In the wake of President Barack Obama’s announcement that he supports marriage equality for same-sex couples, many political pundits and reporters have focused on the huge jump in African Americans’ support for marriage equality. Nearly 60 percent of African Americans report supporting marriage equality according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, up a remarkable 20 points from about 40 percent in similar polling earlier this year. In Maryland, where the state’s recently passed same-sex marriage law will likely be on the November ballot, 55 percent of African American voters support upholding the law, up from about 35 percent just a few months ago.
This increase in support represents a significant step in the fight for marriage equality, and it absolutely merits the attention it has been receiving. Moreover, it highlights how critical the president’s leadership on this issue is. As National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director Sharon Lettman-Hicks said, “By coming out in support of marriage equality, [President Obama] has set a new standard. [His] affirmation of the freedom to marry helped black folks come to terms within themselves and many are realizing that it’s okay to evolve, too.”
At the same time, however, the recent news coverage and analysis of this issue has focused almost exclusively on comparing the marriage views of African Americans with whites, with an occasional nod to a broader group of “people of color.” This analysis inadvertently masks the views of Latinos, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group. In fact, among the media’s coverage of new polls conducted and released following President Obama’s support of marriage equality, very few (if any) broke out the results based on Latino or Hispanic ethnicity.
Despite the absence of media coverage on Latinos and marriage equality, numerous surveys tell us that Latinos are by and large supportive of laws that extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. A 2011 survey of Latinos found that even then 54 percent supported full marriage equality, compared to about 53 percent of the general public at the time. This same survey found that Latinos who identify as Catholic support marriage equality at a slightly higher rate of 57 percent. Like the rest of the U.S. population, support for marriage equality was higher among Hispanic women than Hispanic men, and was lower for those Latinos who identified as members of the Republican Party.
Further, a 2010 survey by the Associated Press and Univision found stark generational divides among Latinos, just as in the general population. Specifically, younger-generation Latinos voice much higher support for marriage equality than older Latinos do.
But overall Latino support for equality extends far beyond marriage. One case in point: Latinos are very supportive of laws that protect against other forms of antigay* discrimination (note that these surveys didn’t ask questions specific to transgender rights). The aforementioned 2011 survey found that:
- Eighty-six percent of Latinos support workplace discrimination laws that protect gay people
- Eighty-six percent support housing discrimination laws that protect gay people
- Eighty-three percent support hate crimes laws that protect gay people
- Eighty-three percent support equal health care and pension benefits for same-sex couples
- Seventy-eight percent support open military service
Further, the survey found that 67 percent of Latinos believe that gay people face either some or a lot of discrimination in the United States. At the same time, 65 percent of Latinos said that Hispanics themselves face similar rates of discrimination; 55 percent said the same for African Americans; and 47 percent for women. Also, 65 percent of Latinos said that gay people face some or a lot of discrimination from the Hispanic population itself—52 percent said that African Americans face similar levels of discrimination from the Latino population, and 48 percent said women did as well.
In addition to obscuring Latino support for marriage equality, the recent media focus on African Americans and marriage equality also ignores the fact that African Americans believe gay people face high rates of discrimination overall in America. In fact, African Americans largely understand that gay Americans face pervasive discrimination and are strongly supportive of laws and policies to end that discrimination—and they were supportive even when their opposition to marriage equality was significantly high.
A 2009 report and related polling from the Arcus Foundation, for example, found that 67 percent of African Americans opposed marriage equality at that time. But the same survey and polls found that 76 percent of African Americans thought that gay people overall face either a lot or some discrimination in America. Further:
- Eighty-five percent of African Americans polled said that hate crimes are a problem for gay people
- Eighty-three percent said school bullying is a problem for gay youth
- Seventy-four percent said access to health care and pension benefits is a problem for same-sex couples
- Seventy-four percent said job discrimination is a problem for gay employees and job seekers
- Sixty-nine percent said housing discrimination is a problem for the gay population
It’s not surprising then that most African Americans surveyed in the Arcus report and polls supported laws that protect gay people from a wide range of discrimination. Indeed, 80 percent favored hate crimes laws, 77 percent favored workplace laws, 74 percent favored housing laws, and 60 percent favored health care and pension benefits for same-sex couples. Since this survey is nearly three years old, these numbers have undoubtedly increased in favor of gay equality as they have by other demographic groups.
President Obama’s support for marriage equality support and the consequences of his decision on national polling—especially among African Americans—is certainly great news for the gay equality movement and for all those who support progressive social change in our country. At the same time, however, the media is only telling part of the story about where different races and ethnicities stand on both marriage equality and other equal rights issues for gay people. The movement for equality certainly extends beyond marriage, and it is important for the public conversation to acknowledge that fact.
Jeff Krehely is the Vice President of LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress.
*In this column, the term “gay” is used as an umbrella term to describe people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.