Why the Anti-Gay Marriage Movement Is Counting on Black Voters

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
May 16 2012 6:22 PM

Can the Anti-Gay Marriage Movement Bounce Back?

If so, in many states it will depend on black churches and their voters.

Anti-gay marriage petitioners.
Volunteers collect gay marriage repeal signatures in Bel Air, Md.

Photograph by David Weigel.

BALTIMORE—Leslie Lopes-Ruffin turned on the projector and pointed it high on the classroom wall. “We pointed it at a sheet last time,” she explained, “and people couldn’t see it.” The slideshow began, right next to a poster of President Obama, listing his accomplishments and famous quotes.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

There’s not a liberal America and a conservative Americathere’s the United States of America.

Ruffin started clicking through her slides, and trained us—myself and a local minister, Monte Harris, Sr.—on how to overturn Maryland’s nascent gay marriage law. The governor signed it into law in March, but implementation was delayed until 2013, to give its enemies time to try and stop it. Rising Sun First Baptist Church is one of the full-time petition drop-off and training centers for the activists who want to put the law on the November ballot, and give voters a chance to overturn it.

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The success of the repeal campaign will depend on black voters. This isn’t a secret. Proponents prefer not to talk about it. In March, an anonymous leaker published internal memos from the National Organization for Marriage that revealed a blunt, successful plan to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks.” Black support for California’s gay marriage ban was at least 58 percent, maybe as high as 70 percent. It was called the “Not a Civil Rights” project: Giving the traditional marriage fight an African-American face.

If this can still work, it will work in Maryland. Petitioners have until June 30 to hand in 57,000 signatures to put marriage on the November ballot. Getting enough signatures won’t be hard. But, once they do, they’ll have to win in a state that gave the 2008 Obama ticket 62 percent of the vote. Black voters made up 25 percent of the electorate that year. They were told, by Obama, that he believed “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Now he’s telling them something different. It’s a little awkward. Monte Harris, my fellow trainee, works at two AME Zionist churches in the Baltimore suburbs.

“I’ve been battling this Obama thing on Facebook,” he said. “They say, ‘the Bible doesn’t say anything about homosexuality!’ And I type back to them, ‘What Bible are you reading? The Rick James Bible?’ ”

The president’s live TV “evolution” was a massive disappointment for Harris. Just one reason: Obama had cited the “golden rule” to explain himself. “They always want to throw that out,” said Harris. “They take it out of context. They’ll say, ‘the Bible says ‘love thy neighbor.’ Well, the Bible doesn’t say ‘make love to thy neighbor.’ ”

I visited Rising Sun on Tuesday, when relatively few people were picking up and delivering petitions. A few hours before the training session, I met one of the volunteers who’d gotten his circulator stripes a month earlier—Melvin Bilal, a University of Pennsylvania-educated lawyer and practicing Muslim.

“I was at work,” recalled Bilal, “and one of my friends asked me, ‘You see what your boy Obama did?’ I felt, immediately, like the decision was political. It made him look like a hypocrite.”

Some of the gay marriage skeptics I talked to were sticking with Obama. Bilal isn’t. “It’s impossible for someone to be a serious Christian and not support what God said,” he said. “This goes to the heart of creation, of man. I went door to door for him last time. I won’t vote for him this time, because of this. I’m going to look more closely at Romney. Romney’s family, his father, come out of that Rockefeller Republican tradition.” In the meantime, he’d collect signatures—the big haul would come up at the end of the month, when he took petitions to Baltimore’s Muslim Fun Day.

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