WASHINGTON — Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage should not cost him many votes among African Americans in this November’s presidential election, political analysts said Thursday.
Ninety-six percent of African Americans — who make up 13 percent of the country’s total population — voted for Obama in the 2008 election that made him the first black ever to occupy the White House.
On the other hand, they’re the least supportive of marriage rights for gays, lesbians and transsexuals — only 36 percent back it, according to a Pew Research opinion poll released in February, compared with 49 percent of whites.
Earlier this week, the black vote in North Carolina was pivotal in approving a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships.
African Americans also made up a strong proportion of voters who overturned California’s same-sex marriage law in 2008.
Come election time, some African Americans could well abandon Obama over the issue, said Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in Washington.
“But this is a group that’s been very supportive of the president (overall) and that’s probably likely to continue,” Doherty told AFP. The impact, he added, would “probably not be all that significant.”
He noted that, over time, while more blacks than whites have opposed same-sex marriage, the trend among both racial groups has been towards greater acceptance of such unions.
“There’s been a long-term shift among both whites and African Americans,” he said.
Writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, columnist Jay Bookman pulled up a raft of Gallup polls to show that overall support for gay marriage has outpaced support for inter-racial marriages.
In an ABC television interview Wednesday, Obama nuanced his stance by noting that same-sex marriage was a matter for each of the 50 states to address. At the federal level, they remain unrecognized.
African American civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton issued a ringing endorsement of Obama’s stance, saying the issue had nothing to do about personal or religious views.
“It is about equal rights for all. We cannot be selective with civil rights,” he said through his National Action Network group. “We must support civil rights for everybody or we don’t support them for anyone.”
Jamal Bryant, leader of the Empowerment Temple megachurch in Baltimore, said “black pastors are really confused” in the wake of Obama’s statement, as many of their churches are firmly against same-sex marriage.
“I absolutely, vehemently disagree with the president” on the issue, said Bryant on the syndicated Tom Joyner radio talk show.
“Marriage is the original institution of the church… It is the template that we start off with” in the biblical book of Genesis.
“Now we’re going to have to recalibrate,” the pastor said, adding however that, when jobs and other issues are taken into account, Obama remains a far better pick for voters than his Republican rival apparent Mitt Romney.
On Capitol Hill, Nancy Pelosi, the minority Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said the same-sex marriage issue was bigger than a mere number of ballots on election day.
“The day after the president made a statement that was so historic, so important for who we are as Americans, it’s hard for me to adjust to (whether) we’re going to win or lose votes,” she said.
“This is why we come to Congress, to do some good things. And so we can’t say, ‘Well, we’d have done a good thing but we can’t do it because we’ll lose votes if we do’.”