By openly supporting gay marriage, President Barack Obama has offended many of the country’s African-Americans, who number among his most loyal supporters. Several of the community’s religious leaders have even called on their congregations to withhold the support that will be crucial to his re-election.
The media has, of course, uncritically given Obama a pass on this issue. He has recently been dubbed the “First Gay President” by Newsweek. The magazine cover showed the presidentwearing a halo in the rainbow colors symbolic of the LGBT movement. The country’s talk shows were all discussing Obama’s courageous move in speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage, which so far is legal in only a few US states. It’s a step that has breathed new life into his bid for re-election, but for many African-American voters, the majority of whom are strictly opposed to same-sex marriage, Obama’s declaration feels like a betrayal.
Obama must have known the risk he was taking when he decided to take this position, breaking with his former stance of supporting only civil unions for same-sex couples. Homosexuality remains a taboo subject in African-American communities, with 65 percent of African-Americans considering same-sex marriage wrong, as compared to 48 percent of white Americans. When the state of California voted on same-sex marriage in 2008, some 70 percent of African-American Californians were in favor of a ban.
When Barack Obama took up residence in the White House in January 2009, the entire world celebrated America’s first black president. But Obama’s election held the greatest significance for African-Americans. Fully 96 percent of black voters supported Obama, many of them turning out on election day specifically out of enthusiasm for Obama and many of them voting for the first time. Many continue to support him, despite the disappointments his term in office has brought. Unemployment among African-Americans remains at 13 percent, considerably higher than the national average of 8 percent, and 11 percent of African-Americans lost their homes in the financial crisis. Yet it is only now that Obama has serious reason to fear the loss of support from African-Americans. And without them, he will fail to achieve re-election this November.
Obama’s declaration of support for same-sex marriage has African-American communities up in arms. Many African-Americans live in a culture that values strong masculine figures and looks down on homosexuality.
Few things have greater influence on African-American sensibilities than churches, which serve as centers of community life for many African-Americans. Twenty-two percent of black Americans attend church services more than once a week — twice as often as white Americans. Many put their faith in what their pastors say and what is written in the Bible, including the statement that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
Obama’s fight for same-sex marriage once again offers that kind of grand promise, a clear breaking point in America’s long-running culture war, and presumably Obama made his decision partly in the hope of recapturing the magic of 2008.
Still, there are more skeptics this time around than there were during Obama’s first election campaign. Many voters see this step as a calculated attempt to win the support of wealthy homosexuals who could be major campaign contributors. After nearly four years of Obama’s presidency, these voters find that Obama’s promise — to build an America that is open to everyone — rings hollow.