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Hispanics in the mainstream on most issues

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Esther Cepeda
May 17, 2012
— For me, the most difficult thing about a full week of news reporting and punditry regarding President Obama's historic embrace of same-sex marriage has been getting buffeted by worn-out stereotypes about how Hispanics will act on the revelation at the ballot box in November.

So far I've seen it stated that gay marriage "remains highly contentious among black and Latino voters," heard that it will aggressively alienate voters who hold socially conservative values -- and therefore be sure to turn off Hispanics -- and read that Obama's remarks have sparked "strong reactions" from Latinos.


Oh my. Where to begin?


Let's start with how contentious gay marriage is among Hispanics.


According to an April National Council on La Raza report on Latino acceptance and support of gays and lesbians, though there are segments of the Latino population that are at odds with the idea, 54 percent of Hispanics support legal gay marriage compared to 53 percent of Americans as a whole.


This corresponds with views toward homosexuality, in general. According to the Pew Hispanic Center's March 2011 National Survey of Latinos, when asked whether homosexuality should be accepted or discouraged by society, 59 percent of Hispanics said it should be accepted, compared to 58 percent of the general population.


Now move on to the socially conservative values voters, with whom Hispanics are routinely lumped in because of their strong connections to religious institutions. It's true that Hispanics are almost three times likelier to be Catholic and are more likely overall to affiliate themselves with an organized religion compared to the general public, but that doesn't translate into a political stance.


Again according to Pew, Hispanics as a whole are about as conservative (32 percent) as the overall population (34 percent), but they're less moderate and a bit more liberal than the general population -- 30 percent of Hispanics identify as liberal compared to 21 percent of the general population.


To illustrate the disconnect, take another great example of how the stereotype of the socially conservative Hispanic is proved wrong: the highly controversial issue of abortion. In January, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health commissioned a survey of registered Latino voters and found that 74 percent agree that a woman has a right to make personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering.


Even more interesting, 68 percent of respondents stated that they are willing to disagree with church leaders on the topic, which illustrates that Hispanics actively separate their spiritual beliefs from their appetite for letting institutions get involved in their personal affairs.


A Latino Decisions poll said much the same last December when it found that 63 percent of Latino voters strongly disagree with religious leaders telling members which candidate to vote for -- higher than in the general electorate. Moral issues and politics simply don't mix for the majority of Hispanic voters.


Finally, yes, there have been strong reactions among Hispanics about the president's endorsement of gay marriage -- both pro and con -- and in roughly equal proportion to the rest of the general population.


It's simple: Hispanics reflect the general population's attitudes toward same-sex marriage and are represented proportionally in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population.


According to Gary J. Gates, a demographics expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, there is no definitive count of the racial breakdown of LGBT population. But after combing data from multiple sources and surveys, Gates told me "these findings suggest that the racial/ethnic distribution of the LGBT population does not differ that much from the general population."


Despite race or religiosity, the number of people for and against gay marriage is about the same across the nation -- current polls peg it at about half and half. So as appealing as it may be as a storyline, there's no reason to continue making blanket presumptions about this as a voting issue among minorities.


The sad fact is that despite the potentially ground-breaking effect recent events may have on gay rights in the long term, equality based on sexual orientation is low on the list of national priorities. That agenda is topped by jobs, the economy, health care and education -- the same issues that will motivate voters of all stripes toward the polls in November or keep them away in droves.


Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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