BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"The black community is in an adulterous relationship with President Obama."
- Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church
For decades, conservatives have been pushing the notion that in terms of traditional social values, African Americans have a lot more in common with their views than with liberals. Conservative foundations and faith-based groups have spent millions of dollars supporting black conservative pundits, columnists, and organizations. Nevertheless, over the years, black conservatives and their white supporters have been marginal figures in African American communities; rarely having a substantial political impact. The last great white hope for conservatives has been to forge partnerships with conservative black clergy.
When President Barack Obama finally evolved enough to announce his support for same-sex marriage, many conservatives were, in their heart of hearts, ecstatic. They were contemplating a severe backlash amongst African Americans that might result in myriad political opportunities. Would Obama's support for same-sex marriage drive a significant number of African Americans away from supporting his reelection? Might African Americans flock in unprecedented numbers to the Republican Party?
While Colin Powell and Jay-Z were supporting Obama's decision, folks like Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland, and one of the most outspoken and stalwart African American opponents of same-sex marriage were ready to roll. Jackson called Obama's announcement a "declaration of political war against the venerable institution of marriage." He also questioned whether Obama was a friend or "an enemy to an institution that God has ordained."
In a column for The Daily Caller, Jackson, who is a regular spokesperson at conservative political gatherings, insinuated that Obama was "paid" to support same-sex marriage: "In the African-American community, many people are saying they made him do that, we don't understand why he did that," said Jackson. "We don't believe that really was the president's intent. Others have given high fives in the backroom saying, ‘he got paid.' We don't really know what the intent of the president is except that we know that is not just an isolated incident. Some further action will follow."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Jackson maintained that "Obama laid down the gauntlet on black leaders. The question we are being forced to address is 'are you going to be black or be godly.'"
The Christian Post also reported that "a group of black ministers calling themselves the Coalition of African-American Pastors, many of whom represent the nation's fifth largest denomination, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC)," held a press conference in Memphis, Tenn., "to call on Obama to denounce his position on same-sex marriage."
"We will be spending the next weeks and months visiting black churches, asking for support from pastors and their flocks to speak up against the media-generated view that gay marriage is a civil right," The Rev. Bill Owens told the Christian Post. "We ask President Obama to stand with the black church, on the word of God and evolve again back to the common sense biblical view that marriage is the union of husband and wife."
Deneen Barille, voiced a typical black conservative opinion when she told Fox News that Obama was "on the wrong side of this issue. He's going against the values of black Americans voters. ... He's splitting his base. He's going for the gay community versus the black community where he has thrown them under the bus."
And that sucking sound you heard had nothing to do with Ross Perot; it was Tony Perkins, Jackson's buddy at the Family Research Council, smacking his lips in anticipation.
The times may be changing quickly
Now, several weeks later, things aren't looking so rosy for both white and African American anti-gay opponents of same-sex marriage.
In mid-May, the board of directors of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) issued a statement in support of same-sex marriage. Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the board of the 103-year-old black civil rights group, said "The mission of the (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has always been to ensure political, social and economic equality of all people. We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law."
Matt Barber, the Director of Cultural Affairs with Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal enterprise and Liberty Alliance Action, was incensed by the NAACP's decision. Barber, who also serves as Associate Dean of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University School of Law, and co-hosts the nationally syndicated "Liberty Live" talk radio program on AFR Talk, accused the organization of "thumbing their nose at their own constituents."
"How dare they demean and undermine and cheapen the genuine, noble civil rights movement" by supporting "deviant sexual behavior" said a clearly irritated Barber.
Poll shows shift in African American support for same-sex marriage
Interestingly, a new ABC/Washington Post poll has found that since Obama's announcement, support for same-sex marriage amongst African Americans has grown from 41 percent to 59 percent.
Writing for Christianity Today, Tobin Grant noted that "In previous surveys, support among black Americans for same-sex marriage has been consistently lower than among whites."
The New York Times' blog, "Five Thirty Eight," pointed out that "Support for same-sex marriage has been growing in the general population since at least the mid-1990s. That trend has been evident among blacks as well - but at a considerably slower pace. A poll conducted by Pew Research in April, just a few weeks before Mr. Obama's announcement, found 39 percent of blacks supporting gay marriage and 49 percent opposing it. By contrast, a plurality of white Americans supported gay marriage in the Pew poll, as they have in most other recent surveys."
Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page noted that "The poll-takers cautioned that the results, though statistically significant, were based on a relatively small sample of black voters, a fact upon which conservative critics pounced. Yet statewide polls taken by Public Policy Polling have found a similar pro-gay-marriage swing in Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania before and after Obama's pronouncement. Almost all of the movement was driven by black voters."
"I certainly want to see several more polls. But if these kinds of early signals are being sent, then we could see a significant transformation on same-sex marriage in the African-American community," J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College in North Carolina, said.
The change in attitude toward same-sex marriage among African Americans may undermine the multi-year effort to drive a wedge between the Democratic Party and its African American supporters. For conservative African American clergy and their allies, the battle over same-sex marriage shows no sign of abating.
A photo in the May 29 edition of the Baltimore Sun portrays The Rev. Derek McCoy, executive director of Maryland Marriage Alliance (with Bishop Jackson in the background), speaking about its signature collection drive that has gathered 113,000 names (more than twice the number that is necessary) to put a measure on the ballot to repeal Maryland's same-sex marriage law. According to The Baltimore Sun, "Funds raised [by Maryland Marriage Alliance] included a $25,000 check from the National Organization for Marriage, a national group that has poured millions into other states to defeat same-sex marriage laws. It provided an additional $48,000 worth of services."