They came in droves — the Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians — groups that had hitherto been disenfranchised and felt that politicians did not represent their views. The racial minorities pushed Barack Obama over the line in places like North Carolina and Virginia. But in California — a state that since 1998 has had a non-white majority of at least 56% — the mass influx of minority voters wound up more influential in a ballot initiative known as Proposition 8. Prop 8 was to amend the Constitution of California to define marriage as between only a man and a woman. The purpose of Prop 8 was to overturn gay marriage, which had been legal in California since June of this year.
The campaigns over Prop 8 have been arduous on both sides. The opponents of Prop 8, seeking to preserve gay marriage, had the massive financial and media backing of Hollywood superstars such as Ellen DeGeneres. They had the support of the political establishment in California — both federal Democratic senators, the majority of the state legislature, and even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opposed Prop 8 (though Schwarzenegger expressed personal disapproval of same-s-x marriage). The proponents of Prop 8 were, not surprisingly, religious groups.
Both sides of the ballot initiative raised record amounts of money — opponents raised approximately $38 million and supporters raised approximately $36 million. Major donors opposing Prop 8 included corporations like Apple and celebrities such as Steven Spielberg. Major donors supporting Prop 8 included the Mormon Church. Polls taken through September and October were all over the place; some had Prop 8 failing by 8%, others had it passing by 3%.
In the end, like the presidential election, it all came down to turnout – and arguably those that tipped the balance were racial minorities, who tend to be conservative on so-called ‘moral’ issues such as gay marriage. Latino voters tend to be Catholic; Black voters tend to be Baptist. Exit polls from California confirmed that Black voters were overwhelmingly voting yes on Prop 8. One exit poll said that 70% of Black voters said yes to Prop 8. Exit polls also showed that a little over 50% of Latinos and Asians voted yes on Prop 8, while the white community was split almost evenly.
One might question why racial minorities — who have a history of discrimination – would oppose civil rights for same-s-x couples? Well, it comes down to a number of factors. Obviously one is religion, and the exit polls confirm that many Blacks who voted yes on Prop 8 said it had to do with their Christian faith. But there are other sociological explanations; studies have shown that tolerance of homos-xuality tends to be lower in the Black and Latino communities. This is not to say that there are no gay minorities or that no minorities tolerate or embrace homos-xuals. But issues such as hyper-masculinization of Black and Latino men have resulted in derogatory attitudes towards GLBTQ persons. Fundamentally, while proponents of same-s-x marriage try to frame the issue as one of civil rights, racial minorities do not see it in terms of civil rights but rather in ‘moral’ or religious terminology.
Would it be fair to blame the success of Prop 8 in California entirely on race? Absolutely not — the Public Policy Institute of California determined that pre-2008, Blacks and Asians each made up approximately 6% of Californian voters and Latinos made up 15% — that combined is little over 25% of the electorate. Even with the increase in participation, early estimates from 2008 exit polls indicate that Blacks and Latinos combined were still less than one third of the California electorate. So obviously it would not be fair to blame the entire victory of Prop 8 on minority voters.
Large segments of the white community, particularly in the hinterland of California away from the (sub)urban municipalities of San Francisco and Los Angeles voted in droves for Prop 8. Not surprisingly, a majority of voters aged 18-29 opposed Prop 8, voters 30-64 were slightly in favor of it, and voters over 65 were overwhelmingly in favor of it. So there were a number of other demographics that had an impact on the close, 52%-48% victory of Prop 8.
But the role of race as a factor cannot be denied. But perhaps irony of all ironies, Barack Obama himself opposed Prop 8. Like Governor Schwarzenegger, Obama has declared his opposition to gay marriage but also opposed Prop 8. In an interview that aired on MTV the day before the election, Obama declared:
I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage. But when you start playing around with constitutions just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that’s not what America’s about…Usually, our constitutions expand liberties, they don’t contract them.
Unfortunately for the 18,000 same-s-x couples married in California since June, just not enough Obama supporters agreed with him.