Since President Obama expressed his support for same-sex marriage last week, questions have been raised about how much that position could hurt his chances of reelection among the coveted (and growing) Latino electorate.
Most conversations focus on the common assumption that the Latino community is socially conservative on issues of religion and family.
But new studies suggest support for marriage equality in the Latino community is comparable to of the general population – especially among its youth – indicating the notion Latinos generally oppose gay marriage might be outdated.
“I think President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex-marriage will actually help him with the Latino community,” said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, a local LGBT rights advocacy group.
Cherkasov believes Obama’s bold move “shows the president is a leader who’s not afraid of making hard decisions,” even when they represent a political risk.
“He did it because it’s the right thing to do, not the most desirable from a political standpoint,” Cherkasov said. “It will ultimately resonate well with Latino families across the country.”
A 2011 national survey showed a majority of Latinos largely supports equality for the LGBT on issues of relationships, housing, employment, and the military.
The study, done for The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the LGBT think-tank Movement Advancement Project (MAP), reveal 74 percent of Latinos support either marriage or marriage-like legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples.
Another 73 percent say gay people should be allowed to serve openly in the military, while 83 percent support housing and employment non-discrimination protections for gay people, according to the same survey.
In an event held early this year in Chicago by the Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA), an advocacy group that works closely with LGBT organizations, several openly gay Latinos, mostly youth, were accompanied by their parents, said Hector Salgado, a program coordinator at ALMA.
“People in their early 20s are educating older generations and that is strengthening family relationships,” Salgado said.
As more and more Latinos come out to their family members and their communities, Salgado said, “they are more likely to gain their support on civil rights issues.”
Alfredo Ruiz, a Chicago native of Mexican descent, believes same-sex-marriage is not among the most pressing issues in the Latin community at the moment, and therefore it shouldn’t have a major impact in the 2012 elections.
“As much as Latinos seem to hold conservative ideals, I think that Obama is still secure with their vote in the state,” Ruiz said. “I think Latinos are more concerned with the economy and other social issues like immigration and education.”
However, Ruiz warns the social conservatism of the average Latino should not be overlooked, “because there is still a vein of homophobia due to religious and cultural upbringing.”
“Amongst the Latino Americans I’ve encountered and known, there seems to be an openness and diversity within their families. Not necessarily a clear understanding and acceptance, but a willingness to be open to maintain the family unit,” Ruiz said.
Cherkasov, head of Equality Illinois, agrees.
“Latinos see their LGBT family members as equals, and they want them to benefit from the same rights straights do,” he said. “Their definition of family is broader.”
But for Maria Torres, professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, what will hurt Obama in November is the record number of deportations done under his administration.
“President Obama promised immigration reform, but so far has deported more than 1.2 million illegal immigrants,” Torres said. “Five thousand children were also separated from their families.”