By Frederick Sparks
After President Obama expressed personal support for marriage equality, pundits wasted no time pondering the effects on the upcoming presidential election, including whether or not the president’s “evolved” position would alienate African-Americans, the President’s most loyal voting bloc.
And indeed there has been negative reaction from the black clergy. Maryland based anti-gay preacher Harry Jackson stated “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.’” (Being godly of course means being homophobic) And a group of African-American pastors, the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP), led by Memphis based “Reverend Doctor” William Owens soundly condemned the president’s statement, with Owens asserting that there was no doubt that the president would lose black votes: “Absolutely it will and especially among the black churches where the conviction against same-sex marriage is so strong…”I think many black Christians feel somewhat betrayed by the president on this – this is something that black churches have always stood firmly against.”
Yet there are suggestions that the views of these “leaders” may be increasingly disconnected from the masses. Polling conduct by Public Policy Polling on a Maryland referendum that would keep the states marriage equality law in place showed a dramatic swing in opinion among black voters; in March 56% were opposed to the new law, now (following Obama’s statement) 55% are in favor of marriage equality. This also tracks an ABC News/Washington Post Poll showing 59% of African-Americans nationwide in support of marriage equality. While other polls of African-Americans on the gay marriage issue have yielded mixed results, presidential election polling so far has shown no real shift in African-American support away from President Obama.
Following the President’s statements, Black entertainers and athletes have also expressed support for gay marriage or made gay positive statements, including music mogul Jay-Z and Heisman winner and No. 2 NFL draft pick Robert Griffin III. For better or worse, entertainers and athletes hold sway in influencing public opinion.
Perusing the website of this Coalition of African-American Pastors, one sees that the group’s mission is the breaking down of church/state separation, and opposing marriage equality and reproductive rights. No mention of the myriad of important issues that contribute to continued African-American economic and social disadvantage. This is a prime example of the increasingly irrelevant and out of touch yet stubbornly entrenched phenomenon of blowhard black religious leadership that finds itself increasingly opposed to progressive social change and largely impotent or uninterested when it comes to real issues of social justice.