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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

April 26, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Eight words that will decide the future of gay marriage in America, including Amendment One in North Carolina in two weeks

On May 8, citizens of North Carolina will vote on Amendment One — a bill regarding the definition of domestic unions. For younger voters, it is about civil rights. 

Gay Marriage

Citizens outside the Manhattan Marriage License Bureau on February 12, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Flickr member Brittany Travis).

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In eight words, the young woman shredded the plan of the National Organization for Marriage and provided a glimpse of the future, if the data are to be believed.

I met her while ordering some food in this tough, strong town in the Piedmont Triad region of this state. She was African American, and I told her we were out her way from Seattle, finding stories and people in the midst of the 2012 election campaign.

Then I asked her what she thought of Amendment One, a proposition on the North Carolina ballot on May 8 that would revise the state constitution so that it legally recognizes only one kind of domestic union: that between a man and a woman.

In response she said, “That’s the thing about civil rights, isn’t it?”

Eight words. They could shake North Carolina on May 8, when Amendment One will either be passed or voted down, and they could foretell the future of same-sex marriage in Washington if a referendum makes the November ballot.

In 2009 the National Organization for Marriage produced a plan to win public opinion on same-sex marriage. The approach, which came to light last month as part of a lawsuit in Maine, set out its plan thusly:

“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.”

Excerpt of a 2009 memo by the National Organization for Marriage. Memo made public in March 2012.

The plan to split white liberals and African Americans — who overwhelmingly align with the Democratic Party — over gay marriage is not a fairy-tale possibility.

In California in 2008, voters passed a law banning same-sex marriage, and black Americans were strong supporters of this outcome.  Ever since there have been tensions between some black leaders and the gay and lesbian community about whether same-sex marriage is a civil right, even in traditionally “blue” states.

But as my colleague A. V. Crofts notes in her piece in today’s print edition of the Seattle Times, several leading African Americans in North Carolina — in the NAACP as well as in the religious faith community — have spoken out against Amendment One’s banning of same-sex marriage and civil unions.

And some evidence published this week suggests that black voters are trending along with white Democrats against the amendment before the final day of voting on May 8. Reporting by another colleague of mine, Elizabeth Wiley, suggests that social media techniques might be driving these shifts.

That said, if African Americans do come to oppose the amendment in numbers consistent with white liberals, this shift will be driven by some significant degree by generational change. Simply put, each new cohort of Americans is showing greater support for same-sex marriage.

Two Columbia University political scientists, Jeffrey R. Lax and Justin H. Phillips, mapped this generational change on a state-by-state basis in a 2009 scholarly article. They showed the almost-clockwork shifts in greater support for same-sex marriage that has occurred across the United States.

This kind of over-time change is known as “generational change.”  The pace of it for same-sex marriage, across state after state, is rapid.

We can see it in North Carolina, where Public Policy Polling’s recent poll published Tuesday found 62% of 18-to-29 year olds oppose Amendment One. And we can see it in Washington, where a PPP poll in February found that 61% of 18-to-29 year olds support legal same-sex marriage; 49% of people 30-45 do; 51% of people 46 to 65 do, but only 39% of people older than 65 do.

If young people — regardless of racial group — see gay marriage as a civil right, it’s game over for laws like Amendment One.

Follow David Domke on Twitter: @uwdomke

Comments | More in Culture, National, State | Topics: African Americans, Amendment One, civil right

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