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Opinion: On gay marriage, Latinos agree with Obama

By Maria Cardona, CNN Contributor
May 10, 2012 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Supporters of same-sex marriage organized by Latino activists march in predominantly Latino neighborhoods in L.A. last year.
Supporters of same-sex marriage organized by Latino activists march in predominantly Latino neighborhoods in L.A. last year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Cardona: Bravo, Obama for same-sex marriage support. Latinos, she says, agree
  • She says GOP will try to spin statement as counter to Latino values; polls show that's not so
  • She says Latinos are strong advocates for equality; gay marriage fits into family values
  • Obama's positions on economy will draw Latino voters; bold move on gays will only help

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- President Obama is indeed a profile in courage. He has made history yet again with his announcement that he supports full marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans. Bravo, Mr. President.

Now comes all the warnings and predictions of what this will mean for the election in November. One of those dire warnings is that this will hurt him with his supporters among Latino communities. This will not be the case and here's why:

For so long, Republicans have loved to push the meme, famously touted by Ronald Reagan, that Latinos are, by their nature, more conservative on religious and social issues and therefore will be open to the Republican point of view. While it is true that Latinos are more conservative on these issues -- Republicans love to use gay marriage and abortion as the key examples -- they historically do not base their vote on these issues. That is why no GOP presidential candidate in history has ever been able to attract a majority of Latino voters.

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

Most Latinos believe these issues are deeply personal and should not be decided by politicians. They may be conservative in their beliefs on these subjects, but economic issues trump social ones.

In addition, many Latinos have themselves experienced discrimination and marginalization and as such, according to a study done by Bendixen and Amandi, a public opinion research firm that specializes in issues affecting Latinos, most Latinos "deeply believe in the American principles of equality, fairness, and do not support discrimination against gays and lesbians."

Latinos' views on same-sex marriage

In fact, the poll, done for the LGBT think-tank Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), showed that majorities of Latinos broadly support equality for gays and lesbians:

• 80% believe that gay people often face discrimination.

• 83% support housing and employment non-discrimination

protections for gay people.

• 74% support either marriage or marriage-like legal

recognition for gay and lesbian couples.

• 73% say that gay people should be allowed to serve

openly in the military.

• 75% support school policies to prevent harassment and

bullying of students who are gay or perceived to be gay.

• 55% (and 68% of Latino Catholics) say that being gay is

morally acceptable.

These findings, of course, won't stop Republicans from trying to drive a wedge between Latinos and Obama.

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However, given the open-mindedness of most Latinos, and their penchant for fairness, given what many have already gone through historically as well as recently in this country, this is not an issue that the GOP will be able to use. If they try, it may backfire, though I confess it will be difficult to inflict any more damage than has already been done to Republicans by Mitt Romney's full embrace of right wing, anti-illegal immigrant stances.

In two new polls, Romney trails Obama -- in one by 50 points, the other by 68 points -- among Latino voters.

Republicans will nonetheless try to use the churches, the clergy, and every other religious avenue they think will be available to them to paint the president's support for gay marriage as going against Latinos' traditional, religious and cultural beliefs.

This view also is flawed. In Bendixen & Amandi's poll, 69% of Latino Christians said that their religion is "accepting of all people, including gay people. In addition, 79% of Latino Catholics said a person could express support for gay equality and still be a good Catholic." That poll also found that Latino Catholics were among the stronger supporters of equality, mirroring results from recent polls for U.S. Catholics by ABC News/Washington Post and Gallup, among others.

Republicans are right on one thing. Family is first and foremost for Latinos. But for Latinos, familia is all extended family and what is anathema to most Latinos is the thought that they would turn their backs on any family member for any reason, including being gay.

In fact, Ingrid Duran and Catherine Pino, co-founders of D&P Creative Strategies and arguably two of the most prominent LGBT Latina activists in the country, are spearheading a ground-breaking campaign entitled Familia es Familia (Family is Family) that will launch at the NCLR (National Council of La Raza) conference in July along with 19 of the most prominent national Latino organizations.

"Latino LGBT families deserve to have committed, loving relationships like their parents, grandparents and other loving family members have enjoyed. Our families are no different and Latinos inherently understand, accept and embrace that notion," say Duran and Pino.

This election, however, will still be decided on economic issues. Kitchen-table, bread-and-butter issues will be first and foremost with Latino voters, as with all Americans. As Latino unemployment continues to go down, as Latinos realize that the Affordable Care Act gives 9 million Latinos health care coverage they didn't have before, as Latino students are able to go to college and pay back their loans thanks to President Obama's policies, and as Latino abuelitos and abuelitas are able to pay for their prescription drugs, Latino families will know who is fighting for them and theirs.

The president's decision to support equal and full rights for gay Americans only adds to that equation.

It was a bold and courageous move based on being true to one's personal and Christian beliefs. A move Mitt Romney could learn from.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona.

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