Blacks, Gays, and Michael Steele

Science, technology, and life.
March 13 2009 1:05 PM

Blacks, Gays, and Michael Steele

Four months ago, this column looked at the overwhelming black vote for California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. Why would one group, having endured discrimination, vote against the rights of another?

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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Whites, on balance, have come to believe that sexual orientation, like color, is immutable. Blacks, on balance, haven't. They see homosexuality as a matter of character. "I was born black. I can't change that," one California man explained after voting for Proposition 8. "They weren't born gay; they chose it."

Here are the numbers:

In a 2003 Pew survey , 32 percent of whites said homosexuality was inborn, 15 percent said it was caused by upbringing, and 40 percent said it was a lifestyle preference. Latinos answered roughly the same way. But only 15 percent of blacks agreed that homosexuality was inborn; 58 percent said it was a lifestyle preference. A plurality of whites (45 to 39 percent) said a person's homosexuality couldn't change, but a two-to-one majority of blacks (58 to 30 percent) said it could. The pattern persists in Pew's 2006 survey . A plurality of whites said homosexuality was inborn, and a majority said it couldn't be changed. A majority of blacks said that homosexuality was just how some people preferred to live and that it could be changed.

Now comes Michael Steele, the new chairman of the GOP. Steele is black. In an interview with GQ 's Lisa DePaulo, Steele concedes :

Q. Do you think homosexuality is a choice?
A. Oh, no. I don't think I've ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. Um, you know, I think that there's a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can't simply say, oh, like, "Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being gay." It's like saying, "Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being black."

This matches what the nation's leading black Democrat, Barack Obama, has said. In a November 2007 appearance on Meet the Press , Obama declared , "I do not believe being gay or lesbian is a choice."

This is very bad news for opponents of gay marriage. As Proposition 8 demonstrated, blacks have become politically pivotal on this issue. If they follow Steele and Obama in coming around to the idea that being gay is like being black, look out.

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