Charles Blow, the African-American columnist for the NY Times who both writes and produces compelling graphics for the op-ed page, has a column this morning in which he argues that lgbt rights advocates should concentrate on persuading African-American women, who vote in much great numbers than black men, that marriage for s/s couples is a health issue. He points out that within the black community, more women than men voted for Prop 8, tying that to their traditionally greater religiosity. He also speculates that African-American women have much to gain from greater social honesty about homosexuality, invoking the risk of bisexual men infecting women with HIV. Hence the health angle.
It's a cogent and provocative column, and it will get a lot of attention simply because it's in the Times. Most dramatically, Blow has produced a graphic (follow the column link above) which maps opinion poll data from Democrats, Republicans and African-Americans on a series of sexual "morality" issues, and shows that average black opinion is much closer to the Republican than to the Democratic average. Why? Again, the role of religion, and the disjuncture between how progressive black churches have been on discrimination issues and how conservative many have been on sexuality issues.
These numbers are powerful, and Blow's answer – a new "pitch," stressing health – may be ok for an ad campaign. But a complicated stew of concerns are playing out in these data. At just a gut level, it strikes me that the instinct to circle the wagons and close down to what are tagged as foreign ideas comes from a fundamentally different place for black Americans than for those who cling to race and gender privilege.
Another interesting commentary triggered by Prop 8, focusing on the Latino vote, comes in an interview with Richard Rodriguez (HT Lisa Duggan):
I have not been to a Mexican family without some suspicion of homosexuality in children or grandchildren. But people deal with it within the larger context of family. That's why I suspect the revolution will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children. …
The desert religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are male religions. Their perception is that God is a male god and Allah is a male god. If the male is allowed to hold onto the power of God, then I think we are in terrible shape. I think what's coming out of Colorado Springs right now, with people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, is either the last or continuing gasp of a male hierarchy in religion. That's what's at stake. And women have a determining role to play. Are they going to go along with this, or are they going to challenge the order?
Hmm, sounds like women are the key. I hope someone is doing focus groups with African-American and Latina women. And I hope that the progressive and lgbt response to these issues digs deeper than anyone can go in one short column.