The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will decide two cases on marriage equality, entering a debate that is long overdue to be settled in this country.
Given the poor showing Republicans had with Latinos in the last election, the GOP is looking to find entry points into the Latino community they can use to build a broader coalition. The famous misnomer often repeated by Latino Republicans is that Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet. But the research on this has been settled for a while now; Latinos are not Republicans and they are very well aware of it.
But Latinos are also weak Democrats, largely because Republican hostility towards Latinos creates an uncompetitive market for Latinos within the Democratic Party. Still, Latinos are favorable towards Democratic policies and, more important, their view on the role of government is consistent with Democrats as well.
This has not stopped Republicans from thinking they can use social issues such as gay marriage or abortion to carve out space with Latinos. However, there are important reasons why this is not a direction Republicans will want to go to reach out to Latinos; Latino support for marriage equality is growing, several important countries that feed the growth of the Latino population are already farther ahead of the United States in recognizing marriage equality, and even if Latinos did align with Republican attitudes on this issue, it is not an important factor in their voting behavior.
I worked on a project to measure Latinos’ voting behavior in Los Angeles in 2008. The 2008 Election in California was significant because that was the year Proposition 8, the so-called California Marriage Protection Act, was on the ballot. The demographic changes going on in the country made measuring Latino support for Prop. 8 an important goal for us that would provide a rare look into this issue and how it might affect progress on marriage equality into the future.
Given the stereotypes about Latino “machismo,” many expected overwhelming support among Latinos for Proposition 8, and when the anti-gay measure passed, some liberals blamed Latinos. Indeed, headlines in the papers declared that Latinos had voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 8, despite their support being at just 53 percent. Our data in Los Angeles showed similar results, with younger and more educated Latinos opposing the measure.
This was widely consistent with the sentiments of the country in general at the time, and given the relative youth of Latinos, we saw no reason to see that this issue would be an effective tool for the future of the GOP. Recent data shows that the country in general has shifted in favor of marriage equality, following a trajectory of support over the last two decades.
Earlier this year, Latino Decisions reported that only 26 percent of Latinos believed there should be no recognition of marriages for gay couples, with 43 percent supporting gay marriage outright and 13 percent supporting civil unions. And other polls showed that Latinos are actually outpacing whites on marriage equality. This is very likely to be a high watermark because of the generational influence on support for marriage equality.
Going after new citizens will also be fruitless for the GOP. Important Latin countries are already on a trajectory of recognizing marriage equality. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador have made definitive steps forward on this and Mexico’s supreme court recently put gay marriage on a path to equality. This institutional influence is a reflection of the shifting attitudes on this issue across the Americas.
While the campaigns for and against Proposition 8 were among the most expensive in the country, minority groups were largely ignored in the outreach effort by opponents. White liberals are no less susceptible to the assumptions about the electorate as conservatives are when it comes to the important role of minorities in elections, and supporters of marriage equality should focus more attention on the Latino community, which is equally affected by discrimination base on sexual orientation.
With proper messaging and outreach, securing popular support for marriage equality among Latinos and the country into the future is more than achievable, but the GOP opportunity on this issue, if there ever was one, has passed.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.