On Aug. 28, Alan Keyes and a group of black ministers commemorated the 41st anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington by condemning homosexuality and rejecting same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue.
Standing near the spot at the Lincoln Memorial where King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, these black Christian conservatives declared holy war on the proponents of gay marriage.
"Not on our watch will this small group convince the nation to legalize what is sinful," said the Rev. Howard Caver, a Baptist minister from Fort Worth, Texas. "How dare they say what God said is wrong [same-sex marriage] and have the nation put it on its books as right. We're waking up the churches all over this nation. African-Americans who normally vote Democratic, we're asking them to vote on moral issues, not parties."
Caver's passion proved prophetic.
For many in conservative black congregations across America, these bedrock issues trumped civil rights in this month's presidential election as their votes for President Bush increased his modest support among African-Americans and contributed to his victory.
In 2000, Bush garnered a mere 8 percent of the black vote nationally. This time, he got 11 percent, a modest gain, but it helped win him a second term.
Exit polling by the National Election Pool shows Bush's win this month in Florida included 13 percent of the black vote. In Ohio, the state that sealed his re-election, he received 16 percent of the black vote, a 7 percent increase over 2000. Ohio was one of 11 states that passed ballot initiatives banning gay marriage. Backed by influential black ministers, the Ohio measure drew the support of 61 percent of black voters.
Long before the ministers showed up at the Lincoln Memorial, President Bush's election campaign had begun to cultivate support among black Christian conservatives. They liked his faith-based initiatives, and opposition to abortion is a long-standing concern among devout black Christians. But a political gift dropped from the sky and landed at Bush's feet with widespread media reports of gay marriage ceremonies.
Meanwhile, the nation's largest gay rights advocacy group, Human Rights Campaign, boasted it had waged a successful campaign to scuttle a proposed constitutional amendment backed by Bush that would have defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Keyes, a devout Catholic and an outspoken foe of abortion and gay marriage, urged the ministers to action at the Lincoln Memorial gathering. The GOP's Senate candidate in Illinois, Keyes said he saw the push for same-sex marriage as the latest weapon wielded by liberals in a genocidal war against the black community. Keyes said that if same-sex marriage becomes legal, it will join abortion, welfare and other liberal policies that he blames for the breakdown of the black family.
Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, he said, abortions have led to the loss of 13 million black lives, eclipsing the combined black toll from AIDS, accidents, violent crime, heart disease and cancer. (Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show black women have abortions at a rate three times higher than that of white women.)
Keyes identified Margaret Sanger, the founder of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as the chief culprit in what he describes as a war to control the nation's black population. Early in the 20th century, Sanger was a proponent of the negative eugenics movement, a push to keep "unfit" people from reproducing, Keyes asserted.
Blacks were high on Sanger's list of the "unfit," Keyes maintained, saying that Planned Parenthood continues to target black women for abortions.
Planned Parenthood's Web site says Sanger was neither a "racist" nor a "eugenicist," and notes that her call for family planning was supported by some black leaders of that era.
John W. Nugent, president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, denied that the organization targets black women. "We provide services to all women who seek our services," Nugent said last week, adding that the figures indicate more black women are making "responsible" reproductive choices.
The Lincoln Memorial event was organized by the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, a black conservative group founded by Star Parker, a former welfare mother and born-again Christian. Keyes' view of homosexuality mirrors that of Parker's group, which considers it learned behavior that can be changed. Keyes joined the ministers in calling for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"I appreciate the effort to define marriage in a way that includes procreation," Keyes said. "The most damaging social reality for black people in America today has been the destruction of the family structure. That destruction has many contributing causes including, of course, government programs that were administered in such a way that they drove fathers from the home and aided the skyrocketing rate of illegitimacy."
Keyes bolstered those comments with these statistics: In 1950, 78 percent of black households consisted of married couples. By 2002, the figure had dropped to 48 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Rev. Clenard H. Childress Jr., a New Jersey minister who heads a black anti-abortion group, also describes same-sex marriage and abortion as methods to keep the black population down.
In July, Childress criticized the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for failing to consider an anti-abortion position during its national convention in Philadelphia.
John White, an NAACP spokesman, said the group has members on both sides of the abortion issue. He said there was an effort to bring up the abortion issue at the convention, but it violated the organization's procedural rules.