President Obama's announcement supporting same-sex marriage could have an impact on opinion among black Americans. A new poll finds that 59 percent of black Americans support same-sex marriage, a jump from just 41 percent before Obama's announcement.
In previous surveys, support among black Americans for same-sex marriage has been consistently lower than among whites. A majority of black Americans polled over the past two years have opposed same-sex marriage (38 percent support vs. 52 percent opposition), according the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
Black Americans who attend church are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than are others. According recent Pew polls, 70 percent of black Americans who attend church regularly oppose gay marriage, compared to 47 percent among those that do not.
With the relatively small number of black Americans in the Washington Post-ABC poll, it would be difficult to tell if the change in opinion occurred among more religious black Americans.
Among whites polled, opinion leaned toward supporting same-sex marriage (48 percent support vs. 43 percent opposition). The new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests that black Americans are now more supportive of same-sex marriage than white Americans are (59 percent vs. 50 percent).
For many black Americans, opposition to gay marriage is rooted in conservative religious beliefs. While more left-leaning on many economic and civil rights issues, black Americans poll similar to many white Christians on social issues including same-sex marriage.
Obama's announcement, however, could shift opinion on this issue among black Americans. On Monday, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) approved a resolution supporting same-sex marriage. The resolution supported both "marriage equality" and "the religious freedoms of all people."
Roslyn Brock, chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors, said the resolution was limited to same-sex civil marriage, not marriage as a religious institution.
"The NAACP did not issue its support of marriage equality from a personal, moral, or religious perspective. Rather, we deeply respect differences of personal conscience on the religious definition of marriage, and we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all as protected by the First Amendment," Brock said. "As the nation's leading civil rights organization, it is not our role or intent to express how any place of worship should act in its own house. We have not done so in the past and will not do so in the future."
By separating civil marriage as a civil rights issue from the institution of marriage as a moral issue, the group frames same-sex marriage in a way that could be more acceptable to black Americans who are ambivalent on the issue.
Frank Schubert, national political director for the National Organization for Marriage, told the Washington Post that he doubted that there is any change among black Americans.
"There is not a chance in God's green earth that African Americans support same-sex marriage," Schubert said. "[Obama's] opinion of same-sex marriage is not going to be changing the opinion of African Americans in a significant way."
The Washington Post-ABC poll is the first evidence, however, that there may be changes occurring among some black Americans. The number of black Americans is small, but the size of the jump in support of same-sex marriage was large enough to be statistically significant, meaning that the change is not due to random fluctuation. But more polls will be needed to confirm a true change in public opinion.