Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What might this mean about voting for a half-Black, half-White presidential candidate (or incumbent)?

Andrew Sullivan links to a Gallup post discussing the changing trend in the acceptability amongst Black and White respondents to the question of marriage to a member of the other race. With only slight word changes (that went from "colored people" in 1958 to "non-whites" from 1968-1978 to -- presumably -- "blacks" in subsequent surveys), there has been an ever-upward trend in both populations. Americans in 1958 had only 4% approval, but this had climbed to 86% in the most recent poll. Presumably, though, Whites were a vast majority of the early surveys, due to the demographics of telephone owners.

Indeed, looking at when Gallup started to ask about race (1968), White Americans showed a 17% approval (compared to the 20% national number). However, in the latest survey, White Americans showed an 84% approval of Whites marrying Blacks.

Why might I find this terribly interesting? Well, partially because I'm mixed race (although it's Japanese/White, and not Black/White), but mostly because I see a confluence of some different things: marriage, morality, and voting.

What's troubling for me has been listening to the "debate" about the validity of same-sex marriage. The religious right has been -- for a long, long time -- chipping away at the notion that marriage holds a legal meaning that is separate from religious meanings. Therefore, it's possible for two atheists to get married to each other and have the same governmental recognitions that a married Christian couple has (or a married Jewish couple, or even -- *gasp* -- a married mixed-religion couple). The marriage between a Jewish friend of mine and his Christian wife is just as valid to the state as the marriage between two Christian friends of mine. The churches and temples to which these friends belong may (or may not) approve of their choice of spouse, but have no secular legal recourse. The most that they can do, if they so choose, is to react within the confines of their ecclesiastical bounds.

However, if you listened to the talking points of the religious right, and if you believe their position, then marriage isn't primarily a governmental institution, but a religious one (and for many, it seems to be that their point of view is that the only valid religion is Christianity, and the only valid version of Christianity is their own). This turns the idea of government recognition on its head (unless you prescribe to the notion that this is actually a religious country founded upon religious ideals that -- for some reason -- aren't to be found anywhere in the founding documents of the country, nor can any analogues of the founding documents be seen in the Bible). However, there are many people who do believe that marriage is a sanctified bond that is between only one man and one women (regardless of what the Bible actually says about different acceptable forms of marriage and regardless of what prior Christian custom may have been, either).

In short: there are a vocal group of people who viscerally believe, with unshakable resolve, that marriage is a matter of, for, and from religion, and that viewpoint brings us to the point of morality.

For many people, religion is the source of morality. I could go on about why this is flawed logic, but suffice it to say that I believe that if people can find morality outside of their own religion, then either not only their own religion is moral (and perhaps their religion may not be the only "real" one) or morality is not exclusive (or necessary) to religion. However, regardless of what I feel about morality and its connection with religion, many religious people do believe that religion and morality are connected.

Now, connect the unshakable resolve about marriage and religion together with religion and morality, and you'll be at a point where many anti-gay-marriage religious believers are in this country: proper marriage is an issue of morality. (Which, although inconsistent with the large universe -- let alone world -- of reality, is a central point that seems to be held with fanatical fervor for many in the religious right, or at least those that I read about, hear on the radio, and see politicians pandering to.)

Well, let's pivot slightly from gay marriage to miscegenation. The Bible was historically used as a justification for slavery and the Jim Crow laws following the Civil War. It was also used to defend laws against miscegenation that were finally struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving vs. Virginia. However, just because the Supreme Court struck down miscegenation laws doesn't mean that it struck at the religiously motivated moral reasoning that institutionalized those laws in the first place. (Indeed, such religiously motivated moral reasoning was likely presented as reasons why Whites shouldn't marry Blacks before and after the Loving decision).

Let's now look back at the graph of White and Black approval of marrying a member of the other race. While it is positive to say that 84% of Whites approve, it is also appropriate to say that 16% of Whites do not approve. Let me say that again: 16% of Whites do not approve of Whites marrying Blacks. When surveyed on August 4-7, 2001. During the presidency of the first mixed-Black/White president. (The facts that the marriage was brief and that his father may have been married to two women at the same time may well only diminish the moral legitimacy of Obama's heritage.)

Does this mean that 16% of White America (and 4% of Black America) will be casting a vote in 2012 with this on their mind as part of a moral choice? Might it have affected how they view the validity of Obama's very claim to the presidency?

Looking at the tabular data, perhaps these people wouldn't vote for him, anyway:

Conservatives and Republicans only approved of Black-White marriages at 78% and 77% levels, and in 2008 these groups voted for Obama at 20% and 9%, respectively.  (People with only a high school education did vote slightly more for Obama than McCain, though, so maybe this issue did weigh in their decisions.)

Interestingly, about 4% of Blacks did vote for McCain, which is the same percentage that don't approve of Black-White marriages.

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