Obama “evolves” on same-sex marriage: How will Latinos react?
Obama’s announcement could challenge the notion that Latinos are social conservatives.
President Obama announced Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage, a major election-year shift on a controversial social issue.
“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC News’ Robin Roberts.
In 2008, Obama said he believed marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and two years ago, he described his position as “evolving.” Now, he is the first U.S. president to support the right of gays and lesbians to marry.
But Wednesday’s decision comes after the president was put on the defensive over the issue by members of his base and two high-profile administration officials.
The conventional wisdom before Wednesday was that Obama wouldn’t come out in favor of same-sex marriage due to the potential political risks he could face with religious minority groups, including blacks and Latinos.
Indeed, Latinos have long been framed as a solid socially-conservative voting bloc.
“Latinos believe in family, in God, in the nation, and in protecting life,” Newt Gingrich’s campaign wrote in Spanish-language campaign literature during the GOP presidential primary.
Watch the interview with ABC News here.
But a closer look at the Latino community paints a much more mixed picture as it relates to the issue of same-sex marriage.
In a November 2011 poll conducted by Latino Decisions for Univision, 43 percent of Latino voters believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry while an additional 13 percent believe they should be granted civil unions. Twenty-six percent say they should receive no legal recognition.
“These numbers are not a slam-dunk. Some messaging to Latino voters is required by proponents of marriage equality. But neither do they portend any ominous news for the Obama campaign,” pollster Gary Segura of Latino Decisions wrote in March.
But, just like the general population, views on homosexuality vary between older and younger Latinos. For example, 69 percent of Latinos between the ages of 18-35 back same-sex marriage, while only 35 percent between the ages of 59 and 65 say the same.
A Pew Hispanic Center survey released last month showed that 59 percent of Latino adults believe that homosexuality should be accepted while 30 percent say it should be discouraged. The survey did not poll gay marriage specifically. But the Pew data also provides clues into how the issue breaks among different Latino groups.
There is a 15-point gap between second- and first-generation U.S. Latinos on homosexual acceptance. And there is also a growing number of Latino evangelical Protestants, who now make up 13 percent of the Latino population. That group tends to include some of the staunchest opponents of same-sex marriage. Overall, 19 percent of the Latino population is Protestant, the poll found.
While Catholics, the largest Latino religious group, are split on the issue of gay marriage, 6 in 10 Protestants oppose it, according to Gallup.
Some leading evangelical voices against same-sex marriage are Latinos, such as powerful New York state Sen. Rubén Díaz, Sr. (D), a native of Puerto Rico who is also an ordained Pentecostal minister.
“Big risk of gay marriage shift by Obama: Hispanic Protestants are in play this cycle, tho they usually vote GOP. They vote on social issues,” tweeted Amy Sullivan, a former Time magazine editor who covers religion. “How big is the Hispanic Protestant vote? As large as the Jewish vote, and just as concentrated in key swing states.”
While there’s no doubt that significant segments of the Latino community could be turned off by Obama’s announcement, it’s not clear those voters would have been open to backing him in the first place. In addition, many of the first-generation Latinos opposed to gay marriage are either non-citizens or not registered to vote.
And moreover, the issue of same-sex marriage doesn’t appear to be a big vote-moving issue among Latinos nationwide. Only three percent of Latino voters listed abortion, gay marriage, and family values as a top concern in this election, according to a January Univision/ABC News/Latino Decisions poll.
It’s also important to remember that one of the first Democrats to prod Obama on the issue of same-sex marriage was a Latino; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the chairman of the Democratic National Convention (DNC).
Villaraigosa said in March that his party should take a stand on gay marriage on its platform a full two months before Vice President Joe Biden admitted he was “absolutely comfortable” with the idea of same-sex marriage.
Those calls triggered a cascade of pressure on Obama from gay-rights activists and many young voters, who make up a large portion of the president’s volunteer and donor base, to take a committed position on the basis of civil rights.
At the same time, there’s no doubt that the president’s move comes with some significant political risks, especially with a core group like African-American voters and other voters in swing states that have approved gay marriage bans, including North Carolina, the site of the DNC. Worse yet, it could be seen as a flip-flop among some swing and independent voters.
But it’s tough to argue that Obama will seriously damage his standing with Latinos by coming out in support of same-sex marriage.
(Photo: ABC News)