The vote on the gay marriage ban in North Carolina’s Halifax county drew some national ink. The county in the Northeast part of the state is mostly rural and majority black. It backed the state’s anti-gay marriage initiative by a whopping two to one majority. The anti-gay marriage vote there was taken as a jittery sign that some blacks out of pique over President Obama’s gay marriage endorsement could punish him at the polls by staying home. That’s a pipe dream. Blacks in Halifax County backed him in 2008 by an even bigger majority than they backed the anti-gay marriage ban. And they’ll do the same again in 2012.
It’s true that gay marriage has been an especially sensitive issue among blacks, especially black evangelicals, who insistently and selectively cite Bible passages to crusade against gay marriage. And when that fails to sway anyone, some fall back on the bogus defense of the black family argument which supposedly is that more blacks openly choosing same sex partners will be yet another wrecking ball tearing away at the fragile black family. This argument conveniently downplays or ignores the greatest and long standing destabilizers of black families: poverty, unemployment, grossly underfunded and underserved inner city schools, and skills training programs, disproportionately high incarceration rates among black males, and the still all-pervasive workplace racial discrimination.
There have been instances where a larger than average number of blacks has backed anti-gay marriage bans in states such as Ohio in 2004, and California in 2008. This also drew a lot of attention. But in Ohio, the same year blacks backed the ban they also gave then Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, running against President George W. Bush, more than 80 percent of their vote. In 2008, blacks gave Obama more than 90 percent of their vote. In both cases, the blacks who voted for Kerry voted party loyalty first, and for Obama, voted both party and race loyalty.
The black vote in Halifax county, where blacks backed the gay marriage ban by a two-to-one majority, doesn’t tell the whole story. If the ban had been on the state ballot four years earlier, the proportion of blacks who backed it would have almost certainly been even higher. That would have mirrored national trends which showed then that black hostility to gay marriage was much higher than today. The most recent Pew Research Center poll in April found for the first time that less than a majority of blacks said they opposed marriage between gays and lesbians. That’s a double digit drop from the number of blacks opposed to gay marriage in 2008.