The Obama Effect

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When President Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage earlier this month, predictions and risk calculations flooded the blogosphere within minutes. Was the president’s statement brave and historic, or did he not go far enough? Was it heartfelt or politically-motivated? What would black voters think? Could it cost him the election?

Now that the nation has had a little time to reflect, there’s some evidence that the president’s risky announcement, rather than alienating voters, has helped shift public opinion on the matter. A new Washington Post-ABC News Poll shows that support for legalizing gay marriage has reached a new high of 53 percent, up from 36 percent just six years ago.

The shift is particularly notable among African Americans who, for cultural and religious reasons, have tended to oppose same-sex marriage and, four years ago, were blamed by some for blocking same-sex marriage in California. In Washington Post-ABC polls earlier this spring, only 41 percent of black voters supported gay marriage. Since the president’s announcement, that number has shot up to 59 percent.

The Villiage Voice’s Steven Thrasher says “it’s fair to call it the Obama Effect.”

In the summer of 2012, black America will see their youngest generation, the black Attorney General, the black American president, the nation’s only black governor, the oldest black civil rights group in the nation, the star of Men In Black III, and leading stars of rap, hip hop and reggae proclaiming increased rights for gay Americans.

Black public opinion, inevitably, will follow.

Support has come, Thrasher notes, from a range of African American orgnaizations and individuals, from the NAACP to entertainers Will Smith and Jay-Z. And as of yesterday, you can add Colin Powell to the list. The former Secretary of State told CNN that he supports gay marriage at the state or federal level.

“In terms of the legal matter of creating a contract between two people that’s called marriage, and allowing them to live together with the protection of law, it seems to me is the way we should be moving in this country. And so I support the president’s decision.”

This new-found support for marriage equality is already having an effect on policy. No state has ever upheld gay marriage in a referendum — conservatives Tony Perkins and Ken Blackwell pointed out in a Fox News column that “in the 32 states where voters have been allowed to express their views, all 32 have affirmed traditional marriage and rejected its same-sex redefinition.” But marriage equality referendums in Maryland, Maine and Washington now have a good chance of passing.

A new poll out today from Public Policy Polling shows that in Maryland, 57 percent of voters say that they’re likely to vote in favor of the state’s new marriage equality law this fall. That’s a 12 percent increase from an identical survey taken just two months ago.

The movement can be explained almost entirely by a major shift in opinion about same-sex marriage among black voters. Previously, 56% said they would vote against the new law with only 39% planning to support  it. Those numbers have now almost completely flipped, with 55% of African Americans planning to vote for the law and only 36% now opposed.

Even in their celebration, some gay rights activists criticized the president for stressing in his pronouncement that his position is personal, and that he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own. It seems though, that with some persuasive leadership, he may be able to at least influence those decisions.

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