Next Tuesday, voters in North Carolina will head to the polls to vote on a ballot initiative that would enshrine marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the state constitution. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, while polls show that primary voters are likely to approve the measure by a substantial 14-point margin (55% to 41%), opposition numbers among black voters, who tend to be less supportive than the general public overall, have been rising and currently stand at 43%. The same article also suggests that this movement may be the result of the work of some black pastors, many of whom are personally opposed to same-sex marriage but wary about changing the state’s constitution. And it appears to be happening in spite of efforts by anti-same-sex marriage groups like the National Organization for Marriage to court black pastors and clergy.
Analysis shows that younger black Millennials (age 18-24) and younger black Protestant Millennials demonstrate more support for same-sex marriage than black Americans overall. Younger black Millennials also draw a clear distinction between same-sex marriage as a policy and the morality of sex between two adults of the same gender. These findings point to potential changes in black Americans’ perspectives on same-sex marriage, which has been a controversial subject ever since the debate over Proposition 8 in California.
Black Americans are, overall, less supportive of same-sex marriage than Americans overall. While Americans are evenly divided on whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry legally (47% favor, 47% oppose), a solid majority (58%) of black Americans oppose same-sex marriage, and fewer than 4-in-10 (37%) are in favor.
Younger black Millennials are, however, significantly more supportive of same-sex marriage than black Americans overall. Younger black Millennials are 12 points more likely to support same-sex marriage than black Americans overall (49% vs. 37% respectively).
The generational divide is evident among black Protestants as well, which suggests that these differences are not simply a result of lower levels of religious engagement among young black Americans. Only one-third (33%) of black Protestants overall favor same-sex marriage, while 63% are opposed. By contrast, younger black Protestants are evenly divided, with 48% in favor and 48% opposed.
Younger black Protestants also make a distinction between the morality of sex between two adults of the same gender and the legality of same-sex marriage. Only around one-quarter (26%) of younger black Protestant Millennials believe that sex between two adults of the same gender is morally acceptable, while two-thirds (67%) believe it is morally wrong. At the same time, 48% of younger black Protestant Millennials also believe that same-sex marriage should be legal.
Of course, younger black voters aren’t likely to have a particularly significant impact on the ballot initiative’s success or failure: while African-Americans currently constitute 22% of North Carolina’s population, younger Americans, particularly minorities, tend to have low rates of voting compared to other groups, especially during primary and other low-salience elections. But these large generational gaps could herald a potential shift among black Americans and black Protestants, which could influence the future of the same-sex marriage debate in the pews and in the public arena.