My continuing quest to see everything in New York City

Explorations & Adventures               About       Press       Tours       Links             Travel Blog

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NY State Gay Marriage Ban - by the numbers

This post doesn't have much to do with Census Tracts or NYC geography - it concerns the Marriage Equality amendment recently rejected by the NY State Senate. I'm a strong supporter of Gay Marriage, and I wish it had passed. And if white people had been more supportive it would have.

Wow - that sounded a bit weird didn't it? Just what does that have to do with anything?

Well in California, apparently, it had everything to do with it. In case you don't remember, black voters in California voted for the gay marriage ban at a rate about 20 points higher than white voters (athought you also have to keep in mind that this is based on just one exit poll). This led to a furry of articles and blog posts - all with the general point that it was black voters who were responsible for scuttling gay marriage in California.

Now, maybe that happenes to be true and maybe it doesn't (in fact probably it doesn't). But the specifics of the demographic breakdown of the California vote isn't what mostly got talked about - what got talked about was "black homophobia." Not just in California, but across America. White people have no problem imagining that, say, white people from rural Alabama will be mostly against gay marriage, while white people from the Upper West Side of New York will be mostly for it, but somehow translate one vote in one state into an blanket overview of 50 million Americans. An unfortunate attitude does exist among a lot of white liberals that black homophobia is the rule, and white homophobia the exception.

Now, I don't know California very well, but I do know New York. And in New York this is most definitely not the case.

Know your history - you could be out and gay in Harlem back when being out and gay in Greenwich Village meant risking your life. The oldest gay bar in Brooklyn is in the heart of heavily African-American and Caribbean Crown Heights, and has been for over 50 years. This history continues today. Let's look at the numbers.

The marriage equality law was championed by an African-American governor, and brought to the floor of the Senate for the first time in history by an African American Senate President and an African-American Conference Leader. 90% of black members of the NY State Senate voted in favor, compared to 26% of white members (and that includes just 71% of white Democrats). Let me repeat it another way - black NY State Senators supported gay marriage more than three times as much as white Senators.

I also analyzed the vote in the Assembly (I'm using the May 2009 vote which is the most recent one I found a roll call for), which narrows the difference, but still leaves a big gap. 76% of total black elected state officials (I'm counting the Governor here also) who voted on the issue supported Marriage Equality. 73% of Hispanic state elected officials did also. Only 57% of white state elected officials did (the one Asian state elected official, Grace Meng, didn't vote). It should be noted that this vote - in both houses - was one of those rare "conscience" votes in Albany, meaning the leadership isn't pressuring you one way or another.

I haven't broken it down any further, but I think it's a reasonable assumption that the only group of legislative officials that supported gay marriage more than black legislators was out-gay legislators.

But somehow, I don't think you're going to hear this in the media. I don't think you're going to see any headlines like "White, Gay communities collide over Gay Marriage." I don't think you'll read any angry blog posts about how whites doomed marriage equality in New York. I don't think you'll hear the subtle narrative among the pro-gay marriage crowd of "you know, if white people just supported gay marriage more, maybe we wouldn't have such a problem getting it done."

Now, I happen to think everyone should support marriage equality as a fundamental human right and I hold individual legislators - regardless of race, ethnicity, or anything else - equally in contempt for not doing so. But I do hope the same people who were so eager to call out black homophobia as the reason why the vote in California failed are equally eager to call out white homophobia as the reason why the vote in New York failed. At the very least I think they owe the black community of New York a "thank you" for supporting marriage equality well above and beyond the norm.

State Senate Roll Call Vote (Dec, 2009)
State Assembly Roll Call Vote (May 2009)