As the euphoria of America having elected a black president starts to wear off, it is, perhaps, time to look at some of the details of last Tuesday’s election. Here are some points to ponder:
- Obama took clear majorities of the various non-white ethnic groups. According to exit polling, he got roughly 95% of the black vote, over 2/3 of the hispanic vote, over 60% of the asian vote, and over two thirds of the “other minorities” vote.
- The converse of this is that McCain got 55% of the white vote. Does this prove that whites are still racists? Not exactly. For one thing, 43% of white voters were ready to vote for a black president. (The 2% difference reflects minor candidates.) Further, not all those who voted for McCain were voting against Obama. There are a lot of Republicans who would have supported a black Republican against a white Democrat (or a black conservative against a white liberal). Nevertheless, it suggests that those who rejoiced that “America has finally turned the page on racism” may have been premature in breaking out the champagne.
- Obama won handily in urban areas, split the vote in the suburbs, and lost heavily in most rural areas. The red state/blue state dicotomy was probably an oversimplification, but there is definitely a major cultural gap in this country. The gap also reflects itself in other voter breakdowns: Obama won much more heavily among better educated voters; McCain won heavily among evangelical voters and opponents of abortion and gay rights; Obama won heavily among younger voters, while McCain did best among voters over age 65. As has been noted, another generational change is underway, one perhaps of comparable significance to the generation gap of the 1960s. I think it’s significant that McCain did best among those who were “pre-boomers”. There was also somewhat of a dip in support for Obama among “Gen-Xers” as opposed to those born earlier and later. Perhaps this is a long-term legacy of the Reagan years?
- In addition to the other gaps, the gender gap is back. Obama won handily among females, McCain did similarly well among males (especially white males). This is not something new, and probably reflects as much as anything the greater conservatism of male voters compared to females. Why that is? Your guess is as good as mine. Can one make the equation testosterone = conservatism? (But what about Ayn Rand? Karl Marx? Margaret Thatcher? etc.)
Beyond the presidental race, the number one item here in California was the narrow victory of Proposition 8. Huge amounts of money were spent for and against the measure. Predictably, a lot of the pro money came from religious groups, primarily Catholics and Mormons; a lot of the anti money came from groups supporting gays and gay rights.
In the aftermath, there’s already talk of a follow-up initiative to reverse Prop. 8. Certainly, Prop.8’s victory was narrow, and the polling seems to indicate a steady growth of tolerance towards the idea of gay marriage. Nevertheless, I’d suggest that rather than a direct reversal, a modification might be far more successful. Consider this, if you will, a potential example of the dialectic approach to politics. (Thesis = Cal Supremes OK gay marriage; Antithesis = Prop. 8; Synthesis = new ballot measure.) Another way of looking at it is an analogy to physics: when two forces are directly opposed to one another, they tend to cancel each other out. If, however, one force is exerted at an angle to the other force, a shift in direction occurs, and the resulting force can be considerably stronger than if the two forces were directly opposed.
Perhaps the single most important factor in Prop. 8’s victory was its support among religious groups. Among other things, proponents claimed that churches unwilling to perform gay marriages might lose their tax-exempt status. Also, conservative Christians felt that the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage demeaned the value of their own religion-based marriages.
I would suggest that an interesting approach would be to simply differentiate between civil and religious marriages. We already have both kinds. Why not simply define civil marriage as the only kind of marriage given legal recognition in California and require that civil marriage be available to any two consenting adults? Religions could put whatever restrictions they wanted on religious marriages in their own church; such marriages would have no legal effect. (Naturally, this would mean that people getting a religious marriage would also need to have the marriage validated as a civil marriage. That ought to be a simple matter to put into the new law. Also, all existing marriages would be grandfathered in as valid civil marriages.)
By clearly distinguishing between civil and religious marriage, and specifying that California law only recognizes the former, such a measure ought to side-step most religious opposition. No church would be required to perform, or even recognize, gay marriages. If a gay person didn’t like being in such a church, they’d be welcome to join a different church. (Why any gay person would want to belong to such a church is a mystery to me). However, in accordance with the recent supreme court decision, California civil society would not differentiate based on sexual orientation in deciding who could gain the benefits of a civil marriage.
One other suggestion I’ve seen offered is to have the new initiative also take “marriage education” out of the public school curriculum. Sex education, including education about sexual orientation, would stay in (subject to parents’ ability to opt-out for their kids). High school education about California government would also include explaining how civil marriage works, including its being open to all. This would address the “scary” thought (at least to some parents) of second graders being taught about gay marriage. (Parents would still be free to teach whatever they wanted to about marriage within their own home or church.)
Seems to me a ballot measure incorporating these elements would be hard for anyone, even a Mormon, to oppose. Maybe I’m wrong, but then maybe I’ve underestimated the extent to which support of Prop. 8 was motivated by sheer prejudice, rather than rationally supported position. This would certainly tell us what the motivating forces were.