An endorsement of same-sex marriage was long considered risky for President Obama because of the expected backlash from the African-American community. Few seemed to consider the alternative, which polling suggests is playing out instead: Rather than changing their minds about the president, some black voters are reconsidering gay marriage.
A pair of polls released in the last week suggest Obama’s highly publicized announcement may have helped trigger a shift in attitudes among African-Americans, a historically socially conservative voting bloc, in states where same-sex marriage has been at the forefront of public debate. On Thursday, Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) released the results of a survey showing that the state law legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland is a strong favorite to be upheld by voters in November, with 57 percent of likely voters saying they will vote for the referendum and only 37 percent intending to vote against.
The poll, commissioned by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, also revealed marked movement among Maryland’s black voters, 55 percent of whom now say they will support the new law. That marks a dramatic flip since PPP’s previous survey in March, when 56 percent of African-American Maryland voters said they would vote against the measure, which was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) earlier this year.
The Maryland poll comes on the heels of a PPP survey of North Carolina released last week, which also found a pronounced shift among black voters in the wake of Obama’s announcement. In that survey, 27 percent of black voters in North Carolina now support the right of gay and lesbian couples to get married, while 59 percent are opposed. That still amounts to robust opposition, but it also represents an 11-point shift since PPP’s final survey before North Carolina’s statewide vote on Amendment One, a measure that establishes marriage between one man and one woman as the only legally recognized union. Amendment One passed overwhelmingly just one day before Obama’s announcement.
After Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts earlier this month, Republicans warned that he would pay a political price among his usually ardent supporters. A smattering of black pastors have expressed disappointment with the president’s “evolution” on the issue, but the polls suggest that Obama’s announcement may prove to be a turning point on the issue within the African-American community.
And other prominent black leaders are now following Obama’s lead. The board of the NAACP passed a resolution last weekend to officially support marriage equality. NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a press release that marriage equality is “deeply rooted” in the 14th Amendment, which ensures “equal protection of all people.”
“Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law,” Jealous said.
The NAACP’s resolution came days after Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the No. 3 House Democrat and a longtime civil rights leader, echoed Obama’s support for same-sex marriage during an appearance on MSNBC. In fact, Clyburn went even further and said he is hopeful that marriage equality can be achieved on the federal level.
“If we consider this to be a civil right, and I do, I don’t think civil rights ought to be left up to a state-by-state approach. I think we should have a national policy on this,” Clyburn said.
The latest convert is Gen. Colin Powell, the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush who endorsed Obama in 2008. Powell said that he has “no problem” with same-sex marriage in a television appearance Wednesday.
“In terms of the legal matter of creating a contract between two people that’s called marriage, and allowing them to live together with the protection of law, it seems to me is the way we should be moving in this country,” Powell told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “And so I support the president’s decision.”
Tom Kludt is a newswriter for TPM. A former research intern and polling fellow for TPM, he lives and works in New York City. Tom graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in May of 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. He can be reached at Tom (at) talkingpointsmemo.com.