Conservatives worried about heavy voter turnout for Democrat Barack Obama next week may find one silver lining in their electoral cloud: The senator's popularity among black voters may help a conservative cause that Obama opposes.
Voters in Arizona, California, and Florida will decide next Tuesday whether to pass ballot measures aimed at banning same-sex marriage in their states. Obama says he opposes such measures, but a significant bloc of his supporters may disagree: A Florida poll reported that 65 percent of black voters said they would vote for the ban.
In a swing state with a presidential race too close to call, the ballot measure remains neck-and-neck, too. John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council says Obama supporters may tip his group's effort to pass the bill: "We believe the Obama factor and the [Sarah] Palin factor will help us with the marriage issue."
The Obama factor may help conservatives in California, too: Activists on both sides of Proposition 8-the state's ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage-are courting black voters, many of whom support Obama.
Frank Schubert of the "Yes on 8" organization said black and Latino voters are among the strongest supporters of the ban. Opponents of the ban, including an organization called Marriage for All, have appealed to black voters to oppose the measure, and framed the initiative as a civil-rights issue.
Ron Buckmire of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, a homosexual advocacy group in Los Angeles, told The New York Times: "We're saying, 'Gay people are black people and black people are gay. And if you are voting conservative on an anti-gay ballot measure, you are hurting the black community."
Conservative groups argue the opposite, and have poured millions of dollars into the California campaign. In Florida, Stemberger's group has rallied black pastors to support the amendment, including Vaughn McLaughlin, pastor of the 4,000-member Potter's House Christian Fellowship in Jacksonville.
Sharon Austin, associate professor of politics at the University of Florida, told the Florida Times-Union that black voters often support socially conservative causes, even while supporting less conservative candidates. Austin, who is black, also said the civil-rights comparisons may not resonate with African Americans: "A lot of people resent that comparison because they don't think it's the same."