Why Marriage Matters to African Americans

OVERVIEW: According to the 2000 Census, there are almost 85,000 black same-sex couples in the United States, representing 14 percent of all the nation’s same-sex couples. A study of the 2010 Census indicates that 46.7% of black female same-sex couples and 32.9% percent of black male same-sex couples are raising children. These rates are more than twice those of white same-sex couples. Because they are more likely to be raising children, at comparatively lower wages, black same-sex couples have more to gain from legal recognition of their relationships and more to lose when states pass amendments banning marriage and other forms of partner recognition.

Black LGBT families also disproportionately encounter unequal access to health insurance and protections, and they often confront a dual burden of social stigma and discrimination because of race-based discrimination and sexual orientation-focused stigma. Black same-sex couples are also less prominently featured in the media, which potentially reinforces a negative sense of self-value or self-worth.

PROMINENT VOICES: To combat these complicated, wide-ranging issues, many leaders in the African-American community, from religious leaders to longtime gay rights allies to established organizations, have voiced strong support for the freedom to marry. In 2012 alone, we saw immense marriage support from prominent black voices. 

In early May, following President Barack Obama's endorsement of the freedom to marryfour of the most popular black leaders in the country released an open letter applauding the President's announcement. Rev. Al Sharpton, President and Founder of the National Action Network; Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Melanie Campbell, President of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; and Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; all signed onto the letter, which calls for a civil and respectful collaboration between the LGBT community and black Americans. 

Shortly after the joint letter was published, the NAACP, the historic organization dedicated to equal protection under the law, passed a resolution supporting the freedom to marry. Colin Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, has endorsed marriage for all couples as well. 

Entertainers and pop culture stars have also expressed their support for the freedom to marry this year. Jay-Z and 50 Cent voiced their support in May, with Jay-Z saying, "What people do in their own homes is their business and you can choose to love whoever you love." Tony-winning Broadway actress Audra McDonald has also served as a fierce advocate, speaking on behalf of Freedom to Marry in a video about President Obama's marriage announcement (See Below). 

POLLING DATA: (For a full overview of polling on the freedom to marry, click HERE) 

  • The Pew Research Center found in November 2012 Election Day exit polling that 51% of African-Americans nationwide supported the freedom to marry, with just 41% opposing it, slightly higher than support for marriage among all voters. A similar Pew study in 2009 found just 26% support. (Pew Research Center, November 2012)
  • In a national poll from June 2012, 54% of Americans said they support the freedom to marry. Respondents who described themselves as "non-white" support marriage for same-sex couples by a stronger margin than the full sample, with 59% in support and only 39% opposed. (CNN/ORC International, June 2012)
  • Two weeks after President Obama's embrace of the freedom to marry, a poll found 59% of black Americans now supporting the freedom to marry, with 65% saying they applauded Obama's stance. (The Washington Post/ABC, May 2012)
  • Support among black Americans has shifted dramatically in several key states since President Obama's comments in support of the freedom to marry. 55% of black Maryland residents plan to uphold marriage, with only 36% opposed, a complete reversal of the 39-56 margin from before Obama's announcement. In Missouri, support is 50-31, in Florida, support is 49-31, and in Pennsylvania, support is 42-41. All of these new numbers represent enormous increases from as recently as April 2012. 
  • An April 2012 poll demonstrated that opposition to the freedom to marry among black Americans has sunk to an all-time low of 49%, down from 67% opposition in 2004, when multiple states passed amendments prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples. (Pew Research Center, April 2012)
  • Support for the freedom to marry among black Americans has grown by 56% from 32% in October 2009 to 50% in February 2012. (The Wall Street Journal/NBC, March 2012) 

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