Getting Back the Black Vote: Can Obama Still Win the African-American Community and Support Gay Marriage?

Will African-American Voters Turn Out for Obama?
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Election night 2008 was an historic moment for the country, particularly for many African-Americans.

An African-American man was elected president of the United States for the first time, largely with the help of a community that voted for him at an unprecedented level. Barack Obama won 98 percent of the black vote in 2008.

As the results came in on Nov. 4, 2008, tears flowed freely. Many people watching were filled with emotion, hard for some of them truly to explain. Some in the black community wrestled with thoughts of the past, present and future, thoughts of Jim Crow and overcoming, all of which were crystallized in one epic moment.

But it is now four years later and there is a looming question: Will African-Americans turn out for Obama on Election Day as enthusiastically as they did before?

Black voters' participation in a race many say to be too close to call could prove critical to President Obama's chances for re-election.

A new BET documentary, "Second Coming: Will Black America Decide 2012," tries to take the pulse of the community in the final days of the campaign. Film director Marc Levin sent teams around the country to talk to African-Americans from every walk of life, from celebrities to everyday people. The producers found the euphoria of 2008 has given way to some harsh realities.

"I think there is no doubt the thrill is gone and that for the African-American community, for a lot of young people, for a lot of Americans, period, that moment in 2008 was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Levin said.

the Great Recession has hit the African-American community hard. The ABC News polling unit said unemployment among African-Americans is at 14.3 percent, nearly double the national rate.

"To me, [Obama] hasn't done anything," said an African-American man in the BET documentary. "The economy hasn't gotten better, nothing's gotten better. We're in the same spot we were when Bush was in presidency."

Aside from the economy, one issue has risen to the top of the most contentious issues among many blacks, and influential black clergy: gay marriage. Many in African-American church congregations are opposed to President Obama because he supports gay marriage.

"We are living in days of darkness," Pastor Michael Stevens of Charlotte, N.C. said in the documentary. "To declare what the word of God says about male and female and man and woman and husband and wife, now I am the homophobic bigot."

Baltimore Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant is an Obama supporter who also appears in the film. He too opposes the president on the gay marriage issue. Bryant said he believes that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to share insurance and be able to leave their property to their partners in their wills. But marriage, he said, is reserved for a man and woman.

Bryant told "Nightline" there are some pastors in the African-American community who are telling their congregations either to stay home or vote the other way on Election Day, but it's a small minority. He said he still believes that African-Americans "are walking in lockstep" with the president.

"The African-American community is not myopic by nature. We have more than one opinion," he said. "I think that those parishioners are still going to go vote and in large numbers, they're going to vote for President Obama."

A number of political analysts, including ABC News polling director Gary Langer, say they expect the black vote to be at or near the level of 2008, despite frustrations around any particular issues, and the documentary explores what may motivate many blacks to stick by the president.

Aside from any racial pride felt during the 2008 election or currently, the fact is many African-Americans believe the Democrats promote their interests and that the Republican party does not. Another motivating factor in this election is a simmering anger among some African-Americans about how they believe the president has been treated.

"I think it's righteous anger," said Epatha Merkerson, who narrated much of "Second Coming." "This is the president of the United States and there has never been a president who has been treated as shabbily as this president… I'm angry about that."

Levin, who also narrates the documentary, acknowledged that his film comes from a specific point of view. He and the other filmmakers bluntly accuse the GOP of voter suppression. They say they hope the anger will translate into heavy black turnout and loyalty among African-Americans to the president.

"African-American people are resilient by nature," Bryant said. "There is something in our DNA that makes us respond to crisis. We've got to shake every tree, break into every barbershop, yell from every church: November 6, let's shut it down. It's got to be about the election."

You can watch both episodes of "Second Coming? Will Black America Decide 2012 on BET.com/BETNewsSpecial.

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