Democrats will officially nominate Barack Obama for a second term this September in North Carolina. That state just passed a Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex marriage just one day before the President announced his support for marriage equality. Some question how this issue will affect his reelection chances or whether African American's would support him at the same enthusiastic 91% they did in 2008.
There is some credit to this concern. Older church-going African Americans are a significant voting block in Democratic politics and in California, African Americans supported Prop 8 (the ban on same-sex marriage) at 70%, while in North Carolina Black pastors were a major organizing force behind the ban. For Obama to lose traction with these same voters they would still have to find a viable alternative in Mitt Romney. If African Americans choose to stay home altogether it could make winning Southern battleground states like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida more difficult but even then the latest polling shows Obama with a solid lead in what matters most - electoral votes. Even still, Black voters, like voters in general, have evolving views on same-sex issues. A poll by Public Policy Polling tracking the Maryland referendum to uphold same-sex marriage found "a significant increase in support for same-sex marriage among African American voters following President Obama’s historic announcement." Pastor's who speak of social justice but use terms like "traditional definition of marriage" should be reminded that it was only in 1967 (six years after Barack Obama was born) that the Supreme Court struck down all laws banning interracial marriage.
This is a "right side of history" moment and leaders in the faith community have their own defections to worry about. A recent Pew Research poll showed that 44% of US adults have changed the faith of which they were raised or left organized religion all together. According to ABC News the number of Americans identifying as Christian has fallen 10 points in 18 years to 76% while the number who say "no religion" has risen to 15%. There is a clear generation gap but there also is a connection between the decreasing influence of churches and the positions they espouse on social issues. Harvard professor Robert Putnam, who conducted the research on behalf of Pew had this to say,
"Many of them are people who would otherwise be in church," Putnam said. "They have the same attitudes and values as people who are in church, but they grew up in a period in which being religious meant being politically conservative, especially on social issues."
Putnam says that in the past two decades, many young people began to view organized religion as a source of "intolerance and rigidity and doctrinaire political views," and therefore stopped going to church.
Legalizing same-sex marriage would not extend that requirement to churches. Its common for the line separating church and state to be blurred during election season but preachers who use their sermon to openly speak out against the government recognizing same-sex marriage don't just potentially offend their congregation but cross the line into pure political speech. There is no doubt that the President's opponents will see this as an opportunity to literally demoralize a portion of his base but what's less likely is that we will see Black leaders and voters abandon the president over this issue and start campaigning for Romney. What will be more interesting to see is how religious leaders deal with the rapidly changing views of their followers on social issues.