The Continuing Evolution of Blacks and Gay Marriage
The black community is moving towards acceptance of marriage equality
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of Loop 21.
Last week, President Obama once again made history by coming out in support of same-sex marriage. It was an announcement that came after months of reflection, evolving and conversations with friends and family -- not to mention Vice President Biden’s getting ahead of the announcement. Not surprisingly, Obama's support sparked conversation and debate across the country.
Immediately, the far right and groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) started salivating over this. They are ready to try and pull out the 2004 playbook and use gay marriage as a wedge issue. Mitt Romney’s surrogates have publicly said that they will campaign around the country trying to get state constitutional amendments against gay marriage on ballots.
But I don’t think that will work this time. The GOP may not want to hear this, but views are changing. As Pew notes, “In 2004, Americans younger than 30 were divided (48% opposed, 45% favored). Today, young people favor gay marriage by more than two-to-one (65% to 30%).” And overall, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage.
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And they are also changing among African-Americans. My colleagues at CAP put together an infographic (see on page 2) that shows the change in support among blacks and Latinos. Now, it is true, that support in the black community lags behind the rest of the country. But the important stat is the trend line. Like with the economy, what marriage equality advocates want to see are the trend lines moving in the right direction.
It’s clear that with a 13% jump from 1996 to now, support in the black community is moving towards acceptance of marriage equality. And among younger African Americans, the change is even more pronounced. As Ron Brownstein points out, in 2004, 32% of 18-29 African Americans approved same-sex marriage. In 2011-2012, that number skyrocketed to a 51% majority.
That’s not to say there won’t be challenges. Already you anecdotally have some black ministers saying they will have to speak out against the President on Sunday. And while support is growing within the community there are still some pockets of people who oppose.
But will large numbers of African Americans, who have been supporting this president at record levels, really turn away and from him now? I really don’t think so. To assume that assumes that they only vote with Obama because they agree with him 100% on all issues. I don’t think there is any group that agrees 100% with anyone, even among the ideologically puritan tea party members.
Among black voters, I think it is quite possible that voters will turn out in droves for Obama while still opposing gay marriage. That is what happened in 2008 in California when black voters overwhelmingly supported Obama but then on the same ballot voted against same-sex marriage.
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That might be what we witness in November. But it is important to note and remember that there are people with vested interests in making this a bigger issue than it really is with the sole mission of driving down black voter turnout. Sure, there are some divisions within the community on gay marriage. But you can’t look at those poll numbers and say that things are not moving in the direction of equality. You have black leaders from the civil rights movement to the church that are standing up and supporting marriage equality.
You have younger people who are much more accepting of gay marriage than their parents. And now you have a very popular black president, who just created the space for other African Americans to evolve with him.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress.