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Racial Justice and LGBT Equality – Moving Beyond the Politics of "Divide and Conquer"

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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April 27, 2012

It was recently revealed in internal strategy memos from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage that the organization hoped to pit racial and ethnic minorities against the LGBT community as a way to defeat and rollback gay rights advances, specifically marriage for same-sex couples. The memos included the following: The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies. Another expressed goal was to make opposition to marriage for same-sex couples a “key badge of Latino identity.”

Underpinning this strategy is a really poisonous assumption that the LGBT community is separate and apart and in one corner, while racial and ethnic minorities are in another. Of course we know this is not the case, however, new data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau clearly shows that the “divide and conquer” strategies being pursued by organizations like NOM are not only ugly and divisive, but also fly in the face of reality.

According to the Census Bureau’s findings, interracial or interethnic married couples in the U.S. grew by 28 percent from 2000 to 2010. Among same-sex couples, the numbers are even more striking. According to a new research brief from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, same-sex couples are more likely than their different-sex counterparts to be interracial or interethnic. More than one in five same-sex couples are interracial or interethnic compared to just 9.5 percent of different-sex married couples. Additionally, same-sex couples that include a racial or ethnic minority are more likely to be raising children. A third of same-sex couples that include a Hispanic partner are raising children.

Clearly America is much more diverse and connected across ethnic, racial and sexual orientation lines than organizations like NOM seem to be aware. We don’t fit in the neat, segregated corners that their strategies are dependent upon. The new findings from the Census Bureau speak to a need for those of us who support fairness and equal treatment under the law to stand together and reject dishonest attempts to sow artificial divisions between communities that are already interconnected. We must also continue to demonstrate the harms that are done to families headed by same-sex couples when fairness and equal treatment under the law are denied to certain Americans based on their sexual orientation.

Rather than NOM seeing their strategic vision realized, the opposite appears to be happening. In North Carolina, the state chapter of the NAACP is currently running radio ads urging opposition to Amendment One, a proposed state constitutional amendment that could take away basic legal protections from thousands of loving and committed unmarried or same-sex couples and their children. In addition, there are an ever-increasing number of prominent African-Americans, both religious leaders and civil rights icons, who are embracing marriage for same-sex couples, including Julian Bond, Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Al Sharpton and the late Coretta Scott King. With respect to Latinos, a recent study found views in this community on LGBT rights to be on par with the majority of Americans, with 54 percent stating their support for the freedom to marry.

NOM’s politics, those of division, fear and resentment, are simply not the same as those of an ever increasing majority of Americans. Ironically, rather than offering a strategic “vision,” NOM’s memos seem to show an organization with its head in the sand, incapable of seeing the multiracial, multiethnic face of the LGBT community.

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