The sting in the tail of last week’s Obama election happiness was the news that California had passed Proposition 8, a special ballot to amend the state constitution to abolish same sex marriage. Almost immediately, social news sites like Reddit and blogging communities like Daily Kos focused their attention on CNN exit polling showing that 70% of black voters surveyed had voted to deny same sex couples the right to marry.
Apart from some thoughtful coverage this news unleashed a torrent of racist recrimination, mostly from gay men, some of it seriously ugly. In response, DKos diarist Shannika [via Trevor] has offered a laundry list of demographic reasons why black voters couldn’t have carried Prop 8 to victory. However, I feel this doesn’t really contradict the underlying misconception — that blacks somehow held the balance of power in the first place.
Now, my hero Rachel Maddow has bought into the debate in her own irreducibly intelligent style, inviting Princeton political scientist Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the program to discuss the issue. (From 3:30 in the video.) Harris-Lacewell makes the important point that anti-Prop 8 campaigners failed to reach out to communities of colour, where they could have argued the similarity between Prop 8 and the legislative ban on inter-racial marriage (which was only overturned by a court case in 1967). She suggests it was an opportunity left begging: “African[-American]s understand the language of ‘separate but equal'”, and says one of the nice things about Obama’s resoundingly-effective grassroots strategy is that no demographic can henceforth be safely neglected.
There’s one question that isn’t being asked much: should we be fighting for marriage rights in the first place? My heart goes out to queer Californians whose marriages have been left in legal limbo, and I sympathise with gay men and women who believe marriage is the last bastion of legal inequality. Except that it isn’t. I agree with Michael Warner’s analysis in The Trouble With Normal (1999) where he argues marriage is the tentpole for a social hierarchy that regulates everybody from the top (white middle-class married couples with children) down to the bottom (gay men and sex workers).
There’s something deeply unseemly about climbing on the heads of those sex workers to scrabble up to win access to the marriage club. There’s something similar going on when 27% of GLBTI voters go for McCain, as if by endorsing a conservative they can put some distance between themselves and the bottom of that pile. And there’s something really sad about some poor 19-year old kid who’s ashamed of sex and his sexuality thinking it will all just evaporate if he could promise forever to someone equally-deluded with the State nodding its legal blessing.