In the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush won 11% of the black vote. However, in Ohio, Bush managed to win 17% of votes cast by African Americans. Republican presidential candidates always need to win Ohio in order to secure the presidency. The 2004 election took place a few months after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Following that decision, an amendment banning same-sex marriage was put in the ballot in many states, including Ohio. Bush aggressively courted black ministers through his faith-based initiative. African Americans in general and black churchgoers, in particular, tend to be strongly against same-sex marriage. Thus, Bush succeeded by increasing his share of the black vote in Ohio by appealing to socially-minded black voters on the issue of gay marriage. Since Bush won Ohio narrowly, this increased support was critical, if not decisive in winning the state. In this coming election, however, it is highly unlikely that socially minded African American voters would defect to Mitt Romney because President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage.
The black church has played an essential role in the lives of African American throughout its history. Because slavery and Jim Crow laws had denied access for African Americans into mainstream organizations, the black church has been a place where people could gather, socialize, and worship. Thus, it is not surprising that the church plays a key role in shaping the moral fiber of African Americans. As a result, people in the community tend to be very conservative on social issues, particularly gay marriage.
African American consciousness has also been shaped by their arduous struggle for equal rights. Such struggle also makes many African Americans supportive of other groups that are fighting for rights that they have been denied. A study by Gregory Lewis has underscored this tendency. It found that African Americans tends to support laws that ban discrimination against gays more than their white counterparts even though they disapprove of homosexuality.
Equally important, African Americans have often elected politicians who are strong advocates of gay rights. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is a case in point: He enjoys a 68% approval among African Americans even after he played an instrumental role in legalizing gay marriage in the state. Furthermore, Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass), who is openly gay, lauded members of the Black Caucus for being the “most supportive group for gays and lesbians” in Congress.
After the president announced his support for same-sex marriage, his poll numbers among African Americans continue to remain strong. Instead of a backlash, his announcement has resulted in a shift among many blacks vis-à-vis same-sex marriage. Two polls show that more black voters supported gay marriage in Maryland and North Carolina than before the announcement by the president. Obama also reached out to many pastors in order to explain his decision to them. Although some of these pastors do not concur with the decision, they nonetheless do not withdraw their support for the president nor encourage their congregation to do so.
It is rumored that the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church no longer supports Obama because of his support for gay marriage. The AME is the oldest and most influential African American denomination in the nation. While emphasizing that the denomination "does not endorse candidates for political office," Bishop Samuel Green, Sr., president of the Council of Bishops, stated that AME has no affiliation with a group dubbed the Coalition of African American Pastors, which is asking the president to reverse his stance on same-sex marriage. The rumor, therefore, has no basis in fact. Actually, last month, the first lady, Michelle Obama, was received enthusiastically during her appearance at the AME Church annual conference in Nashville.
As African Americans head to the polls in November, gay marriage would not be their main priority. They would cast their votes for the candidate whose policies are more likely to generate jobs, restore economic growth, expand opportunities, protect Social Security, Medicare as well Medicaid, and fight to create a fairer tax system. For the vast majority of those voters, this candidate would most likely be Barack Obama