WASHINGTON Cox News Service March 24, 2004 — Daniel de Leon has been counseling Hispanics with family problems for three decades and fears that the nation’s movement towards gay marriage will make the situation worse.
“Those kids are going to suffer,” said de Leon, pastor of Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, Calif., the largest Hispanic Evangelical church in the United States. “It’s not just a matter of sex, or a matter of two adults being together and having their way. . . . To us, a man and a woman are here to create a family and the family needs that support of Daddy and Momma.”
De Leon’s concerns echo a fear shared by many Hispanics that gay marriage threatens the concept of the family, practically sacred in Hispanic culture.
A national survey and polls in different regions show that support for gay marriage and homosexual behavior in general is lower among Hispanics than whites. Only African-Americans have stronger feelings against marriage for gays and lesbians.
In several communities, black and Hispanic priests and pastors are speaking out in favor of a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In Maryland, the only Hispanic in the state senate is leading the charge against gay marriage.
Several states with large Hispanic populations — including Texas, Florida, California, Illinois and Arizona — already have laws prohibiting or not recognizing same-sex marriages.
Gay rights activists, however, say that the few polls conducted on Hispanics and gay marriage are misleading. Given the proper information, the say, Hispanics see the issue as a quest for fairness and civil rights.
“Whether their personal conviction or their religious conviction may tell them otherwise, they see discrimination when one group receives benefits that are denied to another group,” said Martin Ornelas-Quintero, executive director of LLEGO, a national Hispanic lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organization.
Ornelas-Quintero said his group finds positive reactions to gay marriage in Hispanic focus groups in places such as New York and Miami.
“When people see that a life partner of someone else can not make their medical decisions because they don’t have the legal protections under the law, they see it as discrimination,” he said.
Political experts are divided on whether gay marriage will be a major factor this year for Hispanic voters, a key swing constituency in several key electoral states including Florida, New Mexico and Arizona.
Some say that Hispanics will be strongly influenced by social issues, including gay marriage and abortion, while others say that voters will consider only the economy, education and the war in Iraq.
President Bush’s endorsement last month of a constitutional amendment that would ban homosexual marriages may have caught the attention of religious Hispanics.
A comprehensive national survey of U.S. Hispanics by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 72 percent of Hispanics believe that homosexual sex between adults is “unacceptable,” compared to 59 percent of whites.
The poll, released in a 2002 report, also showed Hispanics to be more conservative on other social issues, such as abortion and divorce.
In New York state, a recent poll of Democratic voters showed that 27 percent of Hispanics thought gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry legally, compared to 47 percent for whites. The poll was taken earlier this month by Edison Media Research for five television stations and the Associated Press.
In Florida, a recent poll showed that 20 percent of Hispanics in that state support same-sex marriage, compared to 29 percent of whites. The phone survey by Schroth & Associates for the St. Petersburg Times had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California, said that the survey results are no surprise.
Around 40 percent of Hispanic voters are foreign-born, naturalized citizens who come from very conservative, Catholic Latin American nations, he said.
“There are a lot of home-country attitudes” against homosexuality, he said.
But the tolerance for gay marriage and gay clergy increases markedly in the second generation, Pachon added.
Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University who studies Hispanic voting patterns, said some Hispanics vote with the church on certain things such as abortion and gay marriage.
“Hispanics on some issues are somewhat like Southerners,” he said. “A lot of them are practicing Catholics and simply believe that homosexuality is a sin.”
Seventy percent of Hispanics surveyed in the Pew Hispanic Center study identified themselves as Catholic, and 14 percent as evangelical or born-again Christians.
Schmidt said the recent ruling by Massachusetts’ highest court that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry creates a “giant problem for Democrats.”
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bush’s apparent Democratic rival in November, is also against gay marriage, but opposes amending the Constitution. Kerry does support civil unions for gays and lesbians, while Bush says it is a matter for the states to decide.
De Leon said that Hispanics at his church are extremely concerned about gay marriage and what it means for society.
“The polygamists are already in line,” he said. “You open this thing up, and nobody knows where it’s going to go.”
But Pachon said that gay marriage is only one of many issues that could influence Hispanic voters this year and probably not in the top tier.
“It’s not the hot-button issue that people want to make it out to be,” he said. “The real issues of concern are education and the economy and even gun control . . . crime on the streets.”