With most election results now tallied up, it is tempting to believe that America is currently faced with an equality quagmire. While voters elected the first black president in U.S. history last Tuesday, they repealed many sexual rights.

Some media outlets also have run stories noting irony. An article on CNN.com had the headline “Same-sex Marriage Ban Paradoxical in Historic Election,” in reference to bans in California, Arizona and Florida. Another story, in The Guardian, asserted that Arkansas voters’ decision to prevent couples who are not married to serve as adoptive or foster parents along with a slew of other ballot measures to ban gay marriage and affirmative action is a “darkly sober note in this euphoric moment of inclusiveness and joy.”

I partially agree with these notions.

I’m disarmed that I live in a country where more than 40 states now have constitutional bans or laws against gay and lesbian marriage. I believe unequivocally that folks who have sex with people of the same gender should have the same rights as folks who have sex with people of the opposite gender across the board — not just with respect to marriage. I also believe that a person’s relationship status, be it complicated and co-habiting or married, is completely unrelated to what kind of parent that person would make if given the chance.

But I also reject the notion that Barack Obama’s victory is an adequate measurement of racial equality in the United States. What’s lost in these comparisons between Obama’s election and the passage of these ballot initiatives is the route traveled by Obama — and bypassed by gay marriage leaders. This route involved expansive coalition building, effective funding distribution and an overall optimistic approach to investing in constituents who have been wrongfully framed as monolithically conservative. When you consider this, the success of these discriminatory initiatives seems more like a campaign failure than a mark of closed-minded voters.

This was particularly the case with California’s Proposition 8 that successfully banned gay marriage. The organizers fighting this initiative failed on these three fronts with respect to galvanizing communities of color — missteps that proved costly considering that people of color make up more than 50 percent of California’s population.

Starting with racially diverse coalition building, The Nation, in “Marital Discord: Why Prop 8 Won” cited a source who revealed that earnest outreach to African Americans to vote against the ban began only a week before the election. The article went on to note that Asian media were engaged weeks after opponents had already been running ads.

The same themes came up in the Huffington Post’s story “The Non-Campaign to Beat Proposition 8.” That article noted that Equality California and No on 8, two major players advocating for gay marriage, were traditional top-down campaigns that “made a conscious decision not to conduct outreach to Latino and African American communities.”

With respect to fundraising, it should also be noted that the campaign to defeat the ban on gay marriage raised $37.6 million, slightly more than the $35.8 million raised by proponents. In total, the $73 million spent on this campaign is the most that has ever been spent for a social issue on a ballot measure.

But as an article in the Los Angeles Times noted, this money was sometimes misspent. Supporters of gay marriage presumed the black community could be won simply by writing a $250,000 check to the NAACP, an organization dedicated to people of color—but not explicitly their sexual rights. Supporters went forward with this strategy even against the advice of black lesbians and gays.

If Obama imparted one thing this election season, it’s this: assume nothing. Don’t let stereotypes about demographics that are often framed as apathetic, prejudiced or too conservative govern your campaign. Anti-Prop 8 leaders relied on racial bias and stereotypical assumptions about people of color. The true irony this season is an exercise of racial inequality engendered marriage inequality in California.

And yet, these points are seldom raised when the chorus of CNN’s misleading exit polls repeats the refrain that 70 percent of African Americans voted to ban marriage in California. The Daily Kos dispelled these myths in “Facts Belie the Scapegoating of Black People for Proposition 8” last Friday. It reported that these numbers involved a random selection of precincts when African Americans overwhelmingly live in only nine counties, didn’t include millions of early voters and asserted that African Americans were 10 percent of voters when they are only 6.2 percent of the population — and not all of them are eligible to vote.

This scapegoating has created infighting in progressive circles that will be counterproductive for the next battle that is surely on its way. Advocates for equal marriage must learn from their errors this November. Black, white, yellow and brown people need a seat at the table that also acknowledges they aren’t defined either by race or sexuality — they are both.

The truth is communities of color aren’t more homophobic than white communities and vice versa. We all have a role in making our country a more equal place on the racial and sexuality front. I, for one, am continuing in the struggle for equality this Saturday, engaging in a peaceful protest of Prop 8 with students of color at 1:30 p.m. at 2 Woodward Ave in Detroit, Michigan. Many students committed to justice for all are attending, and you should too.

Rose Afriyie is the Daily’s sex and relationships columnist. She can be reached at sariyie@umich.edu.

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