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California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass Speaks on the Prop 8 Debate

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The California Supreme Court's decision not to retract Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage, has sent the issue back to the forefront of conversation across the country. Most recently, New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriages. While some 18,000 same-sex couples have already tied the knot in California, those who wish to walk down the aisle today will not receive the same privilege. Some in the LGBT community blame the passing of Proposition 8 last November on conservative, homophobic African-American voters. Not true says Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who has publicly spoken out against Proposition 8. Bass spoke to ESSENCE.com to explain why she believes this isn't a civil rights issue, how African-Americans have been falsely accused and the mistakes the LGBT community has mad trying to get our support on this controversial issue.

ESSENCE.COM: Were you surprised at all by the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the ban?
KAREN BASS:
Not really but I thought they might have gone the other way because so many other states have already legalized same-sex marriages. I'm not a lawyer but I believe there would have been mass chaos if they had nullified those marriages that have already taken place.

ESSENCE.COM: Do you see the same-sex issue similarly to the civil rights issues African-Americans have faced in the past?
BASS
: No, in fact I think that it would be helpful if the LGBT community didn't compare our struggle to theirs because it's harder to win African-American support when you do that. I do believe it's a struggle for equality but I don't believe that every struggle for equality is identical to the African-American struggle.

ESSENCE.COM: There are rumors that conservative Blacks in California are responsible for passing the measure in the first place. As someone who is Black and works in government, what would you say to those who believe we're the reason why this measure exists?
BASS:
I resent that tremendously. I believe there was an element of racism there. I was shocked at how quickly White gay activists blamed us. Within 24 hours after the measure passed, it was decided that Black voters are the reason for Prop 8. Some White gay activists said we voted for your guy; how can you disrespect us and vote the other way? Last I checked Barack Obama was voted in as the President of the United States, not the President of just Black people.
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ESSENCE.COM: What did this mean for people who are both Black and gay?
BASS:
Among Black LGBT activist who went out to protest the "Yes" vote, some of them had to leave because they were having racial epithets yelled at them. I was angry by the fact that some gay activists have such an immediate, visceral reaction without even questioning whether or not it was true. Some gay activists called me up and asked me to intervene with the African-American community and explain why Black people voted the way they did. I tried to tell them that they needed to go to the Black LGBT community. One of the mistakes they made is not getting these Black activists involved from the very beginning.

ESSENCE.COM: So it's wrong to think that we caused this to happen?
BASS:
When the vote was analyzed later, it was discovered that African-Americans were not the reason why Prop 8 passed. The analysis also showed a big divide in the way we voted based on generation. You had younger African-American voters who were against Prop 8 while the older African-American voters voted it in. Of course, we know the church plays a huge role within our community as well.

ESSENCE.COM: What do you think will happen next regarding this issue in California?
BASS:
You have to understand, California is in the middle of a financial meltdown right now. This is not the number one issue on people's minds but those who are actively in support of marriage equality will go back to the ballot and go through the legislative process again. But ultimately this is a national issue and states are going in different directions.

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