Political Animal


May 23, 2012 12:43 PM African-Americans and Same-Sex Marriage

By Ed Kilgore

I wrote earlier about a Gallup poll dubiously showing an abrupt change in self-identification on the abortion issue. There’s also a new WaPo-ABC poll showing an even more dramatic change in African-American attitudes towards same-sex marriage:

Overall, 53 percent of Americans say gay marriage should be legal, hitting a high mark in support while showing a dramatic turnaround from just six years ago, when just 36 percent thought it should be legal. Thirty-nine percent, a new low, say gay marriage should be illegal.
The poll also finds that 59 percent of African Americans say they support same-sex marriage, up from an average of 41 percent in polls leading up to Obama’s announcement of his new position on the matter. Though statistically significant, it is a tentative result because of the relatively small sample of black voters in the poll.

Perhaps this finding is an outlier, but it’s a big enough shift that it might reflect some significant movement, even if it’s less than the numbers indicate.

Just last week at TNR John McWhorter expressed the hope that the president’s announcement of support for same-sex marriage would have a particular impact on his fellow African-Americans, if only because “he is no longer giving tacit approval to a prejudice in the African-American community that becomes more awkward and regrettable by the year.” Maybe it’s already happening.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on May 23, 2012 1:07 PM:

    The shift probably reflects an acknowledgement by blacks that same sex marriage is a civil rights issue. My guess is they still don't support same sex marriage, but they remember the bad old days when anti-miscegenation was the law in most of the country.

    When leaders lead, followers often take another look at an issue.

  • Hedda Peraz on May 23, 2012 1:16 PM:

    Unlike foreign policy or "science", anyone can voice an opinion about social issues without fear of drawing laughter.
    Then they mistake the silence for agreement, and do again, and again, until they hold all sorts of untenable beliefs. (such as homosexuality can be cured, and babies are brought by the stork)

  • boatboy_srq on May 23, 2012 1:39 PM:

    There's a flipside to this item: we're not that far past the Bishop Eddie Long story.

    I think it's as simple as we have a) AA role models (you have to count the NAACP in this too) coming out in favor of SSM and b) ever more examples of LGBT opponents getting publicly shamed for "straying" from their public statements, often in remarkably reprehensible ways. Faced with the two, there's only so many times you can double down on a bad philosophical argument before your losses start sobering you up.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 23, 2012 1:40 PM:

    Well, Jay-Z publicly supports Obama and same-sex marriage rights. In context, that speaks volumes, as Jay-Z is probably the second-most respected black man amongst African Americans (behind Obama, of course, but maybe first, depending on who you ask). And even though hardcore (black male) Jay-Z fans tend to be uber-macho ("no-homo") they also follow his lead like he's Christ incarnate, as in the infamous Cristal Boycott a few years ago... If someone like Jay-Z supports same-sex, opinions among blacks ARE definitely going to change...

  • June on May 23, 2012 2:30 PM:

    As an African-American myself, I'm always surprised to hear what "the blacks" are up to. Must have to get out more.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on May 23, 2012 3:01 PM:

    I'll bet this isn't an outlier, either. Things happen when leaders actually lead. Too bad Democrats don't do that more often. We could have decent gun laws, better tax structure, ...

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 23, 2012 3:21 PM:

    @June: I bet you'd also be surprised to hear that black people also read and post on this blog, too. It may not be evident because not everyone will preface every posting with "as an African American", but as an African American myself, I'm just sayin...

  • June on May 23, 2012 4:59 PM:

    @Sgt.Gym Bunny - I've been around this blog for years and have a pretty good idea of who's who. But - very clever on your part!

  • Doug on May 23, 2012 8:29 PM:

    To me, President Obama's statement came across as something he'd thought very long and hard about before arriving at the conclusion he did and I don't see why it couldn't have struck others in the same way.
    Mr. Obama clearly stated that any "problem" about accepting marriage equality was on HIS part. It was HIS understanding of what constituted a "marriage" that held him back from supporting marriage equality and NOT the teachings of his church.
    Perhaps it's that very "soul-searching" which has resonated more than anyone imagined?