The hot-button issue of gay marriage had appeared on state ballots 29 times prior to the most recent elections and lost every time.
But last Tuesday’s results may have marked a watershed moment for the gay marriage movement as voters in three states voted to legalize it, while a fourth voted against a proposed ban.
And the movement will largely have African-Americans and Latinos to thank if it catches on in other states.
Exit polls now show a majority of both groups now favor gay marriage as voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state all passed new gay marriage laws on Tuesday, while voters in Minnesota defeated a ban.
More and more Americans have moved in support of gay marriage in recent years, but last week’s approval by voters in several states marks a significant leap forward rather the previous incremental progress.
It’s no secret that gay marriage is supported by large number of young people and non-religious people, but exit polls show the most important shifts in support among African Americans and Hispanics.
Black voters, in particular, have been slow to embrace gay marriage, even as the vast majority vote Democratic and the rest of the party has embraced it. There were many traditionally conservative African-Americans who were very upset with President Barack Obama earlier this year following his decision to support gay marriage.
On Tuesday, though, they played a major role in passing Maryland’s new gay marriage law.
Maryland is heavily Democratic, which made it a likely candidate to be one of the first states to vote for gay marriage. But the state is also heavily African-American (29 percent) and has a significant Latino population (8 percent), which made passage something less than certain.
When California approved a gay marriage ban in 2008, 70 percent of African Americans voted for it, and when North Carolina overwhelmingly passed a similar measure earlier this year, many cited the black vote as a big reason.
On Tuesday in Maryland, though, 46 percent of African Americans supported gay marriage. And, according to national exit polls, 52 percent of both black and Latino voters who turned out Tuesday said they support gay marriage in their states.
That’s a big turnaround from recent years. In 2008 and 2009, a Pew Research Center survey showed just 28 percent of African Americans and 39 percent of Latinos backed gay marriage. And by 2010, support in those communities was rising slower than it was among whites.
The exit polls suggest both groups have now moved in large numbers toward supporting gay marriage.
And given their affinity for President Obama – 93 percent of African Americans and 71 percent of Latinos voted for the president – it’s not unreasonable to think that his support had an impact.
But the other three states besides Maryland that voted in favor of gay marriage Tuesday are among the whitest states in the country, with Maine being the whitest and Minnesota being 83 percent white.
Democratic-leaning states like California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois that are the most diverse are the likeliest candidates to pass gay marriage laws.