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Even in the church, gays have had a mixed experience. Boykin calls the black church one of the most "homotolerant and homophobic" institutions in the country. Sylvia Rhue, director of Equal Partners in Faith, asserts that gays in the black church have existed in a state of semi-acceptance. "Everyone knew that the choir leader was gay, the organist was gay," says Rhue. "You'd just say, 'Oh there's Uncle Bill, who's a bachelor, and he's the greatest guy we know. Aunt Sarah and Ann have lived together for 30 years, and that's nice.' "
As confrontations over gay issues have become more overt, so has the black church's homophobia, Rhue says.
The goal of transforming black fundamentalism into a black conservative voting bloc has proven elusive, however. Much of black history involves African Americans petitioning the governmentwith varying degrees of successfor protection against racism. Thus African Americans tend to have a progressive view of the role of government. "The difference is that black conservative Christians are more concerned about social and economic needs that the government can address," says Bositis. "Government is something that white Christian conservatives are against, except in trying to control people's lives through abortion curbs, etc."
Today, there simply is no black equivalent of the Christian Coalition. While the black church has been the source of some backward thinking on social issues, it's also been a hotbed of black leftismjust look at Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton.
Conservatives have yet to outline for African Americans the benefits of shifting their vote rightward. For gay marriage to be a voting issue, they would have to see some sort of cost-benefit analysis. "What do you tell your kids when they ask about the schools?" Bositis says. " 'Yeah, but we kept those gay people from getting married'?"