San Francisco may be the spiritual homeland of the gay-rights movement, but that doesn't mean all its residents are of the same mind when it comes to Proposition 8, the statewide initiative that would amend California's Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. In fact, a previous anti-gay-marriage proposition exposed a rift between the city's black and gay communities.
In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 22, which codified marriage as being between a man and a woman, with 61.4 percent of the vote. San Francisco defied the statewide trend and voted against the proposition by the largest margin in the state. But within the city, some precincts in neighborhoods with large black populations actually voted for the gay-marriage ban (which was overturned by the state Supreme Court earlier this year). In Visitacion Valley, 58 percent supported it; in the Excelsior, 54 percent; and in Bayview–Hunters Point, 50.5 percent.
But that was eight years ago, and a political numbers-cruncher and No on Proposition 8 campaign workers say it's unlikely to happen again because young African-Americans, who are registering to vote in large numbers because of the candidacy of Barack Obama, are more tolerant of alternative lifestyles.
"The African-American culture is slightly more socially conservative, and they are not as strongly pro-gay," says local political analyst David Latterman, president of Fall Line Analytics. "But, having said that, the vote against gay marriage practically broke even in Bayview–Hunters Point and, eight years later, there are higher levels of social acceptance."
Lisa Williams, a No on Proposition 8 outreach worker, says homosexuality has traditionally been a taboo subject in the black community, but claims that is beginning to change. She says there has been widespread support for the No on Proposition 8 effort among black groups such as Black Women for Political Action, the Black Leadership Forum, and the African-American Democratic Party, which have all endorsed the campaign.
The Rev. Amos Brown, former city supervisor and minister of the Third Baptist Church, has gone on record supporting same-sex marriage, but he says that hasn't stopped white evangelical ministers from suggesting the city's black churches are persuading their congregants to support Proposition 8 through church phone banks, prayer meetings, and even a 40-day fast. "They've done this for the last two months," Brown says. "They are the ones who are fostering hostility at all levels."
He adds that blacks have traditionally not discussed gay rights much because it has not been a priority: "Our issues are bread and butter — housing, health care, education, getting our children out of jail. But this is a matter of equal rights, and it would be unkind and un-Christian for black ministers to turn around and do to gay folks what was done to us."