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Proposition 8 Might Have a Black and Brown Problem

Adriana Maestas | , Politic365 | 2/8/2012, 12:49 p.m.

In case you missed it: [this week] a three judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared that Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional in a 2-1 decision. Still, this doesn't mean that gay couples in the Golden State can resume seeking marriage, as Prop. 8 supporters plan to appeal today's decision.

The court said, "Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California."

What the decision may bring is the resurgence of yet another emotional social issue on the political landscape during an election cycle that promises to be as divisive as it will be historic. An appeal of the decision is most certain to raise the issue further up the federal court food chain, with some talking of Supreme Court review.

"No court should presume to redefine marriage," argued Brian Raum, an attorney for a Christian-centered legal group. "The expressed will of the American people in favor of marriage will be upheld at the Supreme Court."

But, gay rights activist Chad Griffin shot back, calling the ruling historic. "You can't strip away a fundamental right."

The issue is bound to have an impact on Decision 2012, from the caustic Republican primaries all the way to the general. Proposition 8 was largely backed by the members of the Mormon Church in 2008, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder-day Saints even faced backlash because of their involvement in this measure that banned gay marriage. With Mitt Romney, a high profile Mormon and former bishop, currently leading the GOP presidential primary race, we may begin to see more stories about the role of LDS members in political campaigns in terms of social values because of today's ruling.

Not discussed in the headlines is the significant role Black and Latino voters will play in determining the issue's trajectory and their turnout in November. It's no secret that many in the Black political, religious and civil rights community have been cold to the issue, with many feeling it steals the thunder from more pressing social justice issues like high unemployment rates amongst people of color and poverty. Same sex marriage battles in various state legislatures have found African American legislators on the opposing side of the issue.

From the perspective of Latino and African American voters, there are some interesting dynamics at play. After Proposition 8 passed, it was suggested that White members of the LGBT community vilified religious African Americans for supposedly supporting an anti-LGBT agenda. Much of that was based on internal political divisions as assorted Black clergy and community activists expressed concerns that predominantly White gay and lesbian advocates were expecting Black support and mobilization absent reciprocity. "Where is the LGBT community when racial profiling, predatory lending and institutional racism issues pop up?" bluntly asked one prominent Black California politico off record when Politic365 inquired about the issue.

But according to a 2009 poll by the Third Way, when the word "marriage" is swapped for "civil unions/domestic partnership," African Americans are "slightly more favorable than the general population toward legal recognition of same-sex relationships." For Latinos, according to a California poll in 2010, "57% of Latino Catholics would vote for the legalization of same-sex marriage compared to 22% of Latino Protestants." So church affiliation matters, but the views in the Black and Brown communities are nuanced.

Still, some strategists and observers on both side of the aisle are bracing for blowback on some scale from communities of color on the issue. Republican strategists may attempt to use it as a divide-and-conquer ploy within the Democratic voting base, figuring out a way to turn voters of color against White progressives. While many White liberals, particularly gay rights activists, will want greater focus on same-sex marriage, Black and Latino voters may become resentful and less inclined to turn out for Democratic candidates if there is a feeling of too much focus on the issue at the expense of crucial economic concerns. And Democratic strategists worry how the issue could impact Independent voter support and if it will energize the conservative grass roots in such a way that seriously endangers President Obama's reelection bid in November. The jury is still out on that.

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