The overstatement of African-American opposition to gay marriage

    Well, President Obama must finally have gotten over his fear of black voters.

    As he declared to the American public that his views on gay marriage are “evolving,” while top cabinet members like Vice President Joe Biden voiced clear support, we scoffed regardless of political affiliation. Few people had any doubt that Obama, who has previously declared support for civil unions for gay couples, personally supported gay marriage as well. So why didn’t he just come out and say it instead of hemming and hawing for four years?

    Of course it’s a hot topic in many states — states that (have you heard?) Obama may need to win votes in, come November.

    But for months, many pundits and writers have been positing another reason for Obama’s delay.

    Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post articulates a typical example: “African-Americans, one of the main pillars of the President’s political coalition, remain decidedly skeptical about gay marriage.”

    According to Cillizza’s source, 55% of African Americans are opposed to legalizing gay marriage.

    “Viewed through that lens, coming out in support of gay marriage looks like an unnecessary political risk for Obama,” Cillizza says, warning earlier this week that Obama’s support for gay marriage would “alienate” African-Americans, whom he “desperately needs to win reelection.”

    Statistics on how African-Americans feel about gay marriage vary slightly according to the source. In his piece at BusinessInsider.com, Brett LoGiurato puts the numbers opposed at 51%.

    I want to know why, on the basis of such middling poll numbers, the media (from big-time liberal columnists to conservative blogs) have resoundingly declared that African-Americans — more than any other demographic group except, perhaps, Republicans — are opposed to legalizing gay marriage.

    According to one poll, 75 percent of Republicans oppose gay marriage, and the vast majority of the party is white. Among America’s most visible media commentators, most vehement detractors of gay marriage are white. Polls of white support for gay marriage, varying slightly by source, tend to be fifty-some percent. Over two hundred years of white Presidents never gave public support for gay marriage, while an African-American president just did.

    So, instead of declaring that whites are “divided” on gay rights, as many commentators do, why don’t we all repeatedly pronounce that the white community does not support gay marriage?

    As we all wallow in the news circus of the week and wonder what political machination delayed Obama for so long, we want someone to blame. But holding up the black community as the reason for Obama’s dithering — or as key to the opposition of gay rights in general —is more than a little fishy.

    When polls show that about 50 percent of Americans in general support gay marriage, pundits declare this means that U.S. support of gay marriage is inevitable. Why is the narrative reversed to intractable opposition for gays’ equal rights when we’re talking about a percentage of African-Americans that also hovers around half?

    In this debate, why are whites, as a group, professed to encompass multiple viewpoints, while the black community is described as a homogenous entity, despite the fact that percentages of disagreement within the two demographics are fairly similar? It’s a telling symptom of the U.S. tendency to stereotype minority groups.

    In a political season when even my fellow independents have their views summed up for comparison to Republicans, Democrats, senior citizens, immigrants or any other demographic which is neatly packaged in poll results, I suppose such persistent categorization is inevitable. But it’s unfortunate that in discussing equal rights for one group of Americans, it seems that we’ve happily continued to simplify, stereotype and blame another too-often marginalized group.

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