Obama Got it Right and Wrong on Gay Bashing

In direct response to my column, "Obama Should Repudiate and Cancel His Gay Bash Tour, and Cancel it Now," Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama quickly issued this statement:

"I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens. I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts of our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country.

I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division."

Obama's response to my call for him to reject support of Grammy winning singer and anti gay crusader, Donnie McClurkin was a big, bold, and direct claim that he will fight anti-gay phobia, and aggressively challenge religious leaders to do the same. One of those at the top of the list of religious leaders that he says that he challenged is McClurkin. But one line missing from his disavowal of gay bashing was this: "I will not appear on stage with Reverend McClurkin unless he publicly disavows his rabid anti-gay statements and crusade." Since Obama didn't add that line, this question still dangles dangerously. How hard will Obama fight as president for tolerance, specifically against anti gay bigotry? This is the supreme litmus test for any candidate that purports to champion diversity and tolerance.

It's even more of a test, or challenge for Obama, given the depth of homophobia among many mega black ministers, and many of those in their congregations. Obama desperately wants and need their votes in his fight with Hillary Clinton, who continues to widen the gap over him in the political life and death struggle to win over black voters.

The hard core black evangelical ministers loom bigger and bigger in the battle to slice away at Clinton's black support. That's even more crucial in South Carolina. An Obama win in the state would propel him skyward in his march toward the presidential nomination. Black voters make up more than forty percent of the Democratic vote in the state, and a significant percentage of them are evangelical leaning, and openly hostile to gay rights. Many are strict Bible constructionists and take literally passages that condemn homosexuality as a sin against the almighty.

In 2004, Bush adroitly tapped into that sentiment. It paid huge political dividends for him with an aroused throng of conservative black Christian church goers particularly in the Bible Belt of Northern Florida. They were not inherently hostile to Bush. They were incensed at gay marriage.

In exit polls, an astounding near thirty percent of black voters there said they backed Bush. One made it clear why, "I admire him because he's not for gay marriage and he's pro-life. He's strong in morals." By contrast, blacks in Miami and Dade County gave his Democratic presidential rival John Kerry more than ninety percent of their vote. Overall, Bush got eighteen percent of the black vote in Florida. If Bush hadn't got the phenomenal support he got from blacks in North Florida, his margin of victory over Kerry would have been much narrower. Florida might well have seen a repeat of the 2000 electoral soap opera in which Democrats and Republicans engaged in a political orgy of charges, counter charges of fraud and manipulation, and demands for recounts.

Northern Florida is a stone's throw from South Carolina, and many of the evangelical leaning blacks in the state are every bit as passionate about their faith as the black faithful in Northern Florida. A win for him in South Carolina with the aid of the black religious leaders and their congregations could resonate in the other Deep South states where the black vote is just as crucial to Hillary and Obama's success, and where that vote is also heavily influenced by religious zealotry.

Obama certainly won't openly fan the flames of religious driven intolerance against gays. He will continue to fervently denounce it. But without a direct and forceful challenge to those such as McClurkin to do the same, they're just words. And politicians are masterful at using words when they want to win.

My call still stands. Barack: demand that McClurkin repent and save himself from his gay bashing ways, or cancel your appearance with him.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is "The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics" (Middle Passage Press). hutchinsonreport@aol.com