California's Prop. 8 Passes, Passions Flare While voters were casting ballots for the first black president, California chose to pass a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. For the latest news, Farai Chideya talks with Jasmyne Cannick — a gay rights activist in Los Angeles — and Lou Engel, founder of "The Call."

California's Prop. 8 Passes, Passions Flare

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As voters cast ballots for the first black President, voters in California chose to pass a state constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. Were these two issues completely unrelated?

Well, maybe, but what if you take into account that 70 percent of black Californians voted for the ban, compared to 49 percent of white voters, and 53 percent of Latino voters. Expert say black and Latino voters also overwhelmingly voted to pass similar measures in Florida and Arizona.

Could this help fracture the Democratic coalition? With me now, we've got Jasmyne Cannick, who runs the political blog., and Lou Engel, founder of "The Call," that's a Christian Ministry focused on young people. "The Call" held several rallies in support of Prop. 8 leading up to Election Day. Welcome to both of you.

Ms. JASMYNE CANNICK (Gay Rights Activist, Los Angeles): Hi.

Mr. LOU ENGEL (Founder, "The Call"): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, Proposition 8 was a measure here in California specifically, and sought to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that set a ban on gay marriages unconstitutional. There were ballot proposals passed in Arizona and Florida, but you did not have situations were gay couples were getting married in Arizona and Florida.

Gay couples were getting married here up until the moment when, you know, Voting Day. So, let me start with you, Jasmyne. The measure was approved by 52 percent statewide, black folks are about six percent of the population, 10 percent of the electorate, because not everyone who lives in California or every state is a citizen. So, how much did black Californians actually influence the passage of this bill, of this ballot's initiative?

Ms. CANNICK: I think we played a role in it. Obviously, in the past African Americans, when it comes to issues like gay marriage, tend to be very socially conservative. I think we've made some ground work in that area, but as it relates to November 4th, yeah, we definitely did play a role.

I don't know if we play the leading role at it sort of being made out to be considering the fact, like you said, we are only six percent of the state's population and 10 percent of the electorate.

CHIDEYA: Still the numbers struck me in the difference between blacks and Latinos in terms of support for this. Were you surprised by that?

Ms. CANNICK: Nothing surprises me these days. But again, it just goes to show that there's still a lot of work to be done. I think, you know, as someone who's cut in the middle, because I'm black and I'm also a lesbian, I think that the gay community had a misunderstanding of what blacks' priorities were going to be on November 4th, and I know that our priorities were to get us registered, and to get us out to turnout the vote for Barack Obama, which we did successfully.

To the extent that Proposition 8 came into play, it was a secondary issue and an issue that wasn't well thought out as it related to how African-Americans would turn out the vote, and it was a poorly ranked campaign on behalf of the gay community.

CHIDEYA: I want to actually go to one of the advertisements for Yes on Proposition 8, this one features San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

(Soundbite of Mayor Gavin Newsome's advertisement)

Mayor GAVIN NEWSOM (Democratic, San Francisco): This door is wide open now. It's going to happen, whether you like it or not.

Unidentified Woman: Four judges ignored four million voters, and imposed same-sex marriage on California. It's no longer about tolerance, acceptance of gay marriage is now mandatory.

Mayor NEWSOM: That changes a lot of things. People sued over personal beliefs. Churches could lose their tax exemption. Gay marriage taught in public schools.

Unidentified Woman: We don't have to accept this.

Mayor NEWSOM: Whether you like it or not.

Unidentified Woman: Yes on 8.

CHIDEYA: All right. When you think about that, Lou, and that messaging that people were not given a choice, that people who supported this measure were not given a choice as the events unfolded previous to the ballot initiative. Do you think that was successful? Was that the main reason why people voted for this?

Mr. ENGEL: Well, I think the reason the people voted is because they're still a mass of Americans who still have family, deep-rooted family values, who believe marriage between a man and a woman is still best for society. I think Gavin Newsom, was kind of - I think people picked up his spirit in the advertisement. This is not really the kind of attitude that we want to run behind. I think the clarity of the teachers association putting in a million dollars and then shamed(ph) that we don't want to educate your children - if this will not affect the education of your children then why did the teachers put in a million dollars? I think the word got out clearly that hey, things aren't being clearly communicated and the truth really is a sham. I mean, they're making it a sham and so I think, the people and the mass realized this thing is a deception and the will of the people turned it back.

CHIDEYA: What are your thoughts on how big a role the black community specifically or non-white Californian voters played in the margin of this vote?

Mr. ENGEL: Well, I know there was tremendous activity among those leading the 'Yes On 8' movement among the Latinos and the blacks. In fact, the black Americans in San Diego were the ones that originally rallied the cry to go to, so to speak, war on this thing. Because black Americans are saying this is not a civil rights issue. We can't change our skin. The black Americans were very clear on this. This is a choice of people's lifestyles and it's not the same as civil rights, and the black Americans rose up in mass and said hey, let's make a distinction here. That's why I think the black vote was very heavily favored towards traditional marriage, and I think it's a profound statement particularly from the people that have suffered the most in terms of racism and inequality.

CHIDEYA: How do you have that conversation when you have a conversation, Jasmyne, with people about racial discrimination, discrimination against gays and lesbians, the civil rights legacy, and where things are now, talk to me or give a couple of sentence. You've talked about talking to your grandmother.

Ms. CANNICK: Yeah. I have an even better one today, all right? In the last 24 hours, this issue has captivated California as it relates to black people. There was a protest last night in West Wood where a pond(ph), several black people were casted and called the N word. Some of those black people happen to have been gay and they were being called those names by white gay folks who said it was you people, you people, who took away our rights. They didn't know that they were gay. All they saw were black people. On the flip side of that, I leave the tennis course to come over here where a fight breaks out on the court over Proposition 8 amongst black people, not knowing that I'm a lesbian. They're using the F word, the S word, every word to describe my community.

So it's hard for people in my position because we are caught in the middle. But the problem is this, again, there's a misunderstanding of what our priorities were and at the same time, I hate to have to say it this way but the whit gay community needs to realize and recognize that you're going to lose every time you continue to put yourself at the forefront of this movement. Minorities played a big role in Proposition 8, but all the images and everything that you saw on television or heard on the radio were of affluent sort of white gay couples, which feeds into people like my grandmother's psyche, the whole white privilege thing. I'm a black lesbian. The reason why I wasn't inspired to work on Prop 8 was because that glass ceiling that the white gays are bumping their head up against is to a room that as a black person, I haven't even got a foot in the door of. I'm just trying to put food on the table.

There's a hierarchy of needs, I think, when it comes to African-Americans, and again, it was a poorly run campaign. What I will say about the other side is that I was in the Projects on Election Day, and they were debating Proposition 8. So that means that they were able to get their message into their farthest parts of our community, while the gay folks were only willing to go only as far as the neighborhoods and our community they had already gentrified.

CHIDEYA: Lou, when you think about the outcome of this which is to your liking, to your will, does that mean that you're going to try to build alliances, more permanent alliances with, for example, African-American churches or members of faith communities, of other races?

Mr. ENGEL: Well, I think, in my own circles, which is mostly the evangelical and the Christian circles, there's been a coming together like never before, and there is talk now about establishing long term relationships, building coalitions, but I think there's also an element that realizes that in two years, these things kind of build and are going to come back again. So, I'm involved majorly in a whole peer movement with young people, and there's a major press in California for massive movements of prayer, asking God for spiritual awakening, which is desperately really what we need. We're not just looking - speaking about the homosexual community, the church is saturated with divorce, pornography, and adultery, we need a spiritual awakening and returning to moral foundations. I think we're in a moment where we seize the day. I think we can see some tremendous benefits and blessing for our state and for the nation.

CHIDEYA: Jasmyne, very quickly, do you think there needs to be outreach to the faith community from your perspective, particularly the black faith community?

Ms. CANNICK: Yeah, obviously, there needs to be outreach but it needs to be done by people like me - African-American gays and lesbians, and to the extent that we're willing to do it, we will.

CHIDEYA: All right. On that note, thank you both.

Mr. ENGEL: Thank you.

Ms. CANNICK: Thanks.

CHIDEYA: We're talking to Jasmyne Cannick who runs the political blog She joined us at NPR West Studios. And Lou Engel, founder of "The Call" California. It's a youth-centered evangelical group based in Kansas City, Missouri. And next on News & Notes, should wealthy black folks get affirmative action? It's just one question that President-elect Obama himself has raised.

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