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John Dean on Prop 8 and the blame game

By pams
Saturday, December 13, 2008 1:13 EDT
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While he’s a little late with a reaction to the results of Prop 8, John Dean weighs in with an insightful look at the matter of race and the ballot initiative, “Why Claims that Black Californians Deserve Blame for the Passage of California’s Anti-Gay-Marriage Proposition 8 Are Unfair and Untrue.”

Shortly before the November 2008 election, I asked an African American friend how he was going to vote on Proposition 8. I did not think much about that conversation before the election, but afterward, I realized it went a long way in explaining why Prop. 8 succeeded, with the help of black voters. Now, it is up to the California Supreme Court to say whether, in fact, a simple majority of California voters can deny gays equality. But it’s possible that it did not have to be that way – and the failure to make the anti-Prop. 8 case effectively to black voters may well be to blame for our current situation.

A Pre-Election Conversation That May Shed Light on the Issue of African-Americans and Prop. 8

I knew my friend Jimmy was a good Democrat, not to mention a solid Obama supporter; indeed, he had spent time with both the Senator and his wife, Michelle, when they were visiting California long before Obama announced his presidential candidacy. Jim was so impressed after meeting and talking to the young Senator, he told Michelle Obama that he hoped the senator would run for president one day. She, however, was opposed to such an idea at that time, because she understandably was worried about her husband’s safety.

Jim, who is about my age, is deeply interested in politics, but not a political junkie like me. He was particularly interested in the 2008 election because he so admired Senator Obama and his wife. Several weeks before the election, we were talking about Obama’s solid campaign, when I asked him about his feeling toward Prop. 8. His answer actually surprised me: He said he was against gay marriage.

I asked if his opposition was based on religious beliefs. No, that was not it, he assured me, although he had heard people talking about the Proposition at his church. He said he was not sure he could explain it, but the idea of men marrying men, and women marrying women, did not feel right to him. It made him uncomfortable, even though he had business clients who were gay couples, and he enjoyed spending time with them.

Some of the interesting observations Dean makes regarding his friend’s views are below the fold. 1. Dean’s friend Jim was exposed to the Yes on 8 hysteria ads about teaching homosexuality in the classroom or declaring open season on religious freedom, but he didn’t buy any of that garbage.

2. Dean’s friend also believed that sexual orientation was not a choice; this black man had gay white and black friends who told him that they knew from childhood that they were gay, and he doesn’t dispute that.

3. What was also true is that the Loving v. Virginia comparison really hadn’t been out there to sell Jim that this was same kind of discrimination — there wasn’t enough messaging to make it hit home — the case hadn’t been made clearly to enough blacks, but his conversation with Dean about the legal aspects of discrimination ultimately swayed his vote. Dean asked Jim whether, after their discussions, he voted for Prop 8.

“No, no, I didn’t,” he said. “I got to thinking about our conversations. No way I am going to vote to discriminate against anyone,” he said with a smile, shaking his head. “But, you know, I have mentioned what we talked about to other blacks – and they were not looking at this question as discrimination either.” He also reported that he had been watching the belated ads of those opposing Prop 8, which he thought had utterly failed to present the issue to the black community as one involving discrimination, Yet he noted that this strategy could have been effective, as the black community surely had no interest in discriminating against anyone.

I think this does make one lesson perfectly clear — one to one outreach can make a difference, even more than a viral YouTube ad or even a TV commercial.

We’ll never know exactly what effect a better outreach campaign would have had, but it’s certain that more people like Jim could have been persuaded to vote no on 8.

 
 
 
 
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