Of all the core elements of the Democratic coalition, African-Americans (perhaps along with the New Deal-era elderly) are the least supportive of equal rights for gays and lesbians. Of course their opposition is not monolithic, but the black churches, which remain vital community institutions, are overwhelmingly opposed. And those who believe that same-sex love is immoral and disgusting are outraged when the grievances of gay Americans, and their demand for redress, are likened to the grievances and demands for redress that characterized the black civil rights movement.
So the following passage from Barack Obama’s speech to the NAACP must have been deliberately phrased to be as provocative as possible.
The first thing we need to do is make real the words of your charter and eradicate prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination among citizens of the United States. I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2009. And I believe that overall, there’s probably never been less discrimination in America than there is today.
But make no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America. By African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.
On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination must not stand. Not on account of color or gender; how you worship or who you love. Prejudice has no place in the United States of America.
This is not the first time Obama has confronted a black audience with the disconnect between civil rights rhetoric and anti-gay prejudice. Back in January of 2008, when Hillary Clinton was still leading Obama in polling among African-American voters, Obama preached against homophobia from the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. And it would be hard to imagine more convincing evidence of Obama’s commitment to gay rights. I can understand the outrage about Obama’s slow-walking the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and of DOMA, and his unwillingness (which whether or not it is based on a sincere belief, I think is unlikely to change) to endorse gay marriage. But surely his willingness to confront his own base in defense of gay rights ought to count for something.