Sunday, December 07, 2008

Blacks vs. Gays

Or BVG, when the movie gets made. Caitlin Flanagan and Benjamin Schwarz have a good op-ed on the Prop 8 fallout. The key point is that we shouldn't be too surprised to "discover that one oppressed group does not necessarily support the goals of another oppressed group." They also point out that the dominant party in a two-party system is of necessity a coalition of subgroups, majorities of which are bound to oppose each other on certain issues.

So the scapegoating of the 70% of black Californians who voted Yes, as either traitorous Democrats or ungrateful beneficiaries of the civil rights movement, is intensely stupid. Still, I'm not sure how sympathetic I am to those African-Americans who find the appeal to the civil rights movement "galling."

On the one hand, those who oppose gay marriage almost certainly don't see a fundamental similarity between the two, and the "Who had it worse?" contest is not close. But it's hard to see how the analogy could be taken as a sign of disrespect. People probably wouldn't compare their cause to another unless a) they also supported that cause, and b) the other cause was successful. Otherwise it's not a terribly useful analogy. And it should be possible to argue that two historical injustices are similar in principle without implying that they are responsible for equal amounts of human suffering.

Later the authors attempt to peel back the layers of the onion that is African-American opposition to gay marriage:

Furthermore — and perhaps even more painfully for those of us who support gay marriage and all that it represents — Christian teaching on marriage is not the only reason so many blacks supported Proposition 8. Although it has come as a shocking realization to many in this community, a host of sociological studies confirm that many blacks feel a significant aversion to homosexuality itself, finding it morally and sexually repugnant.

I don't know what community they're referring to, but I'm not sure why anyone would be shocked by those studies. That "significant aversion" is also called homophobia, and it can be identified in many whites too! It doesn't become some new phenomenon when it's found to be especially prevalent among black people.

My suspicion is that this gut feeling preceded the religious dictates that legitimized it, and that at this point Romans 1:27 is mostly a convenient fig leaf that spares people of all races from having to come out and say "Because it's just gross, is why!"

That's crucial because, in arguing that a large minority population must retain its narrower set of rights than that afforded everyone else, they know they need a better reason for it than the squick factor. Gay marriage opponents who are black shouldn't be expected to have a better explanation for themselves than those who aren't, but they all should have a better one than that.

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