Black Voters Weigh Obama, Support For Marriage Ban
GUY RAZ, HOST:
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In North Carolina this past week, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. A solid majority of the state's African-American voters backed it as well.
The very next day, President Obama publicly endorsed same-sex marriage. But will that affect black turnout in support of the president in November? Here's Tanner Latham from member station WFAE in Charlotte.
TANNER LATHAM, BYLINE: The Reverend Dwayne Walker is awfully proud of a framed 8-by-10 photo topping his credenza. It shows him shaking hands with President Obama four years ago during a campaign stop. He's so proud, he made it his Facebook profile picture and his screen saver.
REVEREND DWAYNE WALKER: Yeah. I love President Obama and what he's done and who he is.
LATHAM: Walker is the pastor at Charlotte's Little Rock AME Zion Church, and he opposes gay marriage.
WALKER: I believe that marriage was intended to be between a man and a woman. I stand very strongly and unapologetically on that particular position.
LATHAM: In the end, Reverend Walker voted against the amendment, worried that it would harm heterosexual couples and single mothers. Still, among African-American voters, he was in the minority. Polls taken before the vote showed a majority of black voters supporting the amendment.
So when President Obama endorsed gay marriage this past week, many wondered if it would shake the loyalty of his African-American supporters in North Carolina. For Reverend Walker, the president's new position wasn't an issue.
WALKER: While there may be a plank or two on the platform that I can't support, I can still support the platform.
LATHAM: And that sentiment rang true through several predominately black churches visited last week. Standing outside a church called No Walls Ministry, Robert Leach says he's against same-sex marriage, but his support for President Obama remains unchanged.
ROBERT LEACH: I voted for him to run a country, not to make the moral decisions for someone, but to run a country, to run a government. So, no, it doesn't change at all.
LATHAM: Charles Easley was disappointed in President Obama's announcement, not because of what the president said, though, but because of when he said it.
CHARLES EASLEY: My first reaction was like, really? Could you not have said this, like, two days before?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LATHAM: Easley is a professor at The Art Institute of Charlotte, and he's been in an openly gay relationship for 18 years. He thinks the president could have influenced the debate before the vote.
EASLEY: That really could have swayed some people because he has been very forthcoming in terms of that he is a Christian, he is a man of faith, but he is also this pinnacle of pride and success for the community.
LATHAM: One longtime observer of North Carolina politics says he wasn't surprised by President Obama's announcement.
GLENN BURKINS: We knew that at the right moment, given the right opportunity, that he would come out and support gay marriage.
LATHAM: Glenn Burkins is the editor of Qcitymetro, an online news site that serves the African-American community in the city. He says the black support here for President Obama remains strong because most had already factored in the president's stance on gay rights when they voted for him.
BURKINS: At the end of the day, the president is a politician. I'm sure he came down on the side that he felt would best benefit him in November.
LATHAM: Burkins says African-Americans are keenly aware that national polls show more and more people supporting gay marriage. And regardless of their opinions on the issue, black voters are starting to adjust to that reality. For NPR News, I'm Tanner Latham in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.