Will Obama's pro-gay policies alienate African-Americans?

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The instant President Obama set foot in the White House gay groups relentlessly hounded him to dump the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy in the military (and anywhere else) and drop his support of marriage being exclusively defined as being between a man and a woman. There was never much doubt that he would do that. It was just a matter of when. Now he’s done both.

He endorsed a bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would repeal the 15-year-old Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and denies federal benefits and protections to gay couples who married in states that recognize their unions. He then certified Congress’ repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Both actions drew cheers from gay groups. They cheered even more lustily when hundreds of same sex couples said “I do” legally in New York following the state’s legalizing of gay marriage.

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However, Obama’s move has brought mostly silence from blacks and civil rights groups. That’s because repeal of DADT has not and never has been a priority issue for most blacks. But the bigger question is not whether blacks shrug their shoulders at Obama’s aggressive support of broader gay rights issues, but whether it will do anything to dampen his support among blacks during the epic re-election battle that he will face in 2012.

There are two reasons this is a worry. Blacks have been by far the most vigorous proponents of the assorted defense of the family initiatives that have been plopped on various state ballots. This has always been the code words for anti-gay marriage opposition. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in polls in 2009 and 2010 found that blacks opposed same sex marriage by gaping margins over whites or Hispanics.

Even more striking — for the first time in the decade and half that Pew had been polling Americans on attitudes toward gay rights, and that includes gay marriage, the same poll found that less than half of Americans opposed same sex marriage. At the same time, blacks have been at best only mildly tolerant toward the gay rights movement.

The second reason for worry is the oft-heard criticism that Obama has bent over backwards far too much to placate LGBT groups. He’s repeatedly gone to their dinners, conferences and made a number of appointments of openly gays to administration and agency posts. Meanwhile, he has publicly resisted appeals to jump start new initiatives and programs to tackle the grim jobless plight of black males, the disproportionate number of blacks in home foreclosure, spend more to combat failing inner city public schools, black homelessness, and push criminal justice reform. Tavis Smiley, Cornell West, and Minister Louis Farrakhan have led the charge slamming Obama for his alleged failings in this area.

The criticisms have hit the mark with some blacks but they sail way past the mark when it translates into diminished black support for the president.

There are two reasons why.

Blacks have nowhere else to go. Despite their deep opposition to gay marriage, and reservations about Obama’s all out defense of gay rights, the issue of jobs, affordable and accessible health care, drug reform, holding the line on funding cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, as well as education, labor and civil rights protections are their priority issues. A GOP president is a horrid prospect for this constituency. He or she would likely oppose, hack up and gut these programs and protections.

Then there’s the emotional factor. While there has been slight slippage in Obama’s popularity among some black voters, blacks still regard him as, if not the full embodiment of their dream of equality, a major step toward that fulfillment. A re-election defeat would deal a damaging blow to that dream. It would send the message that America is still not fully ready to be governed by a black man. In short, the Tea Party would win. That prospect is just as unacceptable to African-Americans.

Despite some complaints that Obama can and should do more for blacks, there’s still a deep feeling within the black community that he’s fighting the best fight he can for health, education and financial reform against towering odds, and a GOP foe that has been relentless from day one in pursuing its one goal and that’s to make him a one term president. This is an added point of pride and respect, and ultimately support for him.

Some blacks privately grumble over Obama’s expected reversal on the gay marriage issue and his backing of the repeat of DADT. But that’s hardly enough for the overwhelming majority of blacks to break ranks with a president that they regard as a president who is their president.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson