In First, Majority Of US Latinos Back Same-Sex Marriage

  on October 19 2012 11:30 AM
National Puerto Rican Day Parade
Onlookers at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City 2011. Reuters

In an unprecedented shift, a new poll found that a majority of Latinos endorse allowing gay couples to marry.

The finding marked the first time that the Pew Hispanic Center found more Latinos in favor of same-sex marriage than opposed. The change mirrors a broader dynamic unfolding across American society, with polls indicating steadily growing support for same-sex marriage.

In the Pew poll, 52 percent of Latinos favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry, while 34 percent opposed it. Thirteen percent of respondents were undecided. That flips Pew's findings from 2006, when 56 percent of Latinos opposed same-sex marriage against 31 percent who supported it.

While Latino voters have long skewed heavily toward supporting Democrats, a preference that has given President Barack Obama a comfortable lead over Mitt Romney among Hispanics, they have also tended to hold socially conservative views. A large part of that is due to the high prevalence of Christianity among Latinos.

A closer look at the data reveals denominational fault lines shaping how Latinos view same-sex marriage. A majority of Catholics, mainline Protestants and religiously unaffiliated voters all backed same-sex marriage, while evangelical Christians overwhelmingly repudiated it. Yet, Latino evangelicals are still more likely to endorse same-sex marriage than white evangelicals.

Catholics remain the single largest bloc of Latinos, representing 57 percent of the electorate, although the number of evangelical Hispanic voters is growing.

Different religious preferences also influence how strongly Latinos support Obama. While every segment of Latinos backed Obama over Romney, the degree of support varied: Catholics chose Obama by a resounding 73-19 margin, while evangelical Christians gave Obama a more slender 50-39 lead. Those who attend religious services regularly were slightly less likely to support Obama.

Obama has emerged as a strong advocate of gay rights. He presided over the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military's ban on openly gay service members, and instructed the Justice Department to stop defending a federal ban of same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act. After mounting pressure, Obama earlier this year became the first American president to publicly declare his support for same-sex marriage.

The issue could soon come before the Supreme Court, either in the form of one of multiple challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act -- most recently, a Second Circuit Court ruling that found the law unconstitutional -- or from a challenge to California's Proposition 8, which reversed an earlier state law by banning gay marriage.

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