Black Voters Evolving On Marriage Equality

Via Dave Weigel, some welcome news out of Maryland:

57% of Maryland voters say they're likely to vote for the new marriage law this fall, compared to only 37% who are opposed. That 20 point margin of passage represents a 12 point shift from an identical PPP survey in early March, which found it ahead by a closer 52/44 margin. 

The movement over the last two months 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 uphold it. Those numbers have now almost completely flipped, with 55% of African Americans planning to vote for the law and only 36% now opposed. 

The big shift in attitudes toward same-sex marriage among black voters in Maryland is reflective of what's happening nationally right now. A new ABC/Washington Post poll finds 59% of African Americans across the country supportive of same-sex marriage. A PPP poll in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania last weekend found a shift of 19 points in favor of same-sex marriage among black voters.

As it currently stands, Maryland will be the first state to uphold marriage equality by referendum. I don't actually believe the right to create family among two consenting adults should be subject to the whims of a majority--black or not. 

With that said, if these numbers hold, will be a major statement. It would not simply mean that same-sex marriage held by a majority vote, but that it did so in one of the blackest states in the country. I don't think that says anything distinctive about African-Americans, except that in the climate, it seems exceptional to point out that black people are, in fact, not aliens permanently in the grip of pathology, but Americans.

I was skeptical that Obama would actually influence black opinions. I'm not sure he has. But I can't rule it out. It's clear that the trend was toward support. Maybe Obama gave it the final push. On a related note, preachers who thought they were going to use this to test, for better or ill, the most popular man in black America, should reconsider. As Weigel reports, that's already in happening:

[Reverend Emmett C]. Burns enjoyed the first spasms of repeal campaign coverage. He went on CNN and promised not to vote for Obama -- he was just so angry about the gay marriage "evolution." Less than a week later, he told National Review that he'd evolved. He'd back Obama anyway. It's not that easy to stake a position against the president and try to hold on to the black vote.

Smart man. No need to get timberland'd up. 

EDIT: Majeff cleans up one of my notions on Maryland being "first," below:

There are two other states where similar things could take place. Washington will likely be voting on whether to uphold that state's legislation granting marriage equality, and voters in Maine look like they'll be enacting marriage equality.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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