It's no secret that the Republican Party has been working for some time now to court America's black voters, once considered a reliable pillar of the Democrat's base. At Karl Rove's behest, the Bush administration has been forging alliances with prominent black evangelicals and the communities they represent, using the issue of gay marriage to get in the door. In a meeting organized this week by the Traditional Values Coalition, a far-right lobbying group with ties to the White House, 70 evangelical clergy sat down to draw up a "Black Contract With America on Moral Values," chief among which was opposition to gay marriage, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The right-wing Heritage Foundation, presumably an ally in the cause, has its own take on the matter. According to the L.A. Times, at the end of February Heritage will cosponsor a gathering of black conservatives in Washington designed to counter dominance of the "America-hating black liberal leadership" and to focus African American voters on moral issues.
As columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote recently, the GOP is banking on conservative attitudes about gay marriage among blacks to help grow its constituency in key swing states from the 2004 election, including Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin. In the past Bush has awarded large sums to black churches through his faith-based program, to help the Republican Party court black voters in general.
But too much focus on the fight over gay marriage might also start to work against the GOP, especially if other key issues fall by the wayside. At a meeting of black Baptist denominations last weekend in Nashville, gay marriage was far down on a long list of priorities that included education, health care, the job market and other pressing issues.
"While African-Americans have expressed certain sentiments that reflect opposition to an expansion of the gay homosexual agenda, there is still much more concern about bread-and-butter issues in terms of the public agenda that they would like to see their churches pursue," said Rev. R. Drew Smith, a Baptist minister who directs the Public Influences of African American Churches project at Morehouse College in Atlanta, according to the Chicago Tribune.
At one point Rev. Jesse Jackson addressed the delegates, who represent 15 million Americans. According to the Tribune report, he warned delegates to watch out for political trickery. Thousands of hands shot into the air when Jackson talked of a higher minimum wage, stable Social Security, affirmative action and an end to the war in Iraq, though no hands went up when he asked how many churches had blessed a same-sex union.
"How did that get in the middle of our agenda?" Jackson asked. "That's called a wolf in sheep's clothing. Beware."