Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Understanding the Complex Influence of Religiosity on the Race Gap in Support for Proposition 8

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Understanding the Complex Influence of Religiosity on the Race Gap in Support for Proposition 8

Article excerpt


We provide evidence from several surveys showing that religiosity can not only explain (mediate) but also influence (moderate) the relationship between a voter's race and/or ethnicity and her attitudes about Proposition 8 (California's Proposal to amend the state's constitution and ban same-sex marriage in 2008) and related issues. These findings advance our understanding of the complex and enduring role of the Black church as a socializing institution in African-American communities, and they speak to the need among proponents of same-sex unions to inform churchgoers about the socio-political implications of anti-gay and exclusionary policies.

Keywords: Proposition 8, race, religion, same-sex marriage, civil rights, homophobia, voter mobilization

1. Introduction

In Chicago's famous Grant Park, and in front of thousands of tearfully-jubilant supporters, then-senator Barack Obama became the United States President-elect. Of course, scholars and journalists will debate the racial implications of Obama's accomplishment (compare, e.g., Mansfield, 2008 to Morris & McGann, 2008), but it is difficult to overstate the historical significance of having the first President of the United States (POTUS) of color. Many Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, did not believe that such an accomplishment would happen in either their own or their grandchildren's lifetimes, and by shattering what was hitherto considered one of the highest political glass ceilings, Obama forces the nation to engage in vital (but often uncomfortable) dialogues about race relations (Asim, 2009; King & Smith, 2011; Walters, 2007).

While election night was considered a victory for many African Americans, another historically marginalized group suffered a devastating loss: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) communities in California a state known for its progressive stance on same-sex-unions (Stryker & Van Bushkirk, 1996) were having their right to marry reversed. It hardly seemed fair, especially since, compared to Whites, a disproportionate number of Blacks voted to amend the state's constitution and overturn the legitimacy of same-sex marriage (Besen, 2010; Egan & Sherrill, 2009; Murray, 2009), and some believe that African-American turnout was critical to the passage of this amendment. The most conspiratorial of these claims imply that pro-Obama enthusiasm among Black voters was exploited to mobilize them against same-sex unions (Abrajano, 2010; CNN Wire Staff, 2012; Miller, 2009; Sherkat, Vries, & Creek, 2010). Such claims begged the question: "how could African-Americans, a group far too familiar with the abuses of social exclusion, vote to deny other minorities the right to equal citizenship?" Considering what Blacks endured, one would expect them to be more sensitive to the plight of gays and lesbians. Cartoonist Darin Bell lampoons these narratives of Black hypocrisy in the November 17 through 19 2008 issues of his comic strip, "Candorville", in which he uses a conversation between two of his characters to exaggerate the dilemma of "racial pride and anti-gay prejudice" (

The issues to which Bell refers presuppose that homophobia played a key role in African Americans' votes for the California Marriage Protection Act (Proposition 8). We offer a different explanation, for we believe that it is difficult to discuss opinions about same-sex marriage without considering the importance of voters' religious values. We begin by referencing the literature on race and sexuality to develop the argument that religious upbringing mediates (explains) as well as moderates (influences) the race gap in Proposition 8 support. We examine these "mediator" and "moderator" effects using a combination of national- and state-level public opinion surveys. Consistent with the mediator argument, controlling for church attendance cancels out the impact of race on the likelihood that a Californian votes for the proposal. …

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