On May 9, 2012, President Barack Obama finally endorsed marriage equality. After taking years to “evolve” on the issue, the president told ABC’s Robin Roberts, “I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally…Over the course of several years, as I’ve talked to friends and family and neighbors, at a certain point, 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.”
That policy shift set off a wave of consternation among black political commentators and clergy that the president’s support of marriage equality would be seriously detrimental to his standing in the black community.
The conventional wisdom is that churchgoing African-Americans are opposed to marriage equality and so even though they are mostly supporters of Obama, either they would stay home on election day or not support the president based on this singular issue.
The conventional wisdom turned out to be wrong. Tuesday night, in Maryland and in Maine marriage equality was approved by popular vote. And in Minnesota, voters rejected a marriage equality ban.
This is the first time that marriage equality supporters have succeeded in ballot initiatives. Previously, marriage equality ballot initiatives had a 0-32 record.
In Maryland in particular there is evidence that the black support for President Obama was not diminished by his stance on marriage equality and many African-American supporters of the president also voted in favor of marriage rights for gay couples. The ballot measure came after Maryland’s state legislature passed a bill earlier this year, which marriage equality opponents then petitioned against, which then forced the issue to be put on the November ballot.
Exit polling shows that while not all Obama supporters also voted in favor of the marriage equality measure, about half did. The pressure from African-American churches in the state to oppose the measure doesn’t seem to have hindered black turnout in Maryland either.
Warnings back in May about lower turnout based on this singular issue seem to have been inaccurate; in the end, black turnout was up, and 9 out of 10 black voters supported the president. Voters in Maryland who supported marriage equality also supported President Obama, and those who opposed the measure supported Mitt Romney, who lost the state by 25 percentage points.
The assumption that black voters are more opposed to marriage equality than other groups isn’t supported by polling and with 53 percent of all Americans in favor of marriage rights for everyone, a sea change has seemed to emerge which culminated Tuesday night.
With these wins on marriage equality initiatives, the first ever, there is a lot of positive thinking in the gay rights movement that there is a shift in public opinion on the issue and this evolution was helped by the president’s public support.
There is still progress to be made and there will likely always be socially conservative blacks who oppose marriage rights for gay couples on an ideological level. This is all while supporting the rest of the Democratic Party platform, but Tuesday’s victories are evidence that these personal beliefs may not necessarily translate into voting against ballot measures or against Democrats.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell at @ZerlinaMaxwell