Global Politics

Obama's 'evolution' on same-sex marriage mobilizes Latino supporters

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Young Latino voters are challenging the commonly held assumption that Latinos oppose same-sex marriage. (Photo by brainchildvn via Flickr.)

When President Barack Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage last week, attention turned to how that would impact the political calculus of the upcoming election.

Unsurprisingly, it bolstered his support among members of the LGBT community, but it also appears to have galvanized members of the Latino community. Contrary to what might be expected, Latino Ameircans support same-sex rights at a greater rate than the general American population.

Obama spoke recently at a Democratic fundraiser that was jointly organized by gay rights groups and Latino groups.

“I want everybody treated fairly in this country. We have never gone wrong when we expanded rights and responsibilities to everybody," Obama said. 

Latinos, who are predominately Roman Catholic, agree with him in large numbers. In a survey conducted last year by the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of Latinos said homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared to 58 percent of the general population.

Shirl Mora James, lead co-president of the non-partisan National Tequila Party Movement, said that support for the gay community is not a recent development in the Latino population.

“My grandfather came from the old country in the 1900s, and I was probably about 15 or 16 when I came out to him, and he was fully accepting. Matter of fact, I think I was even loved more because of the discrimination they knew I would be experiencing in the white dominant culture," she said. “Latinos, Latinas, Hispanics, in general, we are family-orientated. So we are not going to be turning our children away regardless of who they love."

Sister Molly Maria Luisa Munoz, a Roman Catholic nun who works with migrant farm workers, people living with HIV/AIDS and the gay and lesbian community, said it is important to learn to "love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Her views on same-sex marriage recently got her into trouble with the Pope.

"I know what is right and in the Hispanic community, they’re religious people and we don’t judge people because of their orientation," she said. "I think we have great respect for humanity as a Hispanic community. We love our neighbor, and we are continually taught to love our neighbor no matter what orientation a person is. ...We have to teach our Anglo brothers and sisters that it's OK to love each other and to love gay people," she said.

James said gay rights and immigration rights are really motivating Latino voters.

“The reason why I believe that immigration reform and rights for DREAMers and rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are intertwined is that we have those very same people in our Hispanic community, and some that are undocumented. For a straight undocumented individual, they can fall in love and marry a U.S. citizen and be adjusted," she said. "It is really a tragedy for the individual that is a homosexual to fall in love with the person, their soulmate, but unfortunately, cannot marry or adjust here in the United States."

The new crop of Hispanic voters may help change that. James said that many young Hispanic voters are being raised in strong Hispanic families who value gay rights.

“In the DREAMER movement, there is a great acceptance of all people, and in our movement, The Tequila Party Movement, my co-president is a straight woman and I’m a lesbian woman,” James said. “We’re talking about a basic human right for any individual, regardless of sexual orientation or whether or not they have legal status.’”

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