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Clarence Page: Are gay 'rites' a black thing now?

BY CLARENCE PAGE Published: May 30, 2012

Conservatives warned, often with glee, that President Barack Obama's support for same-sex marriage would spark a backlash from African Americans. But less than a month later, guess what? Polls show black voters dramatically swinging the other way, closer to Obama's view.

Black voters, for reasons heavily related to conservative religious views, have been more conservative about same-sex marriage than national averages — until now. New polls indicate that Obama's gay-marriage support may do more to help the cause than hurt his popularity.

A new ABC/Washington Post poll released last week found a new high of 59 percent of African Americans who say gay marriage should be legal. That's up from an average of 41 percent in polls leading up to Obama's announcement that his position had “evolved” into support for the right of gays and lesbians to legally marry.

That surge among black voters helped push support among Americans overall to 53 percent, a dramatic increase from six years ago when only 36 percent thought so. Only 39 percent overall maintained that gay marriage should be illegal.

The polltakers cautioned that the results, though statistically significant, were based on a relatively small sample of black voters, a fact upon which conservative critics pounced. Yet statewide polls taken by Public Policy Polling have found a similar pro-gay-marriage swing in Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania before and after Obama's pronouncement. Almost all of the movement was driven by black voters.

The state to watch is Maryland, where voters will be asked in November to approve or repeal a new state law that legalizes same-sex marriage. A poll by PPP finds 55 percent of black Maryland voters now say they will support the new law and only 36 percent oppose it. That's a complete flip since March, when 56 percent told PPP that they would vote against the measure.

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