By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The Rev. William Owens is banking that anti-gay marriage sentiment among blacks is so strong that it will put a crimp in President Barack Obama’s near solid black voter support. He’s founded a group called the Coalition of African-American Pastors and he and his undetermined sized group are so confident that gay marriage can be the sleeper wedge issue in November that he called a press conference at the National Press Club to announce the launch of a nationwide campaign to sink Obama on gay marriage.
To no surprise, Owens is lustily cheered by and gets quiet backing from the rabidly anti-gay marriage, National Organization for Marriage. He’s a consultant to the group. This makes him to many the perfect bought and paid for front man for a group that’s firmly aligned with GOP ultra-conservatives in their ferociously single-minded drive to oust President Obama from the White House.
Owens has a couple of slender hooks that he’s hung his case against President Obama on. One is the April Pew Research Center poll that found that a slim majority of African-Americans oppose gay marriage. The other is the not insignificant numbers of conservative, fundamentalist black preachers that adamantly oppose gay marriage. And some like Owens haven’t shrunk from openly voicing their displeasure with President Obama for backing same-sex marriage. But that’s where the pluses end.
The hope by Owens and the GOP that gay marriage will be the same wedge issue that it was in 2004 that helped Bush win back the White House is a pipe dream. President Bush was the incumbent. He had the largesse of the federal government to dangle carrot offers of faith based dollars to a select group of mega black pastors in the swing states, most notably Ohio. His campaign and operatives poured bushels of campaign dollars into the drive to get conservative black evangelicals to the polls to back the rash of anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives and to vote for Bush as well. The campaign succeeded in bumping up the black vote for Bush in those states. This helped tip the White House back to Bush.
That won’t happen this time. There are no gay marriage initiatives on ballots to inflame voters in the swing states in November. GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney has given no hint that gay marriage will be a prime issue for him. His sole focus is battering Obama on the economy. The pro Romney Super PACS have been mute on the issue.
Polls show that the overwhelming majority of blacks see the gay marriage issue as a non-starter. A recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found that gay marriage ranked far down on the list of worries among blacks behind the economy, education, economic inequality, and even immigration.
Then there are the changing attitudes of blacks toward gay marriage. Every major civil rights group has endorsed same-sex marriage. The same Pew Research Center poll that found that more blacks were hostile to gay marriage than not, also found a double digit drop from the number of blacks opposed to gay marriage in 2008.
Many conservative black evangelicals have made a fetish of gay marriage in part because of genuine Biblical belief, that’s their interpretation of the Bible that is, and in part from genuine concern over the fragility of the black family. The astronomical number of black children in single parent homes, and foster care facilities, is a crisis public policy issue. It’s an issue that must be addressed by religious leaders, educators, parents, and policy makers. But there’s little evidence that blacks see the threat of gay marriage as a principal cause of black family destabilization.
Gay marriage is really only a political concern, or more accurately, it’s a political talking point now because President Obama became the first sitting president to cautiously endorse gay marriage, and because his endorsement of it comes right in the middle of a presidential election year. This makes him and it a ripe target for opportunists to exploit as a political hammer against him.
But this won’t be the year that passions about a single personal issue, which is what gay marriage rightfully should be, will trump passions among most blacks to reelect President Obama. In fact, many of the same black ministers, such as Owens, that saber rattle President Obama about gay marriage will dutifully punch the ticket for President Obama and will implore their congregations to do the same. By then gay marriage will be only a faint echo among the few blacks that have a vested interest in hurting the president. But they won’t. Owens insured that when at his press conference he implied that President Obama’s support of gay marriage encouraged child molestation (he quickly walked that back). But then he added another idiocy by labeling him half-black, half-white. With opponents like Owens the president is in good stead.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.