Wedging For the Latino Vote

The public gets it. That much is already clear. A poll released this week by The New York Times and CBS News shows that even though a majority of Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage, they also see the effort to enact a constitutional amendment barring such unions for the diversion that it is.

That’s my reading on what might otherwise appear to be contradictory evidence.

The poll found that, by a margin of 59 to 35 percent, Americans support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The gap between supporters and opponents grew by almost ten points since December.

That suggests substantial support for Pres. George W. Bush’s recent push for an amendment.

Not so fast.

By a nearly reverse margin, 56 to 38 percent, Americans think that the threat of same-sex marriage is not “important enough to be worth changing the Constitution for.”

That tells me that voters are not yet comfortable with same-sex marriage, but also wary of the political use that Bush is making of it in his re-election campaign. The obvious corollary is that voters would rather hear about issues closer to their own lives––the still sluggish economy, the dicey state of health care coverage, and the continued fears about terrorism.

At the risk of sounding like a John Kerry lackey, let’s face it, Bush is a divider. The whole Bush dynasty is. Never forget Willie Horton. Divisiveness must be a family hobby the clan pursues when it gets bored on those impossibly beautiful Kennebunkport summer days.

One political group that Bush seems almost as eager to court as evangelical Christians––by use of wedge tactics if necessary––are Latinos. The votes of this growing political bloc will likely be crucial in a number of swing states–– Florida and New Mexico, most prominently, but to a lesser degree in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well. We’ve already seen the first phase in the president’s Latino offensive, cynical as it was. Late last year, Bush announced surprising flexibility on the issue of giving illegal immigrants the right to work. In the final analysis, no promises were made to those immigrants about eventual citizenship, and they were asked to step forward to identify themselves to the feds. It is likely that the primary beneficiaries of the new policy will be employers who rely on immigrant laborers, rather than the workers themselves. No matter. Bush’s intention to contest the Latino vote was made clear.

In this context, several recent developments on the same-sex debate in the Latino community are worth noting. This past Sunday, thousands, including many Latinos, turned out at the Bronx County Building to voice their opposition to same-sex marriage, and hear from the rabble rousing Pentecostal minister and state senator, Ruben Diaz, who led the public outcry against Manhattan’s Harvey Milk High School last summer. Diaz may have been the rally speaker best known to New York audiences, but the event was likely the handiwork of the Rev. Miguel Rivera, the head of a national group of Latino evangelical ministers. Among Rivera’s activities during the past year was a high profile meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the president’s go-to guy on Capitol Hill.

In Boston last week, Latino immigrants were represented in large numbers among those protesters whom right wing organizers opposed to gay marriage bussed in to pressure legislators weighing a constitutional ban in Massachusetts.

The work of advocates of same-sex marriage in the Latino community, who in a spirited show of defiance turned out to respond to last Sunday’s bigotry in the Bronx, must be supported, just as Councilmember Philip Reed’s event the same day at City Hall demonstrated the importance of encouraging support for gay marriage in the African American community.

African Americans and Latinos in uniform are dying in disproportionate numbers in the folly that is the Bush policy in Iraq. As the recent death of one New Yorker in Iraq made clear, that sacrifice can come without any benefits of citizenship.

The LGBT community must find common cause with people of color communities to build support for our full citizenship even as we block the cynical efforts of Karl Rove’s political machine to drive a wedge among us.

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