President Obama's win over Mitt Romney on Tuesday might have changed the political calculus on LGBT rights forever.
When the president announced his support for marriage equality during an interview with ABC News in May, pundits rattled off a list of reasons it could have cost reelection. They worried it would hurt Obama with voters in the conservative South, including in swing states such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. They sounded the alarm that it could hurt with minority voters.
“While some pundits predicted the president’s support for marriage equality would hinder his campaign, we know the opposite is true," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "His reelection after expressing support for marriage equality is further proof that the momentum is on the side of marriage for all families."
Griffin called Obama "the most pro-equality president ever" and "our Ally-in-Chief." His comments are further evidence that there is little political daylight between Obama and LGBT voters. So a win for him is being counted as a win for equality, too.
All of those Southern states on the worry list were too close to call long after polls had closed. North Carolina was called for Romney first at about 11 p.m. ET, meaning Romney was able to flip a state that not only had Obama won in 2008 but also where the Democratic Party had hosted its national convention (and voted to include marriage equality for the first time ever).
The pundits had said in May that while standing up for LGBT equality helped motivate young voters, it could break apart the coalition of minority voters that had propelled him to victory in 2008. That included deep support by Latinos and African-Americans.
Ahead of Obama's "evolution" on the issue, polls indeed showed African-Americans less than supportive of letting gays and lesbians marry. But immediately following his leadership on the issue, polls turned around. The most striking example came out of North Carolina, which one day before the president's announcement had approved a ballot initiative by a 20-point margin that amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Then a Public Policy Polling survey after Obama's change of position found a 10-point jump in support, plus precipitous decline in opposition.
The NAACP also endorsed marriage equality, plus stars such as Jay-Z and Will Smith. And soon national polls were showing a sizable swing in support, with African-Americans suddenly more supportive than opposing. That alone could have made the difference in Maryland, where voters were considering legalizing same-sex marriage.
Among Latinos, the previous common wisdom on supposedly conservative attitudes toward social issues seemed to be smashed not only in some of the first national polling on the issue but also on Election Day in exit polls.
ABC News reports that preliminary exit polls show 59% of Latino voters backed marriage equality, compared to 48% of the general public. That means Latinos are actually more likely to support marriage equality than the larger electorate, which is almost evenly split on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to get legally married. About 48% of voters support it, according to exit polling, while 47% oppose.