Poll: Majority of Latinos Back Same-Sex Marriage

PHOTO: Arny Davis displays his wedding ring as he poses for a photo in front of the Lewis County Courthouse in Chehalis, Wash., Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Davis, who has been married for 22 years, says that he will be voting to reject a proposition that would

One effective tool Republicans have used in the past to woo Hispanic voters appears to be losing its edge: social issues.

A new Pew Hispanic Center study released Thursday showed that more than half of Latinos now support gay marriage than oppose it (52-34 percent). To underscore how dramatic a shift that is, consider that in 2006 -- just six years ago -- the number was essentially reversed, with 56 percent opposing same-sex marriage and 31 percent supporting it.

The shifting attitudes on same-sex marriage in the Latino community mirror those of the nation as a whole. A May Gallup poll showed that half of Americans support same-sex marriage when just six years ago, almost six in ten opposed it.

In reality, Republican candidates in this campaign have relied on an economic-centered message in their appeals to Latino voters. But social issues have long been an area where Republicans and conservatives have touted a natural connection with Latino communities.

Consider this quote from state Rep. Jim Kerr of Colorado, whose county has seen its Latino population grow by 45 percent in the last decade.

"If you look at the values ... conservative values, family values. They are very similar to the Latino population," he said earlier this month. "I grew up with those people. They have the same kind of values I have."

And here is what a Mitt Romney campaign volunteer Marta Saltus told USA Today about the relationship between Republicans and Latinos in August: "We are all conservative -- socially conservative, fiscally conservative. We believe in individual responsibility; we work hard; we don't want food stamps."

Let's be clear: there are still significant pockets within the community where social issues could be an effective tool for Republicans.

While strong support for President Barack Obama, who publicly backed gay marriage this year, still exists among Latino Catholics (73-19 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Latinos (82-7 percent), the small but growing Evangelical Protestant population has many more who support Mitt Romney (they back Obama 50-39 percent).

And those who attend church regularly, regardless of affiliation, are somewhat less inclined to back Obama.

But on the whole, the shifting attitudes on gay marriage -- combined with the fact that fewer Latinos actually vote on social issues -- signal that these type political appeals will resonate among a smaller segment of the Latino community in the coming years.

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