What effect will Obama’s support for gay marriage have on the Latino electorate?

Felipe Solares, 26, supports Obama’s position on same sex marriage, but doesn't believe other Latinos do.
Felipe Solares, 26, supports Obama’s position on same sex marriage, but doesn't believe other Latinos do.
Corey Moore/KPCC

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President Obama expressed his support for same-sex marriage on Wednesday. Now, there is growing speculation that his views may alienate some people — especially from the coveted (and growing) Latino voting block.

As soon as President Obama made his views known, a wave of support flooded social media. Among those reacting was Ricky Martin, the Latino pop star who made headlines a couple of years ago when he came out of the closet.

“I applaud President Obama for affirming that all Americans should enjoy equal rights,” he tweeted. Martin is 40-years-old, but his views are also representative of a growing population of younger Latinos.

“All the research shows that definitely, there’s a generational effect," says Marisa Abrajano, a political science professor at UC San Diego. "So the older you are, the less likely you are to support gay marriage."

The professor (whose focus is in Latino politics) says that the younger generation is "overwhelmingly" supportive of it.

“I think it’s part of this cohort effect that you’re seeing with Latinos," she explains. "Because a large population of them are younger relative to non-Latinos. Over the years, they’re starting to become — at least on this particular issue — more progressive.”

In California, the number of Latino youth registering to vote has grown an estimated 15 percent in the past five years. Abrajano says she doesn’t believe same-sex marriage will be a top issue for these voters.

A recent survey by the National Council of La Raza and Social Science Research Solutions, a public opinion research firm, finds that Latinos today aren’t as overwhelmingly opposed to homosexuality or same-sex marriage as many perceive them to be.

According to the survey results, 54 percent of Latinos support gay marriage. By comparison, the most recent Gallup poll finds that 53 percent of all Americans (including Latinos) support gay marriage.

Studies suggest that changing views in the Latino community have a lot to do with acculturation — and education.

Ari Gutierrez agrees. She’s an LGBT activist with Latino Equality Alliance, an L.A.-based coalition of gay rights groups that came together in 2008 after California passed Proposition 8, the Marriage Protection Act.

“I think it’s not just generational, it’s really more about access to information," says Gutierrez. "Typically, your older folks are going to be more Spanish monolingual. Therefore, is it age, or is it access to information in a language that they can understand?”

In his most recent campaign video addressed to Latinos, President Obama says, “Estamos unidos…We are greater together."

Among his top campaign promises, the president mentions education, health, the economy and immigration reform. There’s no mention of same-sex marriage or LGBT rights.

There’s a reason why President Obama hadn’t been vocal about the issue until he was confronted about it, says Alfonso Aguilar.

“I think that this will have a negative impact for the president, especially with those Latinos of faith," he argues.

Aguilar is the executive director of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, a Washington advocacy organization that tries to generate Latino support for conservative campaigns and candidates.

"In key battleground states like Nevada, Colorado, even Florida, this could really hurt him," Aguilar maintains. "Again, it’s politically risky. Not only with Latinos but also with moderate Democrats and African Americans.”

Aguilar acknowledged that younger Latinos seem to be increasingly supportive of gay marriage. So, he says, it’ll be up to older generations and religious leaders to sway the Latino vote this upcoming election.