay marriage before the Supreme Court" produced article after article after TV clip after TV clip, with just over 800 million results. "Same sex marriage before the Supreme Court" produced even more: just under 900 million results.


I have been baffled by the fact that while the Supreme Court's upcoming rulings on voting rights and affirmative action were relegated to a couple of days of nonintensive media coverage, coverage of the court's upcoming rulings on same-sex marriage has been treated as the second coming of the Brown v. Board of Education case, which literally changed America for all Americans, as opposed to the second coming of Loving v. Virginia, which the gay-marriage case more closely resembles, and which ultimately changed the lives of some Americans: those pursuing interracial relationships.

While the Loving case has been the subject of a TV movie and documentary, if you ask the average black American (even those of us who have been in interracial relationships) which case had a defining impact on our entire community and country, most of us are not going to name that case. After all, dating someone of a different race would probably be the last thing on your mind if you can't even attend school with or work alongside your partner or are still worried about exercising your right to vote. (Speaking of work, one can still be fired for being gay in dozens of states. I still don't understand why changing those laws hasn't been deemed more of an immediate priority than marriage.)


Which brings me to why I, and other black Americans, including some African-American members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community I recently discussed this subject with, find the wall-to-wall coverage of the marriage issue so frustrating.

Yet again, wealthy white males are driving the agenda, and everyone else is expected to follow, including the media and the president.


What do I mean? Well, Republicans have finally begun to say on the record what many of us who cover politics have long known is part of the calculus involved in the political "evolution" of some leaders on gay marriage. Many of those leading the charge on the marriage issue within the LGBT community are white, wealthy and privileged.

Their checkbooks can influence elections, and their voices subsequently get amplified in a way that those of other people — people whom the affirmative action and voting rights cases would affect — might not, such as a working-class African-American student for whom affirmative action may play an important role in helping him or her pursue higher education to climb out of poverty, or an elderly Latina who may face voter disenfranchisement.


It is telling that while President Obama has recently done interview after interview in which he has weighed in with his support on same-sex marriage, by comparison, his support of affirmative action in recent years has seemed perfunctory at best. (A Google search of "Obama on affirmative action" yields 44.4 million results, while a search of "Obama on same sex marriage" yields 506 million.)

I am glad that LGBT Americans are finally on their way to being accepted fully as Americans who have just as much right to the American dream as the rest of us. But I think it is unfortunate that a year from now, it is very possible that white, gay Americans will talk about their status as minorities with nostalgia, if they talk about it at all.


Meanwhile, their brown and black LGBT brothers and sisters will still struggle daily for economic equality — in part because politicians, media and the Supreme Court were too busy focusing on making one already privileged group happy while forgetting that the struggles of the others still exist.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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